A student’s viewpoint

29 December 2001

The nuclear industry is gradually becoming aware that it has a recruitment problem.

In response, the Nuclear Energy Agency has got an expert group of nuclear researchers, nuclear lobbyists and representatives of nuclear companies together. They have closely questioned staff and students at nuclear training centres, on nuclear university courses and nuclear power plants about why recruitment is decreasing. Spot the theme? The nuclear industry is once again planning its future on the basis of a long and detailed look at its own navel.

If you want to know why no-one joins your gang, why not start by asking someone who isn’t already in it? Graduating now there are mechanical engineers who are planning to develop wind turbines. There are chemists who are trying to clean up the coal industry. There are metallurgists refining gas turbines, electrical engineers, materials scientists, physicists – all those bright young things, and they all decide to head for other industries. Instead of asking those who join the nuclear industry, why not ask those who went to other industries what the attraction is there? Here are a few hints from the student bar. The buzz words nowadays are local, small, simple, cheap. There is no getting around the fact that at the moment nuclear is national, large-scale, complex – and you would be surprised how many students that are ignorant about everything else can still relish the irony in that long-ago claim that nuclear would be ‘too cheap to meter’.

It is not just that national, large-scale, complex power generation technologies are old fashioned in themselves. Worse, they represent a similarly old-fashioned, and increasingly unacceptable, link to government programmes and centralised planning. Big energy companies – the type who can afford to operate nuclear plants – are not attractive to those students for whom ‘global’ is increasingly becoming a dirty word, and who watch with approval protests against international corporations and organisations like the IMF. But big oil companies, for example, also have a poor public image, and they don't seem to have the same recruitment problem. Has the nuclear industry addressed its questions about how to tempt new staff to people who said no to nuclear, but are happily working for Big Oil? Yet the OECD’s response to the urgent need for new nuclear engineering students is to ask for government money, and for a series of government initiatives to keep the industry alive.

This approach makes the industry look more and more as if it comes from another era – and it is the worst possible approach you could take to tempt young people into the industry. No-one with the spirit or initiative the industry needs takes a job because they want to join a government programme.



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