The skills required for nuclear new build programmes globally were steadily fading as nuclear experts start retiring without having passed on the critical skills, Westinghouse UK project director Simon Marshall said on Tuesday.
Speaking at the Nuclear Energy Conference, in Johannesburg, he said that a lack of, and delays in, new nuclear build projects worldwide had dissolved the knowledge, skills, lessons and experience gained during the initial, now decades-old, nuclear power plant build.
“Most of the skills rest in people who are of a certain age, because we did not build new [nuclear] stations for a long time; we have not trained apprentices, and the nuclear engineering schemes at universities had stopped and had only just restarted,” he said, adding that national programmes were required.
The global nuclear industry needed to examine what skills had been retained and what skills had to be recriuted for a successful nuclear power plant construction, maintenance programme and the eventual decommissioning at the end of the plant’s life.
Marshall commented that many of the skills and lessons acquired during the “first wave” of the nuclear build in the 1970s would need to be relearned globally.
However, in light of South Africa’s planned new nuclear build and localisation programme, he believed the country could build on and benefit from the experience gained during what he dubbed Westinghouse’s largest, most extensive nuclear build localisation programme in China.
The Asian country, which was currently building four Westinghouse-designed AP1000 third-generation reactors, signed a technology transfer pact with Westinghouse that would enable the country to become self-reliant and 100% localised as its nuclear programme progressed.
China was expected to bring the first reactor on-line in 2014, with the completion of the remaining three reactors and the localisation programme to be completed by 2015.
The standard, passive, modular and licensed design of the AP1000 technology specifically supported localisation.
A localisation programme, with specific alignment to South Africa’s own requirements, could be modelled on the firm’s strategies of knowledge and technology transfers, as well as its “buy where we build” approach, allowing the country to build skills and grow industries.
The current wave of nuclear build programmes required access to the global supply chain, as well as significant use of in-country capabilities and content. However, that, in turn, required adequate craft labour, sufficient skills training and a deep “gene pool”.
South Africa had developed some domestic expertise with the controversial R10-billion Pebble Bed Modular Reactor project, which was mothballed by government in 2010 after the project failed to secure an investor or partner.
Engineering News earlier quoted Trade and Industry Minister Dr Rob Davies as saying that some of the expertise from the project could be dissipating, but that it could be brought back through the new nuclear build programme.
Last year, the then Public Enterprises Deputy Minister and current Transport Minister Ben Martins said a final decision on the project’s future would be made this year.
The Department of Energy said last year that, in partnership with the Department of Science and Technology, it was investigating possible plans for the retention of skills critical to South Africa’s nuclear build programme.
Further, many training and skills development programmes had incorporated nuclear industry-related knowledge and skills programmes in an attempt to revive the local industry.
There was a “huge” opportunity for many industries, particularly with regard to non-safety class equipment, components and standard engineering in the development of the nuclear industry, said Marshall.
Local companies involved with the nuclear build could also benefit from skills and technology transfers from the foreign nuclear power plant vendors.
South Africa’s Integrated Resource Plan called for a power generation mix of 42 600 MW of new capacity by 2030 to meet anticipated demand, of which nuclear energy would contribute at least 9.6 GW between 2023 and 2030.