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Our view: Developing nuclear talent

Developing nuclear talent

While the debate rages about whether the UK’s nuclear industry is facing an imminent human resources crisis, RSK continues to develop nuclear talent through a best-in-class internship programme that has seen newly hired graduates placed on secondment at major nuclear power plants.

A wave of the UK’s nuclear power stations are approaching the end of their working lives and are ready for decommissioning, while a new generation of plants has been given the construction go-ahead in the UK and worldwide. However, the average age of a UK nuclear industry employee is 50 and the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee has recently warned that the UK lacks the expertise to cope with its future nuclear programme.

“There is a demonstrable need for intelligent, passionate and open-minded graduates to come into the nuclear industry,” says Phil DeFoggi, managing director, RSK Radiological. “Through our internship programme, we have worldwide experts in nuclear science mentoring some exceptionally talented and driven young minds – with excellent results.”

He cites the example of Alex Jackson, who joined the company’s graduate scheme in 2010, was seconded to Magnox Ltd’s Bradwell site, and is now an RSK consultant working full time at the plant.

Following its shutdown in 2002 after 40 years’ operation, Bradwell is undergoing an accelerated decommissioning programme. Intensive surveying and sampling are helping to determine the levels of radioactivity and contamination left on-site.

Magnox awarded RSK the contract for this characterisation process and Jackson was initially hired to support RSK’s radiological engineers with data administration tasks. The four-month programme was a success and Jackson has remained at the site on a rolling contract ever since. Under the mentorship of highly experienced co-workers from RSK and Magnox, Jackson was exposed to challenges across a wide range of disciplines and gained highly valuable experience, expertise and insights.

“When I came to Bradwell in April 2010, I had no experience of the nuclear industry or health physics or radiological engineering,” says Jackson. “My background was in geochemistry, but I was extremely motivated to get into the nuclear industry. It was a very steep learning curve, but I did everything I could to absorb knowledge and skills from the first-class people I was working with. And, now that I am a consultant, I can take the initiative and give something back.”

Fast forward to February 2012 and the internship programme is to be repeated. Magnox has invited another new RSK graduate, Ross Armstrong, to join the site and gain priceless experience of working in a nuclear power plant.

Jackson, who will mentor Armstrong, explains how the new hire will benefit. “Ross will be on site to assist the characterisation team, and, crucially, he will gain experience of the structured processes and procedures that govern the operations at a nuclear plant,” Jackson explains.” For instance, he will see how things like risk assessments and pre-job briefs feed into RSK’s work in characterisation and make a nuclear power plant tick. You just cannot get that experience from a company office.”

Contact: Phil DeFoggi
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