Dragging our feet in nuclear power and the skills gap

17 April 2009

In reference to an article in The Times newspaper on 16 April, 'All-clear for nuclear plants 'too late to plug power gap'', Richard Pike, RSC Chief Executive, wrote a letter to the editor expressing concerns of the widening skills gap.


The eleven new nuclear power stations should be seen as essential components of a diverse portfolio of energy provision for the future that balances risk, sustainability, environmental consequences, security of supply and business opportunities.

But that message has to be promoted much more effectively in secondary schools through the curriculum and its associated assessment of pupils. 

Although an understanding of nuclear chemistry is essential for the design of reactors, processing and storage of radioactive materials, and monitoring and managing the environmental impact, 18-year-olds are leaving school with almost no knowledge in these important areas. 

There are recent GCSE chemistry text books that do not have a single reference to the word 'nuclear', and even at A-Level a highly regarded book published six years ago has just three sentences on nuclear power within a total of 686 pages. 

Still worse, a text book published as late as 2008 had a section on radioactivity, but extraordinarily no reference to nuclear power stations.

Unless decisive action is taken, not only will we be 'too late to plug the power gap', as your article rightly highlights, but the same will be being said of the skills gap now rapidly emerging.

Richard Pike
Chief Executive, Royal Society of Chemistry 

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