Representatives from OECD/NEA member countries have unanimously adopted a statement on the need for qualified human resources in the nuclear field. The adoption of this statement reflects their concerns about the difficulties nuclear institutions in many OECD/NEA member countries are experiencing in recruiting qualified specialists. Recent studies have also shown that nuclear education and training have been suffering declines of various degrees. If no action is taken on this issue, the nuclear sector risks facing a shortage of qualified manpower to ensure the appropriate regulation and operation of existing nuclear facilities as well as the construction of new ones in those countries wishing to do so.
The statement, as adopted by the Steering Committee for Nuclear Energy, has just been sent to Ministers in all member countries and has been reproduced below.
18 October 2007
1. The life cycle of the nuclear industry is no different than that of any other industry, as well as to most forms of human activity from beginning to end. However, each industry has its own distinguishing features that set it apart from others. The nuclear energy sector is characterised by long time horizons, technical complexities and need for excellence. While the early nuclear power plants were designed to operate for 30-40 years, today the expected lifetime is 50-60 years. Moreover, nuclear activities from cradle to grave may be in excess of 100 years when one adds the monitoring of long-lived radioactive waste.
2. The rapid technical evolution of industry would not have been possible without the many high-quality research and development programmes helping to create knowledgeable and technically competent staff necessary for safe operations. Due to the long timescales and requisite specialised competence, the nuclear sector now faces three problems:
3. These problems are affected by the increasing liberalisation of electricity markets, resulting in pressure to reduce costs as well as a decrease in government funding for nuclear research. The sector is witnessing a loss of expertise following downsizing to reduce salary costs, a loss of research facilities to reduce operating costs, and a decline in support to universities to reduce overheads. Additional factors include the high volatility of fossil fuel prices and concerns regarding the security of energy supply and greenhouse gas emissions. A greater use of nuclear energy by those countries wishing to do so could make a contribution to a diversified energy mix as well as being a way of reducing CO2 emissions.
4. In recent years, a number of studies have been undertaken to examine the concern that nuclear education and training are in decline. In July 2000, the OECD/NEA published a report entitled Nuclear Education and Training: Cause for Concern? with recommendations. The actions taken by governments have varied, with improvements in some areas and little change in others. In some countries, specific plans to support universities have been successful in reversing the declining trends of the number of graduates in nuclear engineering and related disciplines.
5. Most countries have recognised the need to secure qualified human resources in the nuclear energy field, inter alia, due to the long lead time in existing programmes and consideration of new energy production options. Although some progress has been achieved, more needs to be done. Given that availability of qualified human resources is a prerequisite, inter alia, to the safe operation of existing nuclear power plants as well as to recourse to nuclear energy in general, the OECD Steering Committee for Nuclear Energy has agreed to convey to its members governments the following statements:
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NEA membership consists of 30 OECD countries. The mission of the NEA is to assist its member countries in maintaining and further developing, through international co-operation, the scientific, technological and legal bases required for a safe, environmentally friendly and economical use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. The NEA also provides authoritative assessments and forges common understandings on key issues, as input to government decisions on nuclear energy policy and to broader OECD policy analyses in areas such as energy and sustainable development. The information, data and analyses it provides draw on one of the best international networks of technical experts.