Atomic slackers

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How many people are currently working in the UK in the nuclear industry? Being a simple chap, I had thought that such a number would be easily established, at least within a few hundred or so. But not so.

Try exhibit one. Prospect is the trade union which maintains that it represents those working in nuclear energy. According to the union’s deputy general secretary, Sue Ferns, “at present, the nuclear industry supports around 60,000 highly skilled jobs.” Actually, I was just as interested in the semi-skilled and unskilled number. But here we have a pretty solid number. Or do we?

Exhibit two comes from a government energy minister. Answering a Parliamentary Question on October 24, 2018 on employment levels in the nuclear industry, Richard Harrington, the then energy minister at BEIS, explained that, since 2015, the Government has used the industry-recognised dataset for jobs in nuclear: The Nuclear Workforce Assessment (NWA).

He continued, “The Nuclear Skills Strategy Group (NSSG) – of which the Government is a member – conducts a labour market intelligence gathering exercise across the sector to produce the NWA, which is used by the sector to inform employers’ recruitment practices. The latest NWA, published in July 2017, estimates there are currently 18,700 Full Time Equivalents (FTEs) employed in fuel processing and generation.” In other words, less than one-third of the number that the trade union prospect is claiming.

But wait. Is even that number correct? If so, nobody has told the Government’s Office for National Statistics (exhibit three). It maintains that right now there are just 12,400 full-time direct jobs in the UK in nuclear energy reprocessing and generation. So, the correct number is either 12,400. Or 18,700. Or 60,000. Take your pick.