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Skills needed to build nuclear power stations lacking: Weld Australia

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Weld Australia has weighed into the conversation on nuclear energy the week after the federal opposition’s plans were announced, warning that Australia lacks the engineers and tradesmen “to build one nuclear power station, let alone seven”.

In a statement on Monday, the welding industry peak body gave its view on opposition leader Peter Dutton’s plan involving seven locations for nuclear reactors around Australia at the site of former or current coal-fired power plants. 

According to Weld Australia, the proposed program would exacerbate a projected shortage of skilled welders “from 70,000 to nearly 100,000”. Of the 5,000 welders in the last census possessing the required skills, about a third of those are nearing retirement. 

“Australia’s energy transition is already struggling, and adding the monumental task of building nuclear power plants without a sufficient skilled workforce is impractical,” said CEO Geoff Crittenden.

“We are barely able to meet our current commitments, let alone embark on new nuclear projects.”

Crittenden cited the UK’s Hinkley Point C nuclear power plant project (pictured), suffering a three-year delay and a cost overrun of £8 billion (approximately $15.2 billion) partly due to a shortage of skilled engineers and steelworkers.

“Stuart Crooks, the managing director of Hinkley Point C, said restarting the nuclear construction industry in Britain after a 20-year pause has been hard. Relearning nuclear skills, creating a new supply chain and training a workforce has been an immense task.” he added.

“If it has been an immense task for the UK, where they had a well-established nuclear industry, how will Australia—which has no nuclear industry—handle the challenge?”

“Where are these highly skilled and paid [tradesmen] to come from? If we decide to manufacture the infrastructure required for Australia’s renewables revolution locally, we can do it, just, with some sensible policy settings. I have no idea where we would find the engineers and tradesmen to build one nuclear power station, let alone seven.”

Dutton announced seven sites for reactors last week, with two establishment projects to begin in the mid-2030s followed by a build of others through to 2050.

Most sites would have traditional reactors, with Northern Power Station, South Australia and Muja Power Station, Western Australia to have small modular reactors.

Picture: a render of Hinkley Point C (credit UK government)

Further reading

Australian governments must respond to US IRA, attract investment needed for energy shift: Weld Australia

Renewable energy plans “will simply not be a reality” without industry and skills support: Weld Australia

“Extraordinary” action needed for Australia to avoid severe skills shortfall: Weld Australia

Dutton goes nuclear, proposing seven government-owned generators with the first starting in 2030s

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