You are here

Nuclear option

On 7 February the southern hub of the new National College for Nuclear opened at Bridgwater and Taunton College in Somerset. The close links with industry and the hands-on learning opportunity were two elements of this initiative which won the college an award from the Edge Grant Fund last year.

There have been four decades of debate over the viability, value and sustainability of nuclear power as a key energy source in the UK, but the need to reduce carbon emissions and ensure an uninterrupted, affordable energy supply for the future, has driven current thinking. A £20.3bn deal brokered by the British Government with energy giant Électricité de France (EDF) and the state-owned China General Nuclear Power Group (CGN) means construction of a new power station on the north Somerset coast is well underway.

Hinkley Point C is the first new nuclear reactor to be built in this country in over 20 years, but excavating four million cubic metres of earth (equivalent to the volume of 1,300 Olympic swimming pools), pouring over three millions tonnes of concrete and planting 12,000 trees, are not the only challenges of this titanic project.

The average age of an engineer in the UK’s nuclear sector is 54 which means recruiting young people into the industry is a priority. The demand for full time employees is forecast to rise from 87,560 in 2017 to 100,619 by 2021. 

Which brings us six miles down the road from Hinkley Point to the picturesque village of Cannington nestling on the edge of the Quantock Hills. Alongside the ubiquitous War Memorial, Parish Church and several countryside pubs, the village is home to Bridgwater and Taunton College’s Cannington campus which now includes the southern hub of the National College for Nuclear.

Strong links to industry are an important part of the curriculum offer at the college. Addressing guests at the launch of the new building on 7 February, its Chair of Governors, Derek Randall, said,

‘A key part of our work is with our partners in industry. The sector in education best positioned to meet the skills needs of industry is Further Education.’

The state of the art building – funded by the Department for Education, Heart of the South West Local Enterprise Partnership and the college – is equipped with virtual reality simulators and a workshop where level 4 students will work alongside level 6 students providing a very hands-on approach and an opportunity for learners to gain real-world experience.

It was for this aspect of the project that Bridgwater and Taunton College were awarded £100,000 from the Edge Grant Fund towards equipment which is essential to develop critical technical skills. The curriculum is designed to meet the needs of the nuclear industry and attract students at all levels including school-leavers, apprentices, people in the sector looking for professional development, those in other sectors with transferable skills and potential graduates.

EDF Energy’s HR Director at Hinkley Point C, Barbara Jones, says they will create 1,000 apprenticeships at the site not only boosting the local job market, but attracting young people from further afield.

The National College for Nuclear aligns with Edge’s philosophy that learning by doing and gaining practical experience in an industry setting are key to ensuring young people are equipped with the skills demanded by the 21st century workplace. Students studying here will be at the vanguard of the nuclear renaissance.

Summing up at the launch event, the college’s principal, Andy Berry, said,

‘Strong partnership is at the centre of the new facility; a curriculum that this industry really needs and which is taught in an innovative and immersive way.’

The Northern Hub of the National College for Nuclear based at Lakes College in Cumbria also officially opened on 7th February.