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January 29, 2009

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Government acts to stem nuclear-inspectors recruitment crisis

The HSE’s Nuclear Directorate is to undergo a major restructure to help

it respond to a number of challenges, especially difficulties in

recruiting inspectors.

The Government has recognised that the success of its nuclear-build programme and corresponding decommissioning work will be put at risk unless it addresses the skills shortage in the industry and restructures the Nuclear Directorate.

Issuing its response on 27 January to a review by Dr Tim Stone on the nuclear regulatory regime, the Government said that agreement for the restructure, through legislation, has now been reached. This will lead to the creation of an autonomous body that would remain within the auspices of the HSE, but with greater flexibility to respond to specific challenges.

The Government has already fulfilled a number of short-term measures recommended by Dr Stone to address structural and recruitment issues. Four project managers from outside the Directorate and an experienced administration manager have been seconded into the Generic Design Assessment team, which will assess the technical aspects of new reactor designs. Contracts are also in the process of being let to enlist technical support contractors to assist in reviewing the safety cases for reactors.

The Government’s response also confirmed that a three-year deal to address the recruitment and retention challenges of the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate (NII) — the Directorate’s enforcement arm — is currently under negotiation with trade unions. According to the Prospect union, crunch talks with the HSE over pay and terms for nuclear inspectors are expected to reach conclusion by 11 February.

The union also welcomed the proposed changes to the Directorate’s structure, including the creation of satellite NII offices in London and Cheltenham, alongside the HSE’s Bootle headquarters.

Prospect negotiator, Mike Macdonald, said: “Tim Stone’s findings vindicate Prospect’s long and determined campaign for change. We welcome his calls to find a long-term pay solution, which recognises the skills shortage within the industry and the difficulty of recruiting suitably qualified and skilled inspectors in competition with the private sector.”

He added that the NII has 170 inspectors and needs an additional 20 for current work, plus 30 more to meet nuclear new-build needs. About 50 inspectors are also due to retire in the next five years.

In October 2007, the union negotiated an increase of 15 per cent for NII inspectors.
Commenting on the Stone Review, the HSE said: “We are encouraged by the Review’s recommendations and the Government response regarding the enhanced ability to attract and retain nuclear specialists, in order to meet the needs of the UK nuclear industry and the challenges of building the next generation of nuclear power stations.

“We look forward to working with our staff and trades unions to

implement the proposals and actions are already in hand to deliver them.”

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