UK industry is bracing itself for a steep skills and supply chain learning curve should the country’s nuclear new build plans get under way.

But the challenges of building a new fleet of reactors must be met by as much British engineering and construction talent as possible, otherwise the spoils of the new build boom will go to overseas companies.

That was the message yesterday from the bosses of some of the UK companies who will play a major role in any nuclear revival.

Gordon Waddington, president of civil nuclear at Rolls Royce, said: “This is a once in a generation opportunity. If we do not take this opportunity we may be regretting it for 20 to 30 years.”

He said there were “huge opportunities across the whole supply chain” if government and industry could relaunch nuclear new build in the UK, but warned: “We cannot expect a free ride. We have to compete on an international stage.”

He also warned that there was no margin for error in delivering the first of the UK’s new fleet of reactors. “The criticality of delivering on time and on budget cannot be overstated. We need to be paranoid about being on time.”

He said if the existing players in the new nuclear market – Horizon, NuGen and EDF/Centrica – went ahead with their respective projects, “there will be something of a crisis because we will all be scrabbling for resources.” However, he added that this could become “the kickstart that the industry needs”.

He stressed that it was essential that the UK took “as much of a slice” of the supply chain opportunities as possible. “Otherwise we will lose out because other countries with the skills will take the work.”

“The size of the [skills] curve really does scare me, but on the other hand – what a great problem to have.”

Norman Haste, executive director of nuclear new build at construction firm Laing O’Rourke, said the UK had “allowed its nuclear skills to dissipate.”

However he said a nuclear revival would in turn create a UK skills revival, which if nurtured could result in those skills being exported across Europe and wider.

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