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The cooling towers of a Slovak nuclear power plant are seen at Jaslovske Bohunice in western Slovakia, about 70 km north of the Slovak capital Bratislava, May 10, 2011. (PETR JOSEK/PETR JOSEK/REUTERS)
The cooling towers of a Slovak nuclear power plant are seen at Jaslovske Bohunice in western Slovakia, about 70 km north of the Slovak capital Bratislava, May 10, 2011. (PETR JOSEK/PETR JOSEK/REUTERS)

Demand growing for nuclear industry managers Add to ...

It is too early to say what long-term impact the Fukushima disaster in Japan will have on plans for new nuclear power plants. But so far the effect has not been as dramatic as might have been anticipated.

Italy, Thailand, Egypt, the U.S. and Switzerland have postponed or cancelled units since the accident and many states are reviewing safety procedures and Germany has opted to abandon nuclear power. However, China, India, Russia, South Korea and other big countries have retained their programmes.

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Of 570 units planned before Fukushima, only 37 have been axed or put on hold since the crisis, according to Arthur D. Little, a consultancy. Despite several commentators declaring an end to the "nuclear renaissance" - as the recent worldwide push for nuclear has been dubbed - governments apparently see few alternatives.

"There will be some leaning back and thinking about how Fukushima affects the safety of new-build [reactors] And there may be one or two years' delay. But most projects are still ongoing," says Michael Kruse, principal at AD Little, in Germany.

AD Little says Europe needs 74,000 nuclear personnel by 2020. Several reports have pointed to the nuclear industry's aging profile. About two-thirds of top British nuclear managers could retire by 2025, according to Cogent, the skills council that covers the nuclear industry. EDF, the French utility, expects half its nuclear staff to leave by 2015.

Phil Gamlen, head of corporate learning partnerships at MBS, does not see Fukushima as altering this demand. "Our view is that it is unlikely to dull the interest of our clients. When you talk to the industry, the general view is that [Fukushima]is going to cause a hiatus. But the energy imperative is such that politicians actually have very little room for manoeuvre."

Some even argue that Fukushima increases the need for management training. "The incident should make our programme even more essential," says Cora Lynn Heimer Rathbone, director of executive education at Aston Business School, which is developing a Certificate of Nuclear Professionalism with National Skills Academy Nuclear (part of Cogent). "The reality is that Fukushima re­inforces the need for a programme that develops people's skills across the managerial, operational and technical areas of a nuclear plant."

In light of Fukushima, the certificate may now have a greater emphasis on crisis management and thinking in emergency situations. But Ms Heimer Rathbone says the ultimate decisions about the curriculum rest with the nuclear industry.

Ms. Heimer Rathbone and Mr. Gamlen point out that people will be needed to run existing nuclear plants or for decommissioning programmes. But the greatest opportunities will probably be in new-build projects, in the U.K. and further afield.

Mr. Kruse argues that in the past the industry emphasized engineering at the expense of managerial skills. If the plants are to be completed successfully this time, he says there needs to be a better balance of capabilities - from finance to project management, engineering and scientific expertise.

"New-build projects are typically run by engineering people and they are focused on the technology issues ... But you also need people from the management perspective who have a decent understanding of the business case, risk management and particularly how different areas are interconnected. The essential thing is to understand that all aspects are equally important."

MBS has teamed up with the International Nuclear Academy in France and the Dalton Nuclear Institute at Manchester University to offer short, open courses aimed at senior executives. The first sessions took place in March, as Fukushima was unfolding, and ranged from the laws and economics of nuclear to managing supply chains and skills shortages.

Mr. Gamlen says the courses are aimed at two groups: people recruited to nuclear for their technical skills who need management training, and non-nuclear managers joining from other fields. He says the industry needs to attract individuals from chemicals and aerospace to scale up sufficiently. "If you are bringing these plants online by 2015 or 2016, you need managers now. You are not going to grow these people out of universities. You are going to have to convert them."

Managers recruited from aerospace might be a good fit because of their experience with complex supply chains and long research lead-times. But some aspects of nuclear are unique, including its absolute safety calculus and range of stakeholders. MBS's courses include training in making decisions in highly uncertain situations and managing public concerns over nuclear power.

MBS is also providing bespoke programmes - for Areva, the French nuclear operator, for example. Mr. Gamlen says international companies such as EDF and Areva want to train their U.K.-based managers in the U.K. to expose them to cultural norms and regulatory practices.

MBS hopes to become an education hub to the emerging energy cluster in the north-west, where more than half of the U.K.'s nuclear work force is employed, according to Cogent. Mr. Gamlen estimates MBS could generate £1m-£2m a year from the nuclear industry - about 20 per cent of its executive education income.

Ms. Heimer Rathbone says the Certificate of Nuclear Professionalism will probably include a dozen modules across technical, commercial and leadership themes. It will be aimed at everyone, from graduates to veterans. Aston is also hoping to work with individual companies.

Meanwhile, this autumn, Cambridge Judge will offer a one-year MPhil programme in nuclear energy, with the university's engineering, earth and materials science departments. The course will cover engineering and safety essentials, as well as technology policy and management.

William Nuttall, senior lecturer in technology policy at Judge, says nuclear managers now need a greater range of perspectives. "So much has changed since the U.K. last built nuclear power stations 25 years ago. Those were the days of a much larger state-led sector. Now the range of stakeholders is much broader and there are many ways that higher education can contribute that may not have been necessary before."

Outside the U.K., the year-old European Nuclear Energy Leadership Academy in Munich recently started nuclear management courses. Funded by six companies and housed in an impressive purpose-built facility, the first "leadership cycle" has attracted 20 "future chief executives".

John Shepherd, marketing director, says the idea is to develop "management expertise in the nuclear context", appealing to people with technical and non-technical backgrounds. Enela, which is championed by the European Commission, is also developing a management programme aimed at younger graduates with Munich Technical University.

"It's not just a question of education," adds Michael Parker, former chief executive of British Nuclear Fuels and an MBS alumnus. "It's about having people who are experienced in project management and they don't necessarily need to come from nuclear."

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