Infrastructure, Energy & MaterialsJune 21, 2018

Nuclear, a dusty industry? (Part 1)

450 nuclear power reactors currently generate around 11% of the world’s electricity…
Avatar Thomas Grand

450 nuclear power reactors currently generate around 11% of the world’s electricity and 60 more are currently under construction. This makes nuclear energy the world’s second largest source of low-carbon power and represents over 17,000 reactor-years of operation.

However impressive, nuclear power is under siege from renewable energies as well as growing safety concerns that have ushered in a new wave of stricter regulations to an already heavily-regulated industry. Agility, to say the least, was and still is not one of this industry’s fortes. Moreover, there is a strong “that’s how we’ve always done it in the past” culture among the sector’s professionals who maintain and transmit established processes and practices to new hires. In effect, nuclear plants were built in an era when pen and paper primed over digital technology. For all these reasons, the nuclear industry struggles to be perceived as a high-technology and exciting industry, adversely affecting its attractiveness to new generations of engineers.

To keep this industry safe, nuclear companies need suitably qualified personnel, new methodologies and modern technologies to ensure the sustainability of ageing facilities impacted by modern-day regulations and markets.

The Nuclear Energy Institute estimates that nearly 40 percent of the nuclear workforce will reach retirement age by 2018 meaning 20,000 people must be hired over the next four years to replace them. Nuclear physics graduates, however, are not the only profiles required. The majority of engineering graduates in demand are from other disciplines, which include civil, mechanical and electrical. Yet, these students have a plethora of other opportunities in competing energy or industry-related sectors.

So are they drawn away from nuclear because of its potential risks to people and the environment? I don’t believe so. Engineering students know that nuclear energy causes less harm to populations than some other forms of energy. But when nuclear harms, it makes headlines. With fossil energy, it’s subtler; a cause and effect relationship is not always established. So safety is not the main issue. The real reason young engineers choose other industries is nuclear’s lower rate of renewal and innovation than other power sectors or industries, due to a generally regulated or specific market environment. As a result, there is no strong incentive to improve their way of working as, for example, in the Oil & Gas or Chemical industries where competition is fierce. Those companies also operate very large, complex and risky assets, but focus on innovation to differentiate themselves from their competition and to operate in the most efficient manner. They collaborate, work remotely and leverage the latest technologies, all of which are attractive to a younger generation who are not in the “that’s how we’ve always done it” way of thinking. In pursuit of a sustainable future

Consequently, one of the most pressing concerns for the nuclear industry today is generational change. Even the most conservative players in this sector realize that they must improve efficiencies to attract a younger workforce to keep the industry in top shape. Younger hires that have grown up with technology are bringing in a new way of thinking under the form of reverse mentoring. They themselves are pushing their older, more experienced mentors to transform their way of working to be more efficient. After all, other industries that are highly regulated and concerned with safety and security have successfully transformed themselves. Why not nuclear? There is rising concern among C-level management about the sustainability of their operations. If they can’t hire the right skills because their industry is perceived as dusty and lackluster, plants will suffer a severe setback and may create safety breaches along the way.

By implementing methodologies supported by new technologies, which are more in line with the millennial mindset, the nuclear industry can increase the efficiency of its operations while improving its image and attractiveness to younger generations for years to come. We’ll discuss why this approach can bring about the transformation this industry needs to continuously reinvent itself in the second of our two-part series.

To learn more about how Dassault Systèmes can help you address your challenges, please visit our website or come see us at the 2018 Worldwide Nuclear Exhibition near Paris, which takes place June 26-28.  Click here to get a free badge to attend.

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