French state-owned energy firm EDF has revealed plans for a massive recruitment drive to bolster the country’s ageing nuclear reactors and build new power plants.
It is seeking thousands of specialist welders, pipe-fitters and boiler makers to fix its fleet.
The problem is that such staff are in short supply.
The company, which is also building the new Hinkley Point C and is behind the fledgling Sizewell C project in the UK, is battling to keep the lights on this winter across France and build resilience amid Europe’s energy crisis.
On the face of it, France is well placed to navigate the loss of Russian gas which the continent depended on ahead of the war in Ukraine.
Nuclear accounts for around three-quarters of its power generation. It has 56 reactors across 18 sites.
However, half of its capacity has been offline this year due to a combination of technical problems and maintenance.
Unscheduled outages due to corrosion have proved the main challenge after cracks were discovered in some pipes used to cool reactor cores.
The problems have added to Europe’s power price surge.
National Grid, which operates the UK power network, warned on Monday that France would have to import energy this week as it mulled whether to impose its own first line of defence to keep the lights on in Britain.
This country traditionally relies on imports from France during the winter months and our neighbour’s own power crunch is exacerbating concerns over UK margins.
EDF, which has a reputation for delays and cost overruns in building nuclear plants, has had to fly in around 100 workers from the US and Canada this month to help its repair efforts in France.
Its struggles in the country are tipped to wipe €32bn (£27.6) from its core earnings – with the French state set to increase its stake in the firm to 100% from the current 84% to help ease growing concerns for its financial stability.
The nationalisation comes at a time when EDF is on the hook to build at least six new generation reactors over the next 25 years across France.
It estimates that the country’s nuclear industry needs to recruit between 10,000 and 15,000 workers a year over the next seven years.
It wants to find 3,000 new workers a year over that time.
Clement Bouilloux, manager for France at energy consultancy EnAppSys, said: “These are pretty ambitious targets.
“We have not had a construction drive like that in nuclear since the 1970s.”
Industry experts told Reuters that training for nuclear specialist welders alone is three years longer than for similar roles.
They are required to operate in an area of reactors where radiation is high, so they can only spend a limited amount of time inside.
One welder told the news agency: “To be a very good welder, you have to be born to be one.
“These people work with molten metal at 1,500 degrees Celsius, and sometimes have to stand upside down.
“You start with 500 would-be welders, and five years later you may have only five who are up to scratch.”
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