Thursday 12th August 2021
Youth Call For Climate Solutions To Follow The Science
Today is #InternationalYouthDay, and never has the voice of the #youth been so important as we fight for the future of our climate. Looking ahead to #COP26 Neil from our team explains why we need to mobilise and make sure that our voices are heard loud and clear.
Today is International Youth Day, and never has the voice of the youth been so important as we fight for the future of our climate. Looking ahead to COP26, we are calling for climate solutions to ‘Follow The Science’. We’re ready to mobilise and make sure that this message is heard loud and clear.
This November the UK will play host to the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) at the Scottish Event Campus in Glasgow. This comes 6 years after COP21, where 196 nations signed the Paris Agreement; a legally binding treaty which stipulates a long-term goal to keep global temperature rise to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. As evidenced in the recently released Sixth Assessment Report (AR6) from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the reality is that we are well off-track.
Adhering to this 1.5degC limit will fundamentally require all nations and organisations alike to achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions by the year 2050, if not sooner. Reaching this target demands action on a wide range of fronts, but primarily it means that we need to stop burning fossil fuels, and instead replace our current reliance on these carbon-intensive fuels with alternative, clean energy sources.
Nuclear plants have been providing clean and reliable low carbon energy for over 65 years, with nuclear being the second largest producer of low carbon energy globally, behind hydropower. The science is now clear: If we are to reach our net zero targets, continued deployment of new nuclear plants will be key as we look to phase out fossil fuels and integrate with an increasing share of variable renewables. This is the consensus amongst major international institutions, including the IPCC who have indicated in their 1.5°C Special Report that, across their four illustrative pathways, a global increase of nuclear output of between 98% and 501% is required by 2050.
With all this critical new nuclear development required around the globe, urgent demand to grow the nuclear workforce comes in parallel. The nuclear industry is complex, supporting a broad range of disciplines and roles including: power station operators, new build vendors and developers, healthcare scientists, and specialists in health & safety, radiation protection, decommissioning, waste management and fuel cycle, and especially non-traditional STEM like lawyers, marketing finance to name just a few.
In order to grasp what level of growth we might be looking at to match these IPCC projections, we can take a look at a typical nuclear new build. EDF, for example, have outlined the required employment numbers for their new twin EPR reactor (3.2 GWe) project in the UK (Hinkley Point C). Looking at these numbers relative to the current installed global nuclear capacity of around 400 GWe, then this could mean around 9.4 million construction positions, around 300,000 long term operational positions, and around 375,000 apprenticeship positions would need to be filled to meet a middle of the road 300% increase in nuclear capacity.
Obviously, these are very much back of the envelope calculations which don’t account for, amongst other things, the diversity of different reactors available worldwide, including emerging small and advanced modular reactors. It also only considers nuclear new builds, however, the picture should be pretty clear; the nuclear industry is going to be requiring a huge boost to its workforce in the coming years.
Generally speaking, the current nuclear workforce is an aging one. Taking the UK again as an example, the average nuclear engineer employee is 54 years old. This is in part due to the fact that, prior to Hinkley Point C, no new nuclear plants have been constructed in the UK over the past 20 years. As a result, there is a serious demand to not only grow the workforce, but also to close the skills gap and ensure that vital industry knowledge is not lost. It’s a similar picture when looking at many other prominent nuclear nations.
In order to address this issue, one of the main enablers may sound simple, but it will be absolutely key: we need to make sure that young people want to work in nuclear. The nuclear industry has suffered more than most when it comes to misguided negative public opinion as a result of common misconceptions and negative imagery. In reality though, very little has been done historically to address this issue effectively. Therefore, if we are to attract young, conscientious minds into nuclear, we need to rebrand the industry and really promote it for what it is: a clean, abundant and inclusive energy source which will play a critical role in reaching our net zero targets, whilst also delivering sustainable global development.
The nuclear industry is also at the forefront when it comes to delivering and applying pioneering science and technology within a truly challenging but exciting field. Ensuring that this is understood and communicated effectively will help to attract and nurture some of the brightest minds available. These minds will be important when it comes to bringing in new ways of thinking to the industry and driving forward innovation. Equally as important, and going hand in hand with the above, is ensuring that diversity and inclusion is also fully embraced and promoted within the nuclear industry. Taking proactive steps to ensure that the future nuclear workforce is open and accessible to all will be critical, not only in terms of increasing the size of the talent pool, but also in making sure that it is robust, harnessing a variety of different perspectives and approaches.
The good news is that looking around the world there are a wide range of amazing organisations and networks who are inspiring the next generation of young nuclear leaders, promoting diversity and inclusion and taking steps towards rebranding the industry.
The International Youth Nuclear Congress (IYNC) was founded back in 2000 as an international non-profit organization connecting students and young professionals engaged in all areas of nuclear science and technology. Now, 21 years later, the IYNC is a large global network representing Young Generation Networks (YGN) from over 46 active member countries. The IYNC is actively delivering on its mission of: developing new approaches to communicating the benefits of nuclear power as part of a balanced energy mix; promoting further peaceful uses of nuclear science and technology for the welfare of mankind; and transferring knowledge from the current generation of leading scientists to the next generation and across international boundaries.
Closely linked to the IYNC, Women in Nuclear Global (WiN Global) is another non-profit organization which has been doing wonderful things both in terms of promoting equality and diversity within the nuclear industry, as well as in communicating outside the industry to develop understanding and public awareness. With over 35,000 members representing 42 national, regional and international chapters across the world, WiN includes both women and men working professionally in the nuclear industry from medicine and health care, to regulatory authorities, to independent researchers. 2021 also saw the launch of WiN Global Young Generation demonstrating a new chapter of thought leaders.
Another group which has a mission to encourage and develop early career nuclear professionals as well as inspire the next generation of nuclear leaders, is the youth branch of the UK’s nuclear professional body, the Nuclear Institute’s Young Generation Network (NI YGN). Along with a host of other national YGNs and wider groups, the NI YGN are continuously engaging in STEM outreach programs and events, including hosting school speaking competitions as well as developing educational resources.
All of these groups are playing a key role and will continue to do so as we look to close the skills gap and expand the nuclear workforce by attracting a young and diverse talent pool to the industry. They will also be hard at work during COP26 this November as well as at the associated UN Climate Conference of the Youth (COY16) being held in the days prior.
With the future of the global climate on the line though, it is critical that we continue to mobilise the youth to action and inspire the next generation of nuclear leaders. They will be responsible for driving the industry forward to new heights, but they will also be climate champions.
To find out more about why net zero needs nuclear, and how to get involved, visit www.NetZeroNeedsNuclear.com.