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Last Updated: Friday, 1 February 2008, 06:22 GMT
'It's not so different from other industries'
By Nigel Pankhurst
BBC News

As an academy for training nuclear workers is launched, the reality of the industry is a long way from antics of Homer Simpson and his job at the Springfield power plant.

Kylie McCarthy
Kylie McCarthy says there are many misconceptions about the industry
When Kylie McCarthy tells people she works in the nuclear industry she says she gets the same wrongly-concerned reaction as when she says she hails from Belfast.

But she says being involved in the business is very different from people's popular perceptions.

Mrs McCarthy had few concerns when she entered the industry eight years ago after leaving university.

She said: "I spoke to other people who worked in the industry and I studied with people whose fathers had worked in the industry.

"I think I just went into it with an open mind. You can see the controls and the considerations are very rigorous and safety is not taken lightly.

"So it puts anybody at ease when you see what level of scrutiny is put on anything that might be considered a risk.

"Like any industry - oil, gas, manufacturing, whatever - there are safety considerations. There are a lot of similarities"

'Rest fears'

Ministers have unveiled a national skills academy to train the thousands of extra workers required by an expanding nuclear power industry.

Mrs McCarthy said there were some initial worries from her family when she decided on her career.

The issue looms large for them as live they across the Irish Sea from her workplace at the Sellafield nuclear site on the west Cumbria coast.

The government of the Irish Republic and politicians in Northern Ireland have pressed for Sellafield to be closed on environmental and health grounds.

I say 'it's not Homer Simpson, it's not things glowing in the dark'
Kylie McCarthy

"Being Irish, it wasn't the favourite of the family," she said.

"I was able to come here and put their fears at rest. I was able to see its a good job with good opportunities and I've been able to tell them a bit more about the industry, and they're not concerned."

Mrs McCarthy started on a graduate training programme after studying electrical and electronic engineering at Edinburgh's Heriot-Watt University.

She now works as demolition project manager, overseeing the pulling down of buildings on nuclear sites.

Dose badge

Mrs McCarthy says she is reassured about her working environment.

All nuclear workers wear a clip-on "personal dose badge" which is checked for radiation either monthly or quarterly, depending on the risk level.

The National Skills Academy will be based at the Sellafield nuclear site

"I've been in various areas of the business and I've not been concerned because I know of all the controls, considerations, analysis, samples and personal checks," she said.

She says she would urge people not to be put off pursuing a career in the business by preconceptions.

"I would probably tell them it's not so different from other industries," she said.

"It's a growing industry, it's a diverse industry, it's challenging, and once they are given the opportunity to learn what really takes place, not from what the media says, they see a very different picture."

'Nuclear processes'

She added: "There's a massive amount of options in the industry. The nuclear industry isn't necessarily about people with nuclear skills.

"Demolishing a building obviously isn't a nuclear speciality but you have to take account that there were nuclear processes in the building."

And that reaction when she tells people what she does for a living?

"I lived in Belfast for 20 years of my life. People say 'really, that's terrible', but I never saw anything bad," she said.

"The nuclear industry is very much like that. I say 'it's not Homer Simpson, it's not things glowing in the dark'."

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