Page last updated at 10:54 GMT, Tuesday, 10 June 2008 11:54 UK

Nuclear work permit rules eased

By Justin Parkinson
BBC News political reporter

Sellafield
Gordon Brown wants nuclear power plans to be built on more sites

The government is relaxing immigration rules for the nuclear power industry.

It means 27 categories of job can be filled by workers from anywhere in the world and comes as ministers say 60,000 jobs could be created in the industry.

The Home Office said adding the jobs to the "national shortage" list would help the UK get the "right skills".

But unions fear British workers could miss out, with the GMB saying it would be "tragic" if the new jobs went to people brought in "on the cheap".

'Market trends'

The changes are part of the government's new points-based migration system.

Workers from most of Europe are entitled to apply for jobs in the UK, without restriction.

We would be very, very concerned if people in the communities where the nuclear industry already exists are not going to benefit
Gary Smith, GMB

For specific occupations the government has drawn up a list of jobs in which there is deemed to be a skills shortage.

It has now added 27 electricity generation engineering jobs - including several nuclear specialisms such as reactor physicists and nuclear design engineers.

This means employers do not have to carry out a recruitment search within the European Economic Area and can recruit from anywhere in the world.

At the moment it is estimated there are 40,000 people employed in the nuclear power industry - with Business Secretary John Hutton saying he hoped future expansion would mean a 100,000-strong workforce.

Occupations on the shortage occupation list - which currently also includes teachers and some dentists - will "change over time to reflect labour market trends", according to the Home Office.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who backed a big expansion of nuclear power last month, has also said he wants British jobs for British workers.

To help ensure that, earlier this year a Nuclear Skills Academy was set up to train and supply thousands of staff for the nuclear industry.

'Huge opportunity'

Gary Smith, national officer for the GMB union, said he feared the relaxation of the immigration rules might undermine the academy's work.

He told the BBC: "The nuclear industry is of vital importance to regenerate communities.

"We would be very, very concerned if people in the communities where the nuclear industry already exists are not going to benefit.

"That would be a tragic and missed historic opportunity."

He added: "It's going to be several years before they start pouring concrete into nuclear power stations.

"There's a huge opportunity to educate and regenerate. What we will fight is any attempt to bring labour into the UK and to bring it in on the cheap."

A Home Office spokesman said: "We are determined to ensure that those people coming to work in the UK have the right skills to benefit Britain and are coming here to contribute."

He added that the recently established Migration Advisory Committee would "in future advise ministers on where migration might sensibly fill gaps in the UK labour market".

'Interest'

A spokeswoman for Cogent, the training body which runs the nuclear skills academy, said: "What we want to do is develop the talent in this country.

"There is a lot of interest as the nuclear industry is a very good one to work for, with excellent opportunities for career development."

French firm EDF has said it plans to construct four nuclear plants in the UK - the first by 2017.

Critics of nuclear energy say it is expensive, creates radioactive waste and could become a target for terrorists.

But the government argues it is essential to develop diverse sources of electricity, helps the UK to be more self sufficient in energy, and is more environmentally friendly than using fossil fuels.

No new plants have been built in the UK since Sizewell B, which opened in 1994.


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