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Energy, Manufacturing

Weld Australia Sounds Alarm: Skilled Worker Shortage Will Make Dutton’s Plan for Nuclear Power Plants Impossible

Weld Australia 3 mins read

Weld Australia is raising urgent concerns about the critical shortage of skilled welders needed for the nuclear power plant program announced by Opposition leader Peter Dutton last week. The deficiency in highly skilled tradespeople, particularly welders, poses a significant threat to the successful execution of this national energy initiative.

 

Opposition leader Peter Dutton announced seven sites for reactors, unveiling his long-awaited and highly controversial policy for nuclear power with the claim that operations could start in the 2030s. The proposed sites are former or current coal plants that possess the necessary technical attributes, including transmission infrastructure, cooling water capacity, and—apparently—the skilled workforce required.

 

The proposed nuclear power plant program, alongside increased activities in defence shipbuilding, critical minerals mining and processing, hydrogen plants and renewable energy infrastructure projects, will exacerbated the existing shortage of welders from 70,000 to nearly 100,000.

 

According to Geoff Crittenden (CEO, Weld Australia), “Of the 67,000 welders identified in the last census, fewer than 5,000 possess the expertise to weld to the highest standards required for nuclear power plants, submarines, and other critical infrastructure. Of those 5,000 welders, approximately one third are nearing retirement, further compounding the issue.”

 

“Australia’s energy transition is already struggling, and adding the monumental task of building nuclear power plants without a sufficient skilled workforce is impractical. We are barely able to meet our current commitments, let alone embark on new nuclear projects.”

 

“If Australia were to shift its energy policy yet again, we might see a slight decrease in demand for welders—assuming we halt the production of wind towers, refrain from extending the grid, and cancel hydrogen and green steel projects. Given that wind and transmission tower production can be significantly automated, let's optimistically estimate a reduction of 20,000 welders.”

 

“However, if we decide to build two nuclear power plants simultaneously while maintaining all existing coal-fired power stations indefinitely, the demand for highly skilled welders will be immense. Welding for nuclear power plants requires expert welders who can handle all positions and processes with the highest accuracy and quality—those same welders are also essential for maintaining coal-fired power stations, building submarines and frigates, and developing hydrogen and mineral processing plants.”

 

Drawing parallels with the UK’s Hinkley Point C nuclear power plant project, which has experienced a three-year delay and an £8 billion cost overrun partly due to a shortage of skilled engineers and steelworkers, Crittenden emphasised the dire need for a robust strategy to address this workforce gap.

 

Stuart Crooks, the managing director of Hinkley Point C, said restarting the nuclear construction industry in Britain after a 20-year pause has been hard. Relearning nuclear skills, creating a new supply chain and training a workforce has been an immense task.”

 

“If it has been an immense task for the UK, where they had a well-established nuclear industry, how will Australia—which has no nuclear industry—handle the challenge?” Crittenden said.

 

“Where are these highly skilled and paid tradesman to come from? If we decide to manufacture the infrastructure required for Australia’s renewables revolution locally, we can do it, just, with some sensible policy settings. I have no idea where we would find the engineers and tradesmen to build one nuclear power station, let alone seven.”

 

“We certainly cannot rely on immigration. The global shortfall in welders is evident, with the US experiencing a deficit of 480,000 before its recent manufacturing boom and Japan reporting a shortage of 250,000 welders. The demographic shift away from trades has created a global crisis that Australia is not insulated from.”

 

Crittenden urged immediate and decisive action. “Australia’s energy transition is already struggling, and adding the monumental task of building nuclear power plants without a sufficient skilled workforce is impractical. We are barely able to meet our current commitments, let alone embark on new nuclear projects.”

 

The situation necessitates a multi-faceted approach. “We need practical solutions, and we need them now,” said Crittenden. “The federal government must invest in training programs, provide incentives for trades education, and develop a clear strategy to ensure a pipeline of skilled welders and engineers.”

 

“Our national energy security and future economic prosperity depend on our ability to build and maintain critical infrastructure. The skilled worker shortage is not just a challenge; it is a crisis that demands immediate and sustained action,” concluded Crittenden.

 

- ends -


About us:

About Weld Australia

Weld Australia is the peak body representing the welding industry in Australia. Our members are made up of individual welding professionals and companies of all sizes. Weld Australia members are involved almost every facet of Australian industry and make a significant contribution to the nation’s economy. Our primary goal is to ensure that the Australian welding industry remains both locally and globally competitive, both now and into the future. A not-for-profit, membership-based organisation, Weld Australia is dedicated to providing our members with a competitive advantage through access to industry, research, education, certification, government, and the wider industrial community. Weld Australia is the Australian representative member of the International Institute of Welding (IIW). For further information, visit: https://weldaustralia.com.au/


Contact details:

Sally Wood on sally@wordly.com.au or 0434 442 687

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