New U.K. report: Young people want to know more about nuclear

December 4, 2023, 12:00PMNuclear News

Almost two-thirds of 14- to 18-year-olds in the United Kingdom would consider a career in nuclear if they knew more about it, according to a new report, Nuclear Energy: Young People’s Views on Nuclear Energy and Careers in the Nuclear Sector, from the British Science Association (BSA).

About the report: The report was conducted as part of the BSA’s Future Forum program and was funded by Urenco, an international supplier of uranium enrichment services and fuel cycle products, as part of its commitment to education and skills development.

The report centered around an initial survey of 1,000 14- to 18-year-olds in England, Scotland, and Wales, with two follow-up workshops that were attended by 39 young people, providing the opportunity for more detailed responses.

The Future Forum program has been run by the BSA since 2017 to give young people a chance to voice their opinions and concerns on science and technology topics.

The BSA was established in 1831. Its mission, according to the organization, is to address and remove structural and system-wide barriers to science, bringing more voices into the conversation and enabling more people see science as a relevant part of their lives.

What was revealed: The report, released publicly on December 4, showed that young people are open to careers in nuclear energy but don’t feel they are well enough informed about it in the classroom, via media, or in wider society. The research showed that 14- to 18-year-olds felt more informed about renewables—solar, wind, and tidal—and fossil fuels than they were about nuclear, including at school.

Young people said that the most critical issue for improving their lives in the future was climate change, with 45 percent ranking it as their top concern. The respondents stated that they wanted to learn more about how nuclear could contribute to provide cleaner, more efficient, and more sustainable energy, and how it compares to other sources such as fossil fuels. They also wanted access to clear and transparent information concerning the safety of nuclear energy, its cost, and how nuclear energy is generated.

Almost two-thirds (64 percent) of young people said they would be interested in careers in nuclear, while 15 percent said they would like to find out more.

Other findings:

  • 70 percent believed that a career in the nuclear industry would be “challenging” rather than “uninspiring” (6 percent).
  • 66 percent thought a nuclear career would be “fulfilling” rather than “pointless” (6 percent).
  • 58 percent said that such a role would be “interesting” rather than “boring” (15 percent).

Solid background preferred: A good knowledge of math and science were perceived by young people to be among the top three attributes needed for a career in the nuclear energy sector. They also wanted more information about pay, the diversity of people, and job roles. Nearly one-third (32 percent) believed that a college degree or postgraduate qualification was necessary to work in the nuclear industry, and only 11 percent thought that an apprenticeship would be sufficient.

Report recommendations:

  • Better inform young people about how nuclear energy contributes to net-zero goals, how it is generated, its safety record, and careers in the industry.
  • Ensure that communication about nuclear energy is factual, balanced, accessible, and transparent; be mindful of existing perceptions of nuclear and knowledge gaps; and make it relevant to young people’s daily lives.
  • Establish a network of youth ambassadors, potentially drawing on the expertise of young people who have a personal connection to nuclear, asking for their advice on communications campaigns and strategies related to education and careers.

They said it: Boris Schucht, Urenco chief executive officer, said, “This report provides useful insights into how young people perceive nuclear energy, including as a low-carbon source and a possible career pathway.”

He added, “We will work with our partners, including the British Science Association, to progress the recommendations, increasing the awareness and knowledge of nuclear energy and attracting a wider pool of future talent to the industry.”

Hannah Russell, chief executive of the BSA, said, “We’re really pleased to bring young people’s views about nuclear energy to the fore. With the climate crisis being such a concern, it is imperative that we provide future generations with the access to the knowledge and skills they need to fully understand not only the nuclear industry, but other topics essential in the national and global net-zero journey.”

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