The nuclear industry is to meet the construction industry’s trade bodies in the new year to try and head off a skills crisis in the provision of new nuclear power stations.

The Nuclear Industry Association is to meet the Engineering Construction Industry Association, CITB-ConstructionSkills and several other trade bodies to try and ensure that UK companies have the skills to build at least five nuclear power stations.

The news comes in the same week that prime minister Tony Blair announced a review of the UK’s energy needs, which has been taken by observers as government endorsement of nuclear power.

Bill Bryce, chair of the new-build working group at the Nuclear Industry Association, said the NIA had recently completed a study that indicated that one nuclear power station would take up 3% of the UK’s civils capacity. He said trade bodies needed to start telling its members to ensure it was training enough people.

He said: “We’ve been doing a study of what we intend to do and we’ve got to the end of that now. But we do need to start training and connect core teams. We’ll get our heads together with the training bodies and meet in the first quarter of next year.”

Mike Hockey, managing director of the ECIA, said there was a growing skills crisis in the heavy steel sector, which is losing on average 1000 workers a year. He also said a lack of UK manufacturing capacity could put the programme in doubt, as foreign companies were saturated with work from China and Russia.

He said: “The success of any future energy programme will be entirely dependent on two factors. First, the ability to procure the major equipment and, second, the skilled labour to construct the plant.

With a predicted upturn in global engineering construction, and limited fabricators with the machinery to fabricate the equipment, purchasing could well prove to be the first bottleneck. Of equal concern is the global demand for qualified labour and our future ability to resource the UK’s needs.”

UK manufacturing firms that have traditionally had the capacity to build core equipment for nuclear power stations have scaled back or dropped their operations over the past 20 years. Mitsui Babcock retains some capability, but says it would only be able to meet future requirements with “significant industry investment”. Fellow candidate Kellogg Brown & Root says it has “no plans” to become involved in the sector.

The fears were echoed by Costain and Amec, two contractors likely to be involved in a nuclear building programme. A source at Amec said: “It’s early days but these issues must be addressed.”