WORK on the new £15m National College for Nuclear at Lillyhall, Workington, started this week.

Set to open in September next year, the hi-tech facility will become one of two centres, the second being built at Bridgewater in Somerset.

The Northern Hub, built at the Lakes College site, will feature virtual reality suites allowing learners to experience nuclear installations in a virtual environment, science and radiation laboratories and specialised design and modelling suites.

To mark the occasion, the first sod for the nuclear college was cut at a ground breaking ceremony at the site yesterday.

The region’s industry chiefs turned up to witness the event along with students who will use the facility once it’s built.

The event was led by Colin Reed, chairman of the board for the nuclear college.

The National College for Nuclear will train the next generation of nuclear workers in a range of specialised careers, and aims to train over 7,000 learners across both facilities by 2020.

Some of those will be taking longer courses and some will be taking part in specialist one-day training opportunities.

Chris Nattress, principal of Lakes College, said: “We have been involved with nuclear training for decades but this project is a definite change in gears.

“It is bringing together partnering on a national scale that has never been done before – all working collaboratively. For us at Lakes College, it is fantastic to be part of.

“For the region’s students, it means training for local jobs at a facility on their doorstep. But it also means being part of opportunities at a national level.

“We are well under way with designing courses, qualifications and training programmes specifically for the nuclear sector, setting out quality and standards, and starting to raise awareness about the development of a brand new College for Nuclear, in the UK and internationally.”

“Getting people onto the Sellafield site is extremely time consuming and expensive, so if we’ve got a really high end, virtual environment the teams of technicians can work on complicated decommissioning activity.”

Led by Sellafield Ltd and EDF Energy, in partnership with Lakes College and the University of Cumbria, the training facilities will include a realtor simulator and engineering workshops.

Ken McEwan, head of training at Sellafield, said: “The National College for Nuclear means huge opportunities for local people and the area.”