Executives test young talent in British-French contest

17 March 2017

Nuclear industry leaders from the UK and France gathered in London this week to encourage students and young professionals to showcase their talents in science, technology, engineering and maths, collectively known as STEM subjects. The workshop for the Spark! Contest, held at the French embassy on 13 March, included a jury of 15 executives and 15 teams of finalists.

Spark 2017 audience - 460
Spark! Contest president Morris addressing workshop delegates (Image: Matthew Turbett, Pentire Street Productions)

Created two years ago, with the support of EDF and Rolls-Royce, the annual contest provides paid internships and work-shadowing opportunities as prizes. This year's competition invites entrants to write a 5000-word essay on 'Why SMR? The unique role that small modular reactor deployment could play in the future challenges of global energy supply'. The winners will be announced at the European Nuclear Young Generation Forum (ENYGF) to be held on 15 June in Manchester.

Spark! Contest president and co-founder Nicholas Morris told World Nuclear News (WNN) the SMR topic was chosen to "challenge entrants to think about material that isn't necessarily readily available on the Internet and continue on our theme of innovation from last year". Morris is a project engineer at Assystem, which is a co-sponsor of this year's competition. Other sponsors are EY (formerly Ernst & Young) and Costain, while the International Youth Nuclear Congress and Franco-British Connections are partners.

"We had 50 submissions and had to narrow those down to 15 teams of between one and three people, who are students or graduates in Great Britain or in France. During the workshop, the panellists gave the teams critical feedback on the ideas for their essays. They will then have the very tough task of deciding who will be accepted as a laureate and a final prize winner," Morris said.

"For both our industries to remain successful we need to work together, create together and innovate together.”

Sylvie-Agnès Bermann,
French ambassador to the UK

The theme of SMRs for this year's contest "worked out perfectly as the right topic at the right time", Morris said, in view of the British government's launch in March 2016 of the initial phase of its SMR competition.

That launch followed publication by the National Nuclear Laboratory (NNL), in December 2014, of a feasibility study into the potential use of SMR technology in the UK. The work considered four designs in detail to inform the technical, financial, market, innovation and commercial assessments that make up the study, namely: ACP100+ (designed by CNNC); mPower (B&W and Bechtel); Westinghouse SMR (Westinghouse); and NuScale (Fluor).

The Spark! Contest finalists have been asked to consider the cultural, political, commercial, public perception and technological aspects of SMRs, and the jury will judge "how realistic and how optimistic" their ideas are, Morris said.

Michel Dubarry, president of Rolls-Royce International, Europe and North Africa, described how the competition had been inspired by the USAIRE student award, created for the aerospace and defence sector 12 years ago. Dubarry also highlighted Rolls-Royce's role in the STEM sector and the fact that two young engineers from the company - Jonathan Hart and Brett Longstaffe - had won the Spark! Contest last year. Hart is a research and technology leader at Rolls-Royce in Manchester, and Longstaffe is a fluid systems engineer with Rolls-Royce in Derby.

The 2016 contest looked at 'the nuclear fuel cycle in 2040', including existing technology and also the so-called Generation IV reactors. The workshop last year was held at the British embassy in Paris.

Jean Llewellyn, chief executive of the UK's National Skills Academy for Nuclear and a Spark! Contest panellist, told WNN, "One of the interesting challenges to me is how the contestants can actually make their papers unique and different. Last year they were all on different topics so they were naturally very distinct, but this time because they're all focused on SMRs, it's going to be quite interesting to see what each team comes up with that's a unique approach to take." She added: "It's great to see Spark! is growing, and the fact they're getting the support of the embassies is a very positive factor; it gives the whole event real kudos and profile."


Sylvie-Agnès Bermann, the French ambassador to the UK, told the workshop's delegates: "For both our industries to remain successful we need to work together, create together and innovate together. The Spark! Contest provides another link between us, one that makes our education and industry stronger, reminding us of the importance of [collaboration] in these uncertain times."

Robert Fletcher, president of nuclear services and projects at Rolls-Royce, said: "I don't need to say how important cooperation in energy and especially in nuclear energy is going to be. The relationship between the stakeholders, and particularly between the governments and industries of our two countries, is going to be absolutely key and we need to continue to explore future bilateral relationships. Building such ties is a necessity now more than ever. This cooperative spirit is exactly what the Spark! Contest is there to achieve."

Fletcher told WNN: "Spark! sets the finalists up nicely for the future to think how they develop their career, how they're going to get involved in things. It's giving them great access to people in the industry and also - as a result of Spark! - they will get an opportunity to go and work in different organisations. That's a great opportunity at a young age to be able to get that exposure."

Adriènne Kelbie, chief executive of the UK's Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR) was a mentor to one of last year's winners, Hart. Kelbie told WNN this experience had given her "really high expectations" for this year's contest. "The calibre of the people is exceptional, not just from a technical standpoint, but they're prepared to come out of their comfort zones and try something really different for them."

Asked about the role of the regulator in inspiring young talent, Kelbie said: "ONR is well-networked and does a lot to give discretionary coaching and mentoring because we want all of these people to think about safety and security right from the beginning of their career, just as we do with Women in Nuclear and the Nuclear Institute Young Generation Network."

Anthony McGrath, campaigns leader at Rolls-Royce and YGN chairman, said: "The YGN considers the Spark! Contest an excellent opportunity for personal development and fostering stronger relations within the energy community. We are therefore pleased to be in a position to provide even more support to the contest this year, as we will be hosting the Spark prize giving ceremony at the YGN's flagship event for 2017."

Taking place between 11 and 16 June, ENYGF is organised by the Nuclear Institute YGN in collaboration with the European Nuclear Society YGN, and in cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency.


Jean-Jacques Gautrot, senior advisor at Areva NP, noted the importance of new nuclear technologies, including SMRs, in the World Nuclear Association's vision for the future of electricity, called Harmony. This is based on the International Energy Agency's 2-degree scenario, which aims to avoid the most damaging consequences of climate change and requires a large increase in nuclear energy. Harmony aims at nuclear energy providing 25% of electricity in 2050, requiring roughly 1000 GWe of new nuclear capacity to be constructed.

Gautrot, who is vice-chairman of the World Nuclear Association and chairman of the Spark! Contest, told WNN: "Nuclear innovation is ongoing and SMRs will contribute to the Harmony goal. We are at the beginning of the SMR story."

Spark 2017 - Jean-Jacques Gautrot - 460 (WNN)
(L-R) Rolls-Royce's Ferriday, Graham and Bew with World Nuclear Association vice-chairman Gautrot (Image: World Nuclear News)

In January, Rolls-Royce named the companies it is working with to bring an SMR design to market in the UK - Amec Foster Wheeler, Nuvia and Arup - with other names to emerge in due course. Last October, Rolls-Royce said a UK SMR design could provide a £100 billion ($127 billion) boost to the UK economy between 2030 and 2050 because the companies involved are either UK-owned or have a strong UK presence. It anticipates creating up to 40,000 high-value British jobs and intellectual property, and opening up a £400 billion export market.

John Molyneaux, director of engineering and technology for civil nuclear at Rolls-Royce, outlined the SMR sector to the workshop's delegates. "The challenge here is to think beyond what you see in the normal literature. It's that innovation, that spark that all the finalists can bring that's really important, because when you've been in the industry for 30 years, as I have, you tend to think in a conforming way with the industry around you. So, thinking in an innovative way is critical because we can't move forward without it."

SMR is a "very broad church", he said, with a number of designs around the world. "You can't lose track of the fact that anyone developing an SMR, probably wants to dominate their home market and could quite easily be supported by their own government. That means when we talk about the overall international marketplace we need to think about accessibility. There is no chance that any individual nation will have a market sufficient to warrant the development and then deployment of multiple sites to the extent of getting a good return on the investment," he said.

Referring to the light water, high-temperature gas-cooled and liquid metal SMR designs, he said: "At the outset, I would encourage you to think hard about the origins of plant designs in submitting your papers because that often tells the fundamental advantages and drivers which led to the initial part of the design." He added: "And the time to market for the SMR technology is really important."

Asked about Rolls-Royce's progress with its SMR consortium, Molyneaux told WNN: "You don't see reactors being built without the help and support from government, so we're still really waiting for the [UK] government to draw a conclusion to the expression of interest they set out at the start of last year. If they support our thoughts on the consortium, then we'll be able to make more announcements."

New nuclear

Bermann underscored the role of Franco-British collaboration through EDF Energy, which with its partner China General Nuclear is building two Areva-designed European pressurised water reactors (EPRs) at Hinkley Point in Somerset. Rolls-Royce has preferred bidder status for Hinkley Point C contracts.

The ambassador said: "Although EDF is a French company, EDF Energy is a British one and it operates all the nuclear power plants here. The partnership between France and the UK was strengthened even further with the signature of the Hinkley Point C project in September. This is exactly the kind of project the company wanted to be a leader in the European energy sector.

"Nuclear energy may be difficult to finance, but it is essential to meet the Paris Agreement targets and decarbonise Europe. This is why we must join forces to make such projects successful so that our industries can stand up to the very competitive global energy market and export our cutting-edge technology."

Morris added: "Both France and the UK have their own strengths, technologically and culturally speaking, as we've seen with the Hinkley Point C project. Britain hasn't built a reactor in close to 30 years and therefore we have France to help bring their knowledge of the continuing use, construction and design of nuclear reactors in the last years, particularly with regards to Flamanville, to bring that through into the UK as part of a French design context. But, similarly, the ONR and British nuclear history and expertise are also something that's invaluable and it's a benchmark that feeds back through to France."

The EPR being built as unit 3 of the Flamanville nuclear power plant in Normandy is scheduled to start up at the end of next year.

Manus O'Donnell, head of technical at EDF Energy Generation, said the company is "interested in the opportunity around being the potential future owner and operator of future nuclear technologies, of which SMRs could be part".

Asked how the choice between SMR designs should be made, O'Donnell told WNN: "We can't do it alone. We've got to do it in collaboration with regulators, with governments, both here in the UK and elsewhere. It's about making decisions about what it is you want to get out of the opportunity. So, if it's speed to market, that helps with your decision-making on what technology to zone in on, and once you've done that you can align and drive forward. Equally, if it's more of the future innovative skills development approach that you want, then you will be interested in a different technology set. So, it's about understanding the different technologies and we're in a good position to be able to do that and to help advise people on what it is they want to get out of an SMR future adventure."

The company operates the UK's seven advanced gas reactors (AGRs), which are scheduled to close between 2023 and 2030, and one pressurised water reactor, which will close in 2035.

O'Donnell said EDF Energy is "exploring the opportunity for making the best value" of its existing nuclear power plant sites. "I wouldn't definitively say whether it is or isn't going to be an SMR, but they are nuclear friendly areas, so looking at future nuclear technologies and the potential for deployment of them is absolutely something that we'd be interested in.

"As an owner and operator, we have a real opportunity to help the developers of technology to suite spot and work collaboratively with both the UK and potentially French regulatory systems, or even the US regulatory system, because we understand the kind of technologies and how to deploy them and work properly with the regulator. It's important to see a strong regulator and we can work carefully with some of the developers to help with international licensing," he said.

On attracting new personnel, he said: "There's healthy interest in people wanting to work with EDF Energy and there is a need to focus on future skills development. So, it's a range of things, from an apprenticeship type of approach balanced with the high-end skills needs, in order to get the right mix of people needed for operating the reactors of today and the reactors of tomorrow."


Hart was employed at Rolls-Royce when he and Longstaffe entered the Spark! Contest last year, having recently completed the company's nuclear graduates program.

He told WNN: "Having been shortlisted in the top six teams, I was invited to attend the World Nuclear Exhibition in Paris with a VIP pass. Here I was thrilled to learn that Brett and I had won. We were presented our award by Jean-Bernard Lévy, CEO of EDF. In addition to the great experience up to that point, our prize was the opportunity to complete shadowing with a number of senior members of the nuclear industry. Personally, I have spent time at the ONR, EY, NNL and am in the process of organising opportunities at Rolls-Royce and EDF Energy. This has been a great experience, offering really varied learning and contacts."

The main piece of advice he would give this year's finalists is "to make the most of the process, instead of purely focusing on the final prize". He added: "The competition offers really valuable opportunities throughout the entire process, in particular the chance to meet senior members of the nuclear industry. They are really happy to help and so the finalists should definitely make the most of the rare chance to have time with these individuals."

Spark 2017 participants - 460
Spark! Contest workshop delegates (Image: Matthew Turbett, Pentire Street Productions)

Jay Ferriday, a nuclear materials engineer from the University of Sheffield, Jamie Graham, a physicist from the University of Liverpool, and Jonathon Bew, a mechanical engineer from Newcastle University, are one of the 15 teams of finalists for this year's contest. All are sponsored by Rolls-Royce as part of the company's nuclear graduates program.

"We've all got different backgrounds and different roles in our first secondments at Rolls-Royce in Derby and we think that can give us an edge in the Spark! 2017 competition," Ferriday told WNN.

"Our submission to the competition is made up of three parts. The first is a forecast for the near-term global deployment of SMRs and the third is a look at the long-term benefits of an established SMR market complementary to current large-scale nuclear power. The second is what we think makes our paper unique and is an examination of what changes are required in terms of the safety, regulatory and financial environments to make that future a reality and how SMRs represent a fantastic opportunity to address these areas.

"Rolls-Royce are keen investors in the nuclear graduates scheme and have been fantastic for us during our first secondment with them. I've been involved with developing advanced manufacturing techniques and building process modelling capability within the business. It's a project with a lot of high-level visibility and I've been given a huge amount of responsibility with driving it forward. The level of trust and support to push these sorts of projects is something which doesn't seem all that common within the wider nuclear graduate community and is something that Rolls-Royce excels at."

NNL's general management graduates make up three of the Spark! teams, all of which have made it through to the final round.

Abigail Scanlon (University of Salford), Joshua Scott (University of Manchester) and Clara Coleman (Queen Mary University of London) form one team. Their paper, written in the first person, will track the changing opinion of a journalist with an anti-nuclear perspective over 30 years, concluding with his realisation that the negative view he previously held only pushes the goal of a sustainable energy supply further away.

Mark Appleton (University of Nottingham) and Brahim Dif (Oxford Brookes University) will base their paper on a consortium that considers the potential of SMRs to provide future energy solutions across the globe and investigates the potential of the technology to overcome some of the challenges in space exploration related to Mars.

Allan Simpson (University of Exeter), Alex Brown (Loughborough University) and Luca Gagliardi (Université Claude Bernard Lyon) will write a case study on Nepal to consider how SMRs can resolve some of the unique challenges to supplying energy to a rural population. Gagliardi is in his second year of a PhD in physics funded by the European Commission under the Horizon 2020 framework as part of the scientific network NanoHeal.

Kornilios Routsonis, who has a European Master's in nuclear energy from Institut national des sciences et techniques nucléaires - a higher education institution administered by the French Atomic Energy and Alternative Energies Commission - told WNN the Spark! workshop "offered a unique opportunity to meet people with great experience and influence in the industry, something that would have otherwise been impossible at my level".

Alix Morfoisse, a graduate of Imperial College London working for Horizon Nuclear Power, said the workshop was an "amazing opportunity to meet top executives from both French and British companies" and a chance to understand the differences between French and British education systems "and how we could learn from each other".

Chris Moore, formerly strategic business development director at NNL and now an independent business consultant, told WNN: "As expected, the finalists grasped the feedback with energy and enthusiasm and I'm sure the final papers will present the judges with a really difficult task. I also really liked the way previous finalists are now Spark! committee members and are helping to organise this year's competition. This gives it an enduring future and encourages the finalists to keep involved with the initiative even if they don't win." Moore will be chairing the final judging panel in May.

Wider reach

Morris said he wanted to see Spark! "impact more lives" as he announced the launch of the contest's three-year program: Inspire. Empower. Unite.

This aims to inspire the next generation through the creation of a Franco-British STEM program. "Prevalent in the UK, STEM programs are prepared and delivered by graduates to secondary school children throughout the academic year. We would like to see these skills transferred to France and delivered to secondary school children in Paris through a pilot program to demonstrate the fun and wonder of science, and inspire them to pursue STEM-themed subjects," Morris said.

Creation of a Franco-British nuclear energy-themed bursary for higher education students would "empower" the next generation, he said, considering that the "notable costs can be an intimidating factor of when choosing whether or not to pursue further academic study after A-Levels or Baccalauréat".

The ongoing Spark! Contest and the strengthening of Franco-British nuclear industrial relations will continue to unite the next generation, he said.

Frédéric Thibault Starzyk, director of the Maison Française d'Oxford (MFO), gave the finalists an open invitation to a workshop on 15 May, at which graduates of French and British universities will "present their work and engage in discussions on the place of nuclear energy in the context of the social sciences and humanities". He added: "If this first seminar proves a success, it will serve as a basis for drafting the agenda of a larger conference which will be organised in Paris in the autumn and which will involve senior policy and academic experts."

Based in Oxford, MFO is a research centre in the humanities and social sciences, and a member of the network of French Research Institutes Abroad.

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News