UK nuclear industry looks back at 'momentous' year

02 December 2016

With the final investment decision to build the Hinkley Point C nuclear power plant in Somerset, together with progress in other planned new nuclear projects, 2016 has been a "momentous" year for the UK, delegates at the Nuclear Industry Association's Nuclear2016 conference in London heard yesterday.

Opening the conference, NIA chairman John Hutton said: "If you look at the industry here in the UK, if you look at current and existing operations, if you look at decommissioning and if you look now at the tremendously exciting opportunities of nuclear new build, I think that the word 'momentous' is fully justified."

He added: "The one thing that has lit the tinder - the fuse of excitement across the industry - is of course the progress that we are making on new build..

He described EDF Energy's final investment decision on 28 July to go ahead with the £18 billion ($21.8 billion) project to construct two EPR reactors at Hinkley Point as "a huge milestone" for the UK nuclear industry. "If there ever was a vote of confidence on the ability and capability of the nuclear industry in the UK, that is it," Hutton said.

His sentiments were echoed by UK energy minister Lucy Neville-Rolfe, who said this year has been a "truly pivotal moment" for the industry. "2016 will be a year for the industry to look back on, I hope with a sense of pride, positivity, acknowledging the important progress it has made, in partnership with government, towards making new nuclear a reality in the UK," she said.

Neville-Rolfe said construction of Hinkley Point "will trigger this country's nuclear renaissance". She added, "The UK's nuclear renaissance will trigger big benefits for British businesses and it's important they are ready for the challenge. This is why today I am making sure developers will be required to show evidence that their projects support growth in the UK supply chain, improve competition, and boost innovation and skills. Having visibility of the projects will give UK companies the incentive and confidence to invest, expand their capabilities, and train and retain their skilled employees."

However, the minister noted challenges facing the UK nuclear energy industry, among them the need to grow its workforce by about 30,000 by the mid-2020s at a time when some 70% of skilled workers in the new nuclear sector are retiring. In addition, the effect of the UK's vote to leave the European Union also poses uncertainties.

She said the UK needs a forum to provide "strategic grip from the industry and government and to provide good governance". Such a forum, the Nuclear Industry Council (NIC), has been "waiting in the wings" following a review to make it more effective and strategic. "With a resurgent nuclear sector, the time is right to announce that we will re-establish the NIC in the new year to progress the work on industrial strategy in the nuclear sector."

Hinkley relaunching industry

Humphrey Cadoux-Hudson, EDF Energy's managing director of nuclear new build, said: "New nuclear build in this country is on its way again for the first time in a generation." He said the company is determined to make the Hinkley Point C project a success, saying it will "relaunch nuclear in Europe and transform the prospects of our industry".

With regards to the supply chain, Cadoux-Hudson said EDF has made a commitment that 64% of construction spending on Hinkley Point C will go to UK companies. "We are setting these companies up for success, not only for Hinkley Point, but for work on other major projects," he said.

EDF Energy commercial director Ken Owen noted the company has over 90 preferred bidders for its supply chain for Hinkley Point C. He said 27 of these now have live contracts and the company is going through a process of getting the other 63 partners into contracts.

Other new build projects

Duncan Hawthorne, CEO of Horizon Nuclear Power, said there are "many common elements" with relation to building a new nuclear power plant. Established in 2009 and acquired by Hitachi in November 2012, Horizon aims to provide at least 5.4 GWe of new capacity, expecting the first unit at Wylfa Newydd, on the Isle of Anglesey, to be operating in the first half of the 2020s.

However, he noted, "What is fundamentally different about Horizon and NuGen [to EDF Energy] is that we do not have any generation to rely on. We are starting from ground-zero." He said the companies have a "massive capital-raising requirement" to fulfil. "In order to do that, we have to convince people we can be trusted to build these plants on time and on budget."

NuGen CEO Tom Samson said: "What we are doing at NuGen is building a nuclear operating company for the first time in a generation in the UK, and that in itself is a tremendous undertaking." NuGen, the UK joint venture between Japan's Toshiba and France's Engie, plans to build a nuclear power plant of up to 3.8 GWe gross capacity at Moorside, in West Cumbria, using AP1000 nuclear reactor technology provided by Westinghouse Electric Company, a group company of Toshiba.

Hawthorne said, "The future of the nuclear industry is in its own hands. We have a policy envelope to work within in. If we deliver cost-competitive projects and do it on-time and in-budget, then other projects will follow."

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News