Challenges and opportunities for nuclear in 2017

As the UK's nuclear future continues to be an important sector for many looking at the 2017 infrastructure pipeline, Natasha Levanti asks nuclear experts what challenges and opportunities this represents.

With the changes and uncertainty that 2016 brought to the infrastructure sector, industry leaders are looking towards securing projects that both meet societal challenges as well as provide a pipeline fostering UK skills for years to come.

Over the course of the next five years Steve Radley of the Construction Industry Training Board (CITB) expects “construction to keep defying the economic headwinds, with almost half of its growth coming from Hinkley, HS2 and Wylfa and other infrastructure projects.”

Two of the three projects identified being within the nuclear sector further emphasises the importance of understanding the challenges and opportunities for 2017, specifically regarding the UK’s nuclear sector.

To find out what challenges and opportunities are in store for nuclear in 2017, Infrastructure Intelligence talked to five key players in the nuclear sector to get their take on the current situation.

Tom Greatrex, chief executive at Nuclear Industry Association:

“The UK’s nuclear industry is arguably in its most positive position for decades. The industry generates 21% of the country’s electricity, UK expertise in decommissioning is helping to solve some of the most complicated engineering challenges in the UK and overseas, and construction is underway to build the UK’s first new nuclear power station for a generation at Hinkley Point C.

“This activity presents the industry with an array of opportunity. Opportunities for businesses in the supply chain looking to expand their work in the sector or enter it for the first time, as well as individuals looking at their first or a new career.

“The challenge now is to deliver the new build programme in its entirety, maintain momentum in the decommissioning programme, ensure the industry benefits from the Government’s burgeoning Industrial Strategy as well as navigating the elements of uncertainty created by the UK’s decision to leave the European Union. Like many, for the nuclear industry, 2016 was a year of change and this year will be about delivery.”

Colin Elcoate, group commercial officer at Hayward Tyler, provider of electrical motors and pumps:

“With Hinkley Point C’s construction now fully underway, more nuclear plants in the latter planning stages, the oil price recovering and developed plans for new energy infrastructure such as Swansea tidal lagoon, 2017 could be a transformative year for UK’s energy landscape.

“With this increased inward investment, I’m confident that the UK can enhance its global position as an energy leader and will drive skills, innovation and global opportunities.”

Lady Barbara Judge, former chairman of the UK Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA), chairman at the Institute of Directors and chairman of the advisory board of Association for Consultancy and Engineering:

“The government’s approval of Hinkley Point C was a welcome turning point, a display of their commitment to a much needed revival of nuclear energy. Given the cost and complexity of the project, the approval process has not come without challenge. As the UK’s first new nuclear plant in 20 years, all eyes will be on how this story ends. If, however, executed well, could lay the groundwork for a nuclear renaissance. 

“A significant area of opportunity is around Small Modular Reactors (SMRs), which could in future become a real alternative to larger, more costly plants. They are cheaper, less risky and a way of getting greater private sector involvement, without the more complex financing arrangements needed for big projects. The Government has also shown an interest in the area, having invested £250 million in an ambitious nuclear research and development programme.

“As with many sectors, one of the biggest challenges and opportunities remains Brexit. As part of our withdrawal from the European Union, Britain will also be leaving  Euratom. As nuclear gains a bigger share in the energy provision, the UK government and the industry must not only ensure a smooth transitional period but also a continued cooperation with its EU counterparts once we have left.”

Christophe Bouvet, global VP for power and energy-nuclear at SPX FLOW:

“2017 looks like being another transformational year for the UK’s nuclear industry.  The construction of Hinkley Point C will gain pace providing opportunities for the engineering and manufacturing of longer lead items through the year.

“2017 will see opportunities on the ABWRs at Wylfa and AP1000s at Moorside, and to support the final stages of the GDA for both these technologies. UK companies will look abroad to China and India for further opportunities as plans are underway for the construction of ten reactor projects which are moving at speed.

“Finally, we anticipate a decision on the Government’s SMR competition which will provide clarity on making this exciting technology a reality in the UK within the next decade.”

Tim Yeo, chairman at New Nuclear Watch Europe:

“In many respects, 2017 could be the year nuclear power has been waiting for. On the plus side, we have the technology shift from GEN II to GEN III, and plenty of new build projects in the pipeline across Europe. However, on the face of it there are mounting challenges, such as cost and the commitment of key investors. 

“NNWE believes the current situation is a clear message for action. In the UK, Hinkley Point, Moorside and Wylfa are all important projects and it is high time for government to act and secure their future. Where investors are showing signs of non-commitment the answer must be to entertain alternative vendors, and mitigate the risk of non-delivery through introducing diversity into the nuclear portfolio.

“What is needed is a thorough consideration of all the nuclear technologies on offer and the right conditions for countries like China, Korea and Russia to come to the UK, invest and build. If we are serious about delivering a low carbon economy, nuclear must have a role in the future energy mix. And if the technology is chosen on the basis of value for money, it is a win-win outcome.”