The South West of England is set to play a vital economic, social and environmental role in supporting the UK’s recovery from the coronavirus pandemic, says Andy Bates Nuclear South West.
Airbus, Rolls-Royce, EDF, British Aerospace, Leonardo Helicopters: they’re household names which prove that when it comes to advanced engineering, the South West of England has the strongest of traditions.
The region has been right at the cutting edge of the engineering world for decades but even amid everything that the coronavirus pandemic has thrown at our economy that remains truer and more important than ever.
And we should be confident about the future because some of the best and brightest nuclear engineering brains are building on this storied history of innovation in Bristol at a new engineering design centre in the city’s Aztec West business park.
The UK EPR (European Pressurised Reactor) Design Centre is uniting nuclear designers and engineers from EDF and British engineering partners and suppliers to support the next phases of construction at its Hinkley Point C nuclear power station 40 miles further south of the M5 corridor on the Somerset coast.
Its opening this July was one of the highlights of what has been a challenging year across the economy and certainly lifted the spirits of the whole of the engineering sector.
It is estimated that by next year some 700 people will be employed there from different companies from the UK and abroad, including supply and engineering firms including EDF, Framatome UK, Atkins, Jacobs, Assystem, Anotech and Vulcain.
Its very presence says that the heart of the nuclear new-build market is now in the South West of England which can also boast about the University of Bristol’s General Engineering and Mechanical Engineering courses which were named the best in the country in a Guardian higher education survey.
The longevity of huge infrastructural projects will offer opportunities for young people to embark on an engineering career, straight from local universities.
It will draw upon experience from other EPR construction projects and is another of the innovations helping to drive efficiency and productivity at Hinkley Point C – and beyond with Sizewell C on the horizon.
At its public launch, Tilly Spencer, Director of Edvance UK, a division of EDF’s nuclear engineering and projects organisation, who is leading the centre, promised “a collaborative environment” that would “grow the UK’s design engineering long-term capability and skills”.
And as well as spearheading completion of Hinkley Point C, people with the “right skills and experience of the UK context and global nuclear industry” would look to replicate HPC design and learnings at Sizewell.”
The team will be able to quickly resolve issues to support the construction and commissioning programme, using their experience of the EPR nuclear reactor design and UK regulatory environment.
This approach draws on experience from other EPR construction projects and is another of the innovations helping to drive efficiency and productivity at Hinkley Point C.
The design centre, which is located just off the M5 at Aztec West, has the potential to drive up economic transformation along the M5 corridor from Bristol to Plymouth, as well as radiating out of the region to support other UK new nuclear projects via the M4 and beyond.
A pool of talent under Tilly will directly support the Hinkley Point C construction team to help them overcome any little bumps into the road in the journey towards completion and once the power station is up and running, the EPR Design Centre team.
The fact that EDF have set this up in England rather than France is a real vote of confidence for the South West and already it’s attracting companies from overseas to set up offices here.
This UK-based design capability has invigorated our West Country advanced engineering scene and the future looks bright as there will be a steady development of the long-term skills needed to support the operation of our power stations.
Opportunity knocks for local companies to meet the demand for highly-skilled engineers from the overseas companies which are converging on the South West where HPC is worth nearly £1.7bn local firms according to a detailed EDF report.
As well as Hinkley Point C and Sizewell, defence and de-commissioning markets represent potential future work for the design centre engineers.
A major programme of decommissioning work is under way at reactors at Winfrith, Dorset, and at sites in Oldbury and Berkley.
And the defence programme, presents huge supply chain opportunities such as the Devonport Dockyard operator Babcock has a pipeline of more than £30bn.
With so much activity, South West of England is set to play a vital economic, social and environmental role in supporting the UK’s recovery from the coronavirus pandemic. Advanced engineers will be at the forefront of that revival.