Speech

Baroness Neville-Rolfe's speech at the Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR) Industry Conference

Delivered to the ONR industry conference.

Baroness Neville-Rolfe DBE CMG

Introduction

Thank you for inviting me today; it’s a pleasure to be here.

I believe that we’re in an exciting time; it feels like we are seeing a renaissance in the nuclear industry. With the recent signing of the Hinkley Point C contract, a clear signal has been sent: nuclear will continue to play a significant role in our future energy mix.

And we’re going further, with proposals to develop 18GW of new nuclear power across six sites in the UK. We are harnessing the power and enthusiasm behind this renaissance to get the very best for our country.

The renaissance of the late Middle Ages has been described as being a modern understanding of humanity and its place in the world.

Similarly, it is important that the renaissance of the UK nuclear industry has a modern understanding of the industry, responding to both its strengths, the challenges it may face, and the lessons learned from the past.

This is what I want to talk about today.

Strengths of the Industry

So, first: the industry’s strengths.

Undoubtedly, one of its strengths lies in its people. Everyone from the nuclear technicians to the guards at the gate of power stations plays a vital role.

But I believe we can – and must – continue to invest in the workforce; we need to make sure that the nuclear fleet of the future has a highly-skilled pool of talent from which to choose.

This can be done in several ways – one way is to exploit opportunities to strengthen links with educational establishments.

Which is why establishing the National College for Nuclear was so important. Now, with two hub campuses based in Cumbria and Bridgwater, it will start welcoming its first students from September 2017, aiming to train 7,000 people by 2020.

But it’s important it doesn’t stay isolated; the College will work collaboratively with the wider industry, skills bodies and training providers, utilising international best practice to develop an industry-wide curriculum.

I want those that go to the College to see how the industry connects together, to understand how different parts of the sector work together, to get a rounded knowledge of nuclear power.

It also offers opportunities for apprenticeships and for younger generations to be involved in nuclear, so we can capture young people’s enthusiasm for the industry and help them realise their potential.

I would encourage other universities to become part of this nuclear renaissance, taking a lead from Manchester and Sheffield in pioneering courses suitable for the new nuclear industry, as well as encouraging those already in study in fields such as engineering.

I would just like to make one extra point, which is in line with the position I have taken in other sectors of the economy. I see a major role for women in a successful UK nuclear industry. Indeed I have a stepdaughter who is in nuclear at a senior level, albeit in France.

With this in mind, I’m delighted to announce Adrienne Kelbie as the Patron for Women in Nuclear. She’s done some great work in post at ONR and I look forward to working alongside her, making sure that women in nuclear feel empowered.

UK Supply Chain

Another strength the industry has is the UK nuclear supply chain, and the government is committed to ensuring that the UK supply chain be given the opportunity to compete for high value contracts.

We’re also making sure that new nuclear developers share supply chain information with industry early and are seeking to ensure that UK companies are positioned and prepared to bid for these opportunities.

Again, it’s worth looking at Hinkley as a good example of this.

EDF has said that over 60 per cent of the value of construction will be spent in the UK, meaning that local construction firms benefit.

Rolls-Royce will take a share of £100m worth of contracts…

And Hinkley will deliver 26,000 high quality jobs and apprenticeships – not only for people in Somerset but across the UK – creating an expert, and predominantly British, workforce.

This is a huge priority for my department. I want to work closely with new nuclear local communities to capture the economic benefits arising from new nuclear plants, to maximise employment, business development and inward investment opportunities, creating a lasting legacy for the region.

The Prime Minister wants to see every part of the country working – and encouraging local growth and development is a core part of our Industrial Strategy, a strategy which I will be able to say more on in the coming weeks.

Innovation is also a key driver in ensuring that nuclear can continue to play a significant role in delivering secure, affordable and clean energy now and in the future.

The Nuclear Research and Innovation Advisory Board have undertaken a large amount of work in this area over the last 3 years, and I see that a number of speakers will talk on the subject later today.

It is fitting that on Thursday, at the UK’s Innovate 2016 event in Manchester, my colleague the Secretary of State will have more to say about nuclear innovation that many of you and your organisations will be interested in…

But, as well as our strengths, we need to be aware of the issues that are going to test that strength. So, what are our challenges in the industry?

Challenges to the Industry

Unquestionably, a prominent concern that the nuclear industry faces is safety.

The Government is committed to continuing to provide a safe and secure UK nuclear industry, developing both safety and security initiatives on a national and international level.

This includes collaborative work between my Department and the ONR on a number of key initiatives that cover both policy and operation.

But I’m pleased to say that good progress has been made in safety regulation, for example at Sellafield as I will mention in a moment, but not only there.

The Government supports the ONR’s work to transition nuclear security regulation to become outcome-focused, in line with the approach taken for nuclear safety.

We have been working closely with the ONR on the development of their ‘Security Assessment Principles’ document to be issued next year. This will lead to clear benefits that will ultimately enhance security across the sector. It will give the industry greater flexibility and innovation in developing its own security plans that will enhance the security expertise in the industry; It will further ensure consistent regulatory decision-making; and It will increase the focus on new and emerging threats, including cyber security.

This is important. Anyone watching the news on television or reading the front page of a newspaper will know that we live in a very dangerous and uncertain world.

We are all only too aware of the risks and hazards associated with nuclear and radiological material. Because of this their protection is one of heaviest responsibilities we have and it must be one of our highest priorities.

The threat from terrorism and crime we face is changing and evolving. We must be able to respond to this. Ten years ago the cyber threat was not really on our radar. Now it most definitely is.

Thankfully, the UK also has its own civil nuclear police force. The Civil Nuclear Constabulary is a widely recognised and highly skilled fully armed police force.

It protects the UK’s nuclear material on site and in transit and is a pivotal part of their protected security efforts for nuclear power 14 nuclear sites across England, Scotland and Wales.

Decommissioning

Another challenge is the industry’s legacy, which stretches back to the 1940’s. Dealing with this is a national priority.

This is reflected in the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority’s budget which enables it to deliver its crucial mission of decommissioning and clean-up of the nuclear legacy.

Again, I’m pleased to say we are making good progress across the NDA’s estate.

At Sellafield, we have removed the entire bulk stocks of nuclear fuel from one of the legacy ponds – this represents a 70 per cent cut in radioactivity content at that 68 year old pond.

It’s our policy permanently to dispose of our higher-activity waste in a Geological Disposal Facility, considered the safest and most secure option.

We’re currently delivering the actions set out in the 2014 Implementing Geological Disposal White Paper ahead of launching a new siting process in 2017.

One of these facilities will support two of our key objectives:

  • It is a key enabler for new nuclear by safely disposing of the waste they will produce; and
  • It provides a viable disposal route for the legacy higher activity waste stored at Sellafield and other sites.

I highly value the work between Government, Radioactive Waste Management and the ONR, which helps make sure any Geological Disposal Facility is designed and delivered in a safe and secure way.

The Future

But looking in to the future of this nuclear renaissance, another exciting area of development is in the field of Small Modular Reactors.

SMRs might allow us to bring down the costs of meeting our energy and climate change targets.

They could certainly offer a potential opportunity for the UK to leverage the extensive skills and expertise we have across the nuclear supply chain.

And as you will all know, in March of this year, we launched the first phase of our SMR competition.

We received an encouraging response from industry with over thirty eligible Expressions of Interest. My department met with those companies over the summer to inform future policy development.

These meetings were invaluable: they provided an opportunity for us to engage with industry and understand what areas they needed greater clarity on, like the regulatory framework.

We have already taken the first step towards addressing any gaps in knowledge by hosting a regulatory workshop with competition participants and colleagues from the Environment Agency and, of course, the ONR.

Conclusion

And that sense of partnership – whether it’s with industry and Government, Government and regulators or all three together – is going to be very important throughout this period of great change.

Yes, there are huge opportunities available to us. We have the chance to expand the industry, get fresh blood and new ideas in to the system and make nuclear power more innovative than ever before.

And we have the chance to address our challenges, making the industry safer and more secure than it’s been in the past.

We all want the same thing: a secure, efficient and clean energy system to keep the lights on in the decades ahead.

And we’re only going to get there – and fully exploit the possibilities of this renaissance – if we continue to work together.

Thank you.

Published 1 November 2016