Nuclear – small steps

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In our February issue, Machinery noted that the Nuclear AMRC has as part of its raison d'être the building of a UK supply chain, not just to support the UK's new nuclear build, but also to win business worldwide (<a href="" target="new">see here</a>).

A figure of 80% has been bandied around as the potential for local content, with each new UK nuclear reactor reckoned to represent an investment of £4 billion or so. Unfortunately, as we also highlighted, local content is not getting off to a good start with the French-design Areva nuclear plants. But Prime Minister David Cameron was talking it up last month. Following a meeting with French counterparts, on 17 February he announced a deal worth £400 million between Rolls-Royce and France's Areva on four nuclear reactors, including the first EPR reactors at Hinkley Point, Somerset. This will also underpin a new Rolls-Royce factory in Rotherham and support 1,200 new jobs across the nuclear supply chain in Britain, it was said. In addition, there was a new engineering contract between EDF and Kier/BAM for Hinkley Point, meaning another £100 million for companies operating in the South West and 350 jobs. The Prime Minister said: "I want the vast majority of the content of our new nuclear plants to be constructed, manufactured and engineered by British companies...Today marks an important first step towards that. A good deal for Britain and a good deal for France." The Institution of Mechanical Engineers saw it differently: "This is not necessarily the best deal for securing UK jobs and skills," said Dr Tim Fox, head of energy at the Institution, adding: "Although some relatively small contracts are to be awarded to Rolls-Royce and BAM Kier, it looks increasingly likely that the vast majority of the contracts involved in the manufacture and construction of the new nuclear reactors at Hinkley Point and Sizewell will go to France, rather than the UK. An outcome the institution predicted in its Nuclear New Build report two years ago." In fact, it is competing nuclear plant provider Westinghouse that has been talking up local content for its design, rather than Areva, anyway. Westinghouse's tag line is 'we buy where we build'. Investment in new Nuclear is put at £50 billion, so the stakes are high. As the Prime Minister said, action so far represents "an important first step". Let's hope for much more. First published in Machinery, March 2012