With most markets sectors descending vertically, work on a third generation of nuclear power plants can’t begin soon enough.
But as those involved gear up to build up to eight of them in the next 15 years (with the first coming on line by the end of 2017), it’s becoming apparent what a gargantuan task it’s going to be.
Not least is the need to relearn the skills to construct them. As we report this week, Europe’s first nuclear project for 10 years is running three years behind schedule in Finland. Meanwhile a station in Normandy hasn’t got off to a great start, either. What’s more, there is little sign that the French team is taking any action to avoid the problems at the Finnish plant: indeed, the same basic mistakes in concrete pouring and steel welding are occurring at both sites.
Of course, there are a whole host of other hurdles to overcome if Britain’s kettles are to be powered by atomic energy in 2017. Despite restricting the stations to two designs, we still need more nuclear inspectors for work to be approved quickly. Then there’s the worldwide shortage of firms that supply and install nuclear components, which is creating uncertainty and pushing up costs. And how effective – and disruptive – will the green lobby be? Will we be treated to the heroics of a new generation of Swampies? The list of uncertainties is as long as your arm.
To its credit, the business and enterprise department has been putting in place mechanisms to prevent the problem that dogged the second generation of stations. One fillip for those who recall the lengthy inquiry into Sizewell B is that this time we will have the Independent Planning Commission. After a great deal of opposition, this received royal assent a week ago and is now recruiting a chairman. That is essential to persuading the operators to invest in the stations.
There are a whole host of hurdles to overcome if Britain’s kettles are to be powered by atomic energy in 2017
But what are our chances of learning the lessons from Finland and France? Last week, Andrew McNaughton, Balfour Beatty’s newly promoted chief operating officer, called for the industry to boost its nuclear skills as he signed a deal with Areva to bid for nuclear plants in the UK. The essential problem is that builders are not used to meeting the extreme quality standards demanded by regulators. Mike Weightman, the head of the Nuclear Directorate, points out that as the nuclear supply chain is global, so too are its quality issues. He wants suppliers to share best practice through an association of approved suppliers. After all, they have common interests to defend: “If you have problems with one supplier it undermines confidence in the nuclear industry,” he says.
The stakes for Britain could hardly be higher. As Weightman says, if we can learn from the experiences of the Finnish and the French we can “get it right at the start and … get ahead in the international market”. Wise words indeed.
Our olympic team
According to the latest survey, three-quarters of us back the London Olympics. Given the uncertainty that has surrounded the funding of venues such as the athletes’ village and the media centre, this is a good result. However, a government survey this week also shows that 32% of respondents believe the plans are too ambitious, and a measly 7% of us have any real idea what the plans are for the Games’ legacy. Were these same questions asked of our industry, would the results be any different? Our Countdown to 2012 series aims to ensure they would be. The latest instalment introduces our London 2012 team – seven young professionals working on the venues whose stories we will tell as the clock ticks down to 27 July 2012. In their opinion, the Games will be a triumph. Fingers crossed …