Halcrow, EC Harris and Atkins among the companies positioning themselves to win contracts after energy review favours new generation of nuclear power stations

The construction industry is gearing up for a £12bn nuclear power station programme after the publication of the government’s energy review this week.

engineer Halcrow is to expand its nuclear division and is talking to British and international firms with a view to forming alliances. Balfour Beatty, Atkins and Costain are also understood to be talking to firms with nuclear expertise.

Among the findings of the review, which follows eight months of consultation with energy providers and the industry, are the following:

  • Confirmation that nuclear power has a role in future UK power generation.
  • Overhauling the planning system for nuclear new-build.
  • Health and Safety Executive, Environment Agency and Office for Civil Nuclear Security to pre-license generic designs.
  • Government to appoint “high powered inspector” to ensure planning and procurement is run to timetable.
The government has now launched a further consultation over policies for establishing nuclear new-build. It will include the findings in a white paper to be published at the start of the year. It is expected that between six and 10 power stations will be built in the first wave.

Nuclear power stations, such as Dungeness in Kent, will be supplemented
Nuclear power stations, such as Dungeness in Kent, will be supplemented

Launching the review, Alistair Darling, the trade and industry secretary, said nuclear power stations could make a “significant contribution” to meeting energy policy goals. He added that the new-build programme would be privately funded, saying: “It would be for the private sector to initiate, fund, construct and operate new nuclear plants and cover the costs of decommissioning and take their full share of long-term waste management costs.”

Halcrow, which is working on two nuclear fuel stores for British Nuclear Group, is revamping its nuclear capacity in anticipation of the workload. The firm is launching a recruitment drive for a nuclear business, to be called “Nuclear Focus”.

Stephen Wells, nuclear business development director at Costain, confirmed that it is talking to nuclear generating companies and financial institutions over potential partnerships for new build. He said: “We are talking to people across the field. We’ll upskill our nuclear workforce.”

Atkins, which has announced that it is forming a nuclear and power skills academy, said it was bringing in more specialist staff.

The consultancy sector is also preparing for the enhanced workload. EC Harris and Turner & Townsend are understood to be finalising a joint venture that could be used as a vehicle for new-build work.

The government’s statement was greeted with dismay by parts of the industry hoping for a stronger push on renewables. The government said 20% of generation should be provided by renewables (see below). Robin Webb, chief executive of low-carbon engineering firm XCO2, said nuclear was not the long-term answer.

Wind turbines at Whitstable, Kent: Target for renewables has been raised
Wind turbines at Whitstable, Kent: Target for renewables has been raised

Dismay over renewables

The industry has reacted with surprise and frustration to the lack of fresh policies or initiatives for renewables and microgeneration in the review.
But it did endorse a wider use of renewables, with the extension of the renewable electricity target beyond 2015 to 20% by 2020. In addition it set the biofuels target at the higher level of 10%.

It also reaffirmed its commitment to a future of carbon-neutral development and reiterated a list of measures, introduced in the past six months, to move towards it.

Key industry figures insisted, however, that the review simply rehashed old policies and did not include any specific initiatives.
Michael Ankers, the chief executive of the Construction Products Association, said the government ought to do more to improve the existing building stock. He said: “We are desperately disappointed that there was nothing new. It should have been much more proactive.”

The energy proposals include:

  • Developing the five levels for the Code for Sustainable Homes, with an emphasis on better energy efficiency performance.
  • Introducing energy performance certificates for new and existing buildings.
  • Urging planning authorities to set ambitious policies for the percentage of on-site renewable energy in new developments.
  • Introducing a planning policy statement on climate change that will emphasise the reduction of carbon emissions.
  • Running a second Design for Manufacture competition to build low-cost, low-carbon and zero-carbon homes.
  • Undertaking a feasibility study into making the Thames Gateway a low carbon development area within a decade and then moving towards zero carbon.

Philip Wolfe, chief executive of the Renewable Energy Association, called on the government to back the review with effective policy measures.

Review highlights

  • Nuclear power to have a significant role in UK’s future power generation
  • Government launches consultation on nuclear new-build strategy
  • 20% of electricity to be generated by renewables by 2020
  • 10% of energy to come from biofuels
  • Reaffirmation of commitment to carbon-neutral development