Lord Mandelson has outlined his vision for the future of the British nuclear industry in one of his first addresses in his amended role as Secretary of State for Business, Innovation & Skills (BIS).
The creation of the Department for BIS represents the amalgamation of the Departments for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform and Innovation, Universities and Skills. Mandelson headed the former since October last year and now takes up the reins at the joint office.
Speaking at the UNITE Nuclear Supply Chain Conference, Mandelson praised the legacy of British manufacturing, yet warned that it must remain strong in its “capacity to compete and win in a global economy.”
Central to future success is, said Mandelson, “a government that values and invests in knowledge, science, skills, innovation and infrastructure”. Thus, the newly created BIS will advocate the transition to a low-carbon business model, the reality of which represents “one of the defining challenges of the century.”
Equally, Britain’s long-term economic stability is dependant on a thriving nuclear sector, claims Mandelson, one which currently employs some 33,000 people across the UK. However, given that all but Sizewell B of the current fleet of reactors will be retired by 2023, “we can expect to see at least eight new reactors built in this country in the near future,” he said.
Indeed, “as we move to decarbonise energy supply further, I do not see why there would not be more after that.”
Such a move would provide considerable opportunity for the country’s manufacturing businesses. Whilst the reactors are intended to be Westinghouse and Areva designs, “the supply chain that will maintain them offers considerable opportunity for technicians and UK-based firms capable of producing the complex components required.”
Mandelson praised the quality of companies, including Areva, Rolls Royce, Doosan Babcock, Westinghouse, EDF and BAE, which have already chosen the UK as the place where they will build their civil nuclear strengths. However, he envisions that a network of UK-based firms, especially SMEs, will also become involved, thereby establishing a wide nuclear supply chain in Britain.
BIS announced it will use its Low Carbon Industrial Strategy, expected to be released in July, to further outline government’s nuclear proposals.