Nuclear investment

Posted on 28 Sep 2010 by The Manufacturer

As the Technology Strategy Board put new money behind the development of civil nuclear capabilities in the UK manufacturing SMEs come on board to help direct the funding allocation.

The Technology Strategy Board (TSB) has announced this week that it will be directing £2mn of government funding into support for innovation in the civil nuclear industry. The funding will allocated following the completion of 20 feasibility studies into a variety of innovation projects and will take into account the wide range of challenges facing the development of this burgeoning UK engineering and manufacturing sector.

The studies will last between 6-12 months and will investigate the magnitude of issues from non-destructive testing, waste handling and condition monitoring to materials modelling, advanced manufacture and maintenance technologies and construction methods. All the studies are to be industry led, many being project led by SMEs supply chain players. TSB hope the studies will assist UK businesses in developing technologies to support the civil nuclear industry, while strengthening the supply chain.

Iain Gray, Chief Executive of the Technology Strategy Board, said that many of the applications for funding were made by small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) currently working in other sectors, and that this growth of interest in developing capabilities to exploit emerging markets was particularly welcome: “We see the transfer of innovative technologies from other sectors and support for SMEs working with major companies in the civil nuclear sector as essential in developing and sustaining the strongest possible UK supply chain.”

With a global market valued at around £600 billion for new nuclear power installations and £250 billion for decommissioning, waste treatment and disposal, the predicted resurgence in the nuclear power market over the next twenty years should lead to significant global opportunities for British businesses in the area of nuclear engineering and its associated technologies. Although this allocation falls a long way short of the £80mn investment promised to and withdrawn from Sheffield Forgemasters for the development and manufacture of key civil nuclear technology it does provide a clear sign that development of civil nuclear capabilities is a strategic priority for the UK.

The new funding follows the publication earlier this year of a review commissioned by the Technology Strategy Board of the UK’s nuclear R&D capability. This concluded there were a number of areas where the UK still had outstanding capability, from which, with suitable support and development, there could be sustained benefit. The review highlighted, in particular, the latent potential within UK SMEs to encourage innovation in the civil nuclear sector by transferring skills and technology to, and from, larger companies in a number of key underpinning areas. The engagement of SMEs with major players in the civil nuclear sector will also help to develop a strong UK supply chain.

Other organisations working to develop capability and bridge skills gaps for potential supply chain players in the nuclear industry include Nuclear Industry Association and Sector Skills Council for science based industries, Cogent who has recently published a series of sector specific skills appraisals to help employers identify their skills shortfalls. This series includes an appraisal of the specific challenges being faced in the regrowth of civil nuclear in the UK.

TSB are sponsors of The Manufacturer of the Year Awards and The Manufacturer Directors’ Conference 2010 and will be delivering a workshop presentation for delegates on November 18th.