Executives from The Shaw Group, the Louisiana-based engineering and construction giant, were in London yesterday on a PR offensive. Shaw, which has 2,000 employees in the UK and runs a pipe fabrication factory for the energy sector in Derby, is a partner with Westinghouse, the firm bidding to build its AP1000 nuclear reactor in Britain.
Shaw, which owns a fifth of Westinghouse, is hoping to capitalise on the UK’s nuclear resurgence, and is making the right noises about involving British engineering firms in construction of new nuclear reactors. Similarly, Westinghouse itself, which is building the AP1000 in China and has secured a number of other contracts to construct it in the United States, the country’s first new reactors for decades, has long maintained it favours a “buy where we build” strategy that could create billions of value in the UK economy.
Jeffrey Merrifield, senior vice president of Shaw’s power group, says the company will be “hoping” to partner with British engineering companies once deals to build the AP1000 have been signed – a state of affairs that is some distance in the future given that the reactor design has yet to be licensed by the government. But managers at both Shaw and Westinghouse qualify their desire to work with UK firms with the caveat that those companies have to be ready to meet the rigorous demands that nuclear new build will entail.
Merrifield highlights the quality assurance, costing structure and financial muscle that companies will need. “You have to have a team that can withstand high regulatory scrutiny,” he says. This is not easy to achieve at a time when resources are strained. Unions warned in December that cuts to the budget for decommissioning the UK’s nuclear legacy could lead to a drain of skills from the industry just as new build comes onto the horizon. If their fears are realised, then companies such as Shaw and Westinghouse may find themselves forced to look further afield for their suppliers.
Merrifield says nuclear new build has become an “international phenomenon”. As a former advisor to the US Senate on energy and environmental issues, he has been around long enough to spot a revolution – albeit one that is moving forward “slowly”, as he acknowledges. “Carbon-free generation from renewables will simply not be sufficient to address climate change, so there is big role for nuclear.”
Now British engineers must prepare themselves for this international renaissance in the hope that firms closer to home than Shaw get a piece of the action.