Another nuclear conference in Manchester but this one had a definitely different flavour to the recent TopFuel and ENS Conferences. A gathering of nuclear Knowledge Management specialists is an interesting concept on paper due the historic attitude of secrecy with the nuclear industry but that was then. Today real efforts are being made across the UK nuclear sector to share best practices as people realise the benefits to this dramatic change of policy. There is still an issue with who owns the nuclear knowledge in the UK, that was developed and nurtured by the CEGB, UKAEA and BNFL, three companies that no longer exist with most of their operations, with the exception of the National Nuclear Laboratory, now in the private sector. But the new commercial focus may be the driver to bring down costs through the process of sharing, so more of these interesting, enjoyable and thought provoking conferences could well be held for years to come.
The ENS signature conference came to Manchester this week and it was a very successful week, plus the rain held off. The conference was a good mix of policy plenary presentations and parallel technical sessions with plenty of choice for everyone. I’m not sure how the delegate numbers matched up to previous conferences but I heard somebody say that they were 480 delegates. The exhibition was interesting from a UK perspective. Spain and France put on a real show of co-ordination and strength with all the major players present. The UK on the other hand was very poorly represented and scattered around the room. I heard that the companies did not want to be all together on Stand GB. If all the nuclear universities can work together in collaborations why can’t the industry?
A different flavour to Energy Choices this year with more of a focus on technology innovation and skills. Chaired by John Hutton, instead of a recognised media personality, the conference perhaps benefited by his knowledge of the industry. The Weinberg Foundation, which supports the the development of thorium fuelled reactors, had quite a few mentions in the morning session. In the afternoon a Q&A session with Tim Stone was entertaining as well as informative. The message from Government is that there is now unequivocal support for new nuclear build, and perhaps more important was the statement that Hinkley would be but one of the new nuclear build projects. So now it’s up to the industry and the financiers to go out and make it happen.
A new location for a a nuclear meeting, Cheltenham, and a very successful meeting. A good combination of nuclear speakers plus a civil engineer and a seismologist contributed to very good discussion sessions in the afternoon. A lot of the focus was on communication and a way to facilitate good communication without compromising operational effort to stabilise the situation. Could more remote systems be put in place? Another aspect discussed was of course safety but an idea put forward by Malcolm Grimston was does the nuclear industry do itself a disservice by saying safety is the number one priority rather than safe economical electricity is the number one priority?
A very positive conference following the events in Japan earlier this year. Charles Henrdry was unambiguous in his, and the government’s, support for new nuclear build in the UK and not just for one reactor but for a fleet of reactors. Mike Weightman summarised his interim report on the Fukushima accident with the full report due in September. There was a very good joint presentation by the ONR and the EA on the current status of the GDA and its drawing to a conclusion on the AP1000 and the UKEPR with no show stoppers. There where also good sessions on stakeholder engagement and another organised by the YGN and Malcolm Grimston, as always, gave a very good presentation, this time of the nuclear industry with relation to the past and to public perception
The great and the good travelled to the National Construction College in Bircham Newton in Norfolk for the Nuclear Island Launch Event. Speeches from Andy Walder, Stef Stephanos, Keith Waller and Michael Grove kicked off the event then all the guests were given a tour of the nuclear power plant construction model.
Three speakers, Malcolm Grimston, Robin Grimes and myself gave presentations on why the UK needs nuclear energy, the research challenges and the benefits of nuclear research to the UK and how UK nuclear universities are meeting the human resources challenges. A short debate followed in Portcullis House but the main debate occurred over dinner in the Palace of Westminster. Current and ex Members of Parliament and other members of the P&S Committee had a very broad ranging, interesting and entertaining debate chaired by Andrew Miller MP.