From unclear to nuclear

26 June 2018

With a huge market opportunity in both nuclear new build and decommissioning, Monica Mwanje outlines how companies can enter the nuclear sector.

NUCLEAR IS A BIG MONEY game whether you look at new build or decommissioning. New build at the UK’s Hinkley Point C is currently estimated to cost £19.6bn, while the UAE’s Barakah project is costed at $24.4bn. The UK Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) estimated in 2017 that UK cleanup will cost around £119bn, while It is estimated that the US Department of Energy (DOE) has been spending $6bn per annum on decommissioning and has future liabilities of $47bn. Wherever you look, the civil nuclear energy sector makes for a seemingly attractive prospect.

But if you are on the outside looking in, how and where can/do you begin to break into the sector?

The market today

The International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA’s) Power Reactor Information System (PRIS), illustrates which nations currently operate or are constructing nuclear power reactors and those that have reactors in permanent or long-term shutdown. As of early June, 451 reactors were in operation in 30 countries and 166 in permanent shutdown or undergoing decommissioning. There are 58 reactors currently under construction and If this list is expanded to include projects that intend to enter construction (eg Moorside or Wylfa Newydd in the UK) and those that are in the feasibility or exploratory phase (eg Kenya) the number of new build opportunities increases further.

There are other areas of nuclear expansion.

A recent search of the IAEA Research Reactor Database (June 2018) shows that globally there are 839 research reactors at various stages of their lifecycles. Of these 224 are currently operational in 52 nations.

There are around 50 small modular reactor (SMR) design concepts at various development stages around the world, and these emerging technologies present further nuclear market opportunities. In a February 2018 press release, the IAEA reported that the first advanced SMRs are expected to be in Argentina, China and Russia. Other nations with progressing SMR programmes include the USA, Canada and the UK.

Finally there is fusion. ITER, a collaboration between 35 nations to build the world’s largest tokamak in Cadarache, France, is at the forefront of advancing fusion science. In recent years a number of smaller fusion projects have emerged, such as Commonwealth Fusion Systems, Tri Alpha, Tokamak Energy and Applied Fusion Systems.

An entry route

The first step is to understand if your company’s capabilities could support a particular project.

The following entry route is outlined primarily from a UK civil nuclear sector perspective.

Procurement plans

Published procurement plans provide initial insight into the goods and services a client intends to acquire during an indicative timeframe. For example, the procurement area of the ITER website indicates forthcoming tenders alongside current and past opportunities. In the UK, the decommissioning site licence companies (Sellafield Ltd, Magnox, and others) publish their procurement plans on their websites. For nuclear new build opportunities – the EDF Energy website provides work package and contract information for Hinkley Point C. Checking your capabilities against planned and awarded scopes in these procurement documents can be a good starting point to assess if you have something to offer.

Supplier events

Supplier days or meet the buyer events are designed to provide further insights into planned procurements. Additionally, they offer the chance to meet and network with organisations that currently supply to your target client, with whom you may be able to collaborate. It also helps in making contacts with buyers in the target client organisation, developing relationships and asking questions about how you might supply in future and how best to stay informed of future opportunities.

Supplier registration portals

Registering on supplier portals will get your company’s capabilities onto the radar. The registration process will begin to flush out supplier requirements such as the accreditations, standards and expectations you will need to demonstrate in order to become an approved supplier. If you hit a wall here, there are organisations that can support you through the process and help you achieve ‘approved supplier’ status. Gaining approved supplier status does not remove the need to remain proactive in the pursuit of contract opportunities with that client.

Overcome market entry barriers

The Fit For Nuclear (F4N) service developed by Nuclear Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (NAMRC), helps UK manufacturing companies get ready to bid for civil nuclear sector work. Through this programme, organisations can identify gaps in their current operations and receive support to develop and implement a corrective action plan.

Chambers of Commerce can help organisations to develop the right skills and capabilities to supply to nuclear projects in their area. For example, EDF Energy has partnered with Suffolk Chamber of Commerce to support the development of a Sizewell C supply chain.

Membership of a trade association such as the Nuclear Industry Association (NIA), can provide further support during nuclear market entry. Member groups offer the opportunity to seek knowledge from those who have sector experience and have been through the process before. Membership can also help you to demonstrate your commitment to the sector, develop your network, identify potential collaborative partners to strengthen your proposition and identify organisations that have supply chain requirements.

Professional bodies, private sector groups and organisations can also help your company to navigate the nuclear landscape.

Research/funding competitions

Innovate UK and the European Union (via Horizon 2020) have funding available for organisations seeking to bring innovative technologies to the nuclear decommissioning programme.

This year via a Small Business Research Initiative (SBRI) competition, Sellafield Ltd is set to invest up to £850,000 in innovative projects that will better equip and support nuclear decommissioning operators working in hazardous environments. It wants applications that:

  • bring together organisations from outside the nuclear sector that can create unique solutions;
  • are multi-disciplinary and involve technology transfer;
  • adopt a systems-based approach to solving the challenge;
  • provide solutions that are adaptable, scalable and useable in a range of facilities and environments. 

Entering a competition such as this, alone or in partnership with an established nuclear sector company, could be a great route into the nuclear sector for an organisation currently operating outside of it.

Consider collaboration

There can be strength in numbers. Partnering with an organisation with nuclear industry experience can be a great way to introduce your services into the sector and can add further weight to your proposal. Developing your network at supplier events or by joining a membership group can be a great way to identify collaborative partners. But first check your existing client or supplier base, as you may find one of them is connected to the nuclear world and could aid your sector entry.

There are also schemes and procurement opportunities that actively encourage collaboration between organisations.

In 2017 Dounreay and Sellafield both launched LINC (Liaise Innovate Network Collaborate) schemes. These encourage small and medium enterprises at a local and national level to deliver innovative solutions to support decommissioning programmes at both sites. Large companies, can also participate in LINC, but only in a supporting role.  

Monica Mwanje is Founder and director at MM Creative Solutions 

Nuclear Engineering International has published a special edition for distribution at this year¹s World Nuclear Exhibition.

The focus of the special edition is on how digital solutions, virtual reality, robotics and other emerging technologies have the potential to secure the future of nuclear power.

With existing reactors facing increasing market pressures, digitalisation and automation offer opportunities to improve efficiency and reduce costs.

Robotics, data analytics and new simulation capabilities can aid cleanup of legacy facilities. New technology is also revolutionising the workplace, and can help the nuclear industry to attract a new generation of talent to replace its ageing workforce.

Looking ahead to the next decades, innovative technologies from small modular reactors to Generation IV designs and new fusion concepts, promise to make the next generation of nuclear energy more competitive with other energy sources.

Read your World Nuclear Exhibition Special Edition - New technology encouraging excellence in nuclear energy

WNE All of Germany’s nuclear reactors will close by the end of 2022, presenting huge decommissioning opportunities (Image: OlliFoolish/
WNE In addition to the Hinkley Point C project, the UK is moving forward with plans for a second nuclear plant at Wylfa (pictured)
WNE Above & below: From the huge international Iter tokamak to smaller innovative fusion concepts, there is a huge market opportunity for suppliers (Image (above) courtesy of: ITER Organization/EJF Riche)

Privacy Policy
We have updated our privacy policy. In the latest update it explains what cookies are and how we use them on our site. To learn more about cookies and their benefits, please view our privacy policy. Please be aware that parts of this site will not function correctly if you disable cookies. By continuing to use this site, you consent to our use of cookies in accordance with our privacy policy unless you have disabled them.