Blog Type, IPT Blog, Fellowship Blog, Industry Sector, Energy, Fellowship Type, Industry Visits | June 2015
IPT visit Sellafield in May 2015
The Industry and Parliament Trust (IPT) was delighted to take Dr Marion Ferrat and Tom Leveridge, both specialists on the Energy and Climate Change Committee to Cumbria, for a two-day visit as part of the IPT dissolution placements. As Parliamentary Officer for the IPT, I was very keen to join them on their visit.
The purpose of the IPT’s dissolution placements is to provide an educational platform for both parliamentary staff and the hosting organisation to learn more about each other’s roles. In total, 38 parliamentary staff have undergone placements during the dissolution period. This has involved placements with two or three different organisations in a relevant sector that matched their learning objectives.
Tom and Marion were both keen to have an understanding and familiarisation of the Sellafield site itself and the wider role of the nuclear industry in Cumbria. This would provide them with a greater awareness of the current work being undertaken to accelerate risk and hazard reduction on site, so that they could share this with colleagues and also be able to advise MPs on these challenges once the Energy and Climate Change Committee has been formed.
We quickly learned that the nuclear industry is certainly not what some people would refer to as a “sunset industry”. It is a long-term task to decommission and clean up the Sellafield site, whilst at the same time be a pioneer in nuclear research in the UK and around the world.
The mission of the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA), which is responsible for the Sellafield site, is to “deliver safe, sustainable and publicly acceptable solutions to the challenge of nuclear clean up and waste management. This means never compromising on safety or security, taking full account of our social and environmental responsibilities, always seeking value for money for the taxpayer and actively engaging with stakeholders.”
Sellafield is the largest nuclear site in the NDA estate, the UK and Europe and for this reason, Sellafield Ltd takes up a large percentage of the overall NDA budget, costing £1.9 billion to run per annum.
Employing approximately 11,000 people in the Cumbria region and with a presence in the local area for 60 years, Sellafield Ltd has become to be seen as the traditional industry of West Cumbria by dominating the local economy.
The investment and relocation of 1000 jobs off the Sellafield site into Whitehaven has boosted the local economy there. This is the foundation to building economic growth.
Meanwhile, apprenticeships and graduate programmes are steadily on the rise. The apprenticeship scheme, in association with Gen 2 and the University of Cumbria has provided much needed opportunities for young people and is reaching capacity. From 2010 to 2015 there has been a rise of apprenticeships completing programmes from 87 to 200 per annum, for graduates this has risen from 26 to 78 per annum. In addition, The National Skills Academy is now based in Cumbria, alongside the impressive National Nuclear Laboratory, which we were given a tour around.
Sellafield site provides a valuable service to the UK’s existing civil nuclear fleet and continues to generate revenue for the NDA.
Yet Sellafield as a site faces many challenges. It is one of the most complex nuclear sites in the world. Within a 2sq mile footprint Sellafield operates more than 100 nuclear buildings and delivers more than 150 projects of which 11 are major construction projects. The site has decommissioning buildings that are too hazardous to allow human entry, that it needs to maintain and operate.
The plans for Sellafield beyond the short term will change as a result of new technology and learning as best practice at Sellafield, at other nuclear sites and across other industries. Yet, with a large budget it is essential to drive taxpayer value for money.
Sellafield has always been a pioneer in the nuclear field but in recent times it has been able to share learnings and techniques, for example with Japan post Fukushima. Thus, in the short term jobs are on the rise due to priority in risk of high hazards. In the long term this will fall but at a much slower rate due to its diverse portfolio.
Thanks must go to a number of people. Firstly, to Lois Holman for escorting us around the Sellafield site and for her excellent insight and knowledge. Secondly, to Steve Barnes and Ben Chilton for their hospitality, good nature and coordinating the visit. To Brian Hough, Helen Fisher, Mike Smith and Alan Dunne for their excellent presentations on the NDA, socioeconomics and procurement, at the £10m Energus site in Workington.
A particular highlight had to be when Mike Smith, CEO of Gen 2 toured us around the apprentice & graduate training facility where we witnessed at first hand incredible models and prototypes that the students and staff were building. What was so impressive was to see how many women were also being trained, 25% of all trainees, under the “Women in Nuclear” focus in the region. The average nationwide is that just 3% of engineering roles are being taken by women and this is something that needs to change and their scheme is a positive reflection of that.
I look forward to arranging further visits in the near future for our parliamentarians in this and other industry sectors of the UK’s diverse economy.
Words by Alex Reeves, Parliamentary Officer.