EDF’s nuclear development director expresses concern over finding workers to build Sizewell C after Brexit

left to right, EDF team - Katie Bannister, Reactor Operator, Sizewell B, Julia Pyke, nuclear develop

left to right, EDF team - Katie Bannister, Reactor Operator, Sizewell B, Julia Pyke, nuclear development director, Niki Rousseau, Community Liaison Sizewell B - Credit: Archant

As the debate heats up over Suffolk’s next nuclear plant and new investors climb on board, Julia Pyke from EDF reveals her concerns about recruiting the workers needed to build Sizewell C after Brexit.

left to right - Katie Bannister, Reactor Operator, Sizewell B, Niki Rousseau, Community Liaison Size

left to right - Katie Bannister, Reactor Operator, Sizewell B, Niki Rousseau, Community Liaison Sizewell B Julia Pyke, Nuclear Development Director, Carly Vince, Chief Planning Officer, Marjorie Barnes, External Communications Manager - Credit: Archant

But Ms Pyke says she is “quite confident” that Sizewell C will go ahead, regardless of what deal is agreed between the UK government and the EU.

“The country is going to need the electricity, come hell or high water,” she said. “It’s my mission, and I am a very determined person!”

If Sizewell C does get the green light, it will provide six million homes with affordable, reliable, low carbon electricity and could generate around 25,000 job opportunities during construction.

EDF intends to submit a planning application for Sizewell C in 2020, as part of a timetable for construction to begin in 2021 - two years after Brexit.

The French company is currently gearing up to launch a stage three consultation on Sizewell C in January, and its conversations with investors about funding the project are continuing.

The Brexit effect

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Despite her confidence over the future of Sizewell C, Ms Pyke admits that when it comes to Brexit, “we have particular concerns about availability of workforce, which is common to any big construction project.

“The nuclear industry has the particular issue of Euratum, the treaty that governs the movement of nuclear goods. We believe that the government is on track for sorting out replacement arrangements.”

The plug was pulled earlier this month on the NuGen nuclear power plant in Cumbria after the Japanese company Toshiba announced it was pulling out, but Ms Pyke denied that this was a setback for EDF’s own nuclear plans.

“We’re very supportive of all nuclear projects in the UK, and personally I feel for the team in Cumbria.

“We know that the UK still needs nuclear, because it needs to replace the current energy mix.”

Securing Investment

Ms Pyke explained that EDF is also still in ongoing talks with the government about how Sizewell C will be funded.

“The way we want to fund it is to get the institutional investors - the insurance companies and pension funds - to invest,” she said. “This is going to be a first for pension funds in the UK, they haven’t invested historically in nuclear because they haven’t had the opportunity to before.

“We want to create a virtual circle in which the project itself is creating apprenticeships, it’s training people, it’s creating jobs. And then when operational, we’ve got a steady supply of electricity, which is also funding people’s pensions.”

Ms Pyke reveals that EDF has “14 or 15 big funds” which are interested in investing in the project.

These include Dalmore Capital Limited and the Pensions Infrastructure Platform, which in June took stakes in 24 UK wind farms owned by EDF Renewables.

Among other projects, Dalmore is also investing in London’s ‘super-sewer’, the Thames Tideway Tunnel. “Both of those organisations have gone on the record to say that Sizewell C can be funded by pension funds,” said Ms Pyke.

The case for nuclear

Ms Pyke also says that rather than seeing them as the competition, she is supportive of the renewable energy networks currently being developed across Suffolk, and believes that energy suppliers can “compliment each other.”

Ms Pyke uses an app on her phone called electricity map to illustrate her point.

“In real time, this app shows you that even though Germany has got up to 50% renewables on a windy day, it’s still emitting loads of carbon because its baseload isn’t green - in Germany’s case, it’s coal.

“Renewables are by their nature remittent. So you have wind power when the wind is blowing, you have solar power when the sun is shining.

“We don’t at the moment in the UK, or anywhere else in the world, have a good way of storing the excess electricity when its extra windy or extra sunny for future usage - we don’t have battery technology for long-term storage.

“There are different views about how quickly that technology will develop but certainly, today, there is no way of storing renewable energy, which is why we need nuclear.”

Supply chain opportunities

EDF Energy is planning to build Sizewell C as a follow-on project to Hinkley Point C in Somerset, where more than 3,300 people are working on its construction.

A seminar about supply opportunities at Hinkley Point C took place in Braintree earlier this month, and Ms Pyke says she thinks Hinkley Point C has about 64% “UK content.”

“We are very much aiming to have as much Suffolk content for Sizewell C as we can,” she explained. “We will be organising supply chain events in Suffolk and getting people prepared to build.”

Female power

The government has a target to have 40% women in the nuclear industry by 2030 and at the moment, in Sizewell C’s development team, Ms Pyke believes that they have already hit that target.

“We are aiming to bring in women as engineers and apprentices and to do what we can to increase the proportion of women in the Sizewell team for the long term,” sais Ms Pyke. “Historically, the energy sector has been male dominated, because engineering has been a male dominated profession.

“Slowly things are improving. And as Sizewell C is a new project, we can get it to improve faster than the average.”