Sizewell C - an opportunity for local businesses and jobs

Tom McGarry, head of communications for Sizewell C.

Tom McGarry, head of communications for Sizewell C.

As EDF Energy’s head of external affairs for Sizewell C, Tom McGarry is responsible for managing the public consultation process for the energy company. He met Ross Bentley to discuss why there is a pressing need for new nuclear and how EDF Energy is working to ensure East Anglian businesses and workers are best-placed to make the most of the potential development.

A computer-generated image of how the Sizewell complex could look after construction of Sizewell C.

A computer-generated image of how the Sizewell complex could look after construction of Sizewell C. - Credit: Archant

Back in 2001, as president of the student union at Cardiff University, Tom McGarry went to meet the university’s then vice-chancellor, Dr David Grant, as part of a campaign to get the establishment to move on to green tariffs and use more low carbon electricity to power the campus.

“He looked at me in a challenging way and said: ‘Personally, I think we need to look more at nuclear energy as it would provide a stable and dependable base load of low carbon electricity’,” remembers Mr McGarry.

“As a student activist with some pretty firm views, I did not agree with him at the time but that conversation got me thinking.”

It was an encounter that Mr McGarry has never forgotten, and one that led him to become convinced that new nuclear energy has a vital role to play in the country’s energy mix of the future.

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Now as EDF Energy’s head of external affairs for Sizewell C, he is responsible for managing the public consultation process for the energy company.

e said: “Looking at the facts and the urgency of the situation, we need to invest in new nuclear to tackle climate change and to plug the looming energy gap that is facing the country.

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“We have really pressing carbon emissions targets that are legally binding in the UK now. We have to cut our emissions on 1990 levels by 80% by 2050 and there’s no way of doing that without a focussed change within the energy sector.

McGarry continued: “To provide a secure energy supply for the future, the UK needs a diverse and balanced energy mix. Nuclear power stations are well-placed to contribute to this mix, as they generate low-carbon electricity reliably. Nuclear power is the most affordable large-scale, low-carbon energy source currently available to the UK.

As for the “looming energy gap”, Mr McGarry says 26 coal and gas power stations have closed since 2010 across the UK – a total that equates to 20% of the UK’s electricity generating capacity. Looking forward to 2030 when more coal, gas and nuclear power stations will reach the end of their operating lifecycles – up to an additional 35% of electricity generating capacity will have closed down.

“Decisive action has to be taken now,” added Mr McGarry.

This is the context in which EDF Energy is working to build two new European Pressurized Reactor (EPR) nuclear power stations in the UK over the next ten to fifteen years.

The Hinkley Point project in Somerset is the most progressed. The station has been given planning consent while negotiations with the potential Chinese investors are well-progressed.

EDF Energy has a 30-year relationship working with the Chinese and is currently working with them to build an EPR power station in Taishan near Hong Kong. It is expected that the projects planned in Britain will benefit from the experiences gleaned from this and the construction of the EPR in Flamanville in Normandy.

The same type of power station planned for Hinkley Point is proposed for Sizewell C – one containing two EPR reactors that when up and running will generate 3.2 gigawatts of electricity, roughly the equivalent of 7% of the UK’s electricity’s needs or enough to power 5million homes.

EDF Energy has carried out an initial public consultation on the proposals and options for Sizewell C. This took place during the three months between November 2011 and February 2012 during which time over 100 meetings, exhibitions, and presentations took place in the locality and around 4,000 people engaged with the process.

Since then a host of technical assessments, ecological and transports surveys and geological and hydrological earthwork appraisals of the Sizewell C site have taken place, as well as investigations into the coastal processes of the area that have been used to inform engineering and coastal defence studies.

“We are trying to find the best way of delivering a project of national importance that will keep disruption to a minimum,” continued Mr McGarry.

“For this to happen an open dialogue continues between EDF Energy and the local communities, the parish councils, the district and county councils and MPs.”

He added: “It is important to be honest – we are going to have a lot of materials delivered to the site. At the peak of what will be a seven to nine year construction project we will have 5,600 workers on site. And while we are putting a lot of effort in to devise our strategy with further education colleges and schools, so we can make sure local young people will have access to the apprenticeships and jobs that will be on offer, our demand for labour will outstrip local supply.

“So we are going to also require a transient workforce that will have to come in for a period of time, and we will need to develop an accommodation campus for them.”

Other proposals being weighed up by EDF Energy include park and ride facilities and upgrades to the Saxmundham to Leiston branch line, so aggregates can be delivered by rail, reducing HGV movements in the area. A jetty may also be built at Sizewell to take delivery of materials by sea.

Mr McGarry is keen to emphasise the huge benefits to the region that Sizewell C will bring in terms of the contracts, jobs and apprenticeships it will generate.

As part of its procurement strategy for Sizewell C, EDF Energy has also partnered with the Suffolk and Norfolk Chambers of Commerce to identify and support local businesses that want to become part of the supply chain. Already, nearly 1,000 businesses have subscribed to the online supply chain portal which the two organisations have set up.

“Over the course of the build there will be a requirement for 25,000 job opportunities – there’s a potential for hundreds of apprenticeships and the development of many well-paid, long-term jobs,” said Mr McGarry.

EDF Energy is also planning ahead for its skills requirements for Sizewell C and has a strategy of developing young people in the region. Many apprentices currently working at Sizewell B are expected to go on to become technicians and engineers at Sizewell C.

In addition, STEM ambassadors from EDF Energy are going out to local schools to encourage participation in science, technology, engineering and maths-related subjects while the firm is working on a pilot project with nearby Alde Valley Academy in Leiston to promote employability skills.

As for Mr McGarry, how does he feel about playing such a lead role in the getting the Sizewell C project up and running?

“I feel proud to be leading a team of people who not only promote the economic, social and environmental benefits of nuclear new build, but who are also good listeners.

“We all have an important responsibility to make sure that we engage with local communities on the potential construction of Sizewell C and that we are making sure East Anglian businesses, and local schools and colleges are aware of and ready for the huge opportunities that this presents.”

He added: “As a resident of this county a long-time before I started working for EDF Energy, I’m proud of the fact that I have the chance to work on a positive local development that is also a national priority. We absolutely need to overcome the threat of climate change and plug the energy gap.”

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