BAE systems Barrow team draw up case for civil nuclear power

BARROW shipyard's case for diversifying into a new activity - helping to build and commission new nuclear power station reactors possibly on Cumbria's Energy Coast - could face the acid test within weeks, a big country energy opportunities conference was told

A TEAM at BAE Submarine Solutions Ltd led by Barrovian Jason Zaccarini has been drawing up the case for the yard to get seriously involved in civil nuclear power now that both Labour and the Tories are committed to it as a means of cutting carbon and ensuring Britain’s energy security.

Mr Zaccarini started at the yard in the 1980s as an apprentice, but then spent years in the nuclear industry working at Sellafield on its lifetime planning projects before returning to the yard to become a project manager for the civil nuclear team.

He told the 200 delegates at the Energy Business Opportunities Conference 2009 (eboc’09) – staged in Workington yesterday – that the shipyard’s justification case for seeking a stake in civil nuclear after building nuclear powered submarines for 50 years is about to be reviewed, first by the board of Submarine Solutions, and then by the corporate board of the international defence giant BAE Systems.

The two boards are expected to analyse the case and reach their decisions over the next six to eight weeks, he said.

The shipyard signed a memorandum of understanding in 2006 with the nuclear power reactor designer and manufacturer Westinghouse, that it would join a consortium of support firms which will work together should Westinghouse win UK orders for its AP1000 reactor.

Westinghouse is competing with reactors made by Areva of France for the UK business, which could see up to 10 new nuclear power stations built in the UK, each with two or more reactors.

Mr Zaccarini said: “The civil nuclear project team has been established at Barrow for about nine months looking at delivery options, looking at facilities and looking at capacity at Barrow and trying to assess the civil nuclear opportunities in the UK.

“We are looking at some of the experience we have got from the submarines programme and how that could be applied. Our core capabilities are reactor installation, integration and commissioning.”

“The development of submarine modularisation presents opportunities that might be applied to civil nuclear.”

Recent years have seen a revolution in the way nuclear subs are built in Barrow, with more and more sections of the interior built as modules away from the submarine and then inserted before hull sections are joined up.

BAE involvement in civil nuclear could range from a few managers with nuclear expertise being farmed out to help manage and commission projects at nuclear sites, to full scale manufacture involving many workers, of modular parts for what is called the ‘nuclear island’ section of a power station.

Mr Zaccarini told the Evening Mail later: “The nuclear island is the main part of a nuclear plant, which includes the steam raising plant for the reactor, the reactor pressure vessel, and all the primary components that make steam.”

Mr Zaccarini said of the expected nuclear renaissance, which includes proposed sites for new nuclear power stations at Sellafield, Kirksanton and Braystones in Cumbria: “There is generating capacity required in a sustained programme so there is an attractive long term business opportunity.”

He told the conference, attended by 200 delegates from businesses from Cumbria and further afield, that it expects it will be next year before there is any formal agreement with Westinghouse, which has orders for 10 of its AP 1000 reactors from the US and China, but none in the UK yet.

Mike Tynan, chief executive of Westinghouse UK Ltd told eboc’09: “It is the rebirth of this (nuclear) industry I am certain about that. We know it is all happening quickly and there is political support for it. We have the technology, experience, and leadership to meet customer needs.”

He said Cumbrian industries had to rise to the challenge and really participate in the nuclear renaissance.

Nuclear workers in Lancashire and on the Cumbrian coast represented a “centre of excellence for such skills throughout the world.”

He said: “This region, the North West of England, can lead the world in the nuclear renaissance. It can and will happen. You must believe that and rise to the challenge.”

He said Westinghouse reactors could be built in up to 300 separate modules and then assembled on the site which gave huge advantages in terms of production and cost.

The containment vessel for one of its Chinese sites is being built in the UK now.

There were up to 6,000 components to bid for in a reactor.

Peter Fendley, of the National Grid, told the conference that the UK power supply was strongest in the South East and near to cities and tended to be weak at the “outer edges” like Cumbria.

Major new power circuits which could take years to gain planning permission and then be built, are needed if Cumbria’s Energy Coast is ever to become a reality.

One option would go north from sites like Braystones or Kirksanton linking into the high powered national grid at Harker near Carlisle.

Another route would be south to Furness and then to Hutton, near the M6, where it links with the existing high powered system. Yet another alternative was to run it across Morecambe Bay to connect to the main power ring at Heysham, either burying the cable or slinging it on a series of masts.

The conference was told by Maria McCaffery, of the British Wind Energy Association: “We have Europe’s richest most abundant resources for wind energy.”

The UK currently has 211 wind farms, eight offshore pumping out 3,391 megawatts of power, enough to supply 1.8 million homes and save 3.8m tonnes of CO2 annually.

Another 3,600mw of wind power is under construction with 6.5 gigawatts (6,500 megawatts) waiting to go forward.

Wind could ultimately provide more than a third of UK needs.

In addition 81 different forms of potential wave and tidal power have so far been identified.

She said: “Whenever you hear of global warming and climate change it is all doom and gloom. But in actual fact there is a positive underlying story of the biggest industrial opportunity since the discovery of natural gas in 1967.”

Penny Lees, director of the West Cumbrian Business Cluster, which organised eboc’09 with the support of bodies like West Lakes Renaissance, wound up the successful two-day, “world class” event, by announcing it will be followed by an eboc2010 conference.