I have always had a very positive experience of the NIA, and my first couple of weeks at the helm has cemented that opinion. The prospects and potential for the UK nuclear industry has come a long way in a relatively short period of time, to the extent that we are now widely viewed as an integral part of our future energy mix and not the past.
The NIA, representing and working closely with its members, has played a crucial role in securing, maintaining and promoting the broad political and industrial support for new build, while also making the case for maintaining vital work on decommissioning. Underpinning this has been a determination to ensure the UK supply chain is well placed to take advantage of the significant economic opportunities which will exist as a result of a rejuvenated sector.
We are now at an important and significant time for civil nuclear. We have commitment from industry and government in the UK, and are moving into the delivery phase. International markets are also seeking expertise in nuclear. That is why it is imperative the NIA continues to work hard to ensure opportunities are realised for UK companies, both at home and overseas. We have a strong civil nuclear record and the NIA needs to make sure UK capability is widely appreciated and understood, to enable firms to compete on a global scale.
There will continue to be challenges in terms of how the wider energy debate, and nuclear’s role in particular, is portrayed. As meeting our national, European and global emissions targets and the need for secure low-carbon energy in a balanced generation mix become ever more important, we need to continue to make the case for nuclear as part of the solution to those complex challenges.
I was in Paris as the COP21 negotiations took place before Christmas. What struck me, as I saw the foundations of a global deal emerge, was the much greater acceptance of climate change as something which needs to be addressed by countries large and small. For the nuclear sector, we have to take the opportunity to remind people of its inherent low carbon characteristics. We need to be able to demonstrate we can deliver and that nuclear can play an integral part in meeting that challenge, in tandem with other technologies.
All too frequently, a new technology, or innovative idea, is portrayed as a silver bullet to solve all of our energy issues. Tempting as that may be, the reality is more complex and nuanced. We need a broad range of energy sources, making the most of different technologies with different characteristics, to address security of supply while reducing carbon emissions. Nuclear’s ability to generate reliable, secure low carbon baseload power is an important element of meeting that challenge. And we need to work with others to demonstrate that different low carbon energy sources are complementary to, rather than in contradiction of, each other.
The entire industry needs to demonstrate a willingness to engage with those who express doubts and raise questions, and respond to the legitimate concerns people raise, debunking some of the myths and misconceptions in setting out the case for nuclear as part of the generation mix.
Partly, that is about empowering industry figures, alongside academics, scientists and experts, to be able to speak openly about the important work they do. My experience suggests when people are provided with information in a clear and open way, it helps both to develop a wider understanding, and ultimately make their own judgement.
I want to help the industry reach a wide range of people – not just government and policymakers, but teachers, parents and young people too. We need to better explain the sector, and the range of careers which will be available to today’s pupils, helping address the wider skills gaps in engineering and energy related sectors. As a father of two daughters, I am doing everything I can to get them interested in science, because that’s where the foundation of many future jobs will be.