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Interview | Nigel Cann, Hinkley Point C

Nigel cann crop

When it comes to learning lessons, the team delivering Hinkley Point C has a full textbook to go on.

None more so than Nigel Cann, who is delivery director for the £19.6bn new nuclear power station on the Somerset coast for EdF and China General Nuclear Power Group.

While former EdF boss Vincent de Rivas famously said in 2007 that people would be cooking their Christmas turkeys in ovens powered by energy from Hinkley Point C by 2017, Cann is more cautious ahead of the expected 2025 opening date.

On track

“Do I have a crystal ball that will tell me what will happen in five years? We do quite rightly get a lot of scrutiny from shareholders and stakeholders and we are very transparent. As of December 2018, we are on track. If we have an issue we will share it,” he says.

On track means that the final milestone of 2018, the first concrete pour of a section of the common raft – the foundations for Unit 1 reactor – was completed in December.

Cann’s task is to deliver a new nuclear power station on time and to budget, learning lessons from EdF’s recent builds at Flamanville in France and Taishan in China. The skills and innovations developed on Hinkley must also be retained to deliver a planned second new nuclear power station – Sizewell C –  in Suffolk.

Pressing ahead

Work on Hinkley Point C has been going on for two years. There are more than 3,600 people on site and work on Unit 1 is pressing ahead, with first concrete pour for the reactor’s base now complete. A huge excavation 21m below sea level has been completed, which will house the 54m tall pumping station. Work on Unit 2 reactor is also powering ahead at a faster pace. Excavations speeded up after the team saw how it could make efficiencies after completing the first unit.

With such a mammoth project, it will be no surprise to find out that Cann runs a very planned, tight ship and he is proud of the current 97% right first-time rate, reflecting the high standards he expects from a supply chain work in the highly regulated nuclear power environment.

“The risk appetite for construction has shrunk, thank goodness. So, we do things properly and that ranges not only from the fact that we’re in the serious business of building a nuclear power station, but also the temporary works and the way people behave. So, it doesn’t really matter what you’re doing, the standards are the same,” he says.

The risk appetite for construction has shrunk, thank goodness. So, we do things properly

Learning from other nuclear new builds which have hit problems, initial priorities were getting the batching plant up early, doing mock-ups, developing full 3D clash building information modelling (BIM), getting the supply chain on board early – “contractor conditioning” as Cann calls it – and building welfare areas next to the site, so productivity is increased because workers will not have to travel far to site.

Generic nuclear island

Generic nuclear island

The first pour for the reactor base is complete

Around 80% of the project procurement is done. Cann is keen on contractors working in alliances, which he says leads to more collaborative behaviour.

“I want an alliance that sorts itself out. In a nuclear island there’s over 2,500 rooms. The last thing I want to be doing is negotiating with five different contractors where fire exits should be that given day, where we take the scaffolding up or down an inch… it’s much better that the alliance is able to manage itself. That’s the kind of innovation I want – to empower a very capable supply chain.”

Imported expertise

This is the first nuclear power station to be constructed in the UK since Sizewell B in the mid-1990s, so is the supply chain’s lack of experience a risk? No, says Cann, citing the work Bouygues has done with EdF at Flamanville. The Bylor contractor joint venture (Bouygues Travaux Publics and Laing O’Rourke) has the main civils contract worth £2.8bn. This includes the buildings housing the two European Pressurised Reactor (EPR) nuclear reactors.

“If you look at all our supply chain, they’re a partnership that we’ve encouraged to come together. What we tried to do for the civils contract is get the best of the UK, because we want to be part of UK’s Industrial Strategy and maximise the opportunity for the workforce. In this case Laing O’Rourke is our partner in doing that, but it has an awful lot of technical expertise and support from Bouygues,” he says.

Construction at Flamanville 3 started over a decade ago and costs have gone from £2.67bn to £9.8bn. Problems included quality deficiencies in welds and concrete joints, cracks in the reactor basement concrete and excess water in structural concrete.

At Hinkley, the team has launched a raft of innovations to ensure it avoids the same problems, including prefabrication of the steel containment liner and fuel buildings, as well as using BIM to prevent clashes.

What we tried to do for the civils contract is get the best of the UK

Cann is aware that delivery has to be efficient, with costs under scrutiny. Public spending watchdog the National Audit Office described the government’s Hinkley subsidy deal as “risky and expensive”. In its first National Infrastructure Assessment, the National Infrastructure Commission warned ministers against supporting multiple new nuclear power stations and said the government should only support Hinkley and one other before 2025.

EdF wants the next power station to be Sizewell C, where it has just begun the third stage of the public consultation. It says that it can be delivered 20% cheaper than Hinkley Point C if the skills and knowledge can be retained.

Certainly gives best value

“The best thing you can give industry to drive best value is certainty. If we were certain Sizewell would reach final investment decision and start in say 2021 then clearly that would put us in a really strong position both as a company and to potentially oversee and operate a supply chain with a really good landscape to plan, invest and deliver best value,” he says.

“It’s all about continuity over people processes, procedures and tools to get a better outcome,” he adds.

The value of the Hinkley contracts is huge. In summer 2017, EdF announced Balfour Beatty had replaced Costain as preferred bidder for the tunnelling and marine works package on Hinkley Point C, worth more than £200M. Costain had worked on plans for three cooling tunnels since 2013.

“We just went through a formal bidding process, because it went on so long, I guess the technology changed a little bit, we just took decision to go back into market, check some of the prices and Balfour Beatty was our preferred bidder. It (Costain) was really more of a victim that it took so long to get to a point of decision and a formal scope. You’re not tunnelling through London Clay, it’s quite difficult under the sea terrain,” he says.

Now the major civil engineering work is starting, Cann is has ambitions to set a new world record for building a reactor. He may be cautious, but he is also confident of meeting the 2025 completion deadline.

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