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Nuclear special: The right reaction

French energy giant EDF hopes to lead the UK towards a new era of nuclear power. Antony Oliver spoke to its managing director of nuclear new build Humphrey Cadoux-Hudson about the challenges.

France’s government-backed energy firm EDF is very clear about its ambition for new nuclear power generation in the UK − it wants to deliver power to the national grid by 2017.

But it is equally clear that achieving this ambition will require huge effort and great teamwork across the company, with government and throughout its entire supply chain.

EDF managing director of new build Humphrey Cadoux-Hudson accepts that it is a tough challenge, but that it can be met. He is planning for work to start on the first of four new reactors in 2012 − sited most probably at Hinkley Point in Somerset.

Eighteen months later, work on a second reactor at Hinkley Point will then commence before focus shifts to Sizewell where another pair of reactors will be started 18 and 36 months later.

“Our objective is to build four of a kind to give us an ability to learn through the operational phase,” explains Cadoux-Hudson.

“Our objective is to build four of a kind to give us an ability to learn through the operational phase.”

Humphrey Cadoux-Hudson, EDF

“A rollout that has more or less 18 month gaps between each will enable us to roll contracts and people from one site to another in an orderly fashion.”

Having acquired British Energy from the UK government for £12bn last January, EDF now owns eight of the UK’s 10-strong fleet of operational nuclear power stations.

And if the firm is to realistically protect this investment in it will be counting on being allowed to plough on with its aspirations to build new nuclear power stations. Under its current plans, five of its fleet will have been taken out of service by 2018 and by 2023 it will be left with just Sizewell B on line generating power. Pressing ahead with replacement of this fleet is therefore vital.

To this end EDF is backing the new European Pressurised Reactor (EPR) design which it has developed jointly with nuclear specialist Areva as next generation of nuclear reactor.

The first two EPRs are currently under construction. Areva is building one in Finland and at EDF is building the other at Flamanville in France. The experience of these projects will feed into the UK projects.

Unfortunately the project in Finland has been dogged by delays and difficulties, mainly to do with quality control issues. It is thought to be running around three years behind schedule.

Still on schedule

Meanwhile in France, EDF insists that the Flamanville plant is on schedule to start generating power in 2012 despite some industry speculation to the contrary (News last week).

“We are still on our construction target to date,” says Cadoux-Hudson. “You can never say that nothing is ever going to happen on such an enormous construction programme, but overall we are inside what was expected.”

Flamanville is a vital proving ground for the new EPR design but its success will not guarantee that the UK will allow EDF free rein to bring the technology into the UK as a pre-licensed design.

Instead it must first convince the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate that the design is safe and that the operational and decommissioning plan meets its requirements. This, says Cadoux-Hudson, is a critical part of the process.

“The independent nuclear inspectorate are checking the design. They are very complex machines and need high standards.”

Humphrey Cadoux-Hudson, EDF

“Make no mistake, the UK has a strong independent nuclear inspectorate and we fully respect the serious role that this institution has,” he says. “They are going through a thorough process of checking the design. They are very complex machines and need very high standards.”

Equally EDF knows that to construct and operate its new fleet to the UK’s high safety standards, it will have to rely heavily on its supply chain − a supply chain that has had no experience in building nuclear power stations for three decades.

This is why EDF has organised a supply chain conference for the 30 June. Cadoux-Hudson says it will be crucial in helping designers, contractors and suppliers understand what will be expected.

“It is really about ensuring that our supply chain understands the scope of the programme and the passion with which we will go through the planning and construction process,” he says. “We need the supply chain to be fully aware of the opportunity but also of the rigour of quality assurance and the investment that will need to be made − and I say that very plainly − on their part.”

Creating consistency

The prize, he explains, is to potentially be part of a huge construction programme in the UK and across the EDF fleet in Europe and America.

“The secret for success in this game is to create a fleet of as similar plants as we possibly can,” explains Cadoux-Hudson.

“The really big thing for EDF is that fleet is going to be across several countries. We need to make sure that we can agree a design and fix it so that we can just get on with construction.”

Yet for all the technical approvals, supply chain skills and depth of commitment, clearly the success or otherwise of EDF’s ambition will rely on some difficult political decisions being made.

“No political party wants to see the lights go out. We are looking to invest hugely in stable, low carbon energy and that is clearly a massive boost for the UK economy.”

Humphrey Cadoux-Hudson, EDF

“I think the current (political and economic) scene is the right backdrop,” says Cadoux-Hudson.

“No political party wants to see the lights go out. We are looking to invest hugely in stable, low carbon energy and that is clearly a massive boost for the UK economy.”

But if EDF is to get power from its new generation of nuclear stations “on the bars” and into the grid by 2017, some pretty fundamental decisions will have to be made this year. And it will also require the industry to get itself up to speed rapidly if it is to start work in three years.

“We have got a real challenge but yes, it is possible,” says Cadoux-Hudson. “But it does require great team work across our company, with government and throughout the supply chain. That is really the great challenge − to bring all those elements together.”

Assuming that it does win design approval for its EPR ractor design from the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate, there is still the matter of obtaining planning consent for new plants.

And Cadoux-Hudson points out this means working hard to ensure EDF really understands the impact on the local community both during construction and throughout operation. But perhaps more significant is the work that is having to be done now upstream of any local planning.

Negotiating political thought

With the recent introduction of the Independent Infrastructure Planning Commission, the process first requires a national planning policy statement to be in place. There also has to be a strategic siting assessment for new nuclear power stations and on facilities for waste and decommissioning. EDF is contributing its thought to both of these.

“We need to ensure that there is a really clear understanding of how waste and decommissioning can happen through the life of the project,” he explains, pointing out that the new system attempts to divorce national policy issues from local objections.

Inevitably this process is hugely political and hugely tied into the economics of low carbon power generation.

“Of course we have real concerns over the market context of nuclear over the next few years through the huge change that we will need to see in decarbonising the economy,” says Cadoux-Hudson.

“We need to make sure that as a country the market will help finance and support low carbon generation.”

Humphrey Cadoux-Hudson, EDF

“We need to make sure that as a country the market will help finance and support low carbon generation in line with [the UK government’s] objective of by 2050 having an 80% reduction in CO2 from energy generation.”

In short, EDF wants to see a more level playing field so that the real carbon cost of electricity generation can be compared and so that no single means of generation has an advantage.

“We have always said that nuclear doesn’t need subsidies − unlike renewables,” says Cadoux- Hudson. “What we need to see is that there is a clear pricing for CO2 as a waste product − just as nuclear has to pay for its waste.”

Cadoux-Hudson points to the European Union Emission Trading Scheme (EUETS) as a credible mechanism to enable this to happen but highlights the fact that the scheme has to be operated in “a thorough and consistent way”.

That said, after 30 years without a nuclear power construction sector, perhaps the biggest challenge facing EDF will be finding enough skilled engineers to design, construct and operate the new facilities.

Exciting opportunities in the UK

While EDF has its French roots to rely on and learn from, it insists this is an opportunity to boost UK skills.

“We will be looking to recruit as many engineers in the UK as we can sensibly train,” says Cadoux-Hudson. “The UK has got a long and strong tradition of engineering and we want to pick up on that.”

This year EDF expects to recruit 80 graduates to work in its UK business on new build projects and existing nuclear facilities. Training will include work with British Energy but also in France to learn from the more recent new nuclear programme.

Overall EDF plans to take on some 5,000 engineers over the next few years to meet its growing European needs.

“We have now got a huge programme to train the next generation of nuclear engineers,” explains Cadoux-Hudson. “It is an extremely exciting opportunity for engineers in the UK.”

Cadoux-Hudson CV

Humphrey Cadoux-Hudson, EDF

Humphrey Cadoux-Hudson, EDF

  • 1960 Born in Hanover, Germany. Later studied engineering and management at the University of Manchester before joining KPMG.
  • 1991 joins Seeboard as financial accounts manager.
  • 1994 becomes chief accountant.
  • 1996 becomes group financial controller.
  • 2000 appointed executive director responsible for the nonregulated businesses and group strategy.
  • 2002 appointed strategy and development director with responsibility for strategic planning, legal and regulation, property and operation and development of non-regulated networks businesses, following Seeboard’s acquisition by LE Group.
  • 2002 becomes chief financial officer when LE Group becomes of EDF Energy. Responsibilities included finance functions, procurement, property, legal and information technology.
  • Jan 2009 appointed managing director, nuclear new build following EDF Energy’s integration with British Energy.

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