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Your View | Prefab nuclear power stations

Hinkley new build

Small Modular Reactors (SMRs) are attracting increasing government interest and a UK designed SMR (of which several are currently in development) could be at the forefront of an emerging global market. With civils accounting for 35% of the total SMR cost, a truly modular design, from substructure to reactor, will be vital to their success. 

Nuclear construction demands quality, efficiency, safety and programme reliability. Currently, this is achieved almost entirely on site, with a large workforce toiling away in adverse weather conditions on a highly secure and very remote site. It is little surprise that nuclear power stations are currently completed years late and billions of pounds over budget. 

Modular precast elements can be manufactured in high-tech factories before transport to site for efficient and reliable construction – this process begins with design for manufacture and assembly (DfMA). Skyscrapers, bridges, houses and railways are already reaping the benefits in quality, efficiency, safety and programme that DfMA brings. 

Can DfMA deliver for the nuclear industry too? Laing O’Rourke, Arup, BRE and Imperial College London collaborated on a three year, £2M research project to find out. After 200t of reinforced concrete structures, 20 laboratory strength tests and four full scale trials we can present our results. 

By prefabricating both substructure and superstructure components, we estimate that 70% of the nuclear civil engineering value can be delivered offsite. Time on site was reduced by up to 80%, while improving reliability and reducing the risk of delays and cost overruns. 

Small modular reactors (SMRs) are dependent on optimising advanced manufacturing for their potential success. In civils, fully automated and robotic manufacturing delivered nuclear components 75% quicker for this research project. A UK SMR has incredible potential to power up the nuclear industry in the country post-Brexit. The current SMR situation is ideal for early civil engineering engagement – modular civils for modular reactors are essential if they are to commercially succeed. 

  • Harry Edwards

Time to end the Hinkley farce

The time has surely come to put an end to the farce that is Hinkley Point C. After goodness knows how many years of frustration and procrastination over its construction, we now find ourselves in the hands of the French government, the Chinese government and, hardly believably, the French trade unions. Let us be clear, the government has put the future of our main source of electricity in the hands of foreign entities who have no interest in our future energy supplies, only whether they can make profit from the subsidised tariffs.

Hinkley new build

Hinkley new build

Hinkley: How much longer to wait?

A line should be drawn under this fiasco, EDF shown the door, and Rolls Royce Nuclear commissioned in the national interest to construct a number of small modular reactors (SMRs) using their proven submarine reactor design. 

Rolls Royce has already made such a proposal to the government at significantly less cost and on a more reliable timescale than EDF. This solution has also the advantage, among other things, of allowing an almost wholly UK manufacture, much of it factory-based as well as establishing a viable future international business opportunity. 

  • Derek Limbert (F) 16 Hutchings Road, Beaconsfield HP9 2BB

We must take methane power more seriously

I feel I must correct some of the assertions made by Andrew Wood, who appears to buy the argument that UK engineers are incapable of safely producing unconventional gas (Letters, last month). 

He states that “methane must surely be the very last fossil fuel that we consider exploiting”. The reverse is in fact the case. With the greenhouse gas emissions from gas combustion typically less than half those from coal, and nearly as much less than from oil, natural gas is the most hydrogen-rich of the fossil fuels and therefore the best of them to use if you care about climate change. 

The Joint Royal Academies’ report of 2012 is only four years old, not “four years out of date” as he claims. Subsequent analyses (for example, Scottish Government Expert Panel in 2014) have confirmed its findings. The Ryedale planning permission is simply to re-stimulate an existing well – a routine task that would previously have been done without further ado until the tightening of rules following the Joint Royal Academies’ report.  Not a single planning or environmental regulation has been eased for fracking in the UK, contrary to Woods’ claims; quite the contrary. As my own research has shown, we have committed to regulate fracking-induced seismicity 40,000 times more strictly than quarry blasting. 

The reality is that 82% of UK households rely on gas for heating, and it is also the lowest-carbon option for generating power when the wind doesn’t blow. If the UK government had any strategy to wean us off gas use, without putting fuel poverty through the ceiling, we might be able to afford to reject indigenous unconventional gas out of hand. Without any such strategy, continued gas use will simply mean importing more, at a far greater carbon footprint. That makes no sense whatsoever. 

  • Paul Younger (F), Rankine chair of engineering, and professor of energy engineering, School of Engineering, James Watt Building (South), University of Glasgow, Glasgow G12 8QQ

Women can progress without role models

Recent emails encouraging me to nominate someone for the top women in engineering awards made me reflect that during my 30 year career in civil engineering I have not come across any female role models or mentors; however I would like to take the opportunity to publicly thank the people who have taken the time and trouble to support and guide me during my early career and more latterly challenge me to be the best civil engineer I can be. 

So thank you to Bill Cassano, Frank Oldaker, John Greenwood, Stan Moore, Nick Gilbert, Ed White, George Woods, Keith Robinson and John Flett, not to mention the fantastic colleagues it has been my fortune to share the frustrations and laughter of civil engineering with. To any young woman who is considering civil engineering as a career I would say it won’t make you rich, but it is fulfilling and no-one will insist you wear high heels, although when you do it is incredibly empowering to tower over your colleagues occasionally and remind them just who is in charge.

 Gotthard tunnel tours

I refer to the opening of the Gotthard Base Tunnel (New Civil Engineer, last month). It has been so interesting seeing the construction of the tunnels via the site webcams from Britain.

If you want to see more, there is a chance to visit the tunnel before the start of the December 2016 timetable as the Swiss are running a special train. The Gottardino runs from 2 August to 27 November daily (except Mondays) from Flüelen to Biasca. 

You can enjoy the return journey – or the outward journey, depending on how you would like to plan your trip – on the historical mountain route, experiencing a journey past true masterpieces of railway engineering. In the new tunnel, the train stops at Sedrun MultiFunctional Station which is about 800m below the village of Sedrun, high in the VorderRhein valley.

Tickets can be obtained via the Swiss Tourist Centre. I have been informed that they are selling quickly. I have already booked mine!

  • Allan Carter (M) 34 South Vale, Harrow HA1 3PH




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