Fusing Collaboration

A few weeks ago I was chatting to Jeremy Corbyn about nuclear energy, and he mentioned when he was a teenager his father worked at Culham as an engineer supporting research into nuclear fusion. Without wishing to be ungallant, that was probably some 50 years ago. There was great excitement then about the potential of fusion technology, and visiting Culham earlier this week I witnessed that anticipation of the future is still apparent.

While the 80 hectare site may sit slightly incongruously amongst the villages of South Oxfordshire (it was previously an airfield), it has an identity which is world renowned. Since 1965, Culham has been at the heart of fusion research and has been integral to the progress made in producing energy from fusion. While it might be another 30 years or more before fusion reactors are scalable and able to generate power consistently, there is a discernible clarity of purpose. Painstaking research, innovative technology and the application of advanced physics are combined in the quest for the abundant, reliable, low carbon energy which can help power the future. It is also a truly international and collaborative effort – with combined European, US, Chinese, Russian, Japanese, South Korean and Indian funding for research and development for the ITER fusion project, and the JET European facility on site too.

While nuclear fission technology currently provides about 20% of the electricity generated in the UK and there are advanced plans for nuclear new build and an emerging interest in small modular reactors, fusion is sometimes presented by advocates and sceptics alike as something not only remote but entirely separate from the rest of the civil nuclear industry.

While the funding for the research may come from international and European sources, there are shared benefits from the long term work being done on fusion for the entire nuclear sector. This is something which has been recognised at Culham with the establishment of the new RACE (Remote Applications in Challenging Environments) research building, which will be formally opened by the Minister for Science.

Robotics have been used on JET for many years, but the technological advance and innovation can be applicable to more efficient and cost-effective decommissioning, in offshore oil, gas and wind operations and in many other ways. The expertise and innovation has a wider benefit beyond fusion research.

Sometimes in the energy industry, while focussing on our own particular roles and responsibilities, we find it too easy to miss what is going on around us. Perhaps if we were able to also think a little more about not just what we do, but what others do which could also help us, then we might make our collective task more manageable. This is as true between fusion and fission as it is between nuclear and renewables, and, indeed, other energy sources that will help meet our need for secure and low carbon energy sources for the future.

tom_greatrexTom Greatrex
Chief Executive 

Time and Tide Wait for No Graduate

For the last six months I have been seconded to the NIA as part of the nucleargraduate scheme, and now my time is now up.

The NIA does things differently to industry, I remember thinking when I was given my first piece of work – you want this back today!?! First days in a new office are always exciting but on mine, Keith Parker took me to watch the Energy Minister, Andrea Leadsom, speak to a small gathering of nuclear energy supporters. Not your average day in the office I was used to.

Six months in London has been great, and was something I always wanted to do. But now the tube has less of its iconic appeal – I guess being stuffed into a confined space quickly loses its charm.

For a small office the NIA is always buzzing with members, Government folk and other people coming and going. Except for Friday afternoons when the rest of the industry has gone home (one of the downsides of the London lifestyle is clocking off at 5pm on Friday). But for a little organisation they get a lot done, so there has always been something to do.

The placement has given me a unique view of the industry, how it communicates and interacts. I’ve enjoyed representing the NIA at a number of events especially the Big Bang Fair where I spoke myself hoarse talking to children about nuclear power. It has also been a great pleasure meeting the members of the NIA and learning how we all fit into the nuclear jigsaw.

Learning about Government and getting involved in public affairs work has been eye opening for a politics wonk like me. Although I maybe ill-suited to it in the long run because of my rather ardent opinions which I find hard supressing.

As an engineer this placement has been a steep learning curve. I’ve gained a much better understanding of the subtleties of communication which I think I will benefit from in my future career. The NIA has some very high standards but I’ve been helped to achieve them through support from people in the office, especially Sara Crane and Rupert Lewis.

All of the team have been very welcoming and I very quickly felt at home. Everyone has always been ready and willing to help when I’ve asked. Each day has been different and at the NIA you have to get stuck into absolutely everything.

This opportunity is testament to the nuclear industry’s commitment to career development. I don’t think there are many other industries where so early on you can gain from many amazing experiences.

But alas the march of time goes on and I’m off, first and most importantly on holiday, then to another placement which will hopefully be as enlightening, challenging and entertaining as my time at the NIA.

Alex Bending