The nuclear industry – not just for men

The first thing to say about this week’s Women in Nuclear UK conference was initially it felt very weird. I thought I had walked onto the set of a ‘flip side’ recording – a brilliant series on YouTube which explores reversed gender roles. At a guess, men made up about 15% of all the delegates and for a nuclear event that statistic is quite incredible.

It just felt odd, and now I understand and appreciate why young women dread industry events – it’s incredibly daunting being the minority. Walking into a room full of women, I immediately thought I was going to be told off! However the conference had one of, if not the friendliest atmosphere I have ever encountered at an industry event. Everyone was talking to each other no matter how old or well paid or senior they were and it was brilliant.

In some quarters there is unease towards groups such as Women in Nuclear (from both men and women) and like many others I don’t believe in positive discrimination. But from the President’s opening remarks it was clear this is not what the group wants or encourages. It is about equal opportunity; tackling unconscious bias and offering women and everyone else the same opportunities in a sector which craves talented young people.

With 18GW of new nuclear generation set to storm onto the grid, existing generation ongoing and an extensive decommissioning and waste management programme underway, thousands of new jobs will be created over the course of a generation and the industry mustn’t (consciously or not) forget about 50% of the population.

The Nuclear Industry Association’s own statistics show 17% of its members’ employees are female, but these don’t uncover what level they work at, how old they are and what they do. Nevertheless it is not hard to determine that women are less likely to stay in the nuclear industry for a long period of time and ultimately reach senior positions. Just attend the next nuclear industry event filled with ‘senior leaders’…

Unlike most other events it was also nice to hear a female perspective on the industry and a strong focus on how companies can improve and grow the individuals in their teams. It seems unfair to pick one speaker because they were genuinely all very good. However, Adriènne Kelbie, the newly appointed ONR Chief Executive gave a rousing speech about her journey from school to Deputy Chief Executive at 26, University at 43 and now the first ever female CEO of a nuclear organisation. Strong role models such as Adriènne are crucial for the sector and although there are a handful of brilliant ones for women and other minorities, the sector needs more to attract and importantly retain the required skills.

While writing this I wondered if I was morphing into Sandi Toksvig but I can reassure you I haven’t. Groups such as these should be explored and scrutinised because militant feminism is definitely not the answer. Instead Women in Nuclear UK focuses on the importance of strong leadership, equal opportunity and diverse workforces as the key to a successful business, and that’s what won me over.

Rupert LewisRupert Lewis
Communications Executive

Showcase provides platform for international collaboration

This week saw the fifth NIA/UKTI Civil Nuclear Showcase, which to quote Energy Minister Andrea Leadsom is “rapidly establishing a reputation as one of the key events in the nuclear calendar”. 400 or so delegates attended from right across the nuclear fuel chain; without a firm cap on numbers the figure would have been even higher. The NIA fielded many calls from disappointed attendees; unfortunately ‘health and safety’ considerations meant there was nothing we could do.

The UK has a long history of achievement in nuclear power since commissioning the world’s first civil nuclear power station in 1956, and now has a world class industry spanning the whole fuel cycle. Against this backdrop the Showcase was able to be very wide ranging, and the three days covered new build, decommissioning and professional services, as well as innovation and manufacturing.

Such a broad programme meant there really was something for all, both for delegates from countries in the early stages of considering a new nuclear programme – and with the UK poised to fire the starting gun on Hinkley Point C the presentations were almost ‘breaking news’ –  to those with existing nuclear fleets contemplating life extension or decommissioning. The net result was over 80 overseas delegates from 17 countries including not only the big players such as France, the USA, Japan and China, but new entrants such as Poland and Turkey.

With regard to the latter, the NIA signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) at the Showcase with the newly formed Nuclear Industry Association of Turkey (NIATR), witnessed by the Prime Minister’s Trade Envoy to Turkey Lord Janvrin. This MOU should allow the two organisations to help each other, which could be important as Turkey’s nuclear ambitions develop. With plans for up to three major nuclear projects including the Russian Akkuyu and the Franco-Japanese Sinop projects, Turkey could soon represent Europe’s biggest new nuclear build programmes after the UK, and there could be significant opportunities for the UK supply chain.

KP Turkish MOU

As in previous years the aim of the showcase was twofold; first to highlight the huge expertise and capability that exists within the UK supply chain to assist countries in developing nuclear programmes; and secondly to enable UK companies to learn about the situation overseas. The broader aim of course was to identify the potential scope for cooperation and partnership.

An innovation this year was to have mini exhibitions after the first two days plenary sessions on the Chinese and Japanese nuclear industries. These enabled delegates not only to network with colleagues from those countries but to learn about their domestic and international plans, including tips for entering their markets. This is something the NIA is very keen to promote (and in the case of China is encouraging our Chinese counterpart to produce a document similar to our Essential Guide). I hope to bring you more about this soon.

In parallel to these events there were a series of round table discussions on country plans and developer briefings, with a five minute discussion limit to enable delegates to participate in as many as possible. From what I could see these were also well supported.

How successful this has all been will only emerge in the fullness of time, but judging from the animated discussions I saw a good start has been made. Congratulations are due to the Showcase Organising Committee – chaired by Terry Gilbert and comprising UKTI, NIA and NIA members – in putting together such a strong event.

Peter Haslam, Public Policy Adviser, NIAPeter Haslam
Head of Policy