The power to make millions

Saturday, March 1, 2008

A LEADING member of the British atomic energy team involved in building the next generation reactor has urged Teesside engineers to get on board the programme, which could bring millions of pounds to the local economy.

Dan Mistry, fusion and industry manager for the British Atomic Energy Association, who will address a Partners4Engineering one-day event in Billingham on March 12, said: “The last thing we want is to lose this work to mainland Europe.”

The £5bn euro Tokamak Experimental Reactor now under construction at Cadarache in the south of France could signal the start of a global switch to cleaner nuclear fuel.

Fired by water and lithium, the technology dramatically reduces coal consumption from around 3,000t a year used in an equivalent old generation plant to just 300kg, and produces only short-lived nuclear waste.

European firms are expected to pick up contracts worth 250m euros a year for the next 10 years, and Mr Mistry predicted that more lucrative deals would follow. But he was concerned that local companies, many of them already supplying the energy sector, were not aware of the opportunities to sell both products and services to one of the biggest projects in the world.

“This plant is bigger than anyone has ever built. There’s not only going to be opportunity for local firms to supply expertise there but there are big procurement opportunities. We have already seen companies that are supplying motor racing, aircraft manufacture and other engineering services come in. Companies with QA and problem management experience should get engaged. We want to talk to small, medium and large organisations to say let’s get together and bid for work.”

Countries representing more than half the world’s population are committed to the ITER programme, which is seen as part of the long-term solution to our energy and environmental problems. The 500MW Cacherac reactor brings together engineering and physics to replicate the sun’s enormous energy-generating processes.

“If we can get it to work, it will replace the fission in every power station,” said Mr Mistry.

Meanwhile, the government announced this week that it will help develop international policy on the use of nuclear power by joining the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership.

The GNEP is part of US president George Bush’s “advanced energy initiative” and seeks to develop a worldwide consensus on enabling expanded use of economical, carbon-free nuclear energy to meet growing electricity demand.

Energy minister John Hutton, who signed the agreement during a two-day visit to Washington, was also due to meet US energy companies to discuss potential investment in new nuclear build in the UK.

MIDDLESBROUGH South and East Cleveland Labour MP Ashok Kumar banged the drum for more government support for engineering on Teesside this week.

During Wednesday’s Question Time, Mr Kumar cited a Royal Academy of Engineering report which said the UK would lose out to its rivals within the next 10 years if more homegrown engineers were not found.

During the debate, industry minister, Gareth Thomas agreed to meet the Royal Academy so as to discuss the findings talk about developing new academic programmes.

Mr Kumar said: “Teesside is built on engineering and on the work of skilled engineers. Teesside is also a brand name known across the world for engineering excellence and innovation. Whether it is in steelmaking and the building and commissioning of new steelmaking plant or in heavy petrol-chemical process engineering or in the operation of offshore gas and oil plants, Teesside men and women are making their mark. I want to see this success story continue.”

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