After a year in post, Tom Robinson reflects on the changes in and opportunities for the South West Nuclear Hub in the flourishing nuclear renaissance
In many ways, my year in the South West Nuclear Hub has mirrored the year in the nuclear industry. The nuclear industry has been setting the foundations for future delivery; we’ve seen the announcements of Great British Nuclear, the conception of the Nuclear Skills Taskforce, the Advanced Modular Reactor Phase B funding and the Small Modular Reactor competition.
Similarly, I have been setting the foundations in the South West Nuclear Hub for renewed invigoration and growth. We’ve initiated more interactions with our members with one-to-one meetings, created the first academic working groups and streamlined operational procedures. We also signed up to the Women in Nuclear Industry Charter, which confirms diversity is at the heart of our operations.
It has also been a year of change at the Hub, with Jamie Townes and James Barker leaving in spring 2022 and Camilla Parkes leaving in summer 2023. As well as my appointment one year ago, Meg Hicks has joined as the Communications Coordinator and we are preparing to recruit a new Coordinator to re-complete the team (watch this space!). This change in staffing provided an opportunity to reflect on the Hub priorities and reignite interactions with our members.
Alongside these changes and additions, the research supported by the Hub has continued to grow with notable grants won at the beginning of this year for projects like HyDUS (hydrogen storage) and MicroNOVA (fusion for medical isotopes). The University of Bristol and partners were awarded two Sellafield Ltd Centres of Expertise in Uranium and Reactive Metals and Thermal Treatment and Immobilisation, to provide world-class advice to a world-leading decommissioning organisation. To promote innovation in the region, a partnership with the National Composites Centre has provided a new rig space in Filton for large scale nuclear deployments.
But, one of the main academic activities of the year has ended in disappointment, as the Nuclear Energy Futures Centre for Doctoral Training (CDT) was unsuccessful in the EPSRC CDT Call. This is a real blow, not only for the Universities involved, but for the sector as a whole. With an ageing workforce and increasing skills gap, between 75,000 and 150,000 new recruits are needed by 2050 and with 4% of the current workforce having training equivalent PhD or higher, 3,000 new PhD graduates are needed. One of my priorities for the coming year will be to build on the widespread support of the South West Nuclear Hub industry members for postgraduate training and explore new ways of training the subject matter experts of the future. The unique strengths of the South West Nuclear Hub Universities can be utilised in innovative ways, and the strong connections to the National College for Nuclear can be leveraged to provide new training pathways into the industry.
From a personal perspective, I have really enjoyed coming back into nuclear, having left my previous role in Sellafield Ltd to spend 4½ years at UK Research and Innovation. It has been great to reignite old networks and meet new colleagues across the sector this past year. I have also drawn on the strong links of the South West Nuclear Hub, both with our members and through formal participation with the Nuclear Institute, the Nuclear Industry Association and the Nuclear Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre. I look forward to continuing to grow my network as the nuclear renaissance takes flight and the delivery through the South West Nuclear Hub expands.
On reaching a year in post, it is easy to get swept up in the growing optimism in the sector, with new initiatives, power stations and next generation designs taking shape. And within the South West Nuclear Hub, the foundations I have put in place over the last year are starting to realise benefits for our members. I believe this coming year will be the year the South West Nuclear Hub and the nuclear sector really bursts into life and I can’t wait to get stuck in.
 Nuclear Skills Strategy Group, (2021), Nuclear Workforce Assessment 2021 Microsoft Word - NWA 2021 Draft v3_20220307.docx (nssguk.com)