Nuclear Construction Lessons Learned - Guidance on Best Practice

This Engineering the Future paper gives general best practice guidance for nuclear construction.

Nuclear power contruction
Nuclear power contruction

Who wrote this?

Engineering the Future is a broad alliance of the engineering institutions and bodies which represent the UK’s 450,000 professional engineers, including the Engineering Council; Engineering UK; Institution of Chemical Engineers; Institution of Civil Engineers; Institution of Engineering and Technology; Institution of Mechanical Engineers; Institute of Physics; and Royal Academy of Engineering. This study was overseen by a steering group of Engineering the Future member organisations at the behest of the Office of Nuclear Development (OND) and conducted by Lancaster University with support from the Institution of Civil Engineers R&D Enabling Fund and the Department of Energy and Climate Change. The main authors were Dr Richard Garnsey, Professor Malcolm Joyce and Dr Ian Nickson, with help from a steering group of:

  • John Earp (Chair) Associate Director – Strategy, Aker Solutions (also representing the Nuclear Institute and the Institution of Mechanical Engineers)
  • Andrew Crudgington, Senior Policy Manager, Institution of Civil Engineers
  • David Baird, Vice President, Jacobs
  • Chris Bolton, Principal Engineer, Institution of Structural Engineers
  • Paul Davies, Head of Policy, Institution of Engineering and Technology
  • Andrew Furlong, Director of Policy and Communications, Institution of Chemical Engineers
  • Quentin Leiper, Group Chief Engineer, Carillion
  • Mike Napier, Strategy and Business Development Director, Costain
  • Ashok Patel, Principal Consultant, Magnox North
  • Richard Ploszek, Senior Policy Advisor, Royal Academy of Engineering
  • Keith Waller, Senior Advisor, Office for Nuclear Development


It was first published in October 2010, by the Royal Academy of Engineering on behalf of Engineering the Future.


In October 2010, Engineering the Future brought together a study working group, at the request of the Office of Nuclear Development, to examine the lessons that could be learnt from recent civil nuclear power plant construction projects, and how they should be incorporated into the proposed UK new build programme. 

Who should read this?

Anyone who is a stakeholder in a nuclear project, who wants to understand and limit risk, and to minimise potential overruns and delays.

The guidance documents in this series are aimed at all those within the supply chain wishing to better understand the demanding requirements of nuclear construction.


This paper gives detailed list of lessons for improving delivery of nuclear projects; the most significant are:

  1. Follow-on replica stations are cheaper than first-of-a-kind. A statement of the obvious perhaps but the implications for electricity supply planning, investment and politics are huge. A secure electricity supply will be cheaper to build with less financial risk and uncertainty about completion dates if a firm commitment is made to a fleet of identical stations rather than one at a time.
  2. The design must be mature and licensing issues resolved prior to start of construction. This was the case for Sizewell B and is the purpose of the Generic Design Assessment for new designs in the UK. It has not been the case in all countries. Permission to start nuclear construction does not always imply that the regulator is satisfied that the design can be licensed for operation.
  3. Establish a highly-qualified team to develop the design, secure the safety case, plan the procurement and build schedule in detail in collaboration with main contractors. This emphasis on highly-qualified teams and collaboration is essential for large, capital intensive, complex and technologically sophisticated projects. It does not necessarily imply less competition except when specialist skills are in very short supply. A commitment to collaborate and provide a high quality team for the duration of the project must be a requirement of the competitive process with contract and procurement strategies to achieve this.
  4. Ensure that sub contractors are of high quality and experienced in nuclear construction or are taught the necessary special skills and requirements for quality, traceability and documentation. This requires investment by industry and educational institutions and the inspiration of students to commit to an intellectually challenging and specialised career. This requires an unequivocal commitment and encouragement from government.
  5. Establish and maintain good communications with the community local to the site. A nuclear station will be part of the community for a century. It is important that the local community is kept informed and involved, that concerns and fears are addressed and the station is perceived as bringing benefits as well as being in the ‘national interest’.

Nuclear Lessons Learned Series

This document is part of the series of four papers:

  • Nuclear Lessons Learned Report - Guidance for Best Practice
  • Nuclear Lessons Learned - Guidance for Best Practice: Concrete
  • Nuclear Construction Lessons Learned - Guidance for best practice: Welding
  • Nuclear Construction Lessons Learned - Guidance for Best Practice: Nuclear Safety Culture

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