How the UK's newest nuclear new build is beating records and boosting STEM.
Big. Bold. Breathtaking. It's often easy to forget that one of Europe’s largest construction projects is taking place on our doorstep ... no, not HS2, but the UK's newest nuclear new build, known as Hinkley Point C, or HPC for short.
The vision is big - to supply electricity to six million homes over its 60-year service life - but the scale is bigger.
As the UK’s first nuclear power plant to be built in over 20 years, this project sees the coming together of civil, structural, mechanical, electrical and environmental engineers, scientists, project managers and many more. With its own bus service, harbour master and over 30 tower cranes currently on site, it’s fair to say this is engineering on a mammoth scale!
Boosting skills and jobs
HPC has provided numerous employment opportunities and allowed engineering firms to develop their staff, creating over 500 apprenticeships to date, with a target of 1,000 by 2025.
Civil engineers working at HPC are actively encouraged to become professionally qualified, working towards either EngTech, IEng or CEng status. But, not only are apprentices able to reap the benefits of HPC’s size and the expertise it attracts - so too are schoolchildren, students and visitors.
The project has a comprehensive STEM engagement programme, helping to educate and inspire the next generation. On this basis, what better reason to celebrate the project's achievements, and its ongoing impact in the South West, than to host the Institution of Civil Engineer’s (ICE) Director General, Nick Baveystock, and a small party of ICE South West representatives.
Behind the scenes
During a visit on 7 November 2019, Nick and our ICE team were first introduced to the project by the knowledgeable Ronan O’Driscoll, Lead Temporary Works Coordinator.
We were informed of the aims of the project and the progress made to date in constructing the nuclear new build. Having been blown away by the statistics, we were then taken ‘behind the scenes’ for a whistle-stop walkover, expertly guided by Hinkley’s highly experienced Temporary Work Coordinators.
Now in its third year of construction, and with a staff count of over 4,000, it’s fair to say construction is well under way!
Coinciding with Tomorrow’s Engineers Week, apprentices and mentors later took time out of their day to demonstrate the cross-generational exchange of skills and knowledge taking place on site; a fantastic example of the benefits of earning whilelearning.
During a series of engaging and personal talks, we were lucky to hear from a range of early career professionals, who gave the team a better understanding of the emphasis placed on education, diversity and development on site, underpinned by an army of professionally qualified mentors and supported by a dedicated skills office.
Going one step further, HPC is working to tackle the UK skills shortage, by working with the local training institutions to develop a new welding centre of excellence.
With an ambition to provide 350 to 500 welding NVQ qualifications per year, the initiative is likely to enhance the engineering skills market in the South West and well beyond.
Aside from physical skills development, we were delighted to hear of HPC’s implementation of digital in its approach to engineering design and construction.
An innovative project
With a site the size of 245 football pitches, it’s no surprise that digital techniques are being harnessed to drive efficiency and improve productivity - such as tablets being used by steel fixers to check their works against BIM models in real time.
It’s these sorts of innovations that will continue to drive improvements in the work we do, whether it be to increase quality on site, or to reduce redundancy in our designs.
With the recent introduction of tunnel boring machines and the installation of mechanical and electrical systems still to take place, we’re sure digital transformation will continue to shape construction practices at Hinkley, as the project progresses.
HPC also intends to tackle the climate crisis. Although you could be forgiven for thinking the project only aims to break records - the most recent being the largest continuous concrete pour in the UK (a record previously set by the Shard in London) - once operational, HPC aims to offset nine million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions a year.
Overall then, Hinkley is seen as a catalyst for skills development, an opportunity to inspire others, increase our use of digital resources, and in doing so, drive efficiency, safety and quality.
HPC’s skilled workforce continue to deliver a piece of major national infrastructure, which will continue to keep the lights on.