South Yorkshire can be at centre of nuclear reactor supply chain, says GE Hitachi executive

South Yorkshire’s manufacturing businesses can be at the heart of the lucrative supply chain for building the UK’s next generation of nuclear reactors, an industry boss from America has said.

Sean Sexstone, Executive Vice President of Advanced Nuclear for GE Hitachi, spoke to The Yorkshire Post as his company held a supply chain conference attended by 150 representatives of local firms at the Nuclear Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre in Rotherham on Wednesday.

The conference was designed to build relationships with prospective suppliers of components for its BWRX-300 small modular reactor, which is an entrant in a Government competition to select SMRs for the UK.

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It is one of six companies, along with the likes of EDF and Rolls Royce, which have been shortlisted for potential multi-billion Government contracts to deliver SMRs, which are faster and cheaper to build than conventional nuclear reactors. They can also be created in factories and transported to locations rather than needing to be built on site.

Sean Sexstone addressing the event in Rotherham on WednesdaySean Sexstone addressing the event in Rotherham on Wednesday
Sean Sexstone addressing the event in Rotherham on Wednesday

Successful bids will be announced later this year with final investment decisions due in 2029 and sites expected to be up and running by the mid-2030s. In the recent Budget, it was announced the Government’s Great British Nuclear organisation was buying land in Anglesey and Gloucestershire to potentially house SMRs.

The US-headquartered GE Hitachi already has a memorandum of understanding in place with Sheffield Forgemasters and is hoping to develop further partnerships in the region.

Mr Sexstone said South Yorkshire was an obvious choice for the company’s first supply chain event related to this project.

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"Just look at the turnout here today, with 150-plus suppliers all focused in manufacturing,” he said.

Oliver Coppard speaking at the eventOliver Coppard speaking at the event
Oliver Coppard speaking at the event

"When we look at this region, we signed an MoU with Sheffield Forgemasters who have great capabilities, but there are many more in South Yorkshire. It seems like this is a centre for skills-based manufacturing.”

He said there were major opportunities for companies in this region from the drive to expand the nation’s nuclear industry.

"What we will be looking to do over the next year or so is identify and establish partnerships with those key suppliers to shore up our execution model.”

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During a panel session at the event, concerns were raised by some attendees over how committed the Government is to the long-term efforts required to deliver small modular reactors given a final decision on investment is not due for five years and previously-announced projects not coming to fruition.

Mr Sexstone said while he understood the reservations, he does believe the Government is committed to this process and will continue to be so even if there is a change of party at the next election.

"We have been in the UK market for 20-plus years. We have seen the starts and stops to the programme. We are really encouraged by Great British Nuclear and the process that has been set up. This feels real this time for us. We shared the concern in the past but I’m encouraged this is a real process that is going to deliver real results.”

“I think we are going to do this in a smart way. I feel the ambition the UK has currently is being met by this process. We get the concerns in the past and the Government realises that as well, which is why it has set up such a structured process.”

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He said he was confident GE Hitachi has a strong chance of being one of the organisations selected for a Government contract – highlighting that it already has a commercial contract to deliver the technology in Canada.

"We are the lowest risk, highest reward choice. We have been at this for 60-plus years, our technology is 10th generation. We have 67 reactors in 10 different countries. This SMR build won’t be the first because Canada is going first. We are the only ones with a commercial contract.

“We have 2,500 employees across the UK and power 35 per cent of the UK’s energy and we want to keep growing that. The key to doing that is figuring out who are the right partners and that is what this event is all about.

"We want to roll-out a fleet of SMRs in the UK but also in Europe. The UK can be at the centre of it.”

Investment zone status ‘can help secure supply chain firms’

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​South Yorkshire’s recently established Investment Zone status can help it build an SMR supply chain industry in the region, mayor Oliver Coppard has said.

Last summer, Jeremy Hunt named South Yorkshire as the country’s first Investment Zone with a focus on advanced manufacturing.

The zone includes the University of Sheffield and Sheffield Hallam University and it is hoped that it will help leverage more than £1.2bn of private funding and help support more than 8,000 jobs by 2030.

Mr Coppard said in addition to the existing capabilities in the region, it is hoped new firms can be attracted to South Yorkshire.

"We are using investment zone funding to make this corridor the best place to start, scale and relocate a business,” he said. “

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