Profile: Stuart Harrison

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Stuart Harrison wants to help companies secure work on a project which aims to harness the power of fusion. He met Deputy Business Editor Greg Wright.

WHEN it comes to energy, there really is nothing like the sun.

Stuart Harrison would love to see Yorkshire companies secure work with a project which hopes to wean the world off fossil fuels.

France is developing the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) project, which aims to harness the power of fusion. Fusion, which powers the sun and stars, involves colliding atoms at extremely high temperatures and pressure inside a reactor. When the atoms fuse into a plasma, they release energy that can be harnessed to generate electricity.

Although the ITER project has been dogged by delays, it offers a world of lucrative opportunities for many Yorkshire companies. In his new role as business development director at the Nuclear Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC), Mr Harrison wants to ensure more Yorkshire companies are doing their bit to keep the world’s lights burning.

In terms of “big science”, ITER is comparable with the Large Hadron Collider at CERN, near Geneva, in Switzerland, which is attempting to answer fundamental questions about science and the universe’s origins.

“ITER is a multi-billion euro science project to develop fusion-based power,’’ said Mr Harrison: “It’s being built in Cadarache in France, funded by international governments, including the UK.

“Large packages of manufacturing work are issued to competition. We would like to see more UK manufacturers win this work.

“If Yorkshire companies are interested, we can put them in touch with the lead person in the UK for this work.”

Over the last 23 years, Mr Harrison has built up a bulging book of top level contacts in the nuclear industry. He’s worked with site operators and inside the nuclear supply chain, so he’s well-placed to help manufacturers who want to raise their game and win new orders.

The AMRC is a collaboration of academic and industrial partners from across the nuclear manufacturing supply chain. Based on the Advanced Manufacturing Park, near Rotherham, the AMRC brings together the manufacturing and engineering expertise of the University of Sheffield and its Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC) with Boeing, The University of Manchester Dalton Nuclear Institute, and the experience and resources of a host of industry leaders.

“The Nuclear AMRC is all about working with the manufacturing sector to give companies access to very high quality manufacturing research, and help them improve their businesses to win work,” said Mr Harrison. “My role is to help them make that happen.”

He took his first steps into the nuclear sector while studying for a physics degree at Imperial College in London. It was the start of a 13-year working relationship with BNFL.

“I looked for a company sponsorship, and Sellafield (in Cumbria) offered me that opportunity,’’ he recalled. “I got experience working at a major site. Sellafield is a huge complex. It was so interesting and so diverse that it was difficult to find something else that would be comparable. In the 1990s, there were 10,000 people working on the site and I had to make sure that they had enough training and experience to carry out these roles. You don’t realise how demanding it is until you come away from it.”

To British supporters of nuclear power, the closing years of the 20th century were a bleak time.

“There was no nuclear renaissance in the 1990s, because in the public eye, nuclear power wasn’t well regarded,’’ said Mr Harrison. “The huge demand for electricity wasn’t recognised at the time.”

Britain once led the world in the creation of nuclear power stations. Today, we are relying on French and Chinese expertise to develop Hinkley Point in Somerset, the UK’s first new nuclear power station in a generation.

Many believe that developments like the Nuclear AMRC are long overdue.

The establishment of the Nuclear AMRC was mainly supported by a £15m grant from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, and £7m from the now defunct regional development agency, Yorkshire Forward. Mr Harrison has joined the AMRC from simulation company GSE Systems, where he worked with EDF Energy on a training project.

“It’s not often you get the chance to be involved with something like the AMP,’’ he added. “The research centre provides practical applications to help manufacturers. I’m looking to help individuals save money, and maybe do research for them. There are 80 people working on the AMRC, with a good mix of academics and industrialists. If I do my job properly, the business will grow. As we grow our business we will be hiring more.”

Today, the AMRC, which is supported by EDF Energy, the Nuclear Industry Association and the National Nuclear Laboratory, is working with hundreds of companies on research projects and business support initiatives.

“I’m in my 10th week in the job and I’ve had 50 different company engagements already,’’ said Mr Harrison.

“We discuss where they can add value to the UK and potentially export. To compete globally, we have to be producing the right things at the right price.

“But it’s not just all about high end academia. It’s very positive for everybody who wants to come into the manufacturing arena.

“We have an awful lot of international interest in what we do from places like Germany, Finland and the US. It’s very much an international community.”