A Career in Nuclear Energy

Tom Kirwan
The nuclear sector provides excellent opportunities for career development in multiple construction-related disciplines.

I entered the construction industry six years ago, aged 20, as an apprentice on the Crossrail project, which included sponsorship on the HNC in construction and civil engineering. I’d always had an interest in construction, and I liked the idea of working on different projects and the potential to work abroad. My apprenticeship gave me exposure to the commercial aspects of a construction project – I found this interesting and I decided to pursue a degree in quantity surveying after my HNC.

When an opening arose to work on Hinkley Point C (HPC), the new nuclear power station in Somerset, I saw this as an exciting opportunity to work on a distinctive and rewarding project. My initial role was in the project controls department as a reporting coordinator, which gave me a good overview of the project and its various programmes of work. Networking with many stakeholders on the project is what brought me into contact with Faithful+Gould.

I was delighted when Faithful+Gould asked me to join their team at HPC. I began as an Assistant Commercial Manager in the central PMO, working on the framework contracts that provide professional services to the project. After 18 months I moved to the Balance of Nuclear Island (BNI) team as an Assistant Commercial Manager, working on the HVAC and equipment contracts.

Working in a highly regulated, safety-orientated environment, where accuracy and precision are key, can be challenging at times, but there’s a real benefit in simultaneous working and studying, as you solidify your learning on a daily basis.

This group of contracts covers the supply and installation of main and auxiliary plant systems within the nuclear parts of the power station. I’m working in a multi-disciplinary team alongside the Senior Commercial Manager, Project Manager and NNB Responsible Designer, to deliver seven FIDIC work packages at various stages of the procurement phase.

Alongside working in the sector, I’ve studied part time for three years to obtain my degree in quantity surveying, sponsored by Faithful+Gould, graduating from Kingston University in 2016. I recommend this way of studying, even though it involved hard work and careful time management, to combine a challenging job, coursework and exam preparation. Working in a highly regulated, safety-orientated environment, where accuracy and precision are key, can be challenging at times, but there’s a real benefit in simultaneous working and studying, as you solidify your learning on a daily basis. By the time you graduate, you’re well adapted to the workplace and are able make a valuable contribution.

Like many others, I began working on HPC with no previous experience of the nuclear industry, as this is the UK’s first new nuclear power station for a generation. Many UK nuclear construction specialists are approaching the end of their careers and skills shortages in the sector are widely acknowledged. Succession planning is therefore very important, and it’s great to be part of a new wave of young professionals ready to make their mark.

I believe we’re building a legacy – part of the start of the country’s transformation towards a greener, more sustainable energy strategy – and that makes for an exciting challenge.

Working with our client EDF means that I’m learning from some of the world’s leading nuclear specialists – the French have recent nuclear power station experience, including the Flamanville project, currently under construction and providing the basis for much of HPC’s design. EDF runs mandatory courses for its employees and contractors, providing an understanding of how a nuclear power plant is built and operated. Faithful+Gould also supports the training and skills development of our nuclear team.

I see a long-term career in the sector as a viable and exciting possibility. The construction of HPC will run for around 10 years, and there’s a lot of variety in the works programmes that make up the project, from earthworks to civils, and marine works to mechanical and electrical. There are opportunities to rotate around the project, gaining experience on different types of contracts with a diverse supply chain. That’s good news for my current studying – I’m on the two-year APC chartership pathway, where it’s not uncommon to work on more than one construction project in order to sign off every competency. However, I should be able to get enough experience on this project alone to obtain my chartership status.

Nuclear sector expertise certainly looks good on the CV – it differentiates you, as well as providing transferable core cost management skills that could be used in other sectors. For me, though, the motivation is working on one of Europe’s major construction projects. I believe we’re building a legacy – part of the start of the country’s transformation towards a greener, more sustainable energy strategy – and that makes for an exciting challenge.

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