Unique Procurement in a Unique Industry

Martyn Brocklesby
Work on the first new nuclear power plant in two decades has kick-started the UK’s nuclear new build programme, with the aim of providing 7% of the nation’s energy for 60 years.

Nuclear new build is one of Europe’s biggest anticipated construction investments. For the UK, this represents an important opportunity for jobs, economic activity, and a much-needed legacy in infrastructure and skills.

New build delivery however creates capacity and capability challenges for the nuclear supply chain, not only for the design and construction of the plants, but also their ongoing operation and maintenance. No new nuclear facilities have been built in the UK since the early 1990s and there is a shortage of skilled resource.

Successful procurement therefore brings tough challenges, in this unique and highly regulated industry, and whilst the usual challenges of cost and schedule pressure must be accommodated, safety, quality and reliability are paramount. Does the UK supply chain possess the necessary capacity and technical capability?

Faithful+Gould has extensive knowledge of the construction, operation and decommissioning of nuclear facilities, providing programme and project control services, supplier commercial management, specialist consultancy and facility management services to the nuclear sector.

There are major opportunities, as the supply chain base needs to expand and the growing industry needs to engage with new companies. However, there are also significant barriers to entry, e.g. demonstrable capacity and capability, long procurement cycle, high bid costs.

Project longevity affects the robustness of the supply chain. Ten years to procure and build, and 60 years + to operate and decommission, is a lengthy commitment. Uncertainty, delays, stringent testing regimes, and revisions to specifications and documents, combine to make supply chain motivation potentially problematic.

Faithful+Gould has extensive knowledge of the construction, operation and decommissioning of nuclear facilities, providing programme and project control services, supplier commercial management, specialist consultancy and facility management services to the nuclear sector. In our experience, the following factors underpin a successful procurement strategy:

  • The purchaser should establish an effective commercial and supply chain strategy to enable delivery of safety case requirements.
  • Effective, clear specification is vital. Specifications should meet safety requirements and identify the required level of quality assurance.
  • Clarity in tender documents must ensure bidders fully understand the constraints of working on nuclear licenced premises and compliant with licence conditions
  • The tender assessment process must demonstrate the supply chain’s technical capability and capacity for working in nuclear new build
  • The supplier must have an appropriate nuclear safety culture which satisfies the licensee’s nuclear safety policy
  • The licensee must have oversight of and approval rights over sub-suppliers, to impose consistent quality and safety rules throughout the supply chain
  • The purchaser should confirm suppliers’ organisational, financial and technical capability, capacity and culture to deliver
  • The purchaser should ensure that suppliers’ quality management arrangements are appropriate and consistent with the safety significance of the procured items or services.
  • At pre-contract stage, the purchaser should ensure that prospective suppliers fully understand that the items or services being procured are a principal means of ensuring nuclear safety.

Nuclear new build is in its infancy in the UK and we therefore need to make the opportunity to work in such a unique sector an attractive one.

The construction and operation of Hinkley Point C is creating thousands of employment opportunities; we need to show the supply chain that the opportunities outweigh the barriers, and a robust procurement strategy is a good place to start.

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