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Achieving net zero – how a digitally enabled nuclear industry can get us on track

Colin Ellam
12 Jan 2023

There’s a growing consensus that a resurgent nuclear industry can help us to reach UK net zero goals. Our Global Head of Nuclear, Colin Ellam, discusses this further.

Given the current economic and political turmoil, so soon after the global pandemic, it’s clear that achieving net zero targets has become even more complex and challenging.

But there’s a growing consensus that a resurgent nuclear industry can play a vital role in bringing efforts to limit global warming back on track. In fact, the International Energy Agency believes that achieving net zero will be harder without it.

Some commentators predict a golden age for nuclear, operating in tandem with renewables to accelerate the shift away from fossil fuels. Most agree that it’s a huge opportunity for nuclear to transform its prospects, becoming a modern, dynamic, and agile sector, and an integral part of a green, sustainable future.

Many have always been convinced of the wisdom of the nuclear option. For example, France generates around 70% of its electricity from a fleet of 56 reactors, operated by state-owned utility provider EDF. Here policy makers saw nuclear as the only option for France to achieve energy independence and as a way to alleviate the country’s lack of natural energy resources.

That said, if nuclear is to capitalise on this unique opportunity, the decommissioning of ageing nuclear plants and management of legacy nuclear waste must be delivered efficiently and safely.

SMRs provide the perfect catalyst

A key factor in the resurgence of nuclear is the development of small modular reactors (SMRs). Built in factories and transported to site for assembly, SMRs, individually or in connected clusters, will supplement traditional large-scale generation by providing a flexible, smaller scale alternative, to meet remote or localised power requirements.

The UK Government is providing £210 million in financial support, matched by private investment, for a consortium led by Rolls-Royce to design one of the world’s first SMRs. The consortium believes that a UK SMR programme can support up to 40,000 jobs, with each SMR capable of powering 450,000 homes.

The development of the SMR concept provides a perfect catalyst for the nuclear industry to take a huge leap forward, positioned at the heart of the solution, rather than, in the minds of some, part of the problem. Critically, a key challenge for nuclear operators is the need to transform traditional operating models and mindsets, to embrace ‘the new’ and build a business for the future.

Becoming truly data-centric

In short, the nuclear industry must rapidly embrace the digital age and new ways of working. Not just digital technologies, but contemporary, end-to-end digitally enabled and data-centric thinking too. This must be at the core of organisational design, operating models, core business processes, the selection of supporting technology platforms, systems, and tools.

Leadership, culture, people, and skills strategies must also align with this philosophy. Not least to attract the best talent who are motivated and empowered, and eager to be part of a modern, streamlined, innovative industry, with a mission of global significance.

SMRs will be designed in the virtual world, with automation, extensive monitoring and AI setting new standards in operational performance, safety, maintenance, and waste management. Harnessing and optimising huge volumes of operational data will create the real-time insights that inform credible, optimised decision making throughout the life of nuclear plants.

For inspiration, nuclear can draw on the successes of aerospace and space exploration, industries that embrace digital technologies, unburdened by traditional thinking and outdated ways of working. We’re on the cusp of a new, more sustainable era for an industry with renewed purpose.

We shouldn’t underestimate the scale of the challenge. Defining where to start and how to accelerate data-centric ways of working, across an extended supply chain not just the core enterprise, is highly complex. It requires the marshalling of visionary people, cutting edge skills, a culture of collaborative innovation and world-class enabling systems and technologies.

This requires careful and patient orchestration. At Capgemini, we’re the trusted enterprise partner for the design and delivery of numerous new nuclear projects, helping clients through this fundamental shift by providing an end-to-end portfolio of consulting and technology services.

We support our clients across the nuclear lifecycle from feasibility, through build to decommissioning, embracing modern ways of working, rooted in safe, human centric, digitally enabled operating models.

To discuss your requirements and how Capgemini can support you, contact Colin Ellam, VP Global Head of Nuclear.

Colin Ellam

VP Global Head of Nuclear
Colin has worked across the nuclear sector for over 30 years, from new nuclear build through to decommissioning and waste management – both as a consultant and a client. He is passionate about nuclear’s role in the global climate challenge and believes the industry has a great opportunity to truly embrace digital to deliver significantly improved programme outcomes across the sector.