Cheltenham staff levels to increase at nuclear regulator
NUCLEAR regulatory staff in Gloucestershire are set to experience a boost in numbers to match the county's growing influence on the industry.
The Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR), which has a base in Cheltenham, is increasing employee levels in the town to meet the high demand for its services in the South West.
It is a sure sign of the county's continuous growth as an important centre for the UK's nuclear power industry.
Gloucester-based Horizon Nuclear Power, an energy company created to develop a new generation of nuclear power stations in the UK, currently employs about 130 people while EDF Energy, which owns eight UK power stations, has a base at Barnwood.
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ONR, an agency of the watchdog Health and Safety Executive, currently employs 41 people in Cheltenham, five per cent of its overall workforce.
Its recruitment drive, which has no upper limit, comes as the ONR is weeks away from announcing an assessment decision on nuclear plant Hinkley Point C, which EDF Energy subsidiary NNB GenCo hopes to build in Somerset.
ONR deputy chief inspector Colin Patchett, pictured, who was in the region last week for the launch of a public forum on the proposed plant, said Cheltenham offered the independent regulator flexibility.
"We are expanding it (the office) to enable us to be able to bring people in that wouldn't necessarily want to move from their location in the South West," he said.
"There are a number of energy companies that work in the South West. The office allows us to be flexible and bring experienced people in."
The regulator is set to make a decision on whether to grant NNB GenCo a licence for the design and build of Hinkley Point C at the end of November. The company submitted an application last July.
The ONR has 36 license conditions attached to nuclear sites. Colin, who has worked for the regulator for 25 years, added: "If we are not satisfied we won't issue a license. We have a totally unbiased view and we have no agenda. We are working to provide assurances to ourselves, and stakeholders, that the plant will be safe."
He added granting consent for the license did not give the all-clear for starting nuclear work and that the regulator would have control over its activities.
Chinese state power companies are said to be in talks to take as much as a 30 per cent stake in the Hinkley C project, from EDF.
They include China's State Nuclear Power Technology Corporation, and China Guangdong Nuclear Power Corporation.
Almost a third of the £10billion project is up for grabs according to reports.
The corporations, which are rivals, have also each joined with Western consortia to try to buy the Horizon Nuclear Power company from RWE and E.ON. Horizon owns sites at Oldbury, South Gloucestershire and Wylfa on Anglesey.
EDF Energy, which owns and operates eight of the UK's existing 10 nuclear power stations, is proposing a new twin-reactor plant at Hinkley Point on the Somerset coast.
The ONR has responsibility for regulating safety and security at 40 nuclear licensed sites in the UK. It also has offices in Liverpool and London.