Putting Science and Engineering at the Heart of Government Policy - Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Committee Contents

Memorandum 76

Submission from AMEC

  1.  This evidence is being presented by AMEC to the IUSS Committee's call for supplementary evidence on "Putting Science and Engineering at the Heart of Government Policy".

2.  AMEC is the largest UK-based private sector supplier of technical engineering services to the nuclear sector. The business builds on AMEC's 50 years experience in the UK nuclear market. Half of our nuclear business is now international with a wide client base covering nuclear utilities, vendors and regulators in Canada, Europe and the former Soviet Union, South Africa, Japan and Korea. AMEC is committed to maintaining its position as the leading UK engineering company servicing the growing UK and global nuclear market. In addition, AMEC supports and is developing the conventional and renewable power sectors with projects on wind farms, biofuels, clean coal technology and carbon capture.

  3.  Views are presented against the four areas requested.

What form a debate or consultation about the question should take and who should lead it

  4.  The debate should be centred around achieving a transformational change in the UK's position in the shortest achievable timescale, given different competing funding priorities. We would propose a 10 year roadmap is established with interim key progress targets to improve the UK's commercial competitiveness in a global marketplace. This would suggest lead ownership by BERR to engage with key industry consultation and collaboration to establish priority areas where the UK can establish true competitive advantage, and to provide a focus where DIUS can develop the supporting innovation and skills platform.

5.  Such a debate needs to review major global scientific challenges which would encompass energy, water and health sectors as leading candidates arising from climate change and socio-economic development issues.

Whether such a policy is desirable or necessary

  6.  As a leading UK applied engineering consultant and engineer in high technology disciplines serving a global market, it is essential for our commercial success that the UK continues to be seen as a high value added centre for scientific and technical development. The UK must also improve its reputation at converting scientific developments into successful commercial applications. AMEC therefore strongly supports Lord Drayson's objectives behind a policy. However clear actions and accountabilities must be placed to ensure that a policy delivers through to the benefit of the UK

What the potential implications of such a policy are for UK science and engineering, higher education, industry and the economy as a whole

7.  The strength of AMEC's position in the global nuclear market has been driven by previous UK Government scientific investment into developing a significant nuclear capability in the early days of commercial nuclear power applications. We have taken this on to engage in international collaborative programmes where UK nuclear skills are still viewed as significant, whilst investing in technology developments which have potential global applications rather than UK specific selected technologies. Not engaging with international developments was one of the historical mistakes made which has given nuclear technology development a tarnished reputation in the UK.

8.  A global nuclear renaissance is occurring where the UK's currently limited volume but highly respected skills are in demand. Much of this growth potential is coming from countries where responsible people were originally trained by UK universities.

  9.  This gives the potential for the UK to be an independent leader in the nuclear sector. However we must recognise that other countries skills are also developing and we need to invest more to maintain our lead in technologies for the future. AMEC provided evidence to the DIUS consultation on Engineering: turning ideas into reality on the potential benefits and some of AMEC's recommendations have been reflected through in the report's conclusions, such as engaging in fourth generation reactor developments.

  10.  Such activities can provide opportunity across all sectors from basic research through to industrial application. Important to underpin this is the continued development of high technology research sites, which establish world leading reputations. JET has done this for the fusion programme but will be overtaken by ITER. The UK should consider re-engaging as a host country for future technical demonstrations, such as DEMO for the fusion programme, or a prototype generation IV reactor. Such investment has significant spin-off benefits across academia and provides opportunities for SME's behind larger engineering organisations, as well as providing a world-leading profile through flagship project success. An example of this is being demonstrated by DIAMOND.


  11.  This would be based on prioritisation taking advice from different industry sectors against the criteria laid out in Gordon Brown's speech of 27 Feb in Oxford where he stated "Our approach is not that of picking winners or protecting existing industry from the market. Rather it is a clear strategic assessment of our future—based on the strengths and comparative advantages that Britain already has—to create a framework for prioritised long-term investment which allows the market to function effectively and prepares our country to emerge from the downturn in the strongest possible position." AMEC views that this does entail the selection of preferred technologies to invest in and that the clean energy sector provides a significant opportunity. The UK has a strong capability developing in renewables and potentially in clean coal technologies as well as a strong independent nuclear heritage which can become the basis of future high technology global success where demand is significantly growing.

April 2009

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