Nuclear Matters profiled Keith Parker just before he retired as Chief Executive of the Nuclear Industry Association. Now, we have spoken to his successor Tom Greatrex, to get his views on the future of the UK nuclear industry.
He is far from a stranger to the industry having served as Shadow Energy Minister until May last year.
Looking back at his introduction to energy policy Tom told Nuclear Matters, “I was fortunate enough in my previous life to spend four years in Parliament working on energy policy.
“It is an endlessly fascinating area to be involved in; absolutely vital for the country and touches on just about every issue you can think of. The UK has significant challenges in terms of renewal and replacement of generation capacity going offline; and doing so in a way that maximises energy security and meets climate commitments. All of that means that the nuclear industry is at a really interesting and fascinating time.”
It is clear that after losing out, along with all but one of his Labour colleagues north of the border to the SNP surge, Tom wished to put the knowledge he had built up to good use. He told us, “I was very keen to find a way to be engaged with energy policy, and also be involved in a part of the energy industry working in delivery, which is where nuclear is now. It is a privilege to have been appointed to this role and I am determined to contribute to maximise these opportunities.”
We were interested in Tom’s views of the industry and the association, albeit after a very short time in post. Reflecting on this Tom told us, “Through my previous role, I knew there were some really impressive people with a great deal of capability and expertise in this industry.
“This has only been reinforced during my early weeks at NIA when I have met organisations from across the broad range of our membership. These meetings have included smaller companies, sometimes with a very particular capability or expertise, which don’t have the scale to engage with Government and Parliament on policy issues, even though those issues will impact their business and activity for the future.
“It all underlies the crucial role of the NIA in helping to ensure there is a coherent and cogent message from the nuclear industry as a whole. The NIA also has an important role in helping our members appreciate what each other does and highlight collaboration opportunities which could help them expand in to new areas.”
“The NIA also has an important role in communicating outwardly, helping to make the case for nuclear as part of the energy mix, while also shifting shift the mind-set to focus on delivery.”
Tom wants to put his Parliamentary experience to use at the NIA as he explains, “I want to help decision-makers and influencers across Government and Parliament understand the breadth of expertise this industry has. I want to showcase the parts of the membership which aren’t able to do that for themselves, to help people understand this industry and its capability, to give potential and opportunities not just in the UK but around the world.
Tom seems very comfortable in his new role and is very relaxed as we talk in his new office. I have known him for many years when I met him as a shadow minister to persuade him of an aspect of energy policy. A role he is now taking on as part of his NIA position, so I asked him how he is finding the move from one side of the desk to the other.
“You know, losing an election isn’t necessarily the most pleasant experience in the world! But actually, it has enabled me to move onto something different while maintaining an involvement in an area of policy I have become fascinated by.
“Moving from one side to another has probably given me a better appreciation of how it works and why, and what the best ways are for organisations like the NIA to operate. I am particularly keen in looking at how the NIA can get the most of its interactions with people in Parliament, politics and Government.”
“The pace and diversity of what Ministers, Shadow Ministers, advisers and the Civil Service have to do mean you need to be very focused on getting your key points across, while also putting them into the current context.”
One advantage of having a former Parliamentarian at the helm of the NIA is the instinctive understanding of the importance of political support for the industry’s future. That political consensus has been hard won, and obviously, Tom sees guarding that position as an important role of the NIA and one he is well placed to lead.
As he told us, “There is, broadly speaking, a consensus in support for new nuclear, of nuclear continuing to be part of the energy mix and of the importance of decommissioning. But the extent to which that remains the case is partly influenced by the wider mood politicians pick up on.
“But I would not be complacent about this consensus being a feature you can count on for generations without the nuclear industry being part of explaining and advocating its position. If we don’t keep saying it, people forget it.
That’s why it’s important the nuclear industry, and the NIA as its representative body, are also engaged in wider energy debates as they happen. We can’t afford for nuclear to be absent from them and we shouldn’t end up in a technology versus technology debate.”
“We actually need to move to a much more sensible discussion about what the optimum mix of technologies is to help the country meet its objectives. It is only through that approach we are going to make significant progress towards where we need to be.”
While Tom finds his Parliamentary experience useful now he is running a trade association, he views himself as an ex-politician and is looking forward to losing the short-term restrictions that politicians inevitably face. Tom said, “When I was a politician, I realised that energy policy is long-term. Any decision taken now will have an impact forty or fifty years hence, way beyond the life of any individual Prime Minister, Chancellor, or Government. You have to think about the policies you’re debating in the long-term, which can be hard for politicians or for Governments because their horizons tend to be the next election. As an ex-politician I can broadly understand where the pressures on them are and how they need to justify what they are doing.”
So now he is at the helm of the NIA, Tom’s is looking forward to the challenges ahead for the association and the industry in general. “It is important in terms of the NIA’s role as a representative body to bring recognition to the very positive aspects of the capabilities and achievements of the industry.
“The scrutiny and commentary will focus on new build, but we need to focus on developments across the whole of the sector. I was at Sellafield two and half years ago, and returned two weeks ago and, even in that relatively short period of time, there has been quite significant progress. From my visit in 2014 I distinctly remember seeing one of the ponds and being told of plans to use remotely operated vehicles to see what was inside. Last week they removed last of the fuel flasks from that particular pond. That’s a significant achievement and progress towards the overall decommissioning mission.
“Sellafield has been very aware of the need to help people understand some of that, which they have done in a number of different ways, and that’s important. Whilst new build may be the aspect that attracts more attention and scrutiny, it’s important each part of the sector can demonstrate the capability and effectiveness to keep the confidence people have in nuclear as part of the future mix.”
The move from Parliament to industry has also meant physical moves for Tom as, while his work as an MP saw him largely in London during the week, home was in Scotland. Fortunately this also coincided with his wife’s job moving to the south and the family (he has twin daughters) relocated at Christmas. The south of England is not unfamiliar territory for him though as, despite representing a Scottish constituency and living in Scotland, Tom is originally from Kent and a lifelong Fulham fan, although as he says, “I’m not sure whether that is a benefit or not, the way that Fulham are playing at the moment, but I will be able to see them more often than previously.”
He is also a big film buff and enjoys film festivals, “One of the things I am going to miss about not living in Scotland is the Glasgow Film Festival, which is one of the best UK film festivals,” he tells me.
Tom Greatrex presents a very different face of the Nuclear Industry and one very much focused on maintaining the political and public support for the industry. He is clearly committed to help the industry grow and prosper.