The appeal of a 20-year pipeline

Few clients can offer pipelines of work stretching decades ahead, but Sellafield has projects planned for up to a century for the safe storage of nuclear waste long after the plant’s operations cease.

It needs talent in an array of construction disciplines – not all of them involving nuclear expertise – and recognises it is in a highly competitive market, with other major infrastructure projects such as Hinkley Point and HS2.

Sellafield has £7.0bn of capital projects planned in the next 20 years, mainly on complex facilities to store and treat nuclear waste to replace those built decades ago.

Some £1.8bn annually is spent with its supply chain across works of all kinds, 38 per cent of which is directed to SMEs.

Sellafield has developed its Programme and Project Partners (PPP) model as a 20-year vehicle for project delivery. PPP comprises Sellafield, KBR (project services), Jacobs (design and engineering), Morgan Sindall Infrastructure (civils construction management) and Doosan Babcock (process construction management).

These partners have in turn brought in 10 long-term tier two partners: Balfour Beatty Kilpatrick, Sir Robert McAlpine, Altrad Babcock, Parker Technical Services, Seddon, Severfield, Hare, NG Bailey, with two more to be appointed this autumn.

Projects director Andy Sharples says: “We are competing for talent in UK infrastructure, heavy
civil engineering and mechanical engineering, and we’ve got a portfolio of infrastructure projects we need to deliver in the next 20 years.”

Despite being intermittently involved with Sellafield over decades, Sharples says: “The scale and size of what we’re doing shocked me, even though I’d been verbally told what to visualise.”

Sharples stresses that the need to construct a large number of storage buildings means not all contractors require nuclear industry experience.

He says: “A lot of what we do is normal, heavy infrastructure, civil engineering, mechanical and electrical enabling works and groundworks. So we’ve picked four partners for the PPP, but that doesn’t just constrain us to them and we’re in the process of letting work to a wider supply chain, as the quantum of support we need is beyond our five organisations.”

For those interested in bidding for Sellafield work, the route lies through the appointed partners, to whom “a lot of providers are currently talking, and what makes it different for them is the longevity of the period that they get to work in and on multiple projects across Sellafield. It used to be ‘do a project and on your way to the next’, but this portfolio gives enduring work for the next 20 years.”

Sellafield’s operations have a focus on robotics and modern methods of construction because the site is only 2.5km2 and has well over 1,000 buildings.

West Cumbria’s relatively remote location has meant that the pandemic-era switch by suppliers to distance-working has endured, “so much of our design work is done from a base in Warrington and those who don’t need to be on the site work remotely from other locations across the region,” Sharples says. 

For those that need to be there, West Cumbria’s location near to the Lake District means it’s an appealing place to live for many of those looking for new challenges.

Those working on site can expect a heavy emphasis on safety and to be assessed for their suitability to work on a nuclear site, from both capability and security perspectives, given Sellafield is a highly secure environment.

For firms large or small that can offer what Sellafield needs, the prospect of a 20-year pipeline of work will be attractive.


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