A major Sellafield supplier has been appointed to head up a ground-breaking research programme which aims to cut the cost of creating and decommissioning nuclear power reactors.

Wood – recently unveiled as one of four companies to lead the Programme and Project Partners at Sellafield – will lead the second phase of a £3.6 million government contract to use virtual engineering and high-performance computing to identify significant cost savings in the design, construction, operation of new reactors and decommissioning of existing ones.

The Digital Reactor Design Partnership (DRDP), which will bring together experts from the nuclear industry and academia, will focus on implementing digital tools and real-project applications to drive “cultural change across the industry”.

The Nuclear Sector Deal, published in June last year, sets a target of reducing the cost of nuclear new build by 30 per cent as well as reducing the cost of decommissioning and waste management to by 20 per cent.

The DRPD’s work will not only help to help meet the ambitious target but is also part of a broader effort to establish the UK at the forefront of developing Generation IV and small modular reactors.

Other DRPD partners including the National Nuclear Laboratory, which has its Central Laboratory at Sellafield, EDF Energy, Rolls-Royce the University of Liverpool’s Virtual Engineering Centre, and the University of Sheffield’s Nuclear Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre.

Minister for Nuclear, Andrew Stephenson MP, said: “Using state-of-the-art virtual engineering and computing technology to design and build the next generation of nuclear reactors will position the UK at the cutting-edge of low-carbon energy innovation.

“Making simulations in a virtual world allows designers to take virtual risks, reducing design times and demonstrating cost savings across the nuclear life cycle, from design through to decommissioning.”

Phase two of the project, overseen by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), follows the successful demonstration a computer-simulated design and management platform covering the whole nuclear life cycle.

Bob MacDonald, chief executive of Wood’s Specialist Technical Solutions business, said: “This project has already been highly successful in proving the concept for a new and better way of designing and building nuclear power reactors. 

“We’re looking forward to working with BEIS on the next stage and taking a very significant step towards achieving the cost reduction targets proposed by the UK Nuclear Sector Deal.”

This is key to achieving the cost reduction targets in the Nuclear Sector Deal and part of our modern Industrial Strategy.”

Wood – which employs 1,300 people in the North West including at offices in Sellafield and Whitehaven – was awarded a 20-year contract worth up to £769 million to lead the Design and Engineering lot for PPP, which Sellafield Ltd says will help bring faster and more effective project delivery at the complex nuclear site in West Cumbria.

Already a long-standing big tier company at Sellafield, it was also recently awarded one of six framework contracts to deliver the next phase of decommissioning work at the Dounreay nuclear site in Scotland.