A cluster of more than 300 businesses in Cumbria has signed an agreement with counterparts across the UK to build greater ties in the nuclear sector.

Britain’s Energy Coast Business Cluster (BECBC) signed a memorandum of understanding with five other similar organisations at the Global Reach 2019 event, held at the Radisson Blu hotel in Manchester on Wednesday.

Other signatories in the document included Nuclear South West, Wales Nuclear Forum, Northern Nuclear Alliance, North West Nuclear Arc and the East of England Energy Group.

The MOU aims to creates greater ties between the six, pledging to work together to deliver socio-economic opportunities in their communities and bring the UK’s vast nuclear supply chain together to promote their capabilities at home and overseas.

Doing so will help to clean up nuclear legacies faster and cheaper, provide energy for the nation, while at the same time creating job and business opportunities, the conference’s 160 delegates were told,

Ivan Baldwin, chair of BECBC, said: “The Nuclear Sector Deal is very much focused on costs.

“But we have the opportunity to talk about sustainability and communities. The opportunity to create a vision and take it to the top table and make it easier for investors through a joined-up story that is easier to digest.

“Cumbria is a significant place for the nuclear industry, but we recognise we have to collaborate and build reciprocal relationships that work both ways.

“If you look at the climate imperative and the amount of energy needed from nuclear going forward, we need to build relationships both at home and overseas.

“This is the first step, but it is meaningful.”

The conference – organised by BECBC’s shadow board of young people working in Cumbria’s nuclear sector – focused heavily on the need for collaboration  if the nuclear industry is to make a significant contribution in meeting the Government’s legally-binding Net Zero 2050 target.

John Idris Jones, of the Wales Nuclear Forum, outlined the vision of the North West Nuclear Arc, which aims to showcase the skills and capabilities located in a vast area encompassing Cumbria, Lancashire, Sheffield, Manchester, Liverpool, Warrington, and Wylfa and Trawsfyndd in Wales.

“It is about how we present ourselves as a joined up, complete region, with all capability needed for nuclear new build, decommissioning and clean up,” he said.

“Sellafield, Magnox in Wales, and other sites are in terminal decline and we will see the end of those communities if we’re not careful. We don’t want to be leaving those legacies. 

“Speaking with one voice to promote what we have to Government and key investors we can take advantage of this nuclear capability before it disappears. We are not in competition. 

“We can’t leave this to politicians and no one else is going to do this for us. We need to do it ourselves, and we can do it.”

Relationships are also being built with nuclear businesses overseas, with BECBC working with counterparts in Japan to set up a similar body to help with the clean-up of the stricken Fukushima nuclear plant.

The event also heard from Nucleopolis – a cluster of energy companies based in Normandy, France – and the Cluster de la Industria Nuclear en Cantabria, in Spain, on how they are working to similar aims in their countries, with an ambition to collaborate overseas.

Chair of the BECBC shadow board, who works for Orano, Ruth Sellick, stressed: “We want a future that looks outwards. We need to talk to each other and learn from each other.”

Jamie Reed, head of corporate affairs at Sellafield Limited, outlined how the end of reprocessing at the West Cumbria site next year, along with the creation of the Programme and Project Partners (PPP) demonstrated the significant changes taking place.

He also explained how its annual £10 million socio-economic funding pot, along with support for projects ranging from Campus Whitehaven and the Buzz Station business hub to The Well Project and project management academy – now training project managers for the likes of BT, British Airways and Virgin – were all geared towards breaking West Cumbria’s reliance on Sellafield.

“All of this is in the name of sustainability,” he said.

Steve Smith, nuclear projects manager at Copeland Borough Council, also stressed the need to “rebalance” the district’s economy, which is heavily reliant on Sellafield and the nuclear sector.

Meanwhile, American technology entrepreneur of the Energy Impact Center, Bret Kugelmass, made hard-hitting keynote speech, blaming the nuclear sector for its poor reputation when it had the opportunity to “create the cheapest energy ever and eliminate air pollution overnight”.

“The challenges the nuclear industry faces is entirely our own fault,” he said.

“How is it possible that they (nuclear plants) are more expensive than a coal plant? Why are you so obsessed with safety when we have a safe source of energy that could improve the health of thousands, save millions of lives and double economy overnight?

“Nuclear waste is not a special hazard. Just because some isotopes last for millions of years doesn’t make them harmful for millions of years.

“Mandating perfection makes it more dangerous. It is our actions that create a threat and fear. 

“The public mistrust is rational, attacks by environmentalists are deserved. 

“This may sound a bit abrasive, shocking and controversial. But you’ve robbed the world of clean air and clean energy for the last five decades and increased the use of other, less safe energy sources.”