Name: Owain Lewis | Age: 24
Degree & University:
Civil Engineering, The Nottingham Trent University
nucleargraduates, Graduate Civil Engineer.
What do you actually do?
I’m on the nucleargraduates scheme doing my three, six month secondments. So far I’ve had placements working for Sellafield in Cumbria, Magnox South in Suffolk, and I’m currently working for RWE npower in Swindon.
At Sellafield I was working in the Civil, Structural and Architectural office where I worked on small scale projects. I was responsible for site surveys, design work using hand calculations and computer packages.
While working for Magnox South I was based at Sizewell ‘A’. I worked alongside the site Civil Engineer and was predominantly involved with structural studies of plant modification proposals. Using hand calculations and design packages, I analysed existing structures and their suitability to carry proposed loads. I also reviewed and assessed sub-contractor designs and, where appropriate, offered alternative methods. Usually a part of a project team, I worked closely with other team members to achieve targets and goals as well as attending project meetings where I presented my views on the engineering issues.
My current role with RWE npower is quite different to my past roles. Previously I’d worked on site and was working towards the ultimate goal of decommissioning, but here I’m working in the UK nuclear development group. Currently we’re comparing sites across the UK and assessing them for their development potential.
Did you consider a career in the nuclear sector before university?
I’d not really considered it while at university, even though one of my projects was on nuclear waste disposal. I suppose I was rather naïve about the industry and didn’t really expect there to be many opportunities for Civil Engineers. It was only once I had finished university and started to do more research on the sector I understood the huge challenges faced by engineers and the industry as a whole.
What was it about the nuclear sector that attracted you to it?
It was the huge challenges faced by the industry that first attracted me to it. There are so many issues to be tackled on a site such as Sellafield, the initiative and ingenuity needed to solve these issues is unparalleled in other sectors and I wanted to be a part of that.
How did you find out about nucleargraduates?
To be honest, I didn’t really know a huge amount about the nuclear industry, its structure and how it all linked together before I started. I was lucky and simply typed into Google ‘nuclear graduate scheme’; one of the top links was the new nucleargraduates scheme. Unfortunately, I’d missed the deadline for applications, but I rang up anyway and I was lucky enough to have a telephone interview that afternoon.
Would you undertake further training to progress your career?
Yes definitely. I think you always need to be training and keeping on top of new technologies in order to develop your career. Whether that training takes the form of attending new product seminars or learning new skills on a university course, it could potentially save a lot of time, money and improve safety – this industry can’t afford to always fall back on tried and tested methods.
What do you most like about what you do and are there any downsides?
I like that I’m able to get a range of experience from different areas of the industry and that nearly every day is different. While working on site you can be called to assess a floor in an office block after the storage safes have been overloaded, right through to designing new containment structures around storage ponds, and currently I’m analysing cooling costs over the lifetime of new nuclear power stations. Everything is different and it keeps the job interesting.
Sometimes the nature of the industry can be frustrating. Having had previous experience in earthworks where there is somewhat of a ‘just do it’ attitude the nuclear industry can seem like it is slow and caught up in procedures.
What skills do you think you need to succeed at what you do?
You need to be able to adapt yourself and your skills to different situations; once you’re able to apply what you know in a wide range of circumstances you’ll really excel and make a difference.
What advice would you give other graduates coming into this sector?
Take every opportunity available to get out and experience what you’re working on and even projects you’re not working on. Try and see what’s happening, understand the issues that are faced by the teams, and apply that knowledge in future situations. Really just try and experience as much as possible, a lot of it is really interesting too.
Are you planning to stay in the nuclear sector?
Of course, I think it’s a really interesting sector to be in at the moment. Both the new build and decommissioning stages have a huge amount of work and it’ll be really fascinating to stay and see how it develops. Whether I’ll be working in new build or decommissioning, who knows, it all depends on the opportunities I have at the end of this graduate scheme.
Is there anything you’d like to add?
Private companies are currently investing millions of pounds, soon to be billions, into building the next generation of nuclear power. It’s going to be a low carbon, reliable, and most importantly, safe way to produce electricity for many years to come. If you’re still not convinced, try and attend some seminars or talks on nuclear, there are loads happening all across the country and they will be plenty of people who will be happy to talk to you.