22 November 2022 • 7 min

Dr Hakim Zermouni

UK Civil Nuclear Investment Opportunities: A French Case Study

By Dr Hakim Zermouni, Head of Civil Nuclear France, Department for International Trade (DIT)

Given the global energy security challenges of today, there has never been a more important time to work on civil nuclear. The UK was home for the world’s first commercial nuclear power reactor, which opened in 1956. Nuclear energy is a vital power source, providing approximately 19% of the UK’s electricity. The nuclear sector employs more than 61,000 full time equivalent employees, including within the supply chain across the UK, and contributes £6.4 billion to the economy each year. The UK is also a genuine climate pioneer, as the first G7 country to legislate for a net zero emissions target by 2050.


On 7 November, His Majesty’s Ambassador to France, Dame Menna Rawlings, hosted the UK-France Civil Nuclear Forum. We welcomed British and French companies, primary contractors, government officials, researchers, scientists, students, trade associations, international organisations and regions to talk about how nuclear is vital to combatting climate change. This first Forum since Covid-19 took place in the context of intense negotiations to build Sizewell C, COP27 in Egypt, the Green Trade & Investment Expo in Gateshead and energy crisis pressures.

Menna Rawlings

The UK and France are global leaders in efforts to tackle climate change. Global Co2 emissions continue to rise; to keep 1.5C in reach, emissions need to halve by 2030. There is still hope. The window for action has not yet closed. It is nuclear energy, alongside renewables and other innovative technologies, that holds the key to capping emissions and keeping 1.5C in reach.


The UK-France Civil Nuclear Forum is a strategic element to our ongoing collaboration and continued engagement with France around climate change and energy decarbonisation. Attended by more than 200 high-quality delegates, the event built on the strengths of both the French and UK nuclear supply chains to access opportunities in the nuclear markets and promote international collaboration on both sides of the Channel. With such grim news on rising temperatures in the world, it felt like perfect timing for our Forum which happened the same day as the first in-person meeting between our Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and French President Emmanuel Macron at COP27.


During the event, we heard from His Majesty's Ambassador to France Dame Menna Rawlings and from the Egis group’s CEO Laurent Germain. They spoke about France's nuclear history and know-how, and how mutual collaboration can support the development of the sector to help solve the energy and climate crises. They were followed by panel discussions on the most important topics in the industry today, from the climate emergency to the need of investing in the diverse talent that will build the future of nuclear in the UK and beyond. Discussions on new build and waste management highlighted the importance of investing in the full life-cycle of nuclear energy – from conception to the legacy they will leave behind in generations to come once they are decommissioned.


With France and the UK leading the way in nuclear power in Europe in the next decades, the UK-France Civil Nuclear Forum set the tone for how our governments, industry leaders and supply chains can work together to help solve one of the most complex issues of our time. Apart from the morning’s conference, from a DIT perspective it was the pre-organised business-to-business meetings that we facilitated in the afternoon that were the real draw for nuclear companies and provided tangible commercial opportunities. We hosted around 50 parallel business meetings in the Ambassador’s Residence at the same time, corresponding to more than 120 formal meetings organised.


The UK Government published the British Energy Security Strategy this year, which set out a stretching new programme for nuclear energy: an ambition to build up to 24GW of nuclear power by 2050, which would represent 25% of our final energy demand. The value of nuclear to energy security is something that we hope and expect that more countries around the world will realise in the next few years. As the first female Ambassador to France, Dame Menna Rawlings was particularly pleased to see more women working as engineers, researchers, project managers, physicists, inspectors and in other crucial roles across the industry, from apprentices to senior management. The UK has committed to ensuring that women make up at least 40% of the nuclear workforce by 2030. This is an ambitious target, and a step on the road to true gender parity within the sector.


Energy is a common priority and because the UK and France are global leaders in efforts to tackle climate change, we need to continually create bilateral initiatives like this to create positive change. As I often say, and quoting from Henry Ford, “starting together is the beginning, staying together is progress and working together is success”; this is exactly what we want to achieve today and tomorrow. Bringing together business leaders, government officials and academics to discuss our collaboration will help us to achieve these objectives.


Energy security being an increasingly critical part of our partnership with France, this event will build up to a future UK-France Summit in 2023 and its deliverables. Explore upcoming events to meet UK exporters or to find out more about the UK’s Clean Growth sectors. Get in touch with our experts if you want to invest in or buy from the UK.