Stuart is one of a small number of specialist site inspectors and regulators for the Environment Agency (EA) specifically covering nuclear sites, such as power stations, Ministry of Defence sites and radio-pharmaceutical production sites. The EA issues permits to these sites allowing them to disposal of radioactive wastes to air, water and land and conducts rigorous inspection programmes to ensure the site operators comply with their permit limits and conditions. This is not just end-of-pipe checking though, their permit covers wider issues such as maintenance, management systems, monitoring and drives permit holders to minimise the volumes of waste they produce.
Whilst he is a specialist radioactive substances regulator he works on large, complex nuclear sites that also have other environmental permits covering other industrial operations (PPC), conventional water quality and waste permits. Many of the sites are old and have previous uses often dating back to World War II so they have legacy issues such as contaminated land. They often cover large areas much of which is green space behind a fence so protected species have established themselves making wildlife another environmental issue of interest.
Many of the nuclear operators are involved in the complete lifecycle, they are designing and building new facilities, operating current ones, decommissioning and demolishing old ones. Each lifecycle phase has its own environmental issues so it is interesting to be involved at each stage and have the ability to influence the environmental protection aspects.Radioactive waste, of course, sparks great emotions with the public and its interesting to be involved with such a contentious issue. What to do with wastes that may be radioactive for 1000’s of years is a key issue for us now and is a difficult sustainability decision.
Before joining the EA in 2006 Stuart had worked for a large consultancy firm working in the nuclear industry doing a variety project work throughout the UK: Dounreay to Devonport and for British Nuclear Fuels Ltd (BNFL) as an Environmental Adviser at their Capenhurst decommissioning project in Cheshire.
Whilst the nuclear industry in the UK is small it is going through great change with the introduction of the Nuclear Decommissioning Agency a few years ago – the UK legacy will take £billions to deal with over the next 100 years - and plans for a massive re-investment in nuclear power over the next few years – each new power station will require £5-10 billion to design, build and operate (for 60 years), construction will take 6-8 years per station. There is lots going on at different lifecycle stages and demands on the regulatory community are high to ensure this work is done safely and the environment protected. There are many contentious issues and difficult decisions to be made in the future. "Is it a curse to live in interesting times?"
I trained as an environmental scientist so the IES is my natural home. I originally joined the IES many years ago when it was first starting but let my membership lapse. I rejoined more recently and was pleased to see that the Institution had moved on a great deal from those early days. I think Chartership opportunities are an incentive to join and mentoring scheme is a good way to encourage younger people to join.
Stuart was keen to participate in the mentoring scheme as when he left university as an Environmental Scientist in the early 90s there was a recession (like now) and he found it extremely difficult to find a job in the environment sector. He feels it would have been great to have a mentor to give him advice at the time and and the IES scheme gives him the chance for someone else to benefit from his experiences. "If someone is determined enough they will make it, but who doesn't benefit from a little advice and encouragement in their career, particularly at the start when you feel trapped by the vicious circle of 'need experience to get a job but can’t get experience as I have no job?'"