Written evidence submitted by Dassault Systemes



Dassault Systèmes is a UK company that supports the delivery of complex projects through our digital 3DEXPERIENCE platform. The 3DEXPERIENCE platform is a collaborative environment that empowers businesses to innovate in entirely new ways. Our platform provides organisations with a holistic view of their business activity and ecosystem, connecting people, ideas, data and solutions together in a single environment. We are submitting evidence to the inquiry because we believe greater digitalisation can support and already supports the on-time delivery of new nuclear projects, by reducing costs to consumers and improving regulatory oversight.

Our software and expertise can support the UK to deliver on the government’s ambitious plans to improve Britain’s energy security by building new nuclear power plants. This is the case for nuclear power plants built across the UK, whether in Hinkley, Sizewell or Wylfa. Wylfa has a long and proud history of producing electricity from nuclear, doing so for more than 40 years from 1971 to 2015. Indeed, it is nearly 60 years since construction work began on the Magnox nuclear power plant in Wylfa. If the UK government decides to proceed with a new power station in Wales, we want to build in digital capabilities to the design, project management and construction of the new plant.

What role can, or should, nuclear power play in achieving net zero and UK energy security?

The UK has a legal requirement to deliver net zero by 2050, to reduce the dangers of climate change and keep global warming to within 1.5C. The UK government is committed to developing new nuclear power plants to ensure Britain delivers a low carbon power system by 2035. This means replacing gas power plants with renewables and other low carbon generation such as nuclear.

The government has published an Energy White Paper and 10 point plan setting out its energy strategy. This strategy sees a significant increase in electrification of transport and heating, which requires both more GW capacity from renewables and new nuclear to provide low carbon baseload. Alongside the environmental reasons for developing new nuclear, the UK government has reviewed its energy security strategy in 2022 because of the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the elevated cost of fossil fuels such as oil and gas. This strategy concludes that a combination of nuclear power and renewables will reduce dependency on imported fossil fuels.

The government is already committed to a 3.2GW nuclear plant at Hinkley Point C and is supporting a bill through Parliament to fund the 3.2GW plant at Sizewell C. Beyond those power plants, the UK government has signalled that it will initiate a selection process in 2023 for credible projects. Wylfa is one of 8 designated nuclear sites across the UK, alongside Hinkley, Sizewell, Heysham, Hartlepool, Bradwell, Wylfa, Oldbury and Moorside. If the UK government decides to proceed with a new power station in Wales, Dassault Systèmes is ready to work with other parts of the nuclear energy industry with the design, project management and construction of the plant.

What are the main challenges to delivering the UK Government’s commitment to bring at least one large-scale nuclear project to final investment decision by the end of this Parliament?

There are many barriers to overcome to develop large-scale nuclear power plants, including project financing, design, recruitment and project management. As a provider of digital twin and project management software, Dassault Systèmes focuses on the challenges relating to design, project management and construction. Major construction projects such as building nuclear power plants are complex, with multiple parties involved in delivering the project.

Much of the focus of large construction projects is on the cost and the build. New software platform can help keep both elements under control. Our software helps prevent the delays and cost overruns seen in other large infrastructure projects. 3DEXPERIENCE can bring together a high number of third parties and standardise the programme, integrating physical and digital assets. Delays to nuclear power builds in the UK would have major implications for the government’s plans to electrify transport and heat and achieve net zero. If new nuclear power plants are late, then the government would either need to slow down electrification of transport and heat or rely on other forms of power generation. Burning natural gas – a fossil fuel - would likely fill any gaps in power generation. This would increase carbon emissions and mean greater reliance on imported fossil fuels from countries like Russia.

At Dassault Systèmes, we believe that the benefits of digital twinning and data management in nuclear are best understood through the three key challenges they solve.

These can be summarised as:

1. Navigating nuclear regulation and standards. The construction, operation and decommissioning of nuclear builds are rightly underpinned by robust health and safety and environmental standards. The process of meeting and validating processes against these standards can be made much less onerous through better data management.

2. Coordinating learnings from complex engineering methods. Nuclear technology is constantly in a state of advancement, new methods and learnings need to be shared and supported (across workforces, and across organisations) through a properly integrated data system, sometimes referred to as a ‘digital thread’.

3. Managing large infrastructure projects. As set out above, nuclear builds should be seen as fundamentally similar to other significant infrastructure projects – and if managed poorly they can be costly, with long lead times. The creation of 3D models (or digital twins) represents an extremely effective way of visualising the challenges associated with these kinds of projects and avoiding duplication and mistakes. Using digital twins to reduce upfront costs and reduce the risk of overruns supports wider government objectives. For instance, the National Infrastructure Commission’s work in their paper “data for the public good” to create a digital framework for sharing data about UK infrastructure assets.


What practical steps can the UK Government take to support the nuclear industry in developing a range of nuclear technologies, including small modular reactors?

The UK government should continue to support technology solutions such as digital twinning that ensure projects are well-planned, deliver on time and keep costs down. We were pleased to see the recent public consultation on cyber physical systems/digital twins but there needs to be more acknowledgement by BEIS, regulators (like the ONR and NDA) of the role that these technologies can play in nuclear specifically.

Some examples of key capabilities that could be delivered through current technologies and make a tangible difference to new nuclear in the next 5-10 years, include:

Using 3D models to design, develop and test project before construction commences

Keeping costs down by updating technical specifications digitally so that they can be embedded in project management from an early stage

Allowing management to review delivery in real time and remotely so that mistakes can be identified

Enabling collaboration and consistency for the many different partners working across a project by having a single version of the truth across the project

These are the kind of capabilities that will help government, operators, and regulators avoid the pitfalls of previous projects at the exact point at which we seek to accelerate the delivery of new nuclear plants in the UK.

What would the likely cost be to the taxpayer of the UK Government supporting the development of a new nuclear power station at Wylfa?

The likely cost of a future nuclear power station will clearly be set by the RAB model and the amount government chooses to invest in Wylfa through its new investment vehicle – the Great British Nuclear.

But more broadly this new period of nuclear investment should lead to a wider assessment of how we can reduce costs to the taxpayers through bills, throughout the lifecycle of the plant.

Greater digitalisation will also reduce the total cost to the taxpayer. By improving quality, reducing duplication, and limiting unintended costs, consumers and voters will be guaranteed some benefit – both in terms of a more resilient future energy system and tangible cost savings.

This is particularly relevant because the cost of nuclear deployment is soon to be levied on consumer bills, which creates a broader obligation on both the government and operators to reduce costs.

Historically the dilemma of how to reduce the cost for households has led to a focus on attracting significant private sector investment. But this is just one piece of the puzzle. Operators, regulators, and government should now be turning their minds to how important productivity gains, time savings and lower operational costs can be achieved through the application of digital technologies.

In addition, in the longer term, a digital-first approach will mean that we have better records of each nuclear plant’s design, operation and construction and therefore future plants will be much more easily replicated at pace (and at lower cost).


What is the potential economic impact for Wales of a new nuclear power station at Wylfa?

Based on our experience of working on projects to develop new nuclear power plants, it is likely that Wales would see the significant creation of new jobs in the construction, engineering, and software sectors. In fact, the challenge will be ensuring the skills base available in the area matches the required capabilities for the build. Dassault Systèmes would work with partners to upskill those working on the Wylfa power plant, as we have already done in the context of other new nuclear builds and large-scale construction projects in Europe. Typically, this means partnering with relevant colleges, universities and skills providers to work with individuals early in their career, and transfer knowledge between those already working on projects.

One example of this is our partnership with the Civil Engineering School ESTP in Paris; through use of software, students boost their employability by developing the knowledge and know-how needed for major construction projects and for accelerating the industry’s digital transformation. We have seen first-hand, that in these kinds of projects, with long lead times and advanced engineering methods, building a strong skills base, who can pass of knowledge, is vitally important. New nuclear power plants can take up to 10 years from initial design to commissioning the first electricity generation, and a range of evolving technical skills will be required to deliver them.


July 2022