Nuclear clean-ups

Decommissioning old nuclear power plants is an important and responsible job - one that needs to be done safely and securely.

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We found out what the job involves from Simon, General Manager at Penny Nuclear.

Name: Simon Pykett
Age: 29
Job title: General Manager – Penny Nuclear
Qualifications: Since completing A-Levels, a 1st class MEng (Hons) in Innovation and Engineering Design with German at The University of Bath, a Level 5 Diploma in Leadership and Management and Prince2 Practitioner certification. I also speak German fluently.
Employer: Penny Hydraulics Ltd
Where you live: Nottingham


Tell us about your job. What do you do?
I am General Manager of the Nuclear division of Penny Hydraulics Ltd, Penny Nuclear. We design and manufacture lifting equipment, mechanical handling solutions and hydraulic systems for the nuclear Industry.

I manage a team of designers, quality control and shop floor personnel and I am the main point of contact with customers, liaising with staff at various levels. I also chair all client meetings.

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What does an average day look like for you?
I am based at Penny Hydraulics headquarters in Chesterfield, so on a typical day, having arrived at the office I check where we are up to with all the projects we have running and make sure everything is on track. I will adjust project goal posts where necessary in the project management tool I use, Microsoft Project. I catch up on emails and respond to any client queries, complete packages of design work in 3D CAD and also submit applications to any relevant tenders for new business opportunities within the nuclear sector.

Our projects can last for months at a time, so it is common for clients to come in for the day for an update meeting, or to inspect the equipment that we are manufacturing for them.

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How does your work affect people’s lives/the world around us?
Much of the mechanical handling equipment that Penny Nuclear design, manufacture and installs forms an essential part of nuclear decommissioning programmes in the UK.

Nuclear decommissioning involves the effective and efficient clean-up of the UK’s past nuclear projects and power stations. This includes the first generation of “Magnox" power stations, various research and fuel facilities and our largest, most complex site, Sellafield. These sites date back as far as the 1940s and the sites must be properly decommissioned and restored so that they can then be given an alternative use.

Due to the radioactive nature of the materials handled at these sites, safety and security are key to any decommissioning projects we work on and we always must take full account of our social and environmental responsibilities. As decommissioning is funded by the taxpayer, it is essential that all our work represents good value for money too.

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How did you first become interested in engineering/what inspired you to be an engineer?
I have always loved the fact that I can have an idea, get it designed, manufactured and then see it in action, for real, doing the job it is intended to do… Seeing a project through from concept to completion is something I have always got a lot of satisfaction from.

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There are a number of different routes you can take into a career in engineering. What route did you take (and why)?
I started working at Penny Hydraulics under the Knowledge Transfer Partnerships (KTP) scheme. KTP is one of the largest graduate recruitment programmes across the UK and is a three-way project between a graduate, an organisation and a university/research organisation/further education institution.

I started working at Penny Hydraulics as a KTP Associate in March 2010 through collaboration with Sheffield Hallam University. On completion of my time on the KTP scheme, I continued working at Penny Hydraulics, accepting a full time position within the company starting on March 22, 2012.

How important was studying maths and science in school for what you do now?
I have always enjoyed maths and science and studied both at GCSE and A Level. I would say this has given me an essential fundamental grounding for my engineering studies at university.

What do you like most about engineering?
I’m naturally methodical, process driven and love to solve problems. Engineering gives me the ideal platform to exercise this on a daily basis.

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What do you like to do in your spare time?
I love running. We are quite a sporty company and we even do assault courses together once a year. I take great satisfaction from beating our Managing Director!

I also love to travel, especially to Germany which is my favorite country. I have spent a lot of time there over the years, so I have friends based all over the country. It’s always good to visit them and practice my German.

What personal qualities are important for being an engineer?
An appreciation for finer detail is key in engineering. My role now involves a lot of management, so it is also important for me to be organised and a good communicator too.

If you could go back in time and invent anything, what would it be?
A teleportation device!

What advice would you give a young person who was considering engineering as a future career?
Work hard at school and get as much practical experience as you can, as soon as possible. This will really put you at an advantage when it comes to getting a place at university and later down the line, a job.