WOOD has been appointed to play an important role in designing the next generation of nuclear power plants in the UK as the Scots engineering giant reduces its reliance on the North Sea oil services market.

Aberdeen-based Wood will lead work on the second phase of a research programme that will consider how digital technology could be used to help speed up the design of nuclear reactors and reduce the costs involved.

The company will work with experts from industry and academia on the $4.6 million (£3.6m) project.

It said this will use collaborative virtual engineering and high-performance computing to demonstrate significant cost savings in the design, construction, operation and decommissioning of nuclear power reactors.

The appointment provides a vote of confidence in Wood as the firm looks to reposition itself as a provider of a broad range of technical solutions. The company made its name helping oil and gas firms develop and maintain North Sea facilities.

However, the North Sea services market shrank in response to the plunge in the crude price from 2014 to 2016.

Wood boosted its expertise in areas such as nuclear engineering through the £2.2 billion acquisition of Amec Foster Wheeler in 2017 under chief executive Robin Watson’s drive to reduce the firm’s reliance on the North Sea.

Amec Foster Wheeler was appointed in 2017 to lead the first phase of work by the Digital Reactor Design Partnership. Participants include firms such as EDF Energy and Rolls-Royce, the University of Liverpool’s Virtual Engineering Centre, and the University of Sheffield’s Nuclear Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre.

Last week Wood clinched a $1billion contract to work on the Sellafield nuclear complex. The 20-year contract will involve providing design input for a range of major projects and site-wide improvements at the facility in Cumbria.

Andrew Stephenson, the UK government’s Minister for Nuclear, said of the Digital Reactor Design Partnership: “Using state-of-the-art virtual engineering and computing technology to design and build the next generation of nuclear reactors will position the UK at the cutting-edge of low-carbon energy innovation.”