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Department for International Trade (DIT) Civil Nuclear Showcase (CNS) Hackathon


[From top left clockwise] (1) Team 3 brainstorming with Business Undersecretary Nadhim Zahawi. (2) Team 4 presenting to the judging panel. (3) Group photo of all the Hackathon participants and facilitators with the Business Undersecretary (4) Kirsty Hewitson discussing the event with the minister.

The inaugural Department for International Trade (DIT) Civil Nuclear Showcase (CNS) Hackathon was held on March 3rd – 4th 2020 in London. A hackathon involves teams working collaboratively together on set challenges that need to be solved within a defined time limit. In this case, eighteen participants from seven different organisations, formed five teams that had a maximum of twenty-seven hours to solve one of these two challenges:

  1. Use an innovative approach to drive increased diversity and accessibility across the nuclear sector.
  2. Use an innovative approach to enable greater UK public understanding of the role that nuclear energy can play in meeting the 2050 net zero carbon emissions target.

Uniquely, each of the participants were early stage career representatives, typically under the age of thirty, with the hackathon providing the opportunity to learn new skills such as ideation, benchmarking and storyboarding.

At the end of the hackathon time limit, each team was asked to provide a three-minute pitch (without the use of PowerPoint!) to the CNS audience, followed by questions from an expert panel. A range of compelling solutions were suggested including:

  • Hero to Zero. An online video game in which you can choose a character to help save the world through preventing the closure of a nuclear power plant.
  • Net Zero Nora. A cartoon character that has adventures in the nuclear industry.
  • “Nuclear Bus”. Similar to the “Brexit Bus” this would be a vehicle to expound the good news messages about nuclear.

The winning team: “Nuclear Bus” (George Barnes (EDF), Stacey Batih (West Suffolk College), Chris Morris (Imperial College), Jamie White (BEIS)) proposed the use of a structured education programme to connect with children and teenagers. Across all the pitches, a key theme was communication and especially the capability to engage with a young audience and convince them, at an early age, of the value that nuclear can bring to the clean energy programme and the attraction of a future diverse workforce.

With regards to next steps there was agreement from BEIS, Nuclear Industry Association, EDF, National Nuclear Laboratory (NNL), Sellafield Ltd, Cavendish Nuclear and Westinghouse that the initiative should continue beyond the hackathon. This would consider implementation of the outcomes to form a sector wide communication plan for engagement outside of the nuclear industry. Connecting with the UK public, and in particular the younger generation, will be critical for nuclear gaining recognition as a principle contributor to achieving the Net Zero 2050 target.

Chris Bowbrick, the BEIS Deputy Director Nuclear Generation Policy, Sector Deal and International, commented: “I was incredibly impressed with how the teams came together to deliver such fantastic ideas and pitches in such a short space of time. Showcasing this level of UK talent on an international stage shows what a bright future the nuclear sector has in the UK”.

Below, Hareth Al-Maskari, on secondment from NNL to BEIS, provides a personal perspective on participating in the Hackathon.

“I first heard of the Civil Nuclear Showcase through my work in government, but also through my committee role as YGN Finance Lead. Seeing the importance that this event had professionally I seized the opportunity to participate in the Hackathon that Kirsty Hewitson and a few of my colleagues at the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy had been organising.

At the Hackathon I was glad to find out that my colleagues Naomi Rutledge from the National Nuclear Laboratory and Robert Alford were also getting involved and we were all keen to learn about outreach and diversity and inclusion, which were the subjects of the Hackathon.

Robert and I happened to fall into the same team and we worked with our teammates Alisha and Mike to develop our own independent outreach idea: Net Zero Nora. The heroine of our story would surf the grid to find out where the electricity in the plug socket comes from. The participants worked tirelessly on their ideas and presented them before lunch on the final day. All the presentations were well received, and you can see them on this YouTube video.

Talking with Diane Cameron from the Nuclear Energy Division Canada we discovered that the North American YGN had written a book with the same idea as our team’s – George’s Energy Adventure. This remarkable story is available on the NAYGN website and we will be cooperating with the NAYGN to discuss opportunities for further development – making the event an even greater success. I would recommend the Hackathon and Showcase for all those passionate to learn about and address issues facing the industry in a collaborative way.”