Slowly and steadily is how Sreeram Thozhur likes to make progress, but that hasn’t stopped him from covering a lot of ground so far during his 12 year career. From a starting point in the south east of India he has taken opportunities to move between UK and the UAE to contribute to nuclear power’s continuation, its growth and its future.
Talking to him ahead of his latest role change, he explains that, “the bulk of my nuclear industry experience has been with EDF Energy, where I worked for five and half years.” Because Advanced Gas-cooled Reactors are unique to the UK, there are specific codes that are used to assess their safety and Sreeram was part of the team which analyses the structural integrity of installed components and develops the codes according to experience.
In this very practical engineering environment, “There are not always textbook solutions, so sometimes you have to draw something together by connecting the dots and collaborating across teams of different disciplines,” Sreeram recalls. “In nuclear there is an expectation to conform to guidelines, which is okay if the problem is relatively well understood. If not you have to come up with creative solutions.”
Sreeram’s work on this team helped EDF Energy contribute to plant life extension arguments within safety cases and also helped him towards his next role thanks to his additional experience in administration of Corrective Action Programme involving recording and resolving the non-compliances in the plant equipment and procedures that the team identified.
Next for Sreeram was Barakah, where a flagship project sees the construction of a Korean APR 1400 reactor design in the newcomer emirate of Abu Dhabi. “With four massive reactors under construction simultaneously, and more than 50 nationalities working there, there were cultural barriers to overcome to understand what exactly the issues were during face to face communication, which was very important.” Key to getting the job done right was Sreeram’s role administering the whole project’s corrective action programme and the use of the clearest possible communication in which, “whatever you say, keep it as simple as you can. Avoid colloquial meaning and be very specific.”
He’s come a long way since, as a young man in Tamil Nadu, he decided to look into the opportunities offered by the British Council, encouraged by others in his family who had found success abroad. A desire to “do something out of the ordinary in life” led to studying in the UK for a masters degree in materials science and engineering, followed up with a PhD and early career experience looking at knowledge transfer in research collaboration inside the offshore oil and gas industry in Aberdeen. That industry has a “strong push for production and a commercial mindset” which he found was a “totally different culture to the nuclear industry, which has more emphasis on safety.”
“I do prefer the more safety conscious work environment,” he says. “The problems that can come from poorly thought-through decisions are not something you can get away with. You have to be conscious and think through all the things that can go wrong and all the likely consequences.” Sreeram admits, “that is something that goes well with my personality, especially since becoming a father eleven years ago. I have slowed down a bit and matured.”
The next move in Sreeram’s career completes his journey from fossil fuels and through the generations of nuclear power technology. He is about to start a new role which will use his mechanical engineering expertise to analyse the performance of major power system components, but this time it will be on fusion, at the Culham Centre for Fusion Energy, which is part of UKAEA.
“Technologically its quite different, but many fundamental engineering principles would still apply,” he said of the groundbreaking work towards the long-awaited new power source. “A lot of countries are looking at developing fusion capability. If it is successful it is going be a massive change in the energy picture.”