Meet Heather Hale

As Head of Engineering, Heather leads a team of more than 200 engineers for Nuclear Services at EDF. She’s been with EDF (then British Energy) since 2002 and within Nuclear Services’ technical functions since 2018. “I’m the sort of person who thrives off having something new to learn and get challenged by each week,” she says. And that’s certainly the case in Nuclear Services.

Read time: 8 mins


What’s been your journey to Nuclear Services?

After graduating from university, I saw an advert come up for the graduate scheme for Nuclear Operations, including a final role at Dungeness B power station. I was really excited about the prospect of working at a nuclear power station and doing a role that was actively helping to decarbonise the UK’s power supply and keep the lights on.

I learnt a huge amount during the 10 years I worked at Dungeness B before going to work on new nuclear build projects for EDF, as their Radiation Protection Lead.

Shortly after this, I moved to Paris where I worked with the engineering designers at EDF Group. It was really fun: I improved my French and learned more about the wider context of Group. It was also hugely important in developing my expertise in building teams with people from different cultural backgrounds, all working together to solve design problems.

“We’re creating the cornerstone of technical resource to support the nuclear industry in the future”

What’s your role now?

When I returned to the UK, it was to lead and develop a team of civil engineers for Hinkley Point C. The team was based in Bristol so I moved to the South West. As the role developed, I moved from managing not just civil engineers, but engineers from all engineering disciplines on and off site.

More recently, as the Sizewell C project has progressed and we’ve joined up our support to our existing nuclear power stations with our new build projects, the Nuclear Services organisation has grown and developed.

The function I lead now looks after the engineering support to all three ‘clients’: Nuclear Operations (our existing plants, both those generating power and those in defueling) and the Hinkley Point C and Sizewell C projects. We have a long future ahead of us with all three clients, as workloads on the individual projects and plants change. Through Nuclear Services, we have secured an enduring organisation and teams who can nurture people and give individuals variety in their careers.

What does your team do?

A lot of our work takes place behind the scenes. For existing plants, we make it possible for them to continue operations, make modifications or undertake new programmes of work. For new nuclear projects like Hinkley Point C and Sizewell C, we enable these to get built, whether it’s through assessment calculations, building regulatory confidence, working with our suppliers or supporting the designs. A lot of our work is on the safety cases that justify and underpin our nuclear safety.

Members of my engineering team sometimes return from a visit to Hinkley Point C site keen to show me photos of a piece of equipment they helped to design or manufacture, which has now been built and is live on site. They’re proud to see their work become real – and that’s really satisfying.

Other days we might be involved in writing documents to provide evidence of the way a piece of equipment meets its safety requirements. Or perhaps verifying that a supplier has met its qualification requirements for some equipment. Some of that work we do is hard to see, but it’s no less vital to our continued construction and operational projects.

I’m also really enjoying now the opportunity to do something more strategic and longer term. What we’re doing with Nuclear Services is creating the cornerstone of technical resource to support the nuclear industry in the future. It’s very exciting – so long as you like working with longer timeframes!

“My team and I have been involved in doing things that have never happened in the UK before – maybe, even the world”

What are the benefits of having a centralised Nuclear Services team?

Having a centralised function gives us a rich diversity of work. To use an analogy with the car industry, our team not only gets the chance to work on the classic cars, but also the next generation models and Formula 1 racing cars! This brings opportunities: for people to do different things and ultimately learn lots.

Members of the team can specialise, and we can support them in sharing their expertise across a range of work. Or they can go deep into a specific technology or area of engineering. I like to think of us as being a “home base” in which people can explore different technologies and also grow in teams which welcome everyone. Working together with apprentices, graduates, people from other sectors and long-term industry experts.

Did you have to relocate to the South West to be with the Nuclear Services team?

I moved to Clevedon, when I came back from Paris, as my team were based in Bristol. I love it here, it’s beautiful. I was totally blessed in lockdown, as we can walk everywhere, be it the coast, hills, beach or shops. I’m also only a two-minute drive from the M5 so I can get to all our company locations fairly quickly. Many of our Nuclear Services team live in Gloucester or surrounding areas, but with the great road and rail connections there’s a lot of choice of different places to live! We also have an office in Glasgow, so a number of the team live in Scotland.

What’s the workplace like?

What you get in the office – and we don’t need to be in the office every day – is access to a really good network. You’ll find people working here on all sorts of challenges. And this makes it easier to solve a problem you’re working on because there will be someone here who might have part of the answer you need. Or, if they don’t, they’ll be able to introduce you to someone who does. This kind of networking is invaluable and isn’t easy to access remotely. We can solve all sorts of things over a cup of tea or slice of cake together!

What’s important to you in the workplace?

The physical location of where I work is less important to me than who I work with. I like working with people who are passionate, engaged and driven by a common purpose.

I enjoyed the French working environment, but it was different to here. We talk a lot about what we are working on, but we also have really interesting and engaging conversations about life outside work too. There’s a lot of laughter here and I’ve made some really good friends during my time at EDF.

“Helping people to do their best work and follow their career aspirations is the most rewarding part of my job”

Is EDF a diverse and inclusive place to work?

It’s definitely inclusive here and we have a culturally diverse workforce. But we’re not there yet with gender diversity. There are some great female role models in the commercial, financial and legal teams, and we have made progress generally. But we need more females in the technical and engineering arena, particularly at a senior level.

Gender diversity is much better in France as it’s really prestigious to be an engineer in Europe. It’s known for being a well-paid and respected career, so it attracts more women into the profession.

What do you like most about your job?

I get the most satisfaction when I’m able to help one of my team unlock a challenge that they’ve been working on for a long time. It’s really satisfying when you see them realise a solution. It’s not that I support them technically, just help them to see the problem differently, engage with a different stakeholder, or work within a team differently.

I love seeing my team present their work to boards or peers; and watching them take so much pride in their work. Helping people do their best work and follow their career aspirations is the most rewarding part of my job.

How will working in Nuclear Services support your career progression?

There are so many opportunities to develop and progress in Nuclear Services. My experience at Hinkley Point C has been invaluable because of the sheer size and scale of the project, with so much learning about mega-projects and the challenges of schedule and multiple interfaces.

With Sizewell C, we are able to explore and develop what it means to be working in a new fleet approach and how we ensure replication. With both these new nuclear build projects, we are constantly developing new skills to overcome challenges nobody’s ever faced before.

With our Nuclear Operations fleet, it’s about finding the right approach to deal with tricky challenges. And it’s fantastic to be able to say that I’m helping to keep the UK economy running and contributing to net zero generation now, as well as building it for the future through our new nuclear build projects.

Across the whole of Nuclear Services, I’ve been able to broaden my knowledge in so many areas – and these possibilities are available to everyone who works here.

Have you thought about next steps?

I do really love operations and the buzz of being close to the day-to-day action. So I’d consider a more operational leadership role in the future. Or maybe returning to France... I’ll consider any option so long as the work’s challenging and I continue to learn!

Want to develop your career working at the cutting edge of nuclear design and engineering? We’re looking for engineers, project managers, technical leads and more. Find out what vacancies we have available.