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Thursday, 17 April 2014

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Scott is on the ball

FOOTBALL – American gridiron style – is the key to nuclear success for Sellafield’s newest executive recruit.

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DOWN TIME: Scott Sax, Sellafield Ltd’s new executive director for spent fuel management with his wife Lauri and pet dog Tedi MIKE McKENZIE REF: 50029254W005

Scott Sax, recently arrived from the States, has taken to the role as Nuclear Management Partners executive director for spent fuel management.

At Sellafield the one-time Denver Broncos star has 2,200 workers under his command (20 per cent of the workforce) and has 27 years of nuclear operational management experience under his belt.

Sport is in the Sax family background as cousin Steve is famous in the United States for his exploits in major league baseball.

Scott freely admits that, had it not been for American footballl, the gridiron helmet and all that bulky protection packing he could well have been doing something quite different.

He explains: “I got into nuclear power by accident simply because I could play football. That’s what put me into college and got me an engineering degree.

“Growing up in Montana my family didn’t have any money. My dad worked very hard to provide for us but there just wasn’t enough dollars to pay for my college. So I did it playing football, which was a great thing. It changed my life.”

For two seasons Scott honed his skills with Denver Broncos in the major NFL and now he’s looking forward to learning a new set of skills watching the English style of rugby, especially the league variety played by Whitehaven – the team sponsored by his employers, NMP.

Sport is often a good ice-breaker in the workplace and the new boss is finding it no exception at Sellafield with plenty of ribbing about his gridiron past.

He says: “Almost every time I bump into him, one of our union convenors, John Teare, bashes his shoulder, points to me and says ‘No pads!’

“My response is: ‘I have speed.’”

That said, Scott sees himself as more of a coach than captain in his Sellafield role, “you have to be in one place long enough to earn respect to be a captain,” he says.

Scott is now settling in to his new home on the coast at St Bees with his wife and their much loved pet, Tedi, the labrador.

With The Queen’s Hotel having become his ‘local’, he was keen to recount a conversion with one of his new found mates who he now knows is one of his Sellafield teammates.

It went like this: “We were standing together having a beer in the pub on a Friday night, both tired after a hard week. “He didn’t know me and I didn’t know him. After about 30 minutes I asked the guy ‘where are you working?’

“He said ‘Sellafield in Pond 5.’

“I replied, ‘that’s awesome, I work there too in spent fuels.’

“‘What part?’ he asked. ‘Well, all over spent fuels,’ I said, ‘I’d better introduce myself!’

“The fact is we worked in the same place, we got on and, like a lot of other guys, we all process spent fuels and we’re all part of a team.”

So what were Scott’s first impressions of Copeland?

“The Cumbrian people remind me exactly of the people I grew up with – self-reliant and who want to get things done,” he said.

“Already when I’m asked where I’m from I say West Cumbria. I’m really enjoying, hiking around getting to know the people and the area.”

When it comes to plutonium, Scott is a bit of an expert. At Hanford, the United States site, he was heavily involved in reducing the risk posed by the 56 million gallons of radioactive and chemical waste stored in 177 underground tanks. The waste was a by-product of plutonium production during World War Two and the Cold War. At Sellafield, Scott has come into an area where the future for spent fuel is finite. The NDA does not intend to operate Thorp plant after 2018 as it sees no viable market for oxide reprocessing beyond that date. Magnox reprocessing is due to end the year before.

So what is the future for spent fuel?

“They didn’t tell me that before I came,” he laughed, adding: “I thought it was a trick. No, seriously, it doesn’t bother me much at all.

“Having gone through a lot of closure missions in the United States, we use the term nuclear professional and our challenge whatever we do is to try and do it better than anybody else.

“This is exactly the kind of team you want doing the work we do. At the end of the day it’s the government and the taxpayer who are going to decide how much money we have and what our mission is. Our performance can influence those decisions.

“It’s very difficult not to put work and spend money on a group of people who are giving you a more than a dollar’s-worth of work for a dollar’s-worth of taxpayers and customers’ money. And there are opportunities out there to grow.”

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