A GLOBAL renaissance in nuclear power offers a fantastic opportunity for North-East engineering, a former Business Minister said on a visit to the region.

Lord Hutton yesterday visited Darchem, based at Stillington, near Darlington, in his role as chairman of the Nuclear Industry Association (NIA).

During his visit Lord Hutton, who held ministerial posts for both business and trade and industry, amongst others, in the Labour Government, opened the plants new nuclear exhibition centre, which will enable the firm to showcase its work to potential customers.

Increased popularity for nuclear power has seen Darchem, led by managing director Graham Payne, ramp up its presence in the sector in the past 18 months, having originally specialised in fire protection and insulation systems for nuclear power stations.

The drop-off in their popularity over the past 25 years saw it diversify into other markets, such as the aerospace, cars, defence and oil and gas sectors.

Its return to the sector comes as 61 new reactors are being built worldwide, 26 of them in China. There are also eight new nuclear power stations planned for the UK.

Lord Hutton, accompanied by NIA chief executive Keith Parker, said: "People that are going to manufacture these reactors will look for companies that have experience, expertise and skills.

"Graham was telling me that they have people here at Darchem who were involved in Sizewell B.

"We are working very hard with our member companies to get as much of the global business as possible.

"We have got to think globally. There are great opportunities in the UK but these are magnified tenfold by what is happening outside the UK.

"We need skilled engineering jobs and companies like Darchem are very well placed to benefit and bring jobs to the region.

"This is a great opportunity that has come around again, it was here 30 to 40 years ago."

Mr Payne said: "The new exhibition centre gives us the ability to show our customers the full range and capability that we have.

"Because we have not been as involved in the industry for 25 years there are some product lines our customers are unaware of , it is a great opportunity to showcase these products and skills.

"The nuclear industry association are the primary trade body in the industry and it is vitally important that the trade body representing us fully understands where the supply chain is.

"It is a great honour for us to have Lord Hutton to open the facilities here today."

Earlier this month Darchem announced it had won a multi-million pound contract in the nuclear sector which would create 20 jobs, taking employee numbers at the Stillington factory to 650, an increase of 100 since the middle of last year.

Last year, Darchem announced plans to build an 8m facility in Stillington, creating 100 jobs, specifically to service the growing nuclear work.