As global interest in nuclear power grows, two major European design firms have joined forces to capture a share of the business. London-based W.S. Atkins plc. and Paris-based Assystem S.A. now are targeting international projects jointly while continuing to operate independently in their home markets.

Based in France, the joint venture Nuclear Atkins Assystem Alliance (NAAA) claims that, drawing from the two companies, it will have access to 3,000 employees with market-relevant skills. NAAA executives believe that 30 countries are considering entry into the nuclear power market and that a similar number already have operational plants.

Martin Grant, managing director of Atkins’ energy business, estimates the engineering market in the nuclear sector to be worth up to $20 billion over the next 20 years. “It’s a big, big market, and we can get a decent share,” he says. “What that share looks like, we just don’t know yet.”

“We need to internationalize our capabilities, and it’s better doing it with a strong partner,” Grant says. While France has built numerous nuclear plants, including the current project in Flamanville on the northern English Channel coast, the U.K. has not commissioned a reactor since its Sizewell B unit in Suffolk, England, in the mid-1990s.

Assystem employs a total of about 8,500 staffers, primarily in the French nuclear sector. Atkins has nearly 15,500 employees in the engineering, architecture and energy fields. The firm’s Nuclear Training Academy has trained 550 employees in the past two years, says a spokesman.

NAAA’s birth comes at a time when “nuclear [power] is an accepted part of the [global] energy mix,” says Grant. Nuclear power’s share of the global electricity generation market will grow from 6% to 8% by 2035, with 360,000 MW of new and renovated plant capacity, according to a recent forecast by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, Paris.

However, with efforts to limit global warming, the share could grow by 50%. China is likely to dominate the market, according to research by the London-based World Nuclear Association.

The group reports that China last year set an official target to have up to 80,000 MW of reactors in operation by 2020, rising to 200,000 MW a decade later. Those goals represent a huge growth over the 9,000 MW reported to be in operation two years ago. Chinese entities are now building 25 reactors, says the association.

This version has been updated to correct the reference to Martin Grant.