Friday, 03 Aug 2012
UK ‘pioneering’ in field of nuclear decommissioning
The UK has set the highest possible pioneering standards in the civil nuclear engineering sector. This includes world-leading work decommissioning civil nuclear power reactors and their associated facilities.
A vast range of skills are required in the nuclear decommissioning arena, from engineering, radiation mapping and containment to transportation and environmental restoration. UK companies are known and respected for their first-rate decommissioning expertise across the spectrum and are sought-after on a national and international level.
This expertise will be in high demand in the near future because the international civil nuclear decommissioning market is expected to grow rapidly.
Firstly, a large number of existing reactors around the world are coming to the end of their lives. Also, in response to the accident at the Fukushima power plant in Japan following the earthquake and tsunami in 2011, some countries have announced their wish to switch off their civil nuclear plants earlier than expected and move to alternative forms of generation. UK companies are well-placed to project manage, support or share their expertise in relation to these international decommissioning projects.
The UK was at the forefront of developing nuclear energy for electricity production in the early post-war years and, in 1956, Calder Hall in Cumbria became the world’s first commercial power station.
“The UK was one of the first countries in the world to embark upon a nuclear energy programme,” says Peter Haslam, Public Policy Adviser at the Nuclear Industry Association (NIA), the body which represents Britain’s civil nuclear industry. “Britain has therefore been confronted with the need to decommission its nuclear facilities at an earlier stage than other countries.
“As a result we have built up a wealth of experience in civil nuclear decommissioning and waste management and have a knowledge and skills base that is both second-to-none and hugely marketable.”
Using these skills and resources, many UK companies have already secured significant overseas contracts in, for example, Russia, Eastern Europe and the USA.
Among its many global projects, AMEC, the engineering and project management company, led a consortium of European companies to assist with the world’s biggest decommissioning project at the Ignalina nuclear power plant in Lithuania. It has also signed a five year contract with Czech utility CEZ for the management of radioactive waste at their nuclear power plant in Dukovany.
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Clive White, Vice President of AMEC’s Existing Nuclear Business, says:
“The UK has and continues to safely decommission facilities under an internationally well-respected regulatory framework, with UK companies involved in many high profile international projects. “AMEC has a proven track record and global experience in the UK, Central Eastern Europe and North America, so brings a wide knowledge base and practical solutions to safely decommission and minimise the waste produced. This experience is currently being utilised in projects at Chernobyl, Bohunice in Slovakia and Sellafield in the UK.”
Nuvia, the Cheshire-based company which has been involved in design, construction, operation and maintenance of nuclear facilities since the start of the nuclear industry in the 1950s, has programme managed a range of projects in north west Russia, including the rehabilitation of the spent nuclear fuel project (SNF) storage facility at Andreeva Bay.
And Babcock International PLC, a company with over 50 years of experience and technical capability in the nuclear industry, is project managing a £27million major clean-up project, financed by European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD). It is also working in partnership with French utility company EDF at the Bugey Nuclear Power Plant in France.
Britain’s nuclear industry is one of the most advanced in the world. Overseeing the UK’s nuclear decommissioning programmes is the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA), a strategic authority that owns 19 sites and whose mission is to deliver the decommissioning and clean-up of the UK's civil nuclear legacy in a safe and cost-effective manner. The NDA drive what is arguably the most substantial environmental restoration programme in Europe.
The NDA has brought a clearer strategic focus to the challenge, operating at a national level and able to make decisions on a wider, cross-site basis. It also has bilateral agreements with various international organisations to facilitate the exchange of knowledge.
The NDA is responsible for the decommissioning of the UK’s first generation Magnox power plants, and work at seven of these sites is well under way. These include Trawsfynydd in North Wales, Oldbury in Gloucestershire, Bradwell in Essex and Dungeness A in Kent.
In September, ACTUS — a joint venture of AMEC, Jacobs Engineering Group Inc, Costain and Babcock — was awarded a contract worth up to £67million over four years, by Magnox Limited. This involves decommissioning across three waste streams — solid wastes, wet wastes and FEDER (Fuel Element Debris Enhanced Retrievals) — at the Trawsfynydd site.
The groundbreaking approach within the nuclear decommissioning industry has set exemplary standards for decommissioning nuclear facilities. It has been assessed by Constructing Excellence — the organisation promoting excellence in he construction industry — as an exemplar of multi-partnership working within the nuclear sector.
Yet UK companies in the decommissioning field aren’t simply delivering top-level services in project management and support. They are also involved in researching and developing ground-breaking technical innovations.
“The UK has some of the most innovative companies in the supply chain,” says Peter Haslam. “Between them they have developed a range of cutting edge technologies that are able to assist in decommissioning and waste management.
“One of the most important organisations in this field is the National Nuclear Laboratory (NNL), a nuclear technology services provider, which has, among other innovations, developed an award-winning remote, non-electrical radiation mapping device called RadBall which locates, quantifies and characterises potential radiation hazards.” RadBall, says the NNL, “requires no power source, can be used in normally hard to reach places and in addition, it can be used in highly active areas.” NNL is managed on behalf of government by SBM, a consortium of Serco, Battelle and the University of Manchester.
Along with the University of Manchester’s Dalton Nuclear Institute, the NDA has jointly funded a £20million research, nuclear research and education capability of the UK's university sector. The Dalton Cumbrian Facility is designed to complement and significantly expand the nuclear research and education capability of the UK's university sector and has the overall aim of delivering world-class nuclear research and transferring knowledge to industry.
Dr Melanie Brownridge is Head of Research and Development at the NDA. She says: “Most recently, the NDA is working with the Government’s Technology Strategy Board, the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council and the Department of Energy and Climate Change to fund feasibility projects, collaborative research and development and Knowledge Transfer Partnerships (KTPs) that stimulate innovation and strengthen the UK supply chain. The total funding available will amount to £15 million, to be allocated through a call for interested participants to submit applications which will be evaluated through a competitive process.”