An Introduction To Decommissioning

Once nuclear buildings are no longer required for operational purposes, they must go through a process of decommissioning. Kloeckner Metals UK are committed to supporting this process, supplying the highest quality metals to ensure nuclear materials and effectively contained.

To successfully operate in the UK nuclear decommissioning sector you must first adopt its nuclear safety culture.

Kloeckner Metals UK has been supplying metals to our UK decommissioning site licensees and their supply chains for over seven years now, during which it has developed a series of core values and behaviours which are aligned to a nuclear safety culture. As well as being an active member of the Britain’s Energy Coast business cluster and the Nuclear Industry Association, Kloeckner also supports a number of Sellafield supply chain improvement groups which aims to share best practice resulting in best value for the tax payer. At Kloeckner we believe that a strong behavioural safety culture will inevitably position us well to support the UK’s new nuclear builds of the future, however today we must all continue to strive for safe and cost effective way of managing the current UK nuclear waste legacy.

There are several options when it comes to decommissioning sites including immediate dismantling (where regulatory control can be removed relatively soon after shutdown), safe enclosure (where the final removal is postponed for up to 50 years as the facility is securely contained) and entombment (where the facility’s radioactive material is encased in durable materials like concrete to prevent release). Each facility ready for decommissioning has a very specific set of costs and circumstances that must be considered – and it’s issues such as these that Ivan Baldwin, chairman and board director of Britain’s Energy Coast Business Cluster can give us some real industry insight into.

Below are his thoughts.

In your experience, what is the single biggest challenge when it comes to decommissioning?

The unique challenges of legacy nuclear decommissioning necessitate that any solution is bespoke in nature. Technical and environmental aspects, as well as site locations, present a challenge to clients and suppliers alike. Any nuclear decommissioning has to be delivered against a very robust set of requirements under-pinned by a safety case which can make it challenging for the client to set accurate budgets. Clearly safety is paramount with an ALARP principle adopted to risk minimisation (as low as reasonably possible) and therefore utilisation of remote handling techniques is increasing.

From a supply chain perspective, the challenge comes from making a predictable business in delivery of solutions to these unique and often undefined challenges.

What are the top priorities when it comes to efficient nuclear decommissioning?

The ‘product’ of any nuclear decommissioning project is waste, be it radioactive or conventional. This means that although each site has its own specific issues, ultimately efficient nuclear decommissioning comes from a thorough characterisation (understanding) of the wastes and then working back from this end-point in understanding the most cost effective way of retrieving and then managing the wastes. A focus on the waste hierarchy and cost effective minimising of the waste produced will obviously lower the costly long-term storage costs whilst also potentially creating additional revenue streams if the waste has value and can be properly segregated.

Another priority is ensuring that the nuclear decommissioning sector is viable for business and key to this is establishing a predictable base load of requirements to maintain what is a specialised skill base. Improved programming and forecasting of requirements related to decommissioning plus the adoption of tools more common in other industries such as BIM would encourage increased business investment and potentially remove some of the premiums associated with the sector.

How can we ensure that decommissioning remains good value for money for taxpayer?

This is a difficult one, as decommissioning can be a very costly process. The supply from start to finish is difficult to obtain, as companies can’t take certain risks due to financial limits.

Personally, I think a good start for assessing value-for-money for the taxpayer would be to take the opportunity to engage with government and find innovative ways to fund long-term programmes. Are there alternative and more innovative funding models that can be considered to over-come investment, employment and training issues created by annualised funding? The Sellafield Ltd Programme and Project Partner framework with an unprecedented 20 year duration could potentially act as a game changer in this regard.

We also need to look at opening up the market place more to encourage innovatio, compared to other industries, it’s a relatively limited market place as it’s very difficult for other companies to establish themselves without established nuclear credentials.

In your experience, what are the benefits and disadvantages of delaying decommissioning? And does one outweigh the other?

To me, it’s fairly obvious that the sooner you tackle your decommissioning challenge, the more cost effective it will be.

Talking in terms of the recent news coverage of the next French president’s decommissioning issue… (here Ivan refers to the new French president’s inherited problem of over 50 ageing French nuclear reactors that need to be decommissioned without effecting the country’s foreseeable energy supply)… it’s very difficult for politicians working within short political timeframes to work to the longer timescales of nuclear decommissioning – Sellafield, for example, could take up to one hundred years to be fully decommissioned. However, the issue remains that by delaying you can create a greater risk. The management of radioactive waste can be incredibly safe, in fact the industry in the UK has a very impressive record, however the facilites and containment environments where wastes are currently stored are ageing and therefore it is imperative that the challenge is addressed as a priority.

It is an exciting time for the UK nuclear sector, and how we approach the challenges ahead, however it is hoped that this will shape all our futures and help the UK once again become pioneers in this form of energy.

To find out more about how Kloeckner is helping the UK meet its future energy needs including through supporting the NDA’s decommissioning programme click here.

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