UK seeks to improve decommissioning policy

10 May 2018

The UK government has launched an open consultation on the future regulation of nuclear sites in the final stages of decommissioning and clean-up. The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) said the consultation seeks to enable a "more flexible approach that can optimise waste management, thereby realising environmental benefits and reducing costs".

There are 36 nuclear sites located across England, Wales and Scotland, each comprising one or more nuclear installations. The Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) is responsible for the decommissioning and clean-up of 17 of these sites. Other sites to be decommissioned in the future include the operational nuclear power stations owned by EDF Energy, and other nuclear sites in the nuclear fuel cycle, reprocessing, waste management, pharmaceutical and research sectors. A new nuclear power station is under construction at Hinkley Point C, and industry has set out plans to construct other new nuclear facilities in England and Wales which will need to be decommissioned at some future date.


In the UK, the Nuclear Installations Act 1965 (NIA65) provides the legal framework for nuclear safety and nuclear third-party liability and sets out a system of regulatory control based on a robust licensing process administered by the Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR). Under this regime, a site operator is required to have a licence to use a site for specified activities such as the operation of nuclear power stations. In addition to the nuclear site licensing regime, the NIA65 requires that financial provision is in place to meet claims in the event of a nuclear incident, as required under international law on nuclear third-party liability.

The consultation proposals include changing the NIA65 to allow licensees to exit the licensing regime once the site has reached internationally agreed standards and nuclear safety and security matters have been fully resolved. After the licence has been ended, the site would be regulated by the relevant environment agency and the Health and Safety Executive, in the same way that non-nuclear industrial sites undergoing clean-up for radioactive or other contamination are regulated.

Proposals for further clean-up would be assessed by the relevant environment agency under the Radioactive Substances Regulations. BEIS said this process would enable the site operator to work with the community to establish the "most appropriate" end-state for the site and would result in improved waste management and other environmental benefits.

BEIS proposes to implement two recent decisions by the OECD Steering Committee for Nuclear Energy concerning the exclusion of certain sites from the nuclear third-party regime. It also proposes to tighten the licence surrender process to require a licensee to apply to ONR to surrender the licence, and to strengthen requirements for ONR to consult with HSE when the licence is surrendered or varied.

The consultation opened on 8 May and closes on 3 July.


UK businesses are being encouraged to attend an event next week to learn how oil and gas decommissioning expertise could be translated to meet the challenges faced at the Sellafield nuclear site in northwest England. The Game Changers Innovation Programme, in association with Subsea UK, is hosting an Innovation in Nuclear Post Operational Clean Out (POCO) event on 16 May at the University of Strathclyde's Technology and Innovation Centre in Glasgow, Scotland.

Since nuclear operations began at Sellafield in the 1940s, the main business focus at the site has been reprocessing, but over the next two years it will shift to POCO before decommissioning can begin.

Sellafield has set up a Game Changers programme to engage businesses, academics and individuals to find solutions to speed up the safe delivery of decommissioning, cut costs and uphold commitment to human and environmental safety.

Paul Knight, Game Changers Programme lead, said: "This is a hugely exciting opportunity for oil and gas decommissioning experts to bid for funding to translate their technology to the nuclear sector. We're looking for cutting edge solutions to this challenging task and would fully expect them to be applicable to other nuclear decommissioning challenges, both in the UK and overseas."

Keynote speakers have been confirmed as Steve Hepworth, technical lead (R&D) at Sellafield and David Connolly, head of site POCO at Sellafield.

The topics of interest Sellafield would like to explore at the event are access, characterisation, cleaning and transfer.

Access includes alternative cell and vessel access; remote handling and navigation techniques; and reduced human intervention, while characterisation encompasses deployment of innovative technologies for visual, physical and radiological characterisation; material identification - solids (which may be loose or adhered), solvents and engrained activity; and the location and assessment of radiation dose, or 'hot spots'.

Cleaning covers the use of new reagents to aid dissolution of insoluble materials and deposits contained in tanks, and alternative techniques to mobilise solids, solvents, adhered and engrained material. Transfer will cover the use of retrieval and disposal tools, and techniques; in-situ storage and grouting applications; and shielding and containment technologies.

Since April 2016, Sellafield Ltd has been a wholly-owned subsidiary of the NDA on behalf of the UK government, led by a CEO and senior executive team, and governed by a board of directors. The company has made a commitment to reduce spending by at least GBP1.4 billion (USD1.9 billion) by 2029 through cost efficiency and productivity gain. It has said it aims to do this by 2020 and is targeting a further GBP1.4 billion in savings by 2029. The company has said that it faces a "mission change" as reprocessing operations at Sellafield end by 2020.

Next week's event will include an innovation funding opportunity, whereby successful applicants may qualify for Proof of Concept funding of up to GBP50,000.

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News