The UK’s previous generations of nuclear power have left a legacy which requires managing over decades to come. There are many challenges, but the decommissioning programme presents significant opportunities for growth and sustained employment along the supply chain.
After providing safe low-carbon energy for decades, many of the UK’s reactors have been or are being taken off the grid in readiness for decommissioning and eventual dismantling. Several nuclear research facilities and fuel plants have also reached the end of their working lives, and there’s decades worth of spent fuel and waste material to be safely stored or disposed of. A 2012 report from the National Audit Office estimated the total costs of decommissioning at around £100 billion.
Manufacturers and the wider supply chain have a key role to play in this decommissioning programme, providing the innovation, technology and equipment to safely dismantle plant, handle contaminated material, and support secure long-term storage.
Much of the decommissioning programme will require innovative approaches, and create new challenges for the supply chain. By successfully managing these challenges, the UK can become a world-leader in the decommissioning market, with significant potential for exports of products and services.
In many cases, systems and products for decommissioning are of a size and complexity similar to those for new reactors, and the manufacturing quality requirements are similarly stringent. Companies which can secure a place in the decommissioning supply chain will be well placed to enter the new build programme, and vice versa. Key areas for shared expertise include mechanical components and fabrications across all quality levels.
Nuclear Decommissioning Authority
The UK decommissioning programme is the responsibility of the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA), a non-departmental government body created in 2004. The NDA owns 19 sites across the UK previously controlled by the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA, now part of BEIS) and British Nuclear Fuels Ltd (BNFL, now abolished). These sites include both operational and non-operational civil nuclear reactors, fuel processing plants, storage sites and former research facilities.
The NDA is responsible for cleaning up these civil nuclear facilities, with individual sites managed by site licence companies (SLCs):
- Dounreay Site Restoration Ltd – Dounreay, Highlands.
- LLW Repository Ltd – Low Level Waste Repository, Cumbria.
- Magnox Ltd – Berkeley, Gloucestershire; Bradwell, Essex; Chapelcross, Dumfries; Dungeness A, Kent; Hinkley Point A, Somerset; Hunterston A, Ayrshire; Oldbury, Gloucestershire; Sizewell A, Suffolk; Trawsfynydd, Snowdonia; Wylfa, Anglesey; plus the former research sites at Harwell, Oxfordshire, and Winfrith, Dorset.
- Sellafield Ltd – Sellafield / Calder Hall / Windscale, Cumbria.
- Springfields Fuels Ltd – Springfields, Lancashire.
The NDA directly manages Sellafield, and funds Dounreay, LLWR and Magnox. Westinghouse managed Springfields on a 150-year lease. See the NDA’s estate page for more information.
The NDA is also responsible for scrutinising the decommissioning plans for the eight operational nuclear power stations owned by EDF Energy, and advises the government on decommissioning plans and cost estimates for nuclear new build. It has an annual budget for 2017–18 of £3.24 billion, including £880 million commercial income.
Supply chain structure
The UK’s decommissioning programme is worth around £1.8 billion a year to the supply chain. The NDA works with around 3,000 direct suppliers, and is committed to spending at least 31 per cent of its budget with SMEs by 2020.
The NDA aims to clean up its sites in a safe and cost-effective manner by encouraging innovation and contractor expertise among its suppliers. It is actively seeking to develop the decommissioning supply chain to deliver further value for money, identify risks, and eliminate duplication of costs across its estate. The supply chain development strategy seeks to build on existing initiatives, including collaborative procurement.
The NDA sets a policy framework across its sites, but the individual SLCs are responsible for implementation. The SLCs manage their own procurement and supply chain initiatives, including information sharing, supplier days and meet-the-buyer events.
For each site, the SLC publishes a procurement plan detailing forthcoming tenders and recent awards. These are subject to change, so companies are advised to build a relationship with identified primary contacts. Large tenders are also published in the Official Journal of the European Union.
Each of the SLCs is generally considered as a Tier One contractor to the NDA. Typically, a Tier Two company will hold a direct contract with the SLC and manage relationships with Tier Three and Four suppliers.
The NDA operates a Supply Chain Charter across its nuclear decommissioning sites, with the aim of fostering working relations across the estate’s supply chain. Suppliers are encouraged to sign up to a set of principles encouraging mutually beneficial and rewarding relationships. The Nuclear AMRC is a signatory.
As with the nuclear new-build programme, manufacturers seeking to enter the decommissioning supply chain have to prove that they can work to the stringent quality requirements demanded by regulator and the industry’s top tier.
Sellafield Ltd, the largest SLC, has published a set of contract quality requirements which it applies along its own supply chain. Sellafield Ltd requires its suppliers to deliver goods and services safely and predictably, at the correct quality and to the agreed cost.
These requirements have also been informed by a benchmarking exercise to support best practice and share experience, carried out across the whole UK nuclear industry. The contract quality requirements define the standards which Sellafield Ltd’s suppliers must comply with. These standards are above the quality management systems specifications of ISO 9001:2008.
The contract quality requirements form a key document for Sellafield Ltd, and are the principle requirement for the organisation’s assurance arrangements covering certification, audit and inspection. They set a clear performance expectation on the supply chain.
For more information, download Sellafield Ltd’s contract quality requirements guidance (pdf, updated September 2017).