News Article | May 4, 2017
The UK faces major challenges in dealing with nuclear waste, which means an abundance of opportunity in the industry Last month, a £6.1bn deal to clean up the UK’s redundant fleet of Magnox nuclear reactors was pulled after the government mishandled how the work was awarded. Dr Paul Dorfman, University College London’s nuclear power expert, believed it was “inevitable” the deal would fail. He claimed the challenges of decommissioning nuclear plant and dealing with their waste have long been underestimated. This has proven to be an expensive mistake. Taxpayers must now pay almost £100m in compensation to companies who bid for Magnox work in the UK but failed to get it. The main problem, according to Dr Dorfman, is nuclear power plants were built in a rush in the 1950s with little thought given to how they might be decommissioned. Each Magnox reactor is unique so taking each one apart has its own very specific challenges. Dealing with these challenges requires a range of engineering and project management skills, many of which are transferable from other industries. Opportunities for engineers in the sectors are many and varied, and most recruiters have their own training schemes to develop the next generation of talent. With the government waking up to the scale of the problem, there has never been a better time for engineers to embark on careers in nuclear waste management and decommissioning. Graduate schemes are one route into the industry. “The Office for Nuclear Regulation [ONR] is sponsoring me through a graduate scheme called nucleargraduates,” said Samuel Harvy, a nuclear graduate with ONR. “This scheme will give me a great depth of experience of the nuclear industry by providing the opportunity to complete three secondments at different organisations over a period of two years. Alongside these secondments, there are numerous training and development opportunities, including training zones, professional courses and STEM engagement.” Graduate schemes can help provide an overview of the industry. But there are also other routes, including short courses. Birmingham University currently offers a Nuclear Decommission and Waste Management MSc/PG Diploma. This can be gained through one-year full-time study, or a two-year part-time course. Slated for decommissioning Given the rapid nature in which its nuclear power plants were built, the UK has a varied portfolio of facilities to decommission. The ONR currently oversees the licensing of 17 nuclear sites that are slated for decommissioning and clean-up. These include Bradwell, Berkeley, Dungeness A, Trawsfynydd, Hunterston A, Hinkley Point A, Oldbury, Chapelcross and Sizewell A. But by far the most complex is Sellafield perched on the Cumbrian coast. Currently, Sellafield has one of the large stockpiles of untreated waste in the UK, including 140 tonnes of civil plutonium. That’s more than 14,000 times the amount needed to make a nuclear weapon. Material at Sellafield is expected to remain radioactive for 100,000 years. In 2002 work began to make the site safe. This involved engineers using an automated dismantling machine alongside a remote-controlled manipulator arm and crane to take the site apart. Engineers must now manage what is left from early nuclear research at the site. There are no blueprints making it even tougher for those involved. But from this challenge, UK engineers have become world leaders in decommissioning, developing skills that they can export throughout the world. In Cumbria, Sellafield is one of the region’s main recruiters, with more than 500 engineering apprentices currently on its books along with hundreds of graduates and more than 10,000 employees in total. New recruits have a diverse range of skills, ranging from project management to chemical engineering and robotics. Beccy Pleasant, head of skills and talent for the NDA, said: “The first issue is that we’ve got an ageing workforce. People have been in the industry a while and those people are starting to think about retirement now, so we need to replace those skills. “The other issue we’ve got is that STEM subjects, more recently, haven’t been very popular with school students so we haven’t got the same pipeline pumped full of people with the basic-level science, technology, engineering and maths skills to be the future workforce.” Keiran Doyle, a nuclear worker apprentice at Sellafield, said the reason he chose an apprenticeship was because he wanted transferable life skills and to earn while he learned. “My role is to make sure all equipment and materials are prepped and ready to allow the plant to run smoothly,” he said. “Some of the activities I am involved in include bringing the waste containers over onto plant, introducing them into the cell, making sure that the glass and sugar are ready… I would definitely encourage people to pursue a career in engineering. There are a wide number of routes to take so whatever you are into there will be a role that fits.” Complex challenges In January, it was announced that funding of £3m will be offered by the UK Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) and Innovate UK to develop and demonstrate technologies that could help resolve some of the complex challenges associated with dismantling facilities at the Sellafield site. The Integrated Innovation for Nuclear Decommissioning competition will focus on robots and remotely operated equipment. Two of Sellafield’s major facilities for reprocessing used nuclear fuel are set to close by 2020, when the site will move to full-scale decommissioning and waste management. Technical innovation manager Chris Hope, who is on secondment to the NDA’s Technology Team from Sellafield, said: “The Thorp and Magnox reprocessing facilities are unique, contain hazardous environments and we know they will present major decommissioning challenges in the years ahead so we are aiming to encourage early solutions.” It’s not just Sellafield where there are plenty of opportunities. The British nuclear decommissioning industry is currently worth more than £1.7bn of business per year for UK companies, with around 21 per cent spent with small and medium enterprises (SMEs). And many of the skills can also be transferred abroad. So far, nuclear power stations have been built in 31 countries, but only six have either started building or completed construction of geological disposal facilities. Regardless of the future of nuclear power, the need to manage radioactive waste will continue for many decades. Getting the skills to deal with it now could provide an innovative, rewarding and exciting career for engineers able to deal with the challenge.
News Article | December 1, 2016
Thirty years ago, LaserSnake2 would be the name of a video game we would badly, badly want to get our hands on. In 2016, it’s the name of a real-life robot which looks, for all intents and purposes, like one of the terrifying creatures from Tremors and happens to shoot out five-kilowatt laser blasts for good measure. Recently, LaserSnake2 — described by its creators OC Robotics as an “integrated snake-arm robot and laser cutting” technology — turned its terrible, terrible wrath on a nuclear power plant in the U.K., carrying out the in-situ decommissioning of a nuclear cell at the First Generation Reprocessing Plants in Sellafield, England. The snake robot’s job was to cut through a thick dissolver vessel, which was previously part of the core nuclear reactor hardware. More: Snake robots will crawl up your nose to help surgeons perform surgery on you “The active deployment at Sellafield was a world first,” Rebecca Smith, a member of the business development team at OC Robotics, told Digital Trends. “There are significant benefits to using the LaserSnake system for size reduction in an active cell: the system can be deployed quicker and more practically than alternative size reduction techniques, and can dramatically reduce the costs of nuclear decommissioning.” Snake-arm robots, she noted, are routinely used across a broad spectrum of industries, including aerospace, construction, and defense due to their ability to maneuver into areas that might otherwise be tough to access. LaserSnake is a particularly impressive example of such a robot: boasting almost 15 feet of articulation and not only the aforementioned high-power laser cutting head but also high-definition cameras and supercharged illumination LEDs for easy operation. “The LaserSnake arm has two degrees of freedom at each joint allowing it to ‘snake’ through environments,” Smith continued. “Snake-arm robots are particularly suited to nuclear applications, as the sensitive electronics are situated outside of the environment — away from potential contamination or radiation, with only the arm deployed into the workspace.” It’s certainly done enough to win over the necessary decision-makers. In November, the LaserSnake project won the Technology/Innovation Implementation Award at the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority Supply Chain Awards. For those unfamiliar with it, that is pretty much the Oscars for nuclear decommissioning. Does that make the LaserSnake2 Leonardo DiCaprio? We’re not sure, to be honest; we’re still kind of hung up on that whole ‘it’s-a-giant-laser-toting-snake-robot’ thing.
News Article | December 28, 2016
“Serious industrial unrest” at Europe’s biggest nuclear site could threaten the Conservatives’ chances of winning a forthcoming byelection, unions have warned. The byelection in the marginal Cumbrian seat of Copeland has been described as “Theresa May’s to lose”. But the Conservative candidate hoping to overturn Labour’s 2,564 majority will have to explain to thousands of workers at the Sellafield nuclear reprocessing site why the government is trying to downgrade their final-salary pension scheme. Trade unions representing many of Sellafield’s 10,000 workers have written to the government warning they cannot support either of the options being considered. The Guardian has seen a letter sent shortly before Christmas to Lady Neville-Rolfe, minister of state at the business department. It comes from the Prospect union, which represents more than 5,000 Sellafield engineers and specialists. The letter, signed by Prospect’s deputy general secretary, Dai Hudd, on behalf of his union, the GMB, Unite and Aslef, tells the minister “serious industrial unrest” cannot be ruled out by workers employed by the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority. The NDA is the public body that owns Sellafield, a huge site in Copeland that processes nuclear waste from the old Windscale nuclear power station, where a fire in 1957 caused the UK’s worst nuclear accident. It says: “Employees across the NDA estate fought hard to secure the statutory pension protections that currently apply. There will be an understandable adverse reaction with any proposals that trample over those protections. “They will certainly not respond well to a raid on their pension benefits intended to achieve arbitrary savings agreed between the NDA and the Treasury, and agreement to which the workforce and their representatives played no part. “If the NDA proceeds with its proposed consultation in its current form there will inevitably be a significant reaction from the members affected. The likelihood of serious industrial unrest cannot be ruled out.” The two money-saving proposals on offer involve either a series of changes including increasing the pension age from 60 to 65 or state pension age (whichever is higher), or breaking the final-salary link for the pension scheme, according to Prospect. A 60-day consultation period on the options opens on 9 January. According to Hudd, either proposal will affect thousands of Sellafield employees as well as thousands of employees at other nuclear sites, some of which are also in the constituency. Each member of the scheme would lose tens of thousands on average, he claimed. “I expect the reaction will be particularly robust because this group of members were granted statutory pension protection in the legislation that effectively privatised the industry and these proposals would mean overriding those protections,” he told the Guardian. “There are few constituencies where a single industry (indeed employer) is as significant as the nuclear industry and Sellafield is to Copeland. For the government of the day to attack the pension terms for the employees in this industry in the run-up to a crucial byelection, there is incredibly bad timing to say the least.” A spokesman for the NDA said: “Government policy is that all public sector final-salary pensions schemes should reformed by 2018, and 4 million public sector workers have already moved to new pension arrangements. “Specific decisions on how to change the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority’s estate pension schemes have yet to be taken. We expect to begin formal consultation in the new year.” More than 10,000 people are employed at the Sellafield site, which measures 6 sq km and is the largest nuclear site in Europe, containing more than 1,000 nuclear facilities. Almost half of the UK’s nuclear workforce is based at Sellafield, which is home to among the largest inventories of untreated waste in the world. The NDA purpose is to deliver the decommissioning and cleanup of the UK’s civil nuclear legacy in a safe and cost-effective manner.
News Article | April 6, 2016
A very unusual exchange is about to take place over the Atlantic. The UK is sending some 700kg of highly enriched uranium to be disposed of in the US, the largest amount that has ever been moved out of the country. In return, the US is sending other kinds of enriched uranium to Europe to help diagnose people with cancer. The vast majority of the UK’s waste comes from its fleet of nuclear power stations. Most of it is stored at the Sellafield site in north-west England. But the material being sent to the US is a particularly high (weapons usable) grade of enriched uranium that you wouldn’t want to move to Sellafield from its current location at Dounreay in the north of Scotland without building a new storage facility – presumably more expensive than the cost of transportation. The decision to move this radioactive waste out of the UK has been presented as making it harder for nuclear materials to get into the hands of terrorists, but this is implausible. The UK is capable of managing homegrown highly enriched uranium itself. The plan also contradicts the principle that countries are responsible for managing their own nuclear legacy. The announcement draws new attention to an old issue: how to find a long-term solution to nuclear waste. Countries with atomic weapons or civilian nuclear power have been wrestling with this for several decades. This is partly because the problem was neglected for years, but more fundamentally because governments have failed to develop a strategy acceptable to the communities affected. This reflects the uniqueness of the problem, of course – we are talking about substances which could harm human health for tens of thousands of years into the future. It raises profound ethical issues of equity between generations. The scientific community does in fact agree on how to dispose of these materials safely: deep underground in appropriate geology such as clay or granite, with well engineered radiation barriers as an extra defence. Yet only Sweden and Finland, with political systems built on more trust and consensus than most countries, have a clear repository plan – and it will be several years before they become operational. Most of the storage facilities at Sellafield are designed to last mere decades. The UK has been sporadically focused on deep disposal since the early 1980s, but for a long time approached it top-down and secretively. This became known as the “DAD” method – decide, announce, defend. But it has always led to “abandon” when local communities, having had no part in the siting decision, have rebelled successfully. It was not until 2008 that the government introduced a system of rules under which local communities would conditionally volunteer a site and then negotiate a deal with the authorities. So far it has produced no result: attempts by district councils around Sellafield to volunteer it were overruled in 2013 by Cumbria county council, the local-authority tier above them, and no other communities have come forward. The government has reserved the right to override the voluntary process but shows no sign of doing so yet. In such circumstances it becomes tempting to look for short cuts. One occasionally raised is to put all the world’s problematic waste somewhere very remote like the west Australian desert. This is a non-starter. The Czech and Slovak experience illustrated this. As a single country they planned a single repository, but after their “velvet divorce” each insisted it would not permanently manage the other’s waste. Such an international solution also contradicts the aforementioned issue of being responsible for your own legacy. The other major hope is that science will find a convincing way either to use waste as fuel for reactors, and/or that “partitioning and transmutation” would drastically reduce the half-lives of the relevant isotopes. Yet these approaches are complex and expensive, involving molten salt reactors or accelerator-driven systems. And critically, there would still be some volume of long-lived waste that needed to be managed – no method can yet promise to drastically reduce the half-lives of all the different waste types. The only credible way forward is deep burial. In the absence of a deep-disposal plan, the UK has a more immediately pressing issue – what to do with Sellafield’s contaminated materials and waste from the UK’s near-70 years in the nuclear power and weapons business, much of which is housed in dilapidated facilities that are not fit for purpose. The Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) expects it will cost some £68 billion to clean up Sellafield by stabilising and safely packaging the waste and building new stores. This will only be completed by around 2120. This problem is at least now getting serious attention and resource – despite the climate of public austerity. Currently the country is spending over £1.5 billion a year on the site, which is one of the most hazardous in Europe. Sellafield stores a further 140 tonnes of waste plutonium that also stems from British and some overseas nuclear power. If used in bombs this amount could obliterate humanity several times over. The NDA is now focusing on what to do about this too, after years of political inattention. Yet the decision-making is laboured and the currently favoured solution of using the plutonium as fuel for conventional reactors lacks credibility – no operator wants to use plutonium-based fuel because it is more difficult and expensive to manage than conventional fuel; and moving it around the country is a security risk. So nuclear waste remains the Achilles heel of the nuclear industry, in the UK and elsewhere. While the financial problems behind the proposed new nuclear station Hinkley Point C attract most of the headlines, the waste problem hangs over the industry behind the scenes. Until we find a way forward that is scientifically and politically acceptable, it will continue to do so. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.
Williams S.J.,Nuclear Decommissioning Authority
Mineralogical Magazine | Year: 2012
Gases will be generated in waste packages during their transport to a geological disposal facility (GDF), this generation will continue during GDF operations and after GDF closure. The range of gases produced will include flammable, radioactive and chemotoxic species. These must be managed to ensure safety during transport and operations, and the post-closure consequences need to be understood. The two primary post-closure gas issues for a GDF are the need for the system pressure to remain below a value at which irreversible damage to the engineered barrier system and host geology could occur, and the need to ensure that any flux of gas (in particular gaseous radionuclides) to the biosphere does not result in unacceptable risk. This paper provides an overview of the research of the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, Radioactive Waste Management Directorate into gas generation and its migration from a GDF. © 2012 The Mineralogical Society.
Norris S.,Nuclear Decommissioning Authority
Mineralogical Magazine | Year: 2012
This paper gives an overview of the geosphere research studies being undertaken by the Radioactive Waste Management Directorate (RWMD) of the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority. The approach of the RWMD in the current generic phase of the UK managing radioactive waste safely (MRWS) programme is to maintain an understanding of key processes and to carry out research and development into techniques so capability can be built. Although RWMD can demonstrate a general understanding of geosphere processes at this stage in the UK project, it is recognized that this will need to be made site-specific as the MRWS programme progresses. An understanding of the geosphere at the selected site(s) will be an important part of the future programme. Where possible, the RWMD will participate in international studies so that relevant site-based information can be accessed. In this way, the RWMD will be prepared for site-specific work in stage 5 of the MRWS process. © 2012 The Mineralogical Society.
Tweed C.J.,Nuclear Decommissioning Authority
Mineralogical Magazine | Year: 2012
The safe implementation of geological disposal must be underpinned by sound science. This paper describes the approaches taken by the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority Radioactive Waste Management Directorate, the implementing body for geological disposal in the UK, to build an evidence base of scientific data and understanding which is robust to scrutiny and so provides confidence in the safety of geological disposal. © 2012 The Mineralogical Society.
Woods A.W.,University of Cambridge |
Norris S.,Nuclear Decommissioning Authority
Water Resources Research | Year: 2010
Waste stored in a geological disposal facility can generate gas, and depending on the geological environment, this gas may migrate into the rock mass. Here we develop a simplified physical model to describe the initial stages of the dispersal of a gas plume as it rises from such a geological disposal facility, located at a depth of many hundreds of meters below the surface. Typically, the plume becomes confined below a low-permeability layer and then spreads laterally until reaching a fault or fracture zone, when it may continue rising upward. Since the gas is soluble in the groundwater, the gas may partially dissolve as it displaces the groundwater. In addition, in the generic geology considered herein, since the source of gas gradually wanes with time, the spreading plume tends to thin out, leading to some residual trapping of the gas behind the plume. We show that depending on the distance of the fault or fracture zone from the geological disposal facility, different fractions of the source gas may be diverted farther upward into the formation rather than being trapped in the original layer. This can have an important impact on the subsequent pattern of dispersal of the gas by the groundwater flows, which may be key information in any safety assessment. © 2010 by the American Geophysical Union.
Nuclear Decommissioning Authority | Date: 2011-01-21
The invention provides a storage device adapted for use for the storage of waste materials in a glovebox, the device comprising support means incorporating engaging means, the support means comprising a substantially hollow body and the engaging means being adapted to restrain an object therein. It is a particular advantage of the device that the support means defines a hollow interior section in the device, thereby facilitating the storage of additional waste materials integrally within the device in a safe and orderly manner. The device finds particular application in a method for the removal of waste materials located in a glovebox, wherein the waste materials comprise hazardous biological or radioactive materials. In a particularly preferred embodiment, the storage device comprises an essentially cylindrical stacker comprising a collar and, extending therefrom, three elongate members each comprising, at the distal end thereof, engaging means comprising flanges and rims which thereby defining a groove and form feet which allow the device to stand upright.
Nuclear Decommissioning Authority | Date: 2010-09-10
The invention provides a lighting apparatus which comprises housing means, illumination means and fixing means, wherein the illumination means is comprised in an end surface of the housing means, and the fixing means is located on an outer surface of the housing means and is adapted to securely locate the lighting apparatus in a window for use in a glovebox. Preferably, the housing means comprises an essentially cylindrically shaped carrier, adapted for insertion within a CRL window, the illumination means comprises a lighting element comprising a LED light source and a lens arrangement, and the fixing means comprises an annular seal which is integral with the housing means. The invention also provides a lighting system including a plurality of lighting apparatus, an illuminated glovebox and a method of illuminating a glovebox.