UK decommissioning research partnership begins to bear fruit

02 February 2024

A research partnership between the UK's Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) and National Decommissioning Centre (NDC), formed in 2022, is already helping the energy sector to reduce costs and emissions, improve environmental outcomes and deliver sustainable net-zero decommissioning.

(Image: NDA-NDC)

The NDC - based near Aberdeen, Scotland - is a GBP38 million (USD48 million) partnership between the University of Aberdeen, Net Zero Technology Centre (NZTC) and industry. NZTC develops and deploys technology to accelerate an affordable net-zero energy industry. Founded in 2017, the centre was created as part of the Aberdeen City Region Deal, with GBP180 million of UK and Scottish government funding.

In September 2022, the NDA and NDC signed a three-year collaborative research agreement - the first of its kind between the nuclear and oil and gas decommissioning sectors. The partnership, supporting research with a potential value of up to GBP900,000, sees the NDA work with researchers from the University of Aberdeen in areas of mutual interest to both the nuclear and oil and gas sectors.

The agreement built on three years of discussions involving the NDA, the NDC, Net Zero Technology Centre, regulators including the North Sea Transition Authority, and industry bodies, which sought to identify mutually beneficial opportunities through the insights and lessons learned from each sector.

Among the areas identified for joint research are the development of AI-based techniques to support risk management, sharing new technology development, analysing impact on the economy and environment and finding environmentally safe alternatives to cement.

Both nuclear and oil and gas decommissioning require the cutting of structures underwater. The NDC is developing an underwater laser cutter for oil and gas decommissioning and one partnership project delivered a review on the applicability of this to nuclear decommissioning.

In addition, an AI-enabled risk live dashboard has been developed for monitoring real-time global news to evaluate how international events can impact the nuclear industry in the short or long-term. It will be used to help risk analysts in their day-to-day jobs by scanning vast amounts of information quickly, allowing more time to identify, consider and respond to potential risks.

The partnership is also undertaking an economic impact study looking at the socioeconomic benefits of decommissioning at a local and national level and the possible impacts and benefits for associated communities. Analysis shows decommissioning activity has the potential to deliver economy-wide gains in key areas such as skills, employment, and household income, which in turn boost household consumption. The study will support stakeholder engagement helping to inform politicians and policy makers on key opportunities and enable discussions around support for skills, training and economic development to back decommissioning activities.

"We are tasked with decommissioning the UK's oldest nuclear sites safely, securely, sustainably and cost effectively," said Heather Barton, Interim Environment, Health and Safety Director, who coordinates the partnership on behalf of the NDA. "The real strength in the partnership is that there are numerous areas where we can collaborate to help us achieve this. It has been a resounding success since it was launched with several key outcomes already achieved including providing impartial insights to regulators, government, stakeholders, and advisory groups. By utilising technology and innovation, we can create a safer working environment for our employees, return our sites to communities for reuse earlier, and leave a more sustainable legacy for generations to come."

"Bringing the NDC and NDA together has allowed for collaboration in new ways to achieve our joint goals of delivering safe, efficient and sustainable decommissioning," added Sergi Arnau, Project Delivery Manager at the NDC. "The NDC has a culture of innovation in research and development and we are looking forward to continuing to successfully harness the skills and capabilities available through the partnership to deliver vital work with the NDA.

"For year 3 of the partnership and beyond, a project to enhance the autonomous capabilities of underwater remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) used during the inspection and maintenance of nuclear ponds is envisaged. Furthermore, the expertise gathered from years of oil and gas drilling exploration will prove beneficial in the development of an underground storage facility for radioactive waste disposal."

Researched and written by World Nuclear News