Industry News Round Up

Reactor decommissioning – Japan warns nuclear plants to prepare well in advance

Japan is ramping up its nuclear decommissioning programme, with the Government calling on plants to plan ahead in order to lower costs and reduce safety risks.

Following the Fukushima disaster in 2011, which saw severe damage to a nuclear plant after being hit by earthquakes and a tidal wave, Japan’s power plant operators have been accelerating their decommissioning due to the expense burden of improved safety standards.

Twenty-four commercial reactors – roughly 40 per cent of Japan’s total – are designated for or are currently being decommissioned including four reactors at the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant.

The decommissioning of a typical reactor costs nearly 60 billion yen (£460m) and takes several decades, according to the Press Association.

The Japan Atomic Energy Commission (JAEC) has urged utilities to learn from US and European examples, especially those of Germany, France and the UK.

The Fukushima disaster is considered the most severe nuclear accident since the 1986 Chernobyl disaster and the only other disaster since to be given the Level 7 event classification of the International Nuclear Event Scale.

Japan has not yet completed the decommissioning of any reactors and does not have concrete plans for the final disposal of radioactive waste.

An annual white paper adopted by the JAEC said: “Taking into consideration further increase of nuclear facilities that will be decommissioned, new technology and systems need to be developed in order to carry out the tasks efficiently and smoothly. It’s a whole new stage that we have to proceed to and tackle.”

Before the Fukushima disaster, Japan had 60 commercial reactors that provided about 25 per cent of the country’s energy needs.

Despite the government’s renewed ambitions for nuclear power, reactor restarts are proceeding slowly as nuclear regulators spend more time on inspections.

Meanwhile, anti-nuclear sentiment persists among the public and makes it more difficult for plant operators to obtain local consent in making revisions to their facilities. Any plan related to nuclear waste storage tends to meet strong resistance.

Since the Fukushima accident, only nine reactors in Japan have restarted, accounting for about 3 per cent of the country’s energy supply, compared to the government’s ambitious 20-22 per cent target.

Tokyo Electric Power Holdings, which owns the plant, said its decommissioning alone would cost 410 billion yen (£3.2bn) and would take four decades, but experts have raised concerns about whether those estimates are realistic for a company already struggling with the ongoing clean-up of the wrecked Fukushima plant, estimated to cost about eight trillion yen (£61bn).

In 2018, it was revealed that a giant ice wall constructed underneath Fukushima was failing to prevent groundwater from seeping into it.

NDA takes reins of nuclear decommissioning company

The Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) has taken ownership of nuclear decommissioning specialist Magnox.

Magnox Ltd, which is headquartered in Berkeley, Gloucestershire, is responsible for the clean-up of 12 nuclear sites and operation of one hydro-electric plant in the UK and will now operate as a subsidiary of the NDA.

The 12 sites are Berkeley, Bradwell in Essex, Chapelcross in Scotland, Dungeness A, in Kent Hinkley Point A in Somerset, Hunterston A in Scotland, Oldbury in South Gloucestershire, Sizewell A in Suffolk, Trawsfynydd and Wylfa in North Wales, and the Harwell and Winfrith facilities.

Magnox becoming a NDA subsidiary follows a similar change made at Sellafield in 2016, where the new model is facilitating progress and providing increased value for money for the taxpayer.

NDA chief executive, David Peattie, said: “Today is an important day for Magnox and the NDA as we continue to find more effective and efficient ways of managing nuclear site clean-up and decommissioning. We’ve secured a very strong executive team, led by Gwen Parry-Jones OBE, to drive progress and success across the Magnox sites.

Gwen Parry-Jones, Magnox’s new chief executive, said: “This is a very exciting time for Magnox. We have some fantastic talented people and being an NDA subsidiary gives us more opportunities to work closely as part of the NDA group, share ideas and take a more flexible approach to decommissioning the UK’s first generation of nuclear power stations.”

Decommissioning ‘implies getting rid of rubbish’ – time for a new brand?

“Getting rid of rubbish”? Industry leaders discussed the need for a “new brand” for decommissioning.

Industry leaders discussed the potential need for a “new brand” for decommissioning at Offshore Europe yesterday as it “implies you’re getting rid of rubbish”.

The process of dismantling oil and gas infrastructure was described “not a great brand” by Jon Clark, oil and gas transactions leader for Europe, Middle East, India and Africa at EY.

Mr Clark highlighted the importance of the industry in terms of its benefits to the environment and engineering complexity, but said a different label could be a way to attract new people into the sector.

He added: “Decommissioning is not a great brand. It implies you’re getting rid of rubbish, something that nobody wants. Then you type oil and gas onto the front of it and that’s just a double whammy of a difficult brand.

“But actually, when you try to explain to your children what we do, we make the environment cleaner, we’re doing technically complicated things in all sorts of interesting parts of the world.

“This is global, it is really relevant to the future of the environment and the future of this industry and there aren’t many sectors that could offer a 30-plus year career.”

On a potential “pitch” for a new brand, Mr Clark said it should incorporate the “technological excitement”, environmental benefits and global dynamic of the sector.

He said industry should work to ensure it can appeal to people working within and outside of the sector.

Mr Clark was joined on the panel by Caroline Lawford, decommissioning project lead at Canadian Natural Resources International (CNRI).

The firm has a host of North Sea platforms due to be shut down, as well as “fun” in its mission statement.

Ms Lawford argued focussing on the latter could be key, particularly when discussing with university students the excitement of the huge engineering projects.

She said: “How to we attract people into decommissioning? My answer to this question is I think decommissioning is fun.

“It is really exciting engineering, I’m a structural engineer so I find the removals phase really exciting but it doesn’t matter what part of decommissioning you’re involved with. They are big projects and really exciting things to be involved with.”

When pushed on managing “fun” with deadlines and cost savings, Ms Lawson added that it all came down to management setting clear expectations.

She added: “Decommissioning isn’t business as usual, it is a change so understanding what that looks like and defining a clear plan and creating a culture so that plan can be developed and improved upon throughout that project,”

Andy Samuel, chief executive of the Oil and Gas Authority (OGA) said he hoped that new technologies would form part of any new brand.

He asked Pamela Lomoro of the Oil and Gas Technology Centre’s (OGTC) National Decommissioning Centre how that would follow.

She said: When you’re marketing that we have to think that you’re not just developing a technology but you’re solving a problem.

UK expertise ensures safe decommissioning of Japanese fast reactor

The Japanese Atomic Energy Agency (JAEA) has awarded a contract to UK-based Cavendish Nuclear to support decommissioning of the fast reactor at Monju, Japan.

The main elements of the contract involve the technical support for creating a lifetime plan for the decommissioning of Monju and a feasibility study into the treatment of highly flammable sodium coolant from the Monju site.

This comes after the Japanese government decided to decommission the reactor with the intention to mothball the project, after several mishaps and safety concerns.

The contract builds on experience of decommissioning fast reactors in the UK, passing on the lessons learned to save time and cost in decommissioning in Japan and ensure the highest levels of safety and environmental protection.

Mark Rouse, president of Cavendish Nuclear in Japan, said: “This is a great opportunity to showcase the talent and experience developed over many years in the UK and demonstrates how Cavendish Nuclear can support other countries to decommission their sites in a safe manner.”

Cavendish Nuclear is part of a UK team working with JAEA that will use the skills and experience gained during the ongoing decommissioning of the fast reactors at Dounreay in the UK, which are at an advanced stage of clean-out and dismantling.

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