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Solving the technical challenges of nuclear decommissioning

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Innovation/savings, Research and development, Skills

In the video below, I explain why research and development is so critical to the NDA’s mission. This includes the application of innovative technologies and the development of key technical skills. I also outline some examples of how we have worked to solve some of the complex technical challenges across our estate. Please watch the video or read the transcript below.

The consultation on the draft of our revised strategy is open until 15 February 2016, and I'd like to encourage everyone who is interested in the NDA’s approach in this area to read the Research and Development section and share your thoughts with us.


My name’s Melanie Brownridge, I’m Head of Technology for the NDA.


My job involves making sure that we understand the technical health of the decommissioning plans across our estate and that we’re doing our best to encourage innovative technologies to deliver solutions for some of our technical challenges.
NDA’s mission is a complex and often challenging mission to ensure that the decommissioning of our sites is carried out on an acceptable timescale and cost.


Many of those challenges are technically complex and diverse. So research and development plays an essential role in both identifying some of those technical challenges and ensuring that the appropriate are available to address those challenges.
On average over the last few years, around about £90 million has been spent on R&D across our estate, that’s per year. The majority of that, about £85 million has been spent by our Site Licence Companies working in conjunction with their supply chain. And the remainder, around about £5 million per year, has been spent by NDA through our directly funded strategic research and development portfolio.


Our strategy is that the majority of the research and development work is carried out by the Site Licence Companies and their supply chain, because R&D is an integral part of delivery of the decommissioning plans.


The sites submit to NDA on an annual basis their technology plans which set out the technical challenges and their approaches for dealing with those challenges, and they also set out the maturity of the technologies and the solutions that they’ve chosen for those challenges. It also identifies what are their residual R&D needs or risks, and their research plans to address dealing with those challenges to make sure that the technical plans can be fully delivered.


NDA’s role is to oversee those plans from a strategic perspective, make sure that the technical solutions are technically robust, and also to identify whether there are any multi-site needs or opportunities that should be picked up and taken forwards.


The remainder of the R&D work, around £5 million pounds a year is spent by NDA through our directly funded strategic R&D portfolio.


In addition, from an innovation perspective, we’ve worked closely with other government funders such as Innovate UK and the Department of Energy and Climate Change, and also the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council in progressing a number of innovation calls where we’ve co-funded up to £6 million pounds worth of NDA funding to a total call of £30 million on innovation ideas.


So our investment is leveraging significantly the amount of funding that is available to technology providers and ensuring that there’s sustainability of funding over a number of years, to ensure that those concepts can be taken forward to fruition.


One example has been identifying the potential use of laser cutting in decommissioning. This is a technology that is being used extensively in the automobile industry and bringing that forward to be used in the decommissioning market and having that successfully deployed at Magnox site for the cutting up of skips has been a success over the last few years.


In addition to that we’ve also supported some early concept work to enable software to be developed for a radiation mapping device. And that’s now being tested and developed at the Sellafield site and has also been deployed in a novel, remote way as well. Thus improving the safety and reducing the amount of potential dose for workers carrying out the technical work.


We work very closely with other UK Government funders for R&D. NDA is a key funder of Nuclear R&D in the UK. We work closely with other government funders such as Innovate UK, in progressing innovation ideas, and we work closely with the Research Councils in working with the academic institutions in the UK.


Our University R&D portfolio has expanded over the last few years and we’re now supporting around 59 PhD students and working with 22 different universities in the UK.

Tom Majchrowski, PhD student:

I wanted to do something that’s going to have a real life application, not going to be just pure academic work, but going to benefit other people as well.


So I think that was kind of my driver that I wanted to look into something that no-one’s done before and contribute to a real life application.


I didn’t consider nuclear as being the theme of my PhD at the time. It’s a challenge that I think we all have to contribute to and try to understand a bit better.


The theme of my PhD was looking at chemical behaviour of spent nuclear fuel in ponds.


The engagement of NDA was quite active I think because my industry supervisor got involved from day one really, and he provided lots of background information which was really useful to understand the nature of the problem and what is the bigger picture.


At the moment I’m working at the National Nuclear Laboratory, so it’s almost a natural progression from my research into an international lab, so I’m involved with waste decommissioning, supporting the waste treatment and immobilization.

(Melanie Brownridge speaking again:)

We also work closely with other organisations with similar challenges to us, whether that’s in the defence industry or other regulated industries.


We work closely also with other countries who face similar technology challenges to ensure that we’re both gaining and sharing best practice in addressing those challenges, and actually understanding whether we have similar challenges that need to be addressed.


As part of strategy consultation, we’re interested in stakeholder feedback in 2 key areas: the first of those is whether NDA should do more through R&D strategy to promote UK decommissioning technologies abroad, the second of those is whether NDA through our R&D strategy should do more to support the STEM, science, technology, engineering and mathematics agenda at a school level.

Online engagement via web chat

If you have questions or comments, you can log in to a web chat. We have scheduled 2 sessions where our specialists will be online to answer any queries you might have:

11:30 Friday 29 January (1 hour)

16:00 Monday 8 February (1 hour)

Feel free to submit questions beforehand via and we will provide answers during the live web chats.

Transcripts will be available after each session.

NDA Research and Development brochures

NDA Research and Development Brochure November 2015

NDA research and development: driving solutions delivering progress brochure

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