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. In 2018, the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority estimated the total costs of decommissioning at £121 billion with a completion date of 2120.
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 nuclear power plant, 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.
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 17 sites across the UK previously controlled by the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA, now an executive non-departmental public body focusing on fusion power) and British Nuclear Fuels Ltd (BNFL, recently revived as the shell company for Great British Nuclear). These sites include both operational and non-operational civil nuclear reactors, fuel processing plants, storage sites and former research facilities.
The NDA has four key component organisations:
- Sellafield – responsible for Europe’s largest decommissioning site at Sellafield (formerly known as Calder Hall and Windscale) in West Cumbria.
- Magnox – responsible for the former Magnox plant at 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 Dounreay and the former research sites at Harwell, Oxfordshire, and Winfrith, Dorset. Magnox is also taking responsibility for the AGR fleet as it retires over 2020–30.
- Nuclear Waste Services – responsible for the Low Level Waste Repository in Cumbria, and the development of the proposed underground Geological Disposal Facility.
- Nuclear Transport Solutions – including the former International Nuclear Services, Direct Rail Services, and Pacific Nuclear Transport.
See the NDA pages for more information.
The NDA is also responsible for scrutinising the decommissioning plans for the operational nuclear power stations owned by EDF, and advises the government on decommissioning plans and cost estimates for nuclear new build.
For details of current and upcoming activity, see the NDA business plan 2023–26.
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, in line with government targets, is committed to spending a third of its budget with SMEs.
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 through its four component organisations, to deliver further value for money, identify risks, and eliminate duplication of costs across its estate.
The NDA sets the policy framework across its sites, but the individual organisations are responsible for implementation and manage their own procurement and supply chain initiatives such as information sharing, supplier days and meet-the-buyer events.
The NDA and each component organisation publishes a procurement plan detailing forthcoming tenders and recent awards, usually quarterly. These are subject to change, so companies are advised to build a relationship with identified primary contacts.
Procurement opportunities are managed through the OneNDA eCommercial System portal. Procurement opportunities are also advertised through the UK government’s Contracts Finder and the Official Journal of the European Union.
Each of the four component organisations is generally considered as a Tier One contractor to the NDA. Typically, a Tier Two company will hold a direct contract with the relevant organisation (such as Sellafield or Magnox) 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.