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 reactors, 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 across all quality levels.
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 19 sites across the UK previously controlled by the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA, now part of BEIS) and British Nuclear Fuels Ltd (BNFL, now abolished). These sites include both operational and non-operational civil nuclear reactors, fuel processing plants, storage sites and former research facilities.
The NDA is responsible for cleaning up these civil nuclear facilities, with individual sites managed by site licence companies (SLCs):
- Dounreay Site Restoration Ltd – Dounreay, Highlands – to be combined with Magnox in 2023.
- Nuclear Waste Services (incorporating the fomer LLW Repository Ltd and Radioactive Waste Management) – Low Level Waste Repository, Cumbria. NWS is also responsible for developing the proposed Geological Disposal Facility, a permanent home for the UK’s nuclear waste.
- Magnox Ltd – 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 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.
- Sellafield Ltd – Sellafield / Calder Hall / Windscale, Cumbria.
- Springfields Fuels Ltd – Springfields, Lancashire.
See the NDA’s estate page 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. It has planned annual expenditure of £3.645 billion for 2022/23, including £820 million commercial income.
For details of current and upcoming activity, see the NDA business plan 2022–25.
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 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 SLCs are responsible for implementation. The SLCs manage their own procurement and supply chain initiatives, including information sharing, supplier days and meet-the-buyer events.
For each site, the SLC publishes a procurement plan detailing forthcoming tenders and recent awards. These are subject to change, so companies are advised to build a relationship with identified primary contacts. Large tenders are also published in the Official Journal of the European Union.
Each of the SLCs is generally considered as a Tier One contractor to the NDA. Typically, a Tier Two company will hold a direct contract with the SLC 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.