Decommissioning the Magnox way
In a year dominated by discussions over whether or not to go ahead with nuclear programmes, the UK has at least shown that decommissioning plants is not a problem.
If international peer reviews could be likened to school reports then the decommissioning company Magnox was entitled to be a proud parent last February.
That month the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said the Magnox reactor dismantling company “demonstrated a well-coordinated corporate-wide approach to decommissioning projects” and that “the overall view of the review team is positive.”
In addition, the IAEA review, conducted by experts from Canada, Germany, France, Spain, Switzerland and the USA, “noted significant progress” compared to a similar exercise carried out in 2008.
Magnox, which is contracted to dismantle plants on behalf of the UK Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) and is owned by Salt Lake City, US-based EnergySolutions, one of the world’s largest low-level waste processors, has clearly been busy.
In fact, says Magnox communications adviser Dan Gould: “It’s difficult to describe all of it briefly. We have got 10 sites. One is still generating, one has just finished generating, and the other eight are in various stages of decommissioning.”
Of the latter, he adds, the stages involved range from “just finishing defueling” and “accelerating towards a state of care of maintenance.”
The company is actually tasked with handling the end-of-life arrangements for all the UK’s Magnox reactors bar one, Calder Hall, which is being decommissioned at the Sellafield reprocessing plant (where lead communicator Ali McKibbin says it is “business as usual”).
Handily for Gould, though, the Magnox website has a video which neatly summarises most of his company’s key achievements over the last year.
These include carrying out work worth £700m and creating £1.3bn of savings within the decommissioning programme, as well as shaving 34 years off its duration.
The company shut down the sole operational reactor at Oldbury and demolished the turbine hall at Bradwell in a project that took 100,000 man-hours and saw the removal of more than 100 tons of asbestos along with the recycling of 6,000-plus tons of metal.
At Berkeley, on the bank of the River Severn in Gloucestershire, England, Magnox has signed an £8m contract with the UK’s Low Level Waste Repository and the Swedish decommissioning firm Studsvik to recycle five redundant boilers, weighing 300 tons each.
And at Dungeness, Magnox scored a UK nuclear industry first in October when it emptied a final batch of fuel element debris (FED) from a dissolution plant that has processed 107 tons of FED since the 1990s, reducing its total volume by around 98 per cent.
Magnox also managed to wring a potential additional £300m in generating revenue from its sole operational plant, Wylfa, in Wales, by transferring the limited fuel supplies from the plant’s second reactor into its Reactor 1 unit.
The operation, which involved the biggest-ever statutory outage of a Magnox site, costing £4m, will allow Wylfa to continue generating electricity up until 2014.
In Magnox’s remaining sites, meanwhile, the company has been busy implementing novel ideas such as a Magnox Optimised Decommissioning Programme, which creates savings through new technical advances and changes to working arrangements.
Care and maintenance
One of the key initiatives within the programme is to bring two sites, Bradwell and Trawsfynydd, into early care and maintenance.
In the meantime, Dungeness A and Chapelcross, which both have notably low volumes of intermediate-level waste, are being fast-tracked into an interim care and maintenance state to release funding for higher-hazard reduction projects elsewhere.
Another innovation has been the introduction of a framework contract for de-planting, demolition and asbestos removal across all sites.
Worth £304 million, the contract covers suppliers such as Keltbray/Doosan Babcock, Celadon, Erith, Squibb/LVI Group, Nuvia, EDS and Kitsons, and is designed to streamline commercial arrangements with contractors while reducing tendering costs.
All this has happened at the same time as Magnox has gone through a management restructuring exercise.
In 2008 the company had been split into two “because the sites in Magnox South, as was, were all in a similar state and it looked as if we could get good value for bidding all these sites together,” says Gould.
The split was reversed last year, however, to help the company reduce costs and improve best-practice sharing. Such a process may have had the potential to distract Magnox from its many decommissioning duties, but the IAEA clearly concludes this was not the case.
“There was a large before and after difference,” says John Rowat of the IAEA’s Division of Radiation, Transport and Waste Safety, who worked on the latest Magnox peer review. “Quite a bit of this might have been due to the maturing role the NDA was taking as well.
“Our initial review was in the early stages of decommissioning, when there was some floundering about as well as financial uncertainty. The government in the UK has done a great job in whipping that into shape. There are a lot worse situations elsewhere in the world.”