Home News Nuclear: Where next for Sellafield?

Nuclear: Where next for Sellafield?

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Sellafield

Sellafield has come to feel as much a part of Cumbria as the hills and the sheep, but that doesn’t mean change isn’t afoot.

The end of nuclear reprocessing by 2020 will mean that 3,000 roles within the 11,000-strong workforce are set to disappear.

The site is also under pressure to step up the pace of decommissioning while reducing costs. A perfect storm if ever there was one.

In April last year the company that operates the site, Sellafield Ltd, ceased to be run by the much-criticised private consortium, Nuclear Management Partners, and became a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Government’s Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA).

The new regime has just published its Corporate Strategy and a second document, Transforming Sellafield, which map the way ahead.

But let’s take a moment to set out what Sellafield does, and how it got to where it is today.

A munitions works during World War II, the remoteness of the site and its industrial workforce meant it was chosen to produce plutonium for the UK’s first atomic weapons.

In the 1950s it became home to the world’s first nuclear power station, Calder Hall, and the Windscale Advanced Gas-cooled Reactor.

Commercial nuclear reprocessing began in the 1970s, followed by the Thermal Oxide Reprocessing Plant (Thorp) in the 1980s.

This work is turning Sellafield into one of the largest construction sites in the country, second only to the Crossrail project in London.

All this activity has left a legacy of contaminated buildings, equipment and waste that has to be dealt with and, in the case of foreign-owned waste, shipped back to its country of origin.

This is a mammoth project. Sellafield has more than 200 buildings with a significant nuclear inventory. Cleaning up the site’s legacy fuel storage ponds and nuclear waste silos relies on the effective use of existing buildings and the construction of new waste facilities.

This work is turning Sellafield into one of the largest construction sites in the country, second only to the Crossrail project in London.

All this in a site that covers only six square kilometres. By comparison, the Hanford nuclear project in the US is home to fewer facilities and a smaller nuclear inventory, but covers a footprint 160 times larger.

No wonder then, that the NDA is spending £2bn a year at Sellafield.

The Corporate Strategy and Transforming Sellafield set out a plan to complete retrievals from legacy ponds and silos 25 per cent sooner, and to reduce costs by £1.4bn by 2020 and a further £1.4bn by 2029.

There is a clear intention to avoid knee-jerk redundancies that could lead to valuable talent being lost West Cumbria.

Within the next 10 years, Sellafield Ltd. aims to have overcome the most significant hazards in three of the four high-hazard facilities and be well advanced in removing the hazard from the remaining facility.

The strategy to achieve all this is to create a more agile and focused organisation – a simpler, more unified enterprise –  and a showcase for pioneering nuclear solutions, all without compromising on safety.

By 2020, Sellafield Ltd will be flexible enough to cut or raise its spending by £100m in any financial year in response to the availability of public money.

It sounds a tough ask and Tony Fountain, the Chairman of Sellafield Ltd, admits as much in the foreword to Transforming Sellafield.

There is a clear intention to avoid knee-jerk redundancies that could lead to valuable talent being lost West Cumbria.

“This is a hugely important step. It is a game change for the way we deal with our supply chain.”

In a nod to the former US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, he says there are “still many known unknowns”.

The documents talk positively about innovation and commercial spin-offs that create employment beyond Sellafield, which bode well for SMEs in Cumbria hoping to work with the nuclear site.

And there is a clear message that Sellafield Ltd. acknowledges that it has a duty of care to the wider community in West Cumbria.

The Corporate Strategy says: “We will continue to be an anchor organisation in our communities providing employment, undertaking pioneering scientific research, innovating, developing skills and encouraging investment. We do not just operate next to our communities, we are part of them. Our employees are school governors, magistrates and emergency response volunteers.”

One of the biggest challenges will be managing the end of nuclear reprocessing. This will mean 3,000 roles disappear. Taking attrition into account, Sellafield Ltd expects to manage the impact of between 1,500 and 2,000 surplus roles over the next four or five years.

But there is a clear intention to avoid knee-jerk redundancies that could lead to valuable talent being lost West Cumbria.

Transforming Sellafield says: “We believe that redeploying people, both to new and existing opportunities, is the right way to support surplus roles.

“Reskilling and redeployment helps make sure our skills and experience are not lost and maximises a positive economic impact.”

Cumbria Chamber of Commerce is ready to work with Sellafield Ltd to help it retrain and upskill workers where appropriate.

Chamber Chief Executive Rob Johnston said: “This will be a time of great opportunity and challenge.

“It’s our responsibility to work with organisations like Sellafield Ltd to deliver the support they need to minimise any potential impact on the Cumbrian economy of the loss of these roles.”

“It’s our responsibility to work with organisations like Sellafield Ltd to deliver the support they need to minimise any potential impact on the Cumbrian economy of the loss of these roles.”

Click here to read the Corporate Strategy and Transforming Sellafield in full.

In a separate announcement, which will be hugely important to existing and would-be suppliers, Sellafield has unveiled a new procurement model.

It says the Programme and Project Partners (PPP) model is a “game changer” that will set out how major projects are delivered over the next 20 years.

Four long-term partners will play an integral part in the site’s project delivery.

Supply chain organisations have been invited to attend an industry on Friday (April 28), hosted by Sellafield Ltd., where the procurement process to secure the four partners will be launched.

Projects director for Sellafield Ltd, Steve Livingstone, said: “This is a hugely important step. It is a game change for the way we deal with our supply chain.

“Instead of procuring supply chains for each major project, we’ll establish a new project delivery environment based upon long-term relationships with selected partners, developing closer working practices on the way.

“The new model will ensure our projects, while maintaining our excellent safety performance, will be delivered faster, meaning Sellafield is made safer more quickly.”

Cumbria Chamber of Commerce is ready to work with Cumbrian business in the nuclear supply chain to help them adapt to the new arrangements.

Chamber Chief Executive Rob Johnston said: “It will be critical for smaller businesses in the supply chain to engage with the four partners as soon as possible. Our Supply Chain Gateway Project will help them do just that.”

© Cumbria Chamber of Commerce

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