Nuclear decommissioning

Nuclear Decommissioning

“We only have one planet, with one ocean and one atmosphere”

David Schaffert is a senior consultant (engineering) for Magnox Ltd. He has been in his current job for 15 years.

David describes his working life – and why his job is in the public interest.

Magnox Ltd is one of four site licence companies working under contract for the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority and funded from the public purse.

As one of Magnox’s senior consultants, I work on a number of projects at various Magnox sites for which I am responsible. My role is to ensure that all nuclear safety aspects are adequately covered, including the legal requirement that risks are ‘As Low As Reasonably Practicable (ALARP).

These risks are quite different to what they used to be when each site had a fully operating nuclear power station. Making that transition has been something of a challenge for all concerned.

Most of our sites have now been defuelled, which means that 99% of the radioactive wastes have been taken away to Sellafield for treatment and storage – but the one per cent that remains is still quite a challenge.

It consists of a variety of items, in a variety of conditions, stored in a variety of locations (tanks, bunkers, vaults etc). All of these have to be retrieved, sorted and made ready for long-term storage and eventual disposal.

I don’t do the design work myself, but I do steer it a little – primarily to ensure that:

  • all risks are identified at as early a stage as possible

  • appropriate protections are put in place, and

  • ALARP principles are satisfied.

In this, I collaborate with other senior consultants who have similar responsibilities, but for the environmental aspects of each project (discharges, secondary wastes etc.). Each of us has to prepare and present structured arguments confirming what exactly is being done and why it is safe, compliant and reasonably cost-effective.

Serving the public interest

Decommissioning the Magnox sites is funded by the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority from the public purse.

The power stations on those sites gave great service to the public during their operating lives, but it would not serve the public interest to just ‘walk away’ from the resultant wastes.

These wastes exist whether we want them to or not, and they all have to be dealt with properly – while taking account of the current public purse and the potential future public liabilities.

I think everyone benefits from the work we do. The local benefit is that there is work to be done and people have to be employed to do it.

The national benefit is that public funds are spent cost-effectively and future liabilities are kept in check.

Internationally, we only have one planet, with one ocean and one atmosphere. Anything that is discharged will affect everyone sooner or later.

What would happen if your service was abolished?

It is difficult to see how the ex-Magnox wastes could be dealt with properly. Balancing risks and costs is not always easy and needs a fair bit of pragmatism – underwritten by years of experience.

If the service we provide was abolished, an increase in both public risk and public cost would be extremely likely. The ‘worst case scenario’ is that someone might be tempted to just walk away and hope for the best.

In that sense, one could say that we are the keepers of the public conscience.

Further information:

Nuclear Decommissioning Authority strategy

Under the 2004 Energy Act, the NDA has to review its strategy every five years. The review looks at the NDA’s strategic position and establishes and maintains the direction of activities across the sites in its estate.

You can read the impact assessment of its latest draft strategy here.

Socio-economic impact

The Energy Act also places a duty on the NDA to mitigate the socio-economic impact of its work programme in the communities where it operates.

Magnox, the NDA and the parent body organisation, Cavendish Fluor Partnership, work in partnership to ensure this duty is met.

As part of this, Magnox carried out a consultation exercise on its draft socio-economic plan for the Magnox estate 2016-2018.