The Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR) has found that challenges remain within the UK’s nuclear industry for the management of ageing facilities – although inspections have shown welcome recent improvements.
ONR has today published a 47-page report looking at how the nuclear sector manages ageing plants and facilities to ensure the necessary standards of safety and security are maintained.
The Chief Nuclear Inspector’s themed inspection on the management of ageing facilities has brought to light variations between licensees in performance for managing ageing assets – and while there were many examples of good practice – significant challenges still need to be addressed.
A series of targeted ONR inspections, carried out during a period of five months, focused specifically on the management of ageing facilities, with five licensees selected as a representative sample of the industry.
They were the Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE Plc), in Aldermaston and Burghfield, Berkshire, EDF Energy Nuclear Generation Limited, at Sizewell B Power Station in Suffolk, Devonport Royal Dockyard Ltd (DRDL) in Plymouth, Magnox Limited, at Hinkley Point A in Somerset, and Sellafield Ltd, in Cumbria.
At AWE, the company responsible for the manufacture and maintenance of the UK’s nuclear deterrent, progress has been made in ageing facilities management and the site remains in a safe condition, but evidence of its sustained effectiveness of ageing management is now needed.
ONR is satisfied that AWE is committed to ongoing learning from when it has recognised a potential risk associated with ageing plant and equipment, but the proactive measures required to mitigate or prevent the risk from materialising were not always delivered in a timely manner.
At Devonport Royal Dockyard Limited (DRDL), in Plymouth, the primary maintenance and refuel facility for the UK’s nuclear submarines, ONR inspectors noted efforts and progress towards improving arrangements for the management of ageing facilities, observing some good practices and knowledgeable personnel.
However, challenges exist, organisationally and practically, for the implementation of a sustainable programme for managing ageing facilities, and difficulties have arisen, stemming from putting in place a plan retrospectively.
There is an opportunity for DRDL to begin to realise the benefits of early and continued integration of ageing management into its new infrastructure projects, such as the 10-dock programme.
At Sizewell B Power Station, Suffolk, the UK’s only civil pressurised water reactor (PWR), and newest of the EDF fleet, ONR’s inspectors judged that EDF had demonstrated it has mature arrangements in place for the management of ageing facilities and experienced personnel to implement them.
At Hinkley Point A, in Somerset, a non-operational site, which ceased power generation in 2000 and now in the process of decommissioning, ONR concluded arrangements were adequate, with the licensee Magnox Ltd encouraged to be increasingly ‘self-aware and proactive’ to address challenges that remain, particularly in relation to management of on-site security assets.
At Sellafield, in Cumbria, where retrievals from legacy facilities, remediation activities, and ongoing storage is now its predominant daily work, the management of ageing facilities remains a challenge due to the range of nuclear operations conducted at this site, across many decades, which has left legacy facilities of varying condition.
However, Sellafield’s arrangements and their implementation and effectiveness, were deemed to be meet required standards for safety-related assets, although some areas for improvement were identified and will be tracked through to completion by ONR.
The inspections also highlighted examples of security assets not being integrated into Sellafield Limited’s arrangements for the management of ageing facilities. This has led to an enforcement letter being issued to ensure Sellafield Ltd addresses the shortfalls identified.
Across all the sites visited, ONR found that a common challenge for licensees was ensuring the sustainability of the capability and skills needed for the effective ageing management of facilities, with improved knowledge transfer essential to prevent risks of knowledge and experience diminishing and rare skill sets being lost, if not passed on and shared within organisations.
Within today’s report, ONR has also stressed the importance of putting in place sustainable funding models to deliver the resources necessary to avoid potential shortfalls.
Mark Foy, ONR’s Chief Nuclear Inspector, said: “This themed inspection was a key element of our wider strategy of influencing improvements against our regulatory priorities, and, while examples of good practice exist across sites, there is still a need for improvements, focused specifically on the management of ageing facilities.
“The evidence gained during our inspections has been invaluable, and it has identified a series of common challenges that provide a real opportunity for the nuclear industry to continue to learn and improve upon.
“The scale of the challenge presented by ageing facilities necessitates action and we look forward to tracking licensees progress in these areas.”