Decommissioning: All in it together

3 September 2020

Sharing decommissioning best practice between oil and gas, offshore wind and nuclear facilities has yielded promising areas for future work in the UK, Jeremy Gordon reports

Above: Wylfa Nuclear Power station in Anglesey (Photo credit: LightArty/


THE UK DEVELOPED BOTH CIVIL nuclear power and offshore oil and gas production early so it is facing their complex decommissioning challenges before others. The earliest offshore wind facilities are adding to the decommissioning workload and industry is under pressure to complete all this efficiently in terms of time and cost.

A process to stimulate cross-industry learning was facilitated over the last year by TotalDECOM, taking in six workshops from October 2018 to November 2019. A typical workshop had representatives from layers of government, regulators, authorities, operators, tier 1 & 2 of the supply chain, SMEs, academia, consultancies, trade associations and others. TotalDECOM published some early conclusions in its report, Decommissioning Learnings – Sharing Good Practice Across Industrial Sectors.

Commonalities across the sectors include, “the need for technologies that let us remotely access hazardous areas and approaches to regulation to things like culture, leadership and project management,” said David Peattie, CEO of the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA).

He noted that, “It is important that our industries work together to share lessons learned, swap tools and techniques and build a cross-industry supply chain and exportable UK expertise.”

The workshops clarified the alarming scale of nuclear industry cost and schedule over-runs: “Costs triple and timescales double on average compared to original estimates. Some projects have over-run on cost by a factor of 10 and been delivered a decade late.” This is because, “Mega projects do not just go slightly wrong, but fail in disproportionately costly ways,” particularly when planned on the aggressive schedules required to mitigate nuclear risks in some old facilities.

The root causes were “often predictable” and were “rooted in matters such as: inadequate definition and preparation; late changes in strategy and scope; gaps in project basic data” as well as schedule aggressiveness.

Among the responses was a benchmarking database by the UK Oil & Gas Authority for decommissioning projects, which encouraged the sharing of lessons learned between operators. The report says that nuclear sector players plan a similar database.

Another area for work would be scope aggregation and contractor alignment: sharing experience by putting together work campaigns that allow learnings and entire teams could be leveraged from project to project. Some scope aggregation is already taking place: a fleet approach to Magnox decommissioning enables learnings on one project to roll into the next. Sellafield’s Project and Programme Partners (PPP) model is set to deliver £7 billion of projects over the next 10 years. This makes a break from Sellafield’s previous tendency to approach the market with a prescribed solution, which reduced contractors’ opportunities for innovation. PPP is a partnership approach that aims to have a single integrated team from the outset: a single project delivery team, a single outcome, with a single agreed target price and a focus on delivery.

Conversely, decommissioning in UK oil and gas is being carried out by multiple operators in a competitive framework, which is not delivering value and limits the scope for aggregation. The learnings from the nuclear sector might provide direction for oil and gas operators, which the report noted, “neither want, nor need a competitive edge in decommissioning, but rather consider that cross-operator collaboration is essential in driving value and resolving the common challenges they face.”

Commonality in terms of standards would be a foundation for domestic aggregation as well as potential exports and work by the Nuclear Engineering Directors Forum, the National Nuclear Laboratory and BSI Group (also known as the British Standards Institution) was recognised as good practice. Two priorities now are map current standards groups and how they contribute to standards overall, and to establish whether it is feasible to create a Nuclear Industry Standards Body, following an example from water company lobby group Water UK.

The civil nuclear and oil and gas industries were natural partners to launch this learning initiative, said Karl Sanderson, head of cross-industry learning at the NDA, as they both face large decommissioning bills, long decommissioning timescales and are only around 10-15% into their missions. “They also place a large burden on taxpayers and have been challenged by government to reduce costs;” Sanderson added, “20% in nuclear from nearly £150 billion and 35% from £60 billion in oil and gas.”

This year should see more cross-industry engagements on exportable UK expertise, sustainable regional economies, governance and assurance, designing for decommissioning, and safety in on-shore demolition and dismantling. There will also be a workshop on achieving decommissioning work CO2 free in line with net-zero goals. “Working together, we stand a better chance,” said Sanderson.

Author information: Jeremy Gordon, Director, Fluent in Energy

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