The UK Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) said it is working with the National Decommissioning Centre (NDC) on research to support the energy sector. “Bridging the oil and gas and nuclear decommissioning sectors, the partnership identifies shared opportunities by drawing on the expertise and insights gained in each area and supports research in several key areas of mutual interest,” NDA noted.

This includes the development of AI [artificial intelligence] based techniques to support risk management, sharing new technology development, analysing impact on the economy and environment and finding environmentally safe alternatives to cement. NDC is developing an underwater laser cutter for oil and gas decommissioning and one partnership project delivered a review on the applicability of this to nuclear decommissioning.

In addition, an AI enabled risk live dashboard has been developed for monitoring real-time global news to evaluate how international events can impact the nuclear industry in the short or long term. It will be used to help risk analysts in their day-to-day jobs by scanning vast amounts of information quickly, allowing more time to identify, consider and respond to potential risks.

“We are tasked with decommissioning the UK’s oldest nuclear sites safely, securely, sustainably and cost effectively. The real strength in the partnership is that there are numerous areas where we can collaborate to help us achieve this,” said Heather Barton, Interim Environment, Health & Safety Director, who coordinates the partnership on behalf of the NDA.

She added that it had been a resounding success since it was launched with several key outcomes already achieved including providing impartial insights to regulators, government, stakeholders, and advisory groups. “By utilising technology and innovation, we can create a safer working environment for our employees, return our sites to communities for reuse earlier, and leave a more sustainable legacy for generations to come.”

The partnership is also undertaking an economic impact study looking at the socioeconomic benefits of decommissioning at a local and national level and the possible impacts and benefits for associated communities. “Analysis shows decommissioning activity has the potential to deliver economy-wide gains in key areas such as skills, employment, and household income, which in turn boost household consumption.” Barton noted.

The study will support stakeholder engagement helping to inform politicians and policy makers on key opportunities and enable discussions around support for skills, training and economic development to back decommissioning activities.

“Bringing the NDC and NDA together has allowed for collaboration in new ways to achieve our joint goals of delivering safe, efficient and sustainable decommissioning,” said NDC Project Delivery Manager Dr Sergi Arnau. NDC has a culture of innovation in research and development “and we are looking forward to continuing to successfully harness the skills and capabilities available through the partnership,” he added.

Expertise gathered from years of oil and gas drilling exploration will prove beneficial in the development of an underground storage facility for radioactive waste disposal. For year three of the partnership and beyond, a project to enhance the autonomous capabilities of underwater remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) used during the inspection and maintenance of nuclear ponds is envisaged.