Decommissioning – is this the Energy Industries Most Challenging Opportunity Yet?’

David Peattie, Chief Executive of the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority and keynote speaker at TotalDECOM 2018 – described to an international cross sector audience, the magnitude of the decommissioning journey ahead, he said; ‘it is arguably one of the most difficult and technical challenges in the world’.

Willem Van Es, Wood Plc, summed up the need for UK organisations to diversify on multiple levels in order to embrace the huge opportunity the international decommissioning legacy presents to UK businesses. Highlighting that ‘the world in front of us is nothing like the world behind us’.

This theme ran through the veins of TotalDECOM 2018 – the only event in the UK and internationally, that recognises the importance of industry cross over in the challenges and opportunities decommissioning poses across the globe.

The need for change and collaborative models, not only in cross sector working but in many other important aspects, including skills, gender diversity and human factors. All of these areas must be considered if we are to truly embrace the positive change required to decommission cost effectively, safely and with minimum impact to the environment, whilst providing optimal socio-economic benefit to the UK.

One thing that became increasingly clear as the conference progressed, is that this process of change towards a more collaborative cross sector approach is being realised right from the top – at government and policy making level.

Karl Sanderson, Assurance Manager, Nuclear Decommissioning Association, told event attendees in an exclusive address;

‘The UK now has more than £250 billion of decommissioning to undertake, collaboration across industry and government is essential to get costs down and maximise economic recovery’.

L-R Prof Paul Howarth – CEO of National Nuclear Laboratory, Alistair Dickinson – Chief Programme Director, Global Defence and International Programmes at AECOM, David Peattie – Chief Executive of the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority & Nils Cohrs – Head of Decommissioning of the Oil & Gas Authority.

David Peattie, Chief Executive of the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority and Nils Cohrs, Head of Decommissioning for the Oil & Gas Authority, shared the stage for the first time, using TotalDECOM 2018 as their chosen platform to announce the formal agreement of both parties to participate in a close working relationship. This arrangement will facilitate the vital sharing of knowledge and expertise from their sector specific experiences of decommissioning.

Initiatives are being developed in other areas such as training, academia and research & development, to ensure organisations and their workforce are offered the help they need to transfer their skills from one sector to the other.

This transferability and versatility within the industry will facilitate cost reduction, increased productivity, greater efficiency and a highly exportable skill set, that can be taken forward into the international marketplace, where the UK are already seen as leaders in the field of decommissioning.

The Bigger Picture for Decommissioning

The decom marketplace is still in its early stages. 200 oilfields will undergo decommissioning over the next 10 years which will require a programatic approach and involve specialist skills in similar areas to those used in nuclear.

The UK oil and gas decommissioning market is worth £60 billion and £180 billion will be spent on nuclear decommissioning over the coming years.

David Peattie, Chief Executive, Nuclear Decommissioning Authority said:

‘Technologies supported by the NDA, such as snake-arm robotics, are now being used to solve challenges in the oil and gas sector. While remotely operated vehicles from oil and gas are now being used to clean up hazardous nuclear facilities such as the legacy ponds at Sellafield.

The NDA is in the process of joining the trade body Oil and Gas UK and has contributed to a number of sessions to share learning from our work, and to establish best practice between oil and gas and nuclear in meeting our statutory and regulatory obligations.’

The sectors involved in decommissioning are going through what can be likened to a renaissance period, which is revitalising the area with new technology and innovation, enabling the industry to move forward with clarity and confidence.

Nils Cohrs, Head of Decommissioning for the Oil & Gas Authority reported that less than 10 percent of the total decommissioning requirement of the North Sea has been completed. He shared with the audience his thoughts on the solution – ‘we have got to look to other industries to transform cost challenges and drive down costs by at least 35 percent’.

The Oil and Gas sector is already seeing the benefits within its sector of incorporating standardisation and collaboration, which is having a significant impact on cost reduction. It is recognised by the nuclear sector that this approach needs to be adopted.

TotalDECOM being the only event of its kind globally attracted organisations from overseas, including an international delegation from Japan. Satoru Toyomoto, Director of International Issues for the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry presented on the current status of decommissioning Fukushima Daiichi in Japan. Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) was also represented by their UK Head of Nuclear. The Japanese delegation engaged readily with UK supply chain organisations that attended the event.

On liaising with the Japanese Delegation, Dick Bonner, UK Sales Manager of ZEP UK (who exhibited in the main hall) said;

‘We had a couple of great days, meeting with the Japanese visitors went really well, if we weren’t involved with TotalDECOM we would never get opportunities like that.’


Learning to Play with Different Tools 

A similar picture of cross sector collaboration emerged from the Skills and Human Factors conference stream on day two. The eminent international government advisor, Professor John Fyfe opened the well engaged session in which Dr Fiona Rayment OBE, Nuclear Skills Strategy Group and Alix Thom, Workforce Engagement & Skills Manager, Oil & Gas UK, discussed their plans to work much more closely on nuclear to oil and gas and oil and gas to nuclear skills.

Alix Thom, Oil & Gas UK said – ‘a mechanical engineer in nuclear, is a mechanical engineer in oil and gas, just playing with different pots & pans’.

Fiona Rayment talked about the work already in progress with employers, government departments, trade unions, authorities and industry associations, to address the skills shortages we are faced with in the era of an ageing workforce. Shared resources, collaboration and changes in approach is going to be instrumental in addressing this, which is both a challenge but also an enormous opportunity for employment and prosperity for the UK’s workforce – particularly in STEM, where a lot of work is being done to encourage uptake of apprenticeships and academia, where this area of expertise is in demand.

In the UK nuclear workforce alone the number has grown from 60,000 five years ago, to 88,000 today and is expected to grow to 101,000 by 2021.

The ECITB is also working with other sectors on a delivery programme for academic and vocational programmes and initiatives to enable sector transfer and the knowledge required to help the workforce jump sectors.

TotalDECOM demonstrated very clearly that change is beginning to filter from the top down and the message that came loud and clear, is that authorities and regulators, organisations large and small, students and employees – will all be getting the help they need to maximise the enormous opportunity the decommissioning market brings, as one of the UKs few predicted growth sectors, worth £billions over the coming years and decades.