The government estimates decommissioning at Sellafield will cost £85bn ©PA Wire/PA Images
The government estimates decommissioning at Sellafield will cost £85bn ©PA Wire/PA Images

Firms compete for funding to clean up nuclear sites

3 August 2017

The government has awarded £750,000 to companies to develop technologies to decommission old nuclear sites.

The funding is part of a competition run by the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) to develop innovative ways to safely and quickly clear nuclear sites. The initial money will be given to 15 shortlisted teams, with a total of £3m being made available to the final winners.

Shortlisted companies include Amec Foster Wheeler and Costain.

Winning entries had to be able to assess nuclear facilities and their content, clear them and package highly radioactive waste for safe storage with minimal human exposure. Technologies being developed are said to include artificial intelligence, virtual reality, drones, lasers and specialist sensors.

“The NDA is continually seeking the best way to encourage new ideas from the supply chain and ensure everyone has an opportunity to get involved,” said Melanie Brownridge, head of technology at the NDA.

Brownridge added she was encouraged by the level of interest from organisations outside the nuclear sector, including those in the oil and gas, defence and space exploration industries.

To encourage innovation the NDA said it had modelled its competition on BBC show Dragon’s Den, where firms are asked to develop and pitch their technologies and business cases. 

A shortlist of 15 consortia has been drawn up, each of which will receive part of the funding to develop their initial ideas. The winning teams will receive additional funding, up to £1.5m each, to make their projects a reality.

The NDA wants the teams to develop technology that can be used for real-life decommissioning at Sellafield.

Decommissioning nuclear facilities is a slow and dangerous job that involves dismantling complex networks of contaminated pipes, vessels and miles of steelwork. 

The UK has numerous nuclear facilities that are coming to the end of their operational life and will need to be made safe. The Sellafield reprocessing site has 170 individual facilities alone. The government estimates it will cost £85bn to decommission.

The decommission of old nuclear power plants has been an on-going challenge for the UK. In March the NDA agreed to pay out a total of £97.5m to two firms after the high court found it had wrongly awarded contracts to UK’s first generation nuclear power plants. It also cancelled the contract with the winning consortium early. 

At the time, former energy secretary Chris Huhne estimated the cost of decommissioning old nuclear sites would total £161bn, and said the problem was that many early sites were made bespoke and with little consideration of how they would be dismantled. 

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