APPENDIX 5: VISIT TO THE NATIONAL NUCLEAR
LABORATORY (NNL), NUCLEAR DECOMMISSIONING AUTHORITY (NDA) AND
SELLAFIELD LTD |
18 July 2011
Members visiting: Lord Krebs (Chairman), Lord Broers,
Lord Crickhowell and Lord Willis of Knaresborough. In attendance:
Elisa Rubio (Clerk) and Rachel Newton (Policy Analyst). A second
visit by Lord Wade of Chorlton and Lord Jenkin of Roding took
place in September 2011.
National Nuclear Laboratory
Presentation by Professor Paul Howarth, Managing
Professor Howarth described the operation of NNL.
NNL was created in July 2008 and in April 2009 became a GoCo.
The duration of the contract was three years with the possibility
of extending the contract by one year and then another year. NNL
employs approximately 780 staff over six sites and has a turnover
of approximately £80 million. As a GoCo, NNL's operational
model was unique internationally in that it had no baseline funding
and therefore had to compete for all of its work. Vital work was
carried out at NNL to support safety cases for continued operation
of Magnox and AGR reactors, fuel processing facilities, waste
plants and transportation. NNL's main customers were Sellafield
UK, EDF Energy, the NDA, Magnox, MoD, Westinghouse, other Government
departments and agencies, and regulators.
Professor Howarth gave an overview of the R&D
roadmap work on which they were leading (on behalf of the ERP)
and NNL's proposed revised remit
to carry out more applied research of strategic need in the TRLs
between universities and industry. He described French plans for
advanced reactor deployment to 2060 and the timeline for deployment
of Generation III and IV reactors. France's first demonstrator
fast reactor was expected to become operational by 2021. Under
current plans, France would be self-sufficient in plutonium by
the end of the century due to their deployment of fast-breeder
reactors. French plans contrasted with UK plans which went only
up to 2025. The UK was one of the few countries that had demonstrated
a fast breeder reactor but we were not working on this technology
The question was raised as to why the UK industry
was not funding more R&D work. It was suggested those the
UK lacked a long-term strategy and vision for nuclear energy and
that industry would not make investments when the future of nuclear
energy in this country was unclear. Most companies involved in
the nuclear industry were international companies which could
invest in other countries that had better plans and visions.
Professor Howarth explained that a relatively small
annual investment of £20-£30 million a year in nuclear
R&D would position the UK on the world stage as a key player.
The investment could see a return on that investment by a factor
of 10 or 20 through leverage of international R&D programmes.
He also explained that NNL was in discussions with
the CEA in France and laboratories in the United States about
working in partnership and gaining access to their facilities
for research. NNL was currently conducting an internal review
which would look at whether there was sufficient demand to enable
the Phase 3 laboratory to be commissioned as part of the overall
requirements for highly active R&D facilities in the UK, including
the use of the Windscale Laboratory.
Professor Howarth said that, at present, two PhD
students from Manchester University were carrying out research
at the Central Laboratory. Each summer they hosted a dozen students
at NNL facilities, but agreeing access arrangements could be complicated
because of site licence requirements. They also had their own
intake of graduates each year and were currently sponsoring around
20 case award students. NNL had a number of formal visiting roles
at universities including 12 visiting professors and six teaching
Presentation by Leigh Wakefield, Facilities and
Mr Wakefield gave an overview of the Windscale Laboratory
facility, a unique strategic asset in the UK, capable of handling
irradiated nuclear fuel for post-irradiation examination. The
facility had applications for all ongoing operational safety programmes.
Windscale Laboratory consisted of a network of interlinked caves
installed in the 1970s, as part of the Windscale Piles infrastructure.
The NDA owned the facility with Sellafield Ltd as landlord and
site license holder. NNL was the tenant and operator of the facility.
The facility had suffered from a lack of investment for over 10
years which had resulted in a reduction in reliability of the
facility. The combined long-term investment from NNL, Sellafield
Ltd and the NDA would return the facility to full operational
capability in five years. The operational cost of the facility
was £10 million a year.
Tour of NNL
The facilities at NNL Central Laboratory were divided
into three categories or 'Phases' according to their capabilities:
Phase 1 to carry out desk-based assessments, non-active experimental
work and low and medium radioactive R&D including work with
plutonium; Phase 2, alpha generating radioactive materials and
and larger quantities (kilogrammes) of plutonium; and Phase 3,
to handle high alpha and gamma material including spent fuel and
higher active nuclear waste in various forms.
Phase 1 facilities
Most of the work undertaken within Phase 1 laboratories
and offices was non-active experimental work, low-level radioactive
R&D and desk-based research. Manchester University had an
agreement to bring in students to work at NNL but the complexity
of the ownership of NNL made the laboratories difficult to access.
At present the laboratories were being used about 40% of the time
although, on average, use tended to be about 55% of the time.
Phase 2 facilities
Phase 2 is currently being commissioned and was designed
to undertake research on advanced fuel manufacturing and work
related to the MOX plant. The facility will be used initially
to carry out research on plutonium storage, treatment of residues
and to study the behaviour of material currently in a poor condition.
An example was also given of how americium decay
products removed from plutonium could be used by the European
Space Agency to produce fuel for the space programme.
Phase 3 facilities
The Phase 3 facility could handle higher radioactive
materials in significant quantities as well as providing the necessary
environment to carry out advanced fuel cycle R&D. The facility
is unique internationally because the five boxes in which experiments
were carried out were retractable. Once an experiment had been
completed, the box could be removed to be cleaned, and a new one
put in. It was also a facility which could allow technical underpinning
work to be carried out to support the programme on the deep geological
disposal of radioactive waste.
The Phase 3 facility have been in "care and
maintenance" mode for five years. NNL were currently discussing
with other companies in the UK and internationally the possibility
of forming a consortium to commission and use the facilities.
If the discussions were successful, this consortium would not
be formed until the later part of 2012 and there were concerns
about the funding for the "care and maintenance" of
the facility until then. Commissioning the Phase 3 facilities
would take three to five years in order to allow testing to be
carried out. If, after 12-18 months, a consortium could not be
formed, "care and maintenance" work would cease and
the facility would be "mothballed".
Nuclear Decommissioning Authority
Presentation by Stephen Henwood, Chairman
Mr Henwood gave an overview of the NDA. He described
its mission and preferred Government efforts to deliver risk and
hazard reduction and to accelerate the decommissioning programme
and clean-up (particularly for high hazard material). £1.5
billion a year was spent by the NDA at Sellafield. This was over
50% of total NDA spend. As a result of cutbacks in the Spending
Review, NDA had scaled down the magnox programme, reducing staffing
levels by 10%.
The research commissioned by NDA was "needs
driven". The NDA now had sufficient knowledge to make progress
with the Managing Radioactive Waste Programme. They were currently
supporting the Phase 2 facilities which was, in their view, necessary
to carry out research to meet their needs. Their need for the
Phase 3 facilities was unclear, given that the Windscale Laboratory
could handle higher active wastes if necessary.
Mr Henwood told the Committee that NDA had sufficient
research capacity available to them, within the UK and internationally,
to deliver decommissioning and clean up activities.
Tour of MOX Plant (SMP)
Since SMP had become operational in 2001, the plant
had produced a total of 15 tonnes of MOX fuel instead of the 70
tonnes a year which it was designed to produce. New working processes
were being introduced to increase capacity to 15 tonnes a year.
Tour of Thermal Oxide Reprocessing Plant (THORP)
THORP reprocessed around 450 tonnes a year of nuclear
fuel from AGRs and LWRs from around the world. Their current commercial
contracts extended to 2018.
Spent fuel had a life of five years inside a reactor.
The spent fuel was cooled on site for 100 days and then transported
to Sellafield. There it would be cooled for five years and reprocessed.
For new plants, under a once-through fuel cycle, the fuel would
not need to be reprocessed before long-term disposal.
474 NRD 60 Back
In August 2011, the NDA announced that the MOX plant would be
closed down at the earliest practical opportunity following a
decline in orders from their sole Japanese client after the Fukushima