Office for Nuclear Regulation

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A review by the Health and Safety Executive's Nuclear Installations Inspectorate of the strategy of Amersham plc for the decommissioning of its nuclear sites

Introduction

This report sets out the findings of a review by the Health and Safety Executive's (HSE) Nuclear Installations Inspectorate (NII), in consultation with the Environment Agency (EA), of the strategy of Amersham plc for decommissioning its nuclear licensed sites. NII is that part of HSE responsible for the regulation of safety on nuclear licensed sites, including radioactive waste management and decommissioning activities. The EA regulates the disposal of radioactive waste from the nuclear sites.

Government policy, set down in the 1995 White Paper "Review of Radioactive Waste Management Policy: Final Conclusions", Cm 2919 [1], requests nuclear operators to draw up strategies for the decommissioning of their redundant plant, including justification of the timetables proposed and the adequacy of the financial provision. Government policy is for HSE, in consultation with the environment agencies, to review these strategies on a quinquennial basis to ensure they remain soundly based. This review is one of the series that HSE is undertaking for the UK nuclear licensees.

Amersham has provided HSE with a document [2] presenting a summary of its decommissioning strategy; enquiries concerning that document should be made to the licensee.

Background

Amersham plc, formerly Nycomed Amersham plc, is a public company specialising in the development, manufacture and supply of radioisotopes and technology for use in medicine, biotechnology, drug discovery and other applications. It operates four nuclear licensed sites at (i) Little Chalfont, Buckinghamshire, (ii) Cardiff and (iii & iv) within the UKAEA site at Harwell.

(i) Grove Centre (formerly Amersham Laboratories)

The Grove Centre contains around 30 buildings. Some of these buildings contain facilities for the manufacture of the radioisotope products that the company specialises in, other buildings house the radioactive waste management, health physics and administrative support for the site.

(ii) Maynard Centre (formerly Cardiff Laboratories)

The Maynard Centre contains 12 buildings. Four of the buildings contain facilities for the production of, and research on, specialist radiochemical, and non-radiochemical, compounds, other buildings house the radioactive waste management and support functions for the site.

(iii&iv) Harwell

Amersham currently leases two buildings on the UKAEA Harwell site, and it holds a separate nuclear site licence for each building. One of the buildings is in the process of being decommissioned and the other is an operating radioactive waste management and source refurbishment facility.

Amersham has based its decommissioning strategy on a five-year rolling plan of work. The plan is reviewed annually and Amersham believes the approach is flexible enough to meet current and future requirements.

Amersham expects the Grove Centre and Maynard Centre sites to continue commercial operation for the foreseeable future. The Grove Centre, which has been working with radioactive materials since the 1940s, contains some redundant radioactively contaminated plant. Amersham has an ongoing programme to decommission these plant areas, some have been completed and a number of others are being worked on. For the operating facilities the approach is to respond to evolving activities by decontaminating existing plant for re-use in further production.

The two facilities at Harwell are leased from UKAEA. The first building contains shutdown facilities and Amersham expects to complete decommissioning within the next two years. The second building contains radioactive waste management and source refurbishment facilities. When operations cease Amersham plans to decommission this building within a period of three years. Following the decommissioning of each building, Amersham aims to arrange for the transfer of the sites back to UKAEA.

Amersham currently makes use of authorised disposal routes for the low level radioactive wastes that arise at its sites, these routes include commercial incineration services and Drigg. Intermediate level waste, for which there is no disposal route, is packaged for long-term passive safe storage on the Grove Centre and Maynard Centre sites.

In undertaking these reviews HSE aims to assess the proposed decommissioning strategy to determine whether it is adequately comprehensive, technically practicable and appropriately timed. In particular it considers whether the strategy is consistent with Government policy that 'decommissioning should be undertaken as soon as it is reasonably practicable to do so, taking account of all relevant factors', and also that the 'hazards presented by the plant (or site) are reduced in a systematic and progressive way'. It also considers whether arrangements are in place to quantify the costs of decommissioning and to make available funds to undertake the work to the proposed timescales in order to assess 'the adequacy of the financial provision being made to implement the strategy'.

HSE has based this review on the information in the document [2], provided by Amersham, describing its decommissioning strategy, together with the outcome of discussions held with its staff. The EA has been consulted throughout the review.

Technical Assessment

Amersham has prepared a strategy, which describes the actions being taken to progress decommissioning on its nuclear licensed sites. The basis for the strategy is a five-year rolling plan, which is a good means of identifying and planning for work in the short and medium term. HSE is also aware that Amersham has considered decommissioning work beyond the five-year horizon. HSE expects Amersham to include details of the longer-term approach in the next issue of its strategy, which should also include consideration of the end-point of decommissioning on its sites.

The production facilities on the Amersham sites are not complex and consist mainly of fume cupboards, glove boxes, shielded boxes, remote manipulators and associated ventilation and radioactive waste management systems. As a result HSE has no reason to believe that decommissioning of the facilities now, or in the future, will present any significant technical challenges. The approach of decontaminating plant that can be re-used for future production is good radioactive waste management practice and will reduce the future decommissioning liabilities. The provision of facilities for the long- term passive safe storage of radioactive waste, for which there is no disposal route, is also good practice. Amersham has in place authorisations that allow it to dispose of its low level radioactive wastes.

With respect to timing, Amersham is currently carrying out some decommissioning and if the work continues to progress as at present, then no significant delays should be introduced. As a result HSE considers the strategy to be consistent with Government policy that decommissioning should be carried out as soon as reasonably practicable. Amersham currently expects production on its Grove Centre and Maynard Centre sites to continue for the foreseeable future, but should this not be the case, and earlier closure is necessary, then the strategy is flexible enough to be revised at any time. HSE believes that the current programme of work to address the redundant facilities is consistent with reducing the hazard in a systematic and progressive way.

Financial Assessment

Amersham assesses the cost of its decommissioning liabilities on the basis of its own experience of managing such projects supported by knowledge of best practice in related industries. More detailed analysis of costs is developed for each project as it moves towards implementation. All projects are funded from the company's decommissioning provisions. HSE is aware that Amersham includes provision in its accounts for decommissioning liabilities extending beyond the five-year horizon. Taking account of the scale of the liabilities, and the company's financial resources, the arrangements for costing and funding for decommissioning appear to HSE to be soundly based.

Conclusions

HSE regards the strategy proposed by Amersham for decommissioning at its Grove Centre, Maynard Centre and Harwell nuclear sites to be appropriate at this time. It is technically practicable, the timescales are in line with Government policy and the company is actively decommissioning its redundant plant. The company's arrangements for costing and funding for decommissioning appear to HSE to be soundly based.

References

[1] Review of Radioactive Waste Management Policy - Final Conclusions, UK Government Cm 2919, HMSO 1995.

[2] Nycomed Amersham plc, Decommissioning Strategy Quinquennial Review, AR Webb, W:ESWP116:15701:ARW:TKG, November 1998.


Published on HSE website 22 May 2002