Nuclear decommissioning: what it is and how we do it

Nuclear decommissioning: what it is and how we do it

When people hear the term ‘marine engineering’, it’s natural to think of coastal protection and construction and repairs to bridges and small structures above and below the waterline.  In fact, our jobs range from small scour works to save structural integrity or temporary works to aid railway companies to get service back to normal as soon as possible.  We also undertake large and complex projects, such as elements of nuclear decommissioning – at Kaymac Marine. Kaymac have been contracted for marine civil works for commissioning and decommissioning on a number of Power Stations sites across the UK, including; Magox sites, Oldbury Power Station, Hinkley point A & B, Trawsfynydd as well as Pembroke and Chelsea Power Station.  


What is nuclear decommissioning?

When a power company decides to close a nuclear power plant permanently, the facility must be decommissioned by safely removing it from service and reducing residual radioactivity to a level that allows the property to be deconstructed safely with as little risk to its surroundings.  Essentially, decommissioning a nuclear power plant involves large teams to safely and securely clean up nuclear sites and radioactive materials

Nuclear power has amazing potential; in the early 90s, power stations produced up to 10% of Britain’s electricity.  Now, we receive 21% of our energy from 15 reactors across the UK without increasing carbon emissions.

Whys is nuclear decommissioning important?

As we have learned from the 1980s disaster at Reactor 4 in Chernobyl, nuclear power can be as devastating as it is beneficial.  It comes as no surprise, then, that the public conception of nuclear power is frightening – it’s a hotly debated and polarised topic when discussing energy production.

Nuclear decommissioning happens at the end of the life stage of a nuclear power station.  It involves removing spent fuel, or ‘defueling’, from the nuclear reactors.  The spent fuel is then stored on-site, usually for several years, to allow it to cool and decay down.  The fuel is then transported off-site for reprocessing, leaving the site ready to be rid of its radioactive elements.

What does marine engineering have to do with nuclear decommissioning?

Kaymac Marine works with various energy providers to ensure that continual energy supplies successfully traverse our island nation.  Unlike thermoelectric power, nuclear power plants emit a huge amount of heat, not all of which can be converted into electricity, therefore the reactors require cooling systems.  Our coastlines and the cool waters provide the perfect positions for nuclear solutions without damaging the environment; seawater is run through the condensers and then discharged back a few degrees warmer.

To ensure that the decommissioning process is as risk-free as possible, Kaymac Marine is on hand with a range of services to help decommission the nuclear asset safely and ensure environmental de-risk.

The right engineering solutions are vital to the success of the decommissioning process.  As part of a larger site management team, Kaymac Marine is able to offer intelligent engineering solutions to the complex challenges surrounding harmful waste materials, such as dredging and water separation solutions, removal of residuals and debris, and crucial safety and environmental services.

As well as decommissioning services, we also offer marine engineering solutions for active nuclear power plants along Britain’s coastline.  We offer sustainable and environmentally conscious cofferdam and fish deterrent solutions to help keep fish out of the cooling water intakes – an important solution for keeping fish safe in our waters and to ensure the efficacy of the water system at the reactor.

Kaymac Marine are proud to have been involved in designing, creating and installing these systems at the largest gas-fired power station in Europe, Pembroke Power Station – see our case study here.