Support 100 years of independent journalism.

Advertorial feature by Sellafield Ltd
  1. Spotlight
26 November 2020updated 16 Sep 2021 4:49pm

A sustainable mission

Net zero is this century’s biggest challenge. But what can we learn from the scientists of the past? Mark Neate, environment, safety, and security director at Sellafield Ltd explains

By Mark Neate

The world’s first low-carbon power station sounds like a science fiction writer’s fantasy. But it was a reality of postwar Britain.

Calder Hall, at what is now Sellafield, opened in 1956. The world’s first commercial scale nuclear power station was famously predicted to produce electricity that would be, “too cheap to meter”. That dream never came true. But Calder Hall’s contribution to low-carbon energy production cannot be underestimated.

The distinctive four reactor Magnox design gave birth to Britain’s first generation of nuclear power stations. The 11-station fleet provided 10 per cent of the UK’s energy in the second half of the 20th century.

But they left behind a legacy.

The spent fuel, radioactive waste, and buildings associated with the early nuclear industry are now being decommissioned. With that comes a huge sustainability challenge.

Select and enter your email address Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. A weekly newsletter helping you fit together the pieces of the global economic slowdown. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. The New Statesman’s weekly environment email on the politics, business and culture of the climate and nature crises - in your inbox every Thursday. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A newsletter showcasing the finest writing from the ideas section and the NS archive, covering political ideas, philosophy, criticism and intellectual history - sent every Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how New Statesman Media Group may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.

Decommissioning does not mean simply wiping away the past. It involves construction and engineering projects on a grand scale. All of which create another legacy for the environment and future generations.

Despite our heritage of carbon-free technologies, the modern-day Sellafield site has a large carbon footprint. A gas-fired power plant provides our energy these days, our 17 major projects are significant consumers of materials, and our aging buildings are not as environmentally friendly as we expect modern facilities to be.

So, what are we doing about it?

As a subsidiary of the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA), we are committed to developing a sustainable approach to our work at the site. It starts with our goal to do our work safely. Keeping the site and its materials safe and secure and protecting the environment from harm are our overriding priorities.

One of the ways we are making Sellafield more safe and secure is by removing nuclear risks and hazards, including those posed by our oldest waste storage facilities. In the past, the value of Sellafield has been judged on the quantities of plutonium developed for the country’s atomic defence programme and then the amount of electricity produced to help keep lights on across the nation.

More recently our value was judged in revenue generated for UK plc through the reprocessing of used nuclear fuel. Today, our value at Sellafield is in creating a clean and safe environment for future generations.

As we move into a clean-up mission we need to increase the importance we place on sustainability and the environment, and we have committed to working to a set of sustainability principles to help guide our transition.

We recognise that our mission is intergenerational and all our decision-making considers how best to avoid placing additional burden on future generations. We take into account longer-term factors when making our business decisions. These include optimising the environmental, economic and social value of the solutions we deploy to reduce hazard and risk.

We also want to minimise our life cycle consumption of environmental resources by stimulating and supporting a lower carbon economy.

This year, the NDA group, including Sellafield Ltd, are collaborating on a project to establish a carbon reduction roadmap which supports our collective clean-up and waste management mission. For Sellafield Ltd, this means understanding what carbon reduction interventions we need to optimise our mission of hazard retirement while minimising detriment to the environment.

By undertaking our existing operations more efficiently and procuring lower-carbon materials in delivering our future missions, we can play our part in helping the UK to achieve its zero carbon ambition.

Creating a positive social impact means helping to create a diversified local economy, enabling thriving communities, encouraging access to sustainable incomes, and promoting a culture of value throughout our supply chain. From introducing social impact obligations into our procurements to making strategic investments to help tackle the root cause of issues faced in our communities, we are already making great strides towards these goals.

We are helping solve environmental challenges across the globe too. Beyond our site and our communities, we are keen to focus on the positive influence our work – and our supply chain – can have in addressing environmental remediation projects around the world.

We often find that the technology developed by our supply chain for our challenges at Sellafield has the potential for wider application.

By changing our approach to Intellectual Property, whereby it stays with the organisation that has developed innovative and technological solutions, we have helped them to sell their skills and expertise beyond Sellafield.

Helping businesses – from large corporations to small and medium sized enterprises – to access the growing multi-billion pound global decommissioning industry will, in turn, help to diversify local economies.

Our business, and the context we operate in, has changed considerably over recent years, most notably b the completion of reprocessing in the Thermal Oxide Reprocessing Plant in November 2018.

In this context, and driven by our ultimate mission of environmental remediation, it is the right time to refresh our corporate strategy and embed a sustainable approach.

Defining our approach and creating measurable sustainability targets will be done in line with the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals.

Topics in this article :