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Advertorial feature by Sellafield Ltd
  1. Spotlight on Policy
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.

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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.