Dounreay’s Jillian Bundy has returned from a three-day visit to Ukraine where she joined other international experts at a workshop on training to decommission the Chernobyl nuclear power plant.
Jillian was one of four foreign speakers invited by the International Atomic Energy Agency to share their experience of decommissioning nuclear sites with their hosts.
Four reactors were built at Chernobyl. Reactor no. 4 exploded in April 1986. The other three reactors were shut down between 1991 and 2000 and efforts are now focussed on preparing for their decommissioning.
The conference – held in Slavutych, a new town built about 50km from Chernobyl to house people displaced by the exclusion zone around the plant – explored the training and development programmes needed to decommission a nuclear power plant.
The IAEA invited experts from the UK, Germany, USA and Lithuania to share their own experiences of successful decommissioning.
At Dounreay, the third and final reactor shut down in 1994 and the last fuel plant closed in 2004. Today, the entire site is being cleaned out and demolished in a £2.6bn project funded by the UK Nuclear Decommissioning Authority.
“Decommissioning isn’t so much about reskilling – the skills needed to decommission a nuclear plant are pretty similar to those need to operate it. It’s about the mindset that goes with it,” explained Jillian, training and development manager at Dounreay Site Restoration Ltd.
“It can be difficult for people to make the adjustment, to become enthusiastic about dismantling something they may have spent their life building up.
“This can be especially true in areas where the plant is the economic mainstay. People can become fearful of what decommissioning will mean economically and socially to their families and neighbourhood.
“So it’s essential to develop a culture that sees decommissioning as a long-term opportunity to develop new expertise and the prospect of prosperity beyond the clean-up.
“Dounreay has been through the transition from operations to decommissioning.
“The mindset today is different from what it was a decade or so ago when the first proper decommissioning plan was published.
“There is a real sense of purpose around a clear vision – of reducing and destroying major chemical and radiological hazards that pose a risk to the community and leaving the site in a condition that will be safe for future generations.
“We’ve destroyed more than 1.6 million litres of liquid metal, demolished over 160 facilities and processed thousands of tonnes of scrap as radioactive waste.
“We set ourselves a goal of becoming the best-performing site closure company in the UK by making every pound work harder to reduce the hazard faster."
The next transition is from decommissioning to site closure.
“I explained how we are supporting local development agencies to put in place the infrastructure needed to regenerate the local economy and sustain the area when the site has closed," added Jillian.
"We’ve put in place programmes to help workers begin planning now for their eventual exit.
“There is a confidence, both in your own ability and the marketability of the area to inward investors, that comes from successfully taking apart a complex site like this.
"My message to the people at Chernobyl was to be inspired by the opportunities that come with decommissioning, not to be afraid of them."