Strategic Partnerships in Nuclear Decommissioning

Jan. 20, 2017


On Monday, January 16th 2017, the BCCJ hosted an event in association with the British Embassy's Department for International Trade (DIT) on strategic partnerships in nuclear decommissioning.

The audience heard directly from Roger Cowton, Head of External Affairs at Sellafield, and Masayuki Yamamoto of the Nuclear International Relations and Strategy Group at TEPCO, about how effective sharing of hands-on experience at various levels from senior management to operational areas has led to a deeper understanding of the approaches used by both companies bringing practical, technical and commercial benefits. They were joined by Dr Keith Franklin, from the UK’s National Nuclear Laboratory who has been working at the British Embassy in Tokyo since 2011, and the discussion was moderated by Leo Lewis, Tokyo Correspondent for the Financial Times, moderated the session

Cowton opened the session by highlighting that despite the need for decomissioning of the Sellafield and Fukushima dai-ichi plants rising from completely different circumstances - the former due to the accumulation of radioactive waste which was the product of experimenting in the 40s and 50s, and the latter due to the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami in March 2011 - both sites had many common challenges, such as radiation protection, environmental monitoring, waste management and stakeholder engagement.

Speaking about the mindset of the Sellafield site team, Cowton said it was very much a case of "it's better just to try something and find out if it works and if it doesn't, try something else. Doing nothing is not an option". Yamamoto admitted this was not an easy mindset for Japanese workers to adopt, but that there were many long-term staff at Fukushima dai-ichi who had a strong connection to the local comminuty and who were dedicated to successfully decomissioing the site. He added that TEPCO workers are aware that the Sellafield team are much further along in their decomissioning progress and hence many things were to be learned from them.

Cowton explained that the time frames for nuclear decomissioning were so long it's often diffcult for the public to understand what is actually being done, and that it is key for both companies to show that progress is being made. Currently it is estimated that decomissioing work at Sellafield will take just over 100 years, but new technologies are being constantly developed and so it is hoped that the time frame will become shorter.

The speakers added that the two organisations have been collaborating not just on the technical side of the decomissioning work, but also on enagement and relationships with stakeholders; local communities, governments, and other organisations. There is considerable knowledge-sharing between the two organisations, which is facilitated by frequent site visits between personnel, including employees from TEPCO observing the regular meetings Sellafield execuitves have with the local stakeholders and community groups.

The partnership, intended to last for many years and therefore deliver a wide range of sustainable opportunities, has already created opportunities for UK and Japanese companies to develop relationships, in some cases leading to commercial contracts.Cowton and Yamamoto spoke of how their close working relationship had led to a personal friendship and a great level of trust between the two organisations.

The issue of public mistrust of nuclear power since the accident at Fukushima remains an issue, and Dr Franklin equated the current public mood towards nuclear in Japan as similar to that in the UK around 20 years ago. However, greater awareness of climate change and energy security had led to a change in public opinion and he anticipated the same would happen in Japan: "Open and honest communication is key". He added that nuclear power was a necessary part of an "energy mix" and that any country should obtain its energy from a range of sources.

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