It is clear that nuclear science holds the keys to advancing many areas of our lives and can help governments and industry to create a better planet for us all.
But it is not straightforward. The current and – importantly – future adoption of a greater breadth of advanced nuclear technologies presents challenges that must be addressed.
A critical component for benefiting from nuclear is our ability to ensure that the sector’s sites, technologies and materials remain secure.
NNL already makes a considerable contribution to this, maintaining the security of complex nuclear sites and mitigating the risks of proliferation – both of materials and technologies.
Beyond our specialist expertise across the full fuel cycle, we have decades of experience in managing national infrastructure capable of handling some of the most challenging nuclear material in the world.
This combination of capabilities, which is unique to the world, enables us not just to ensure the security of our own infrastructure, it also means we are able to benefit the UK government and our intergovernmental partners.
By making the most of the UK’s 70 years of expertise we enable the peaceful use of nuclear technologies, including the development and use of new small and advanced reactors. As their use increases globally, demand for our long established expertise will grow.
So it is in the national interest to build our capability to be at the global forefront of advice and best practice.
To support this, we will invest in our knowledge base and talent to ensure that the UK has the capabilities and people needed for existing and future nuclear programmes. This means working with government, UK nuclear and beyond the sector to identify challenges and opportunities and drive thought diversity.
In step with the government’s Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy, Global Britain in a Competitive Age, we are putting in place targeted investments in core science, innovation and cutting-edge research programmes to help sustain the UK’s strategic advantage. Leading from the front, we will identify and respond to new and emerging threats, helping to meet challenges here and across the globe.
And in pushing the boundaries of our own capabilities here at NNL, we will establish key UK and international partnerships to help strengthen and influence essential safeguarding efforts worldwide.
Expert contribution on the global stage
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is the world’s centre for cooperation in the nuclear field, promoting the safe, secure and peaceful use of nuclear technology. Its independent verification work allows it to play an indispensable role in preventing the spread of nuclear weapons.
But the field of nuclear verification never stands still.
With rising global demand for nuclear technology for peaceful purposes, the number of facilities and quantity of material to be safeguarded continues to grow. And for the IAEA’s work in this area to remain relevant, its safeguards need to remain at the forefront of emerging developments.
Leading the UK Support Programme
NNL leads a national team effort, on behalf of government, to provide a structured programme of voluntary support and expertise to the IAEA, in coordination with equivalent programmes from other Member States. Support provided ranges from enabling IAEA personnel to be trained at our unique, nuclear-licensed sites, through to analysis of samples taken during inspections, and access to our world-leading fuel cycle expertise.
Designated Collaborating Centre
In 2020, NNL was the first ever UK institution to be designated as a Collaborating Centre by the IAEA. The new Centre that has resulted now provides a global hub of expertise on the Advanced Fuel Cycle, a field of increasing importance as recognition grows of the vital role advanced nuclear technologies have to play in achieving deep decarbonisation of the energy system.
Safeguarding our vital physical assets: Central Laboratory
Among NNL’s unique combination of facilities is our flagship Central Laboratory, housed within the Sellafield site. A state-of-the-art facility, it is the most advanced for nuclear research in the world.
Due to its significant capabilities, the laboratory is critical to the UK’s plutonium stewardship programme. To permit these operations, the facility underwent a programme of security enhancements, and subsequently a Nuclear Site Security Plan submission to meet the Office for Nuclear Regulation’s (ONR) new Security Assessment Principles (SyAPs). This framework represented a shift to an outcome based regulation model, with greater reliance on site operators to internally assess and assure that they meet the required performance.
Through this comprehensive programme of work, our dedicated project team engaged with a broad range of stakeholders, including Sellafield Ltd, other duty holders, the Civil Nuclear Constabulary (CNC) and ONR, to successfully deliver and implement the new Nuclear Site Security Plans. The capability and knowledge we have gained from the process has added value to our long-term management of the laboratory and to the nationally strategic capability and programmes it enables. NNL has since shared our learnings and best practice with UK and international industry partners, so that others across the sector can also benefit.
As a lasting impact at Central Laboratory, we have been able to incorporate the experience into the engineering design phase of the Replacement Analytical Project (RAP) – a new facility that will see the laboratory become the home of essential analytical services towards the operation of Sellafield and delivery of its legacy waste management mission. This early integration will deliver against the principle of secure by design, a shift in approach which ensures security and regulatory requirements are built in from the start – saving time and money at future stages of the project.
“There’s a great sense of satisfaction at NNL that what you’re doing is making a difference. I didn’t know much about the nuclear sector before I joined it, but I was drawn to NNL’s sense of purpose and this has only grown with the extent of the climate crisis.”Ismaeel Patel
Electrical Design Engineer
Ismaeel Patel, joined our Apprenticeship Scheme as an Electrical Design Engineer in 2014 and was seconded to our security team last year:
“When I look back at being 18 and joining NNL, I had just made the difficult decision between university and an apprenticeship. I’m so glad I took the route I did. It wasn’t as common at the time but it’s good to see more young people taking up a broader range of pathways to suit them.
More recently, when an opportunity came up with the security team, I jumped at the chance. Security modelling was a new area of work for me, but you quickly understand that every project hinges on how safe and secure we can make these sites. I could see the difference my work was making. Whether for NNL’s own facilities, or for our customers, our vulnerability assessments are essential for minimising risk.
By applying scenario modelling and innovative thinking, we can also identify opportunities for potentially significant cost savings, which over the lifetime of a project can amount to tens of millions of pounds.
For new nuclear technologies, this takes on completely new dimensions. You have to consider something that doesn’t exist yet. As part of the Rolls-Royce led UK SMR consortium, our team has been looking at the concept of a small modular reactor facility and what protective arrangements would need to be in place. Doing this well will position UK SMR as a world-leading, competitively priced solution for the provision of safe and secure clean energy.
The wind is not always blowing and the sun’s not always shining; we need nuclear to be part of a renewable energy mix.
That’s why I’m so keen to work with schools and educate young people about the possibilities of a career in STEM, and in nuclear. I want to help more people like me see the opportunities there are for them – no matter your personality, there is a role for everyone. The most important thing is curiosity, and a mix of backgrounds and perspectives. At NNL and across the nuclear sector, we’re trying to solve some of the world’s biggest problems – if we’re going to be successful, we need people who can look at a problem from every angle.”