Charged with cleaning up 17 of the UK’s nuclear sites in a safe and sustainable fashion, the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) takes its environmental and community responsibilities extremely seriously.

Alan Cumming, group director of nuclear operations at the NDA, points out that as the major employer in some of the more remote areas under its charge, the NDA is highly aware of the need to encourage new business startups and initiatives in those areas through the duration of its clean-up operations.

“We have put sustainability, with respect to both the environment and the local communities involved, front and centre in everything we do,” he comments. As a young man Cumming saw at first hand the devastation caused to local communities by the closure of major steel works.

“We work very closely with the Scottish Environment Protection Agency and the Scottish Government,” he says.

The Herald:

Alan Cumming, group director of nuclear operations at the NDA


“The NDA is committed to working closely with the communities around nuclear sites that are undergoing decommissioning to enable those communities to transition the local economy successfully to create a prosperous future. At the same time, driving a strong environmental case within Scotland is hugely important to the NDA and to me personally.

“In Scotland, the NDA’s mission is to clear up the nuclear legacy at Chapelcross, Hunterston A and Dounreay, and to address the future of those areas 
post-decommissioning,” he adds.

At Dounreay, for example, some 10 per cent of the local jobs in Caithness are dependent on the NDA’s activities at the site. The NDA itself employs a team of over 1,200 at Dounreay, supported by some 1,000 external contractors. With decommissioning scheduled to go on until at least the 2030s, the level of local dependence on the site is high.

Add Hunterston and Chapelcross to the mix and that reaches upwards of 2,000 people. The organisation also supports an active apprenticeship and graduate programme, and works with local authorities and other agencies to raise skills in local communities. There are currently 660 apprentices and 200 graduates across the NDA estate in the UK, with 46 per cent of graduates female – an increase of 20 per cent over the last three years.

However, Cumming points out that work on diversifying the local economy is already well advanced. It is being led by a consortium of organisations brought together under the aegis of the Caithness and North Sutherland Regeneration Partnership (CNSRP).

The NDA is also committed to funding a study on the future of Dounreay. This will include a skills audit of the site, with the intention of identifying potential reuse and spin-off opportunities, as well as investigating potential alternative sources of employment which can be promoted for the area.

The NDA’s potential for generating future employment opportunities extends well beyond the communities around its nuclear sites. As Cumming points out, there are large numbers of nuclear plants around the world that are coming to the end of their useful lives.

The NDA has built up a growing supply chain dedicated to servicing the UK’s decommissioning effort, and Cumming sees opportunities for many companies involved to go on to bid internationally for decommissioning projects.

The NDA’s stringent focus on environmental issues and on promoting a zero-carbon agenda is already playing well with potential clients around the world as they face up to their own decommissioning challenges.

“With the advanced gas reactors coming offline in the next decade or so we are working hard to create momentum that aligns with the aims and goals of the UK and Scottish governments, and with regulators like Sepa. The ‘one planet prosperity’ vision promoted by Sepa CEO Terry A’Hearn is exactly the message we are promoting in our drive to ensure everything we do has sustainability and the environment at its heart,” he says.

Cumming points out that the NDA spends around £1.9 billion with local UK supply chains as part of its decommissioning work.

“We ensure that 90 per cent of that spend is with UK companies and within this, we look to spend a third of that sum specifically with small to medium-sized companies. The skills that we encourage our supply chain partners to develop will play well in the future in helping them to win global business – not just in the nuclear decommissioning field but in the process industries generally,” he says.

Cumming points out that decommissioning involves a wide range of skills and processes. These include project management skills and a range of engineering disciplines as well as environmental advisers and health and safety consultants.

“Within the actual supply chains, we use high-quality and high-level manufacturing capabilities to construct processing plants, storage facilities and storage containers, as well as traditional construction skills,” he notes. These skills are largely transferrable to other industry sectors.

“One of the areas we are exploring is how to facilitate the retraining of people employed in nuclear plants to the environmental sector and to the new industries that are coming down the line,” he continues.

“So, although part of what we do involves highly specialised advisers, another part is very much concerned with people who make things and build things. So, using our international links and export platforms we are actively involved in creating opportunities for our supply chain,” he comments.

Scotland’s academic institutions too, are benefiting from the NDA’s need for cutting-edge research and innovation. “We have a lot of great relationships with Scottish universities,” he adds.

“At present we are talking to the University of the Highlands and Islands to see how they can help us meet some of the R&D challenges we face over the coming years at the Dounreay site. This builds on the work we are doing with other academic institutions around the country to meet the extraordinary challenges nuclear decommissioning presents to us.”