A Year of Cross-Industry Decommissioning Learning

2020 will be remembered for many things, but for the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority’s Cross-Industry Learning Team it is also the year that saw great developments in sharing learning.

Sharing learning across industry has not always been easy, with intellectual property rights to be considered as well as the business thirst for competition with rivals.  The decommissioning industry is a great example though of where these challenges have been overcome.  The backdrop for collaborative working is fuelled by a desire to reduce decommissioning costs and with such costs predicted to be high, the appetite for working together is established.  In addition, the UK government has challenged the nuclear sector to reduce the cost of decommissioning by 20% and the cost of oil and gas decommissioning by 35%.  It is recognised that by working together we stand a better chance of delivering these savings.  In doing this, the UK has the potential to become a global leader in decommissioning, creating a decommissioning capability across industrial sectors, with the opportunity to develop, perfect and export valuable skills.

Cross-Industry Learning is a relatively new function within the NDA that which aims to make the NDA estate more insightful, externally leaning and innovative.  We believe that different industries have a lot in common when it comes to decommissioning and we can all benefit from cross-industry sharing of expertise and learning.  We love to connect people from different companies across different industries in order to share good practices on decommissioning.  Working closely with Decom North Sea, as well as the Oil and Gas Authority, the Environment Agency, The National Nuclear Laboratory and more recently Renewables and Defence, there has been a continued drive and determination to share decommissioning lessons learned and good practice.

Themes of common interest to the various industries have been determined and the NDA has sponsored several engagements between nuclear and other industries such as oil & gas, defence, renewable energy, process, resource extraction, space, transport, construction, utilities and waste management.  Cross-industry learning is stimulating by these engagements that have included collaborative projects, workshops, roundtables, seminars and discussions.

In 2020 two of the themes of common interest that were explored were Skills and Net Zero.  Despite the global pandemic situation, response from everyone was positive and the virtual technology was embraced so that planned events could still go ahead.  In many ways the virtual environment made it easier to connect people from many different areas of the UK.

Skills:  The topic of transferable and mobility of skills between and within industries was discussed virtually in May.  The workshop revealed several sub-themes that are shared in common between industries, for example; an ageing workforce; a need to plan for additional skills development as each sector considers how to capitalise on the impact of the new digital age; common need to attract a new, more diversified workforce in an increasingly competitive engineering biased market.

As we re-imagine what a new post-pandemic economy could look like, the transferability and mobility of our workforce offers particular opportunities for employees to consider the move from areas of industrial decline into new high growth markets: a move that calls for effective planning and collaboration of multiple organisations across sectors.  Several actions were noted in the workshop and these can be categorised as the realisation of the benefit of closer working and thematic alignment with other sectors. One action led to a joint employment-focused webinar led by OGUK and joined by the nuclear and renewables sectors.

Net Zero: “That there is a climate crisis is no longer in dispute…” was the opening comment from the NDA Chair of the Environment, Safety & Security committee of the NDA Board.  All invited workshop participants and subject matter experts were in agreement, and there were some strong take-away messages from all sessions, not least of which was the pace of change required, and that each individual and organisation should insist on change and feel empowered to make that change without otherwise waiting for others.  “We cannot sit back and wait for leadership from somebody else … we need to encourage Government by showing how serious we are about it”.  Large organisations have made a start in assessing Scope 1 & 2 emissions, those caused by sources either owned or directly controlled by the organisation, and heat and power purchased for own use.  However, we learned that Scope 3 emissions are potentially more impactful to measure, as these include upstream goods and services procured, or downstream products and services sold and can exceed scopes 1 and 2 combined.

A key message regarding establishing a robust, evidenced and transparent Net Zero pathway, is that offsetting any residual emissions through nature-based solutions, such as planting trees, is finite.  We need to be removing carbon from the atmosphere.  We learned that research shows ‘resistance to change’ is often portrayed as a bad thing in organisations, but they can also be a reaction to inappropriate means of change.  People are not necessarily resistant to change, but resistant to being changed.  Organisations are constantly in states of flux, so the key is not how to change them, but how to make the change in the right direction through three types of small but deep, cognitive and structural interventions.  Performance metrics are difficult to apply against cultural change as they can have unintended consequences such as ‘gaming the system’.  How we judge whether a change has been successful, and whether the positive effects outweigh the negative, varies according to an individual’s position and orientation.  “All actions have costs and unintended consequences, but so do inactions.  Deep change, even if uncomfortable, is necessary.”

Looking ahead to 2021

Looking ahead to this year, there are several areas to be worked on.  The team are liaising with an international group of nuclear institutions to build a global nuclear decommissioning benchmarking capability.  This international effort aims to implement the recommendations of a recent Nuclear Energy Agency Report, delivered by a Task Team led by the NDA.  Once deployed, the benchmarking capability will enable the NDA to learn from peer organisations in the nuclear industry around the world how to optimise decommissioning scope, approaches and their cost & schedule.


Themes of common interest will continue to stimulate the sharing of insights between sectors, and the next themes that are being explored are Designing for Decommissioning, Sustainable Regional Economies and Governace & Assurance.  To find out more about our work, please get in touch or check out the TotalDECOM website material are hosted at the following link:  Cross Industry Collaboration – TotalDECOM

Cross-industry Learning is a perpetual journey with no final destination.  The journey can however be full of successes - successful outcomes are when lessons learned are sought, applied, captured and shared; new ideas are embraced rather than resisted, and learning is a habit, not a project.

The great thing about cross-industry learning is that it is inclusive - everyone can participate! Remember to think about cross-industry during your day to day wok.  You may be pleasantly surprised to find that your industry is not as unique as you think, that your challenges have been faced by others and that perhaps colleagues in another industry will be able to add enormous value to your enterprise with a key insight, freely shared.  It may be over 2 decades since BT’s “It’s good to talk” commercials hit our screens, but now more than ever it is just as relevant.

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