22 Feb 2022

Managing nuclear assets the digital way

A storage facility at the Sellafield Nuclear site © Sellafield Ltd
A storage facility at the Sellafield Nuclear site © Sellafield Ltd

Under a four-year framework contract, Jacobs is supporting the UK Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) and its operating companies with asset management, including new digital ways of working. 

Jacobs, and its subcontractor PA Consulting, is providing this support by reviewing the current situation and by drawing up a comprehensive strategy to bring asset management continuous improvement best practice across the NDA group.

Digital capability, across the asset lifecycle, can be improved by using integrated systems supported by technical standards and processes which connect people to data and information across the NDA group.

Managing the group’s assets sustainably involves balancing cost, risk and performance, and aligning its asset management activities with its organisational vision and values. The NDA wants to ensure it is delivering ‘whole-life’ value through efficient asset performance and improved process productivity and it wants to bring its asset information management up to modern standards.

The NDA is responsible for decommissioning 17 nuclear sites across England, Wales and Scotland, some dating back to the 1940s. These include Sellafield (Europe’s most complex nuclear site), the first (Magnox) generation of nuclear power stations, the UK’s low-level waste repository in West Cumbria, the Dounreay fast-reactor research site in Scotland and other research and fuel facilities.

Jacobs and PA Consulting are already working with Sellafield Ltd to introduce digital decision-making tools for optimising the reliability and availability of critical assets such as utilities, cranes and batteries. This involves installing sensors on the equipment to record data. A digital twin is then created, which generates information to improve decisionmaking. The equipment then can be managed more efficiently and at lower cost.

Digital working is a key enabler to effective asset management. It requires asset information and data that is high-quality, consistent and reliable. How that information is used is key to improving decision-making and optimising the assets. 

Delivering the strategy also requires close collaboration, engagement, support and input from the operating companies and their workforce — including subject matter experts, and maintenance and engineering teams. To help, we have brought in asset management specialists with a proven track record in other regulated industries.

The geographical spread of the NDA estate, the age and diverse nature of the sites and the demographic profile of the workforce present some challenges to creating a standardised asset management process based on digital skills. However, the NDA is very enthusiastic about the potential for using digital asset management, making better use of data and information management.

The key objectives identified by Jacobs are to:

  • Reduce whole-life total cost of ownership via better decisions for assets’ maintenance and capital interventions;
  • Reduce operating expenditure by improving operational efficiency and effectiveness;
  • Enhance safety across critical activities for inspection and maintenance;
  • Reduce the time for realising these outcomes through better evidenced prioritisation of effort and budgets and an agile, innovative approach to implementing change.

Jacobs and PA Consulting collaborated with the NDA expert team to produce guidance documents for the Engineering Manual and the Strategic Asset Management Plan. It also carried out a peer review of the NDA’s key performance indicators for maintenance work, and a review that highlighted the huge opportunity to realise benefits from technology and innovation delivery.
It also developed a best practice model for the future management, maintenance and operation of a particular crane class, using digital twin technology for condition-based monitoring. This has been aligned a test case to deliver best practice operations and maintenance capability which can be used for all similar crane systems across the NDA estate.

These are examples of the early steps of a one-year transformation programme. However, transforming the NDA estate is a bigger challenge, as it comprises multiple organisations, each with its own internal governance, processes and standards, often with pronounced differences between and within each operating company. Jacobs and PA are working with the NDA to help improve consistency and efficiency of asset management across the NDA group, without adversely affecting the NDA’s decommissioning mission. 

This article previously appeared in Nuclear Engineering International

Sean Butler © Jacobs

About the Author

Sean Butler is operational business manager for Jacobs. He manages the NDA asset management framework


Sean Butler