Asbestos Inspection at Nuclear Power Plant During Decommission
The Background - Asbestos in nuclear power plant
Decommissioning aging nuclear power plants is a complex and technically challenging process that takes place over long timeframes, typically 20-30 years. Once sites are defueled, i.e. the removal of radioactive uranium fuel rods, the site begins decommissioning and deplanting buildings, and retrieving, treating and processing waste.
Asbestos has become a big focus. Asbestos inspection is required as many nuclear sites were built between 1940-1970, when asbestos was used in almost every building material. The unique fibrous structure of asbestos offers great fire resistant properties and adds to tensile strength when mixed with cement and other products. It is this unique fibrous structure that is hugely damaging to human health and still causes illness and deaths.
The scale and complexity, coupled with the unique design of nuclear power stations makes for a difficult environment to carry out asbestos inspection work. Current UK guidance and mandatory legislation (Control of Asbestos Regulations, 2012) is not designed for these environments, yet the sites must remain fully compliant.
The buildings are high, with vast internal spaces and often in dilapidated and decaying states of repair, requiring bespoke scaffold access solutions, health controls and checks when entering contaminated areas. Deploying qualified asbestos consultants into this type of work space requires careful training and supervision for hazardous materials.
Faultless planning was needed, particularly because our operations were resource heavy (in terms of workforce) and in addition, we had to ensure that teams were fully vetted, which was much more time consuming on a site still containing fuel.
A collaborative and well-planned approach was critical for this large-scale project, as many challenges were identified; such as the sheer size of the enclosures (routinely around 15m-30m). Element had to train and engage specialist rope access teams as the project progressed to ensure that all areas could be inspected. Inspecting areas by rope was only to be done by those with training and experience. Cathedral sized enclosures tested the analysts abilities to take a strategic approach to ensure areas were inspected in line with the guidance and regulations.
This type of project could only work successfully with a collaborative approach from both client and consultant. Building strong working relationships is what we do best and between ourselves and the client, we took well considered approaches with safety as the highest priority to overcome the challenges that this site posed for removal contractors and analysts.
To obtain, process and manage data, we utilized digital technology with the implementation of bespoke software solutions that allowed electronic data capture and the creation of a digital asbestos management tool. Use of drone technology was also explored to visually see areas of contamination, usually impossible to access.
The Element team was the eyes and ears for the customer due to the nature of our work. We were entering areas which have far less footfall than in the days of power production, which meant that we would routinely feedback potential safety issues caused by plant degradation to ensure that the site remained safe for all.
The Element advantage
Above all, the outcome is trust – Element can be trusted to deliver a high quality, safe and innovative solution to complex, technically demanding work.
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