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Penny Nuclear | Finalists at the Nuclear Decommissioning Awards

Penny Nuclear | Finalists at the Nuclear Decommissioning Awards


Penny Nuclear, Derbyshire based equipment and service provider to the nuclear industry were delighted to be announced as finalists out of 68 competing companies at the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) awards this week.

Penny Nuclear, Derbyshire based equipment and service provider to the nuclear industry were delighted to be announced as finalists out of 68 competing companies at the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) awards this week.

The NDA are responsible for managing the effective and efficient clean-up of the UK’s nuclear legacy. This includes the first generation of “Magnox" power stations, various research and fuel facilities, and the largest, most complex site: Sellafield. They are the tasked with implementing government policy on higher activity radioactive waste, and the low-level waste strategy and they also provide advice on the decommissioning plans for current and planned nuclear power stations.

The NDA host an annual event which comprises of technology demonstrations, meet the ‘buyers and sellers’ sessions and presentations. This year the event was held at Event City Manchester on Wednesday 4th November.

A prestigious awards ceremony acted as the highlight of the day. Launched in 2012, the awards are jointly sponsored by the NDA and its Site Licence Companies, with the aim of acknowledging the supply chain's vital role in delivering progress across the estate, working in collaboration, providing technology implementation and SME innovation in all forms to bring benefit and efficiencies to work programmes. This year, UK Trade and investment also had involvement with the awards.

The award categories included export, supply chain collaboration and the best application of technology.

The organisers behind the NDA Awards found the SME community working within the NDA Estate to be particularly innovative and this is where Penny Nuclear feel that they excel. Therefore it seemed natural to apply for the “Best application of an innovative solution(s) with tangible savings/benefits by an SME” award. The award was aimed at companies who have brought forward innovations, new systems of working, new products or processes, adapted existing systems or used something in a different way to provide savings and benefits to the NDA Estate.

The submission put together by Penny Nuclear focused on the design, manufacture and installation of a Fuel Element Debris (FED) retrieval system for Magnox Ltd at Bradwell Power Station which was the first of its kind.

Magnox required a solution that could be implemented quickly to allow for retrieval of FED – a waste stream generated from the stripping of the outer casing from the Magnox fuel elements. During generating life of Bradwell, FED has been placed in underground Vaults and had to be removed to progress the site into care and maintenance.

Penny Nuclear were tasked with designing and manufacturing a rapidly-deployable system to retrieve six drums’ worth of FED and allow for characterisation to be undertaken. Early FED retrieval ran in parallel with the main design and build contract. Penny Nuclear had been approached due to their previous success of designing and manufacturing an underwater lug retrieval system at Dungeness A Power Station.

The system, comprising of a hydraulic grab, overhead crane and chain hoist, enabled the retrieval, sorting and storage of FED to support decommissioning.

An innovative approach was required to meet the lead time. It has been proven through the main retrieval design that timescales for a design project such as this were in the region of years, whereas Penny Nuclear only had a matter of weeks. The design needed to have the flexibility to handle heavy and oddly-shaped FED items, and also allow for easy modifications.

The first stage involved the supply of a range of individual items each serving a specific purpose. It had been learnt from the main retrieval project that designing an “all singing, all dancing” piece of equipment which could accommodate all items and tasks would take too long. Therefore Penny Nuclear brought together items to complement each other; a hydraulic grab connected to a chain hoist, suspended from an overhead gantry. The grab could grip the FED, the chain hoist could raise it out of the vault, and the gantry could transfer it to a laydown area. A hydraulic sort tray then placed the FED in front of the operator for sorting. Penny Nuclear could have provided one piece of kit which gripped the FED and took it directly in front of the operator, but this was the design challenge faced on the main project.

The second stage involved the use of proven technology, some of which lay outside of the nuclear industry. The grab was one from an excavator, the chain hoist and gantry were standard workshop crane parts, the sort tray was a hydraulic scissor lift platform mounted on a crane bogie, the size reduction tool was a hydraulic cutter normally used by the fire brigade and the export crane was usually fitted to commercial vehicles. These items were available off-the-shelf, significantly reducing project risk in terms of cost of delivery. Penny Nuclear could then focus on ensuring the correct items had been sourced for the job, suppliers understood the demanding requirements of the nuclear industry, and focus on how the items interfaced with one another.

The size reduction tool was a perfect example of this; using commercial off the shelf (COTS) hydraulic cutters as the end effector, Penny Nuclear were able to focus our efforts on how the cutting head will be controlled and moved in front of the operator. This meant a complete design solution was achieved within two weeks and a manufactured and tested product within eight. Had Penny Nuclear started from scratch, the process would have taken six months. Also, since the cutters were COTS items, it allowed multiple cutting jaws to be tried rapidly to optimise the design, as well as providing spares to improve in-life service.

It is believed that this was the first project which undertook this design approach; the use of COTS equipment and collaborative working between suppliers and customers. Normally for nuclear projects, bespoke equipment is designed and end users have little input into the design. Due to the collaborative nature and openness of the project, all stakeholders were able to have an input throughout.

The main challenge was providing a fully-functioning system within weeks, supported with Quality Assurance documentation required for a highly-regulated industry. Penny Nuclear overcame this utilising a dynamic business model – namely the ability to easily dedicate design resource, comprehensive understanding of nuclear industry requirements, a foothold and experience in various different industries, along with a supportive Supply Chain which was already vetted and approved. This enabled immediate support on the project and the design of a retrieval system which would be operational and reliable within the timescales required.

A dedicated Project Manager was assigned. Operators were invited to review concepts at the earliest possible stage, and 3D CAD models were produced to enable all stakeholders to easily visualise proposals. This paid dividends at installation as exact dimensions and clearances could be quickly checked, ensuring no clashes with existing plant.

To reduce project timescales and optimise equipment design, a team of operators were invited to the Factory Acceptance Test (FAT). A full scale mock-up of the retrieval facility was erected, allowing testing and operator familiarisation to be carried out. Operators were able to give feedback and make small improvements before the final coating and assembly phase. Once on site, the operators could use equipment immediately.

The project was delivered on time and in budget, meaning the retrieval of FED was able to be commence during the first half of 2012. The six drums of FED were swiftly and safely retrieved, which allowed for early characterisation of the waste to be carried out, and feedback given to the downstream processes which would be handling the waste.

Since the retrieval equipment had worked so effectively, the project team were asked to retrieve further drums of waste, allowing for more detailed characterisation whilst the main retrieval equipment was being designed. 32 drums of FED were retrieved and put into buffer storage.

This work saved in the region of £10m from the UK’s decommissioning budget; this was an excellent example of how public money can be saved through better design and engineering. It was therefore fitting that the Penny Nuclear team had this excellent work acknowledged by the panel of Judges at the awards ceremony and made it to the final.

Penny Nuclear designs and manufactures lifting equipment, mechanical handling solutions and hydraulic systems for all stages of the nuclear plant lifecycle and nuclear fuel cycle. Whether it is for decommissioning, generating, research or new build sites, they have the knowledge and experience to provide robust, cost effective solutions within extremely competitive lead times.

The majority of nuclear products are designed and manufactured bespoke, in order to fulfil activity-specific customer requirements, yet sometimes serial production products may be more than suitable for customers needs. All projects are carried out under detailed consultancy with the customer, and draw upon over 37 years' experience of providing mechanical handling equipment to various industries.

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