‘Decommissioning nuclear power plants – a task with a future’
Managing Director Kristoffer Leffers explains how umlaut safety gives their customers support with the safe decommissioning of nuclear power plants.
It is now one year since umlaut safety started offering advice on the safe decommissioning of nuclear power plants. What added value can umlaut offer their customers?
For more than twenty years now, umlaut has been providing support as a technology consultancy to leading companies in sectors such as aviation, the automotive industry, telecommunications and renewable energies. Our portfolio ranges from technology consulting at board level and the development of new technologies through to providing customers with support with project management in their day-to-day business. These are all aspects that are also of relevance to our customers in the nuclear power sector and we are often able to draw on our experience from other areas to help us to develop solutions and ideas for specific problems. This is also a sector where companies are keen to raise their level of maturity in terms of digitisation and automation to enable them to work even more efficiently.
For operators of nuclear power plants, the dismantling of a plant is first and foremost a question of cost. Great care must be taken and the greatest possible effect achieved with every euro spent, and the most stringent requirements in terms of safety and quality have to be complied with. For us, this means taking a highly cost-conscious approach and using clever planning and effective management to deliver the greatest possible added value for our customers.
In the field of nuclear power, safety standards are extremely high. How does umlaut guarantee that these will be complied with?
We deal with radioactive substances on behalf of our customers – either directly or indirectly – on a day-to-day basis. It is therefore crucial that we know what we are doing. We ensure that this is the case with a team of experts who have both the relevant experience and a high level of training in the field of nuclear power. We are familiar with all the regulations and we start every new project by taking the time to get a thorough understanding of the specific requirements of the customer in question.
This background knowledge is an essential prerequisite for us to able to demonstrate to our customers, by means of specific engineering services, that we have a good understanding of the nuclear power business and that we will be able to provide them with reliable support with the challenges they are facing. To ensure that things stay this way, we attach particular importance to both in-house and external training and development measures for our staff.
Furthermore, if you look back at our history, you can see that umlaut has always had a particular affinity for quality management and quality assurance and has excellent experience in this area. Over the decades, umlaut's employees have developed and refined a range of methods to ensure that we fulfil the requirements of both our customers and the regulatory bodies, whilst at the same time keeping processes efficient.
What type of customers does umlaut work with? And how does umlaut support them in their day-to-day business?
In the field of nuclear engineering, umlaut works with major energy providers, research centres and ministries on a range of different projects.
To give an example, we provide them with support with the disposal of nuclear waste, with gaining clearance for building structures and residual materials, as well as with projects and process analyses and by providing consulting services on issues relating to the decommissioning of plants. The specific support offered in terms of day-to-day business typically ranges from planning activities, such as drawing up plans for project structures, costs and schedules, through to the actual implementation of projects, where we take on the role of project engineer or project manager.
To cite two specific projects: In the disposal of nuclear waste, we help companies to plan which radioactive waste needs to be packed into the permanent disposal containers and when, so that the overall schedule can be adhered to. In doing so, conditions on a wide range of different levels need to be taken into account. In another scenario, we support customers with cost planning and the technical implementation of projects requiring clearance, with a particular focus on quality assurance, as mentioned previously.
What challenges do you and your team face when advising your customers?
Every nuclear power plant has its own particular operating history. When a plant is decommissioned, this means, among other things, that the challenges to be faced will differ from plant to plant. The wealth of experience that we have built up in decommissioning projects is indeed useful in this respect; however, it is important that we recognise the differences between projects, and question whether a solution that worked in the past will be the best route to take for a new challenge. This is one of the reasons why working in the field of nuclear power decommissioning is so exciting.
With regard to automation and digitisation, the challenge we face in the nuclear power sector – as in other sectors too – is the need for new ideas to be able to hold their ground against existing, market-tested solutions, and for good reason. It is also essential that new solutions are tested and approved by experts from the relevant official bodies. Our task is to work with the customer to overcome the challenges presented by these official requirements.
How do the various different areas at umlaut work together to pool their knowledge on digitisation, engineering, project management and nuclear power and use it in the best possible way?
First of all, I must stress that an important element of a trust-based relationship between umlaut and the customer is confidentiality. This means that it is very important to us to have regular communications and a good networking concept within umlaut. But we also know which issues should only be discussed in the context of definite joint projects.
In our organisation, which has more than 4,500 employees, putting together interdisciplinary teams quickly and without a fuss when we receive enquiries or need to work on an idea of our own is something we do on a daily basis. With just a couple of telephone calls, we can always find the right contact person, and there are no lengthy or hierarchical approvals processes standing in the way of collaboration. We are all open for teamwork and have a sense of common purpose in terms of wanting to generate added value – bringing together and making use of the expertise we have in our various different areas provides the ideal conditions for success.
What are umlaut safety’s plans for the near future?
We first of all want to become an established name, known for being a reliable partner in the nuclear power market within the European area, and we want to expand further. To do this we will need to attract both new customers and new employees. The safe decommissioning of nuclear power plants is of great relevance for society and this is an important source of motivation for us. It is a task for the future as the decommissioning of nuclear power plants is something society will be dealing with over the course of a number of decades.
And by the way, we are not only focusing on nuclear power – we are also great advocates of agile methods of working and innovative ideas in sectors where safety is a key theme. Our knowledge of technology ensures that we can fulfil our brand promise: “umlaut adds something on töp”. With us as their partners, our customers can reach a higher level of maturity in terms of “digitisation and automation”. We consider this to be particular added value. Facilitating knowledge transfer from our other sectors is part of our recipe for success at umlaut. Here too, we will be taking further steps to enable us to make full use of our potential.