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Nuclear Decommissioning Authority: The impact of introducing sustainability into business cases

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As part of its Future Lives and Landscapes campaign, Association for Project Management (APM) spoke with Arun Khuttan, Sustainability Manager at the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, about how the organisation is introducing sustainability into its business cases, and the impact this is having.

The Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) is entrusted by the government with the mission of safely, securely, and cost-effectively decommissioning the UK's nuclear sites and facilities. The NDA group comprises four organisations: Sellafield Ltd, Nuclear Restoration Services, Nuclear Waste Services and Nuclear Transport Solutions. Each organisation has its own sustainability team. The NDA is responsible for the collaboration between these teams to help achieve its group sustainability vision.

The NDA’s Sustainability vision is ‘to be recognised as a leader in transforming nuclear legacies into opportunities for local, regional and national sustainable development’. ‘Four legacies’ were identified on which sustainability would be framed; decommissioning, environmental, socio-economic and cultural legacy. These identified legacies are considered in the context of how they can be transformed for the benefit of people and planet.

Arun Khuttan, the NDA’s, Sustainability Manager, explained the reasons for the Sustainability Strategy: “We have a big role in our communities. We wanted to look at the whole sustainability picture; the social aspects, as well as the environmental. There's lots of stakeholder and community engagement and government engagement, as well as looking at our own mission and understanding what needs to be done internally.”

“One part of the work is to embed sustainability into NDA business cases. However, it was important to ensure this would be done in a way that led to positive outcomes and not simply as a box-ticking exercise. This meant a significant amount of work had to be undertaken to ensure any additions to NDA business cases would support its Sustainability Strategy.

“The first step was to determine what kind of sustainability activity might be needed within each business case. For example, to what extent should we asses carbon emission impacts on climate change resilience? How far should we go in assessing natural capital and biodiversity? Or socioeconomic, such as employment impact and opportunities for disadvantaged people?

“When we reviewed Government requirements, these were the big hitters. We have aligned this with our own policies.

“We had to ask ourselves ‘how can we embed those considerations?’ Sometimes they may be considered but not with the right emphasis. Often projects are considered primarily on cost as the thinking is on value for money. But sustainability is a vehicle to deliver value for money. Sustainability value isn't always about the cheapest thing, it's about using public resources in a way that creates and maximises public value.”

Achieving the vision

To achieve its vision, the NDA framework is used to identify the relevant sustainability strategies required for each business case. Arun explained the sustainability matrix: “A proportionality matrix is used to determine if the impact of a project is going to be high and to evaluate between the options within the business. It's all about proportionality and making sure resources are used efficiently. The project’s value, scope, location, and which operating company is managing the business case, will all result in different considerations.

(Source: Supplied by NDA, The NDA Business Case Sustainability Box Matrix)

Arun highlighted positive observations that this new approach is having for the NDA and its stakeholders: “We have a strong governance structure and a board committee on sustainability, which is important as this is one of our highest levels of decision making. I think external stakeholders will see that the NDA are committed to improving and embedding sustainability just because we have the governance, the leadership buy-in, the dedicated resource to help instil sustainability and that is the push to get it embedded.

“It will take some time for this revised process to deliver significant outcomes and benefits, but we are working closely with project teams to ensure the focus remains on the end goals through these long term projects.”

“We carried out pilot projects on carbon quantification last year, which was positive because it's now given people an idea of how to do it and enables projects in other areas, and so we are learning as we go. I do see us being more efficient over the next couple of years.” He continued to explain the benefits of the NDA’s pilot projects and the opportunity this has had to embed the new processes.

Measuring success

The success of a transformation this size can be challenging to measure. For NDA to assess the positive impacts of the business case outputs, a review is adopted. Arun explained: “Our strategy defined what sustainability means for NDA. This includes the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s) adopted by all United Nations Member States in 2015, which cover a vast range of topics, and we are able to be specific through our policy after carrying out what an exercise to understand what is most material to the business.

“We also align our goals to Government’s Procurement Policy Notices (PPNs). These procurement best practices are considered across our social value and carbon management. Also, we have Key Performance Indicators that we assess and are measured quarterly. However, as it is a complex business structure, this is an evolving process.

“A good proportion of total NDA group annual spend of about £3.5bn is spent on these major projects which have business cases. The more we can embed these considerations into that, it starts to have a knock-on effect into how we spend our money more sustainably.”

Operating on a large scale across can present challenges. Arun gives his advice to organisations on adopting sustainability, he said: “I believe there are two main aspects, the first one: a governance structure. Have a strong leadership buy-in and explain the benefits of sustainability.

“And then the second part is having networks. Build a big and strong network of people interested in sustainability and who want to deliver. Use their passion to get this into more tangible and tactical things, and cultivate these relationships, as it's easy to get disengaged and disenfranchised.”

Arun concludes with his thoughts for the future, stating: “We are getting to the point where people will start to see more benefits from sustainability. I see quite a big shift coming quite quickly. It could be next month; it could be two years from now or five years.

“It's about being prepared for that when it comes and getting processes and the foundation set up so that we're ready whenever that happens.”

If you're interested in a career at the NDA, keep an eye on their vacancies page.

Other resources from the NDA group that you may be interested in:

Find out more about Sellafield

Read the case study - Magnox nuclear power station decommissioning



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