We have all got used to living large parts of our lives in the virtual world in recent months, with many of us only being able to meet friends and relatives online. And for most of us, it has actually worked quite well. This has very much been the case for the Cumbrian nuclear decommissioning and remote handling business James Fisher Nuclear.   

When lockdown hit, many of its office-based project staff such as engineers, project managers and designers were able to quickly relocate and re-organise to working from home and use online platforms to keep in contact with their teams and clients. Some of these temporary ‘work arounds’ like Microsoft Teams have proved to be so invaluable and effective in maintaining communication that they are being adopted to enhance business, post Covid-19, both internally and externally.

Peter Greenhalgh, JFN Managing Director said: “Keeping everyone safe during this period has been our key focus and we have been fortunate that the majority of us have been able to transition to working from home and continue to maintain close and effective online communication with our clients and supply chain. I’m proud of the way we have all risen to the challenges we have faced over the last few months.”

For certain projects, working from home can only be part of the answer. And an important series concrete shaving trials for the Bays Interim State Pilot (BISP) for Sellafield Ltd. are a good example of just such an activity. As a result of some great work at JFN’s rig halls in Egremont from JFN and their consortium partners, Cumbria Nuclear Solutions (CNSL), it has been possible to ensure that the trials still go ahead as intended in a fully Covid-19 safe environment when they begin in late July.

In Cumbria: Concrete shaving trial set up, Egremont Rig HallsConcrete shaving trial set up, Egremont Rig Halls

The trials are to test the effectiveness of a number of concrete shaving systems for the BISP project, in which the bay walls will be shaved to reduce contamination as part of the ongoing decommissioning process. A number of concrete walls have also been manufactured and installed at JFN’s Egremont facility to represent the internal and external features of the bay wall to recreate as near as possible the exact conditions that the equipment will face when deployed on site.

New processes that have been brought in determined how many personnel needed to be included in the trials. Routes and strict one way systems have been mapped out for those on site to follow and strict procedures for all breaks, to ensure safe distancing is maintained at all times. Every detail has been considered even down to ensuring that visitors provided their own lunch and that there are additional hand sanitising stations available throughout the facility.

In Cumbria: Aerial photo Sellafield LtdAerial photo Sellafield Ltd

Wifi provisions in their Rig Halls have also been substantially upgraded to allow additional personnel including those from Sellafield Ltd. to attend and observe the trials remotely.  The learning gained from these trials will provide invaluable information to support both BISP and wider pond wall shaving operations.

On March 19, when JFN’s Remotely operated Vehicle (ROV) team simply walked away from the Sellafield Ltd. site, as they would at the end of any normal day, who would have thought that it would be almost four months before an actual return to work could be realised for those based on site at Sellafield Ltd? The equipment was powered down and left as if there would have been before a return to business as usual the following day. How wrong could they have been? Happily, this month saw a limited return to work in support of one of the on-site Risk Reduction projects needing ROV support for sludge retrieval operations within the Residual Settling Tanks on site.

This work marks the first phase needing support from JFN and following a full review and revision of all necessary Risk Assessments, Pre-Job Briefs and Operating Instructions, this will aid delivery of sludge transfers and further in-pond skip cleaning in the First Generation Magnox Storage Pond (FGMSP) as well as planned maintenance of all ROV equipment in the Pile Fuel Storage Pond (PFSP) during the next few weeks.

The lockdown period was also put to good use by the ROV unit by utilising the availability of the experienced personnel who would normally be site-based but were now working from home to review and revise all maintenance instructions and test documents, produce a training process and develop courses aiming to be delivered to Sellafield Ltd. over the next few weeks, all in accordance with Covid-19 restrictions, as well as carry out a full review of the defect reporting process and spares management at JFN.

In Cumbria: Access pontoon assembled prior to ‘in tank’ trials, Egremont Rig HallsAccess pontoon assembled prior to ‘in tank’ trials, Egremont Rig Halls

In another area of the Egremont facility, teams have also been busy assembling and testing a series of access pontoons (whilst maintaining social distancing) for use in the Bays of the Pile Fuel Storage Pond (PFSP) at Sellafield.

The pontoons have been developed for remote installation from the bay walkways using long reach tools and will provide a safe and secure temporary operating platform on the water level to aid in the installation of structural platforms in the Bay area to allow dewatering activities to commence.

So, whereas the last few months have not exactly been business as usual for JFN, it’s clear that the company and its staff have been able to embrace the new normal, adapt and improve to cope with the challenges that the pandemic has presented and be ready to hit the ground running when things return to something a little nearer to the old normal.