The importance of the intangibles

29 March 2016

The nuclear industry is quite rightly focused on ensuring current and future nuclear installations are safe, secure and meet environmental demands. With a range of installations coming to the end of their planned operational life, and either undergoing plant life extension or entering care and maintenance, how do operators develop solutions to manage these transitional processes safely and cost-effectively? Stuart Taylor* shares his thoughts on, and experience of, the important subject of asset management, from beginning to end.

Infrastructure developments in the 1950s unfortunately gave little thought to prospective end-of-life issues. Nuclear power was no different. The focus, as it shifted from atomic weapons post-war, was on harnessing uranium or plutonium fission in reactors to provide a reliable source of energy to support the increasing industrialisation of the economy. The management and storage of waste, its likely geological disposal, and the guardianship of the knowledge and expertise governing this activity were concerns for the future. In today's modern practice, nuclear operators are not only considering those issues - and trying to provide solutions - they are also aiming to plan for the future, committing to managing nuclear waste for its full potential lifespan rather than just the average human one.

One of the frameworks that can help with this is asset management. Practices in the nuclear industry have had a basis in the PAS 55 guidance, when considering lifecycle planning and infrastructure governance, but it has often been inconsistently applied, or focused solely on physical assets. With the need for the secure and safe storage of used nuclear materials for up to 300 years - under legislation that is likely to become more, rather than less stringent - we have to consider both the physical and intangible elements. The physical components are generally quantifiable: what is our nuclear waste; where will we store it (both in the short- and long-term); and how will we store it? To this, we may be able to add 'for how long?', but can only provide an answer under current regulatory requirements, which may change over time. The intangible considerations, however, look at the wider picture: how are we going to maintain our storage site safely and securely over a lengthy period of time, given that building materials only have a limited lifespan; how are we going to make sure the information we generate today is maintained, so it can be used to decommission a plant in 100 years' time; how do we retain a workforce of suitably qualified and experienced people all the way through?

How are we going to make sure the information we generate today is maintained, so it can be used to decommission a plant in a 100 years time?

The publication of the International Standard for Asset Management, the BS ISO 55000 series, in February 2015, provided a framework for the development of industry-agnostic asset management systems. The standard covers a range from organisational strategy and objectives, through to individual management plans for both tangible physical and the more intangible assets discussed above, such as knowledge management and skills fade. ISO 55000 provides a baseline for developing a long-term asset management plan that takes into account nuclear operators' goals, policies and stakeholder demands. ISOs 55001 and 55002 define the requirements for, and offer guidance on establishing an asset management system.

Using asset management to consider all areas of the organisation can help evidence- based decision-making when faced with questions such as:

  • What asset costs can be reduced, deferred or even eliminated?
  • How can we spend less on assets and achieve our targets?
  • How can we get better returns on capital employed?
  • What competencies and behaviours do we need to manage assets effectively?
  • How can we avoid the risk of assets being unavailable when we need them?
  • How can we improve the deployment, use and maintenance of assets?
  • How can we maintain or even extend life of assets?
  • How can we ensure safety is maintained? Done well, asset management can improve business efficiency, enabling operators to develop effective project plans that are cost- optimised, resourced and scheduled correctly.

Key to the development of an asset management plan is that it is risk-based. Organisations need to look at an aspect of activity and establish a body of evidence based upon the question: what are my major risks? Although the body of evidence is the single point of truth that underpins the management of an asset and all decision- making processes, it could be multiple data sources across the site. In the nuclear industry, these risks are likely to centre on the need to ensure the operation is as safe, secure and environmentally-friendly as possible. So, we would assess what has to be done on a risk basis to meet those requirements, and devise a risk-based, cost- effective, efficient programme of work to maintain assets, and review this regularly.

If anything happens to an asset, we would enter it into the body of evidence, and the risk-based assessment would show what needs to be done to manage any risk outcome. Similarly, if anything changes externally - a change in legislation, developments in technology, or a discovery that improves understanding of materials - we are able to risk assess this to understand the impact that it has on the programme.

For example, a nuclear operator may be scheduling a campaign of maintenance for a facility that is going into care and maintenance. As part of a risk-based asset management plan they would identify when they need to undertake this campaign - considering resource availability including personnel - and what they are able to do during the specific time period that an outage is available to ensure they are able to complete the maximum level of necessary maintenance during this time. They need to understand exactly what they can do during the outage period, and prioritise the elements that have the highest risk if they are not completed. If an operator is not able to complete all their tasks within the timeframe, their risk-based plan will help them evaluate what the impact will be further down the line. They can then decide if they will accept the risk or what remedial actions can and should be taken.

How can we spend less on assets and achieve our targets?

All of the above requires project planning excellence, a thorough knowledge of the risks the organisation faces, and an ability to step back from day-to-day activities to take a broader view. One intangible risk is incomplete historic data - the cost of current programmes can be greater because information about the assets and their status is not what is needed. If asset management is applied from the beginning of a programme, the knowledge will be there and help to inform project planning. Of course, staff must also be in place who understand the information and act upon it.

As well as understanding the care and maintenance regimes of an individual site, asset management can help an operator to understand the wider requirements for both the individual facility and the portfolio of other facilities, so outages don't overlap - particularly if the same team of engineers is travelling around each of the sites. Even installations that are being decommissioned still need asset management. The package that contains the nuclear waste needs to be managed into an appropriate storage container, it needs management to ensure it is safe and secure in that container, and eventually it may need to be managed to move to a geological storage facility (GSF). On an unmanned waste storage site, the security systems that protect the perimeter and building will need to be asset managed.

Good asset management can also provide evidence to underpin decisions, whether on current issues or legacy concerns. For example, if a waste storage site has a container crane that fails 50 years into a 100 year storage period, we can use the knowledge we have of that crane's behaviour in the body of evidence, plus information from other sites or external sources, to inform a decision on whether to replace it or seek an alternative solution when we need to move the container. It can also be used to help with decisions for plant life extension: the body of evidence shows the condition of plant, and from this estimates can be made of how long it will last without investment, or how much money will be needed to extend its life for seven, ten or even 15 years depending on need.

A body of evidence is the base on which an asset management plan and system are built. As with any building, however, a strong base provides support to the structure, so keeping the body of evidence maintained and updated is essential. To help a building weather potential storms, there are a number of additional measures that can be taken. To inform an asset management plan risks will need to be regularly reviewed and updated. Aligning risk management activity with the ISO 31000 standard, or the NDA's PCP 10 guidance will help identify which areas are protection priorities, while the British resilience standard, BS 65000, will enable an organisation to gauge if its operation is resilient to change. Knowledge and project management processes should also underpin all asset management systems, and it can be helpful to seek advice from an impartial external source when first setting a system up and then on a regular basis when reviewing risks.

Many elements of asset management may seem obvious, 'common sense' considerations - until it is realised that a key intangible wasn't factored in and is impacting on current activity. Using asset management standards provides a roadmap, but organisations need to make frequent checks that they haven't wandered off course. Thinking about asset management in isolation - in terms of only obsolescence or maintenance issues, for example - will not provide the full picture needed to support operational and transitional activities.


*Stuart Taylor is a senior consultant at Frazer-Nash with over 16 years' experience of advising the nuclear, rail and defence sectors. Stuart's expertise in the nuclear sector includes delivering asset management good practice, and requirements and acceptance definition and management. A Chartered Physicist, Stuart is a member of the International Council on Systems Engineering (INCOSE) and has recently been involved in setting up and hosting a regional chapter of the organisation.

Lifecycle Stuart Taylor*

Privacy Policy
We have updated our privacy policy. In the latest update it explains what cookies are and how we use them on our site. To learn more about cookies and their benefits, please view our privacy policy. Please be aware that parts of this site will not function correctly if you disable cookies. By continuing to use this site, you consent to our use of cookies in accordance with our privacy policy unless you have disabled them.