Unveiling the Origins: The Genesis of Joint Ventures in NORM Disposal Facilities

A joint adventure

“The history of the joint venture goes back to 2007 when SITA UK began the process of obtaining planning permission for a Naturally Occurring Radioactive Material (NORM) disposal facility at Stoneyhill,” explains Phil Holland, decommissioning development manager of SITA UK.

“At the time SITA was applying for a new NORM disposal route at Stoneyhill, Nuvia Limited was providing the specialist radioactive risk modelling and consultancy services. Knowing that Nuvia had, in the past, operated a NORM disposal facility based in Dounreay, the two companies put their heads together and came to the realisation that there was a big opportunity to develop a new NORM facility at Stoneyhill adjacent to the new disposal route.”

A specialist joint venture company, Nuvia SITA NORM Ltd brings together the nuclear experience of Nuvia Ltd, one of the UK’s leading radiation protection and radioactive waste experts, with the recycling and waste management capabilities of SITA UK. A nuclear specialist covering both the civilian and defence sectors, Nuvia’s operations cover the complete treatment lifecycle from new build to final decommissioning and waste management. The company has over 20 years of experience in the provision of NORM descaling and management services, which has seen it involved in the design and operation of onshore facilities in both the UK and the Middle East. Nuvia’s current purpose-built facility based at Winfrith has provided key services to the oil and gas industry in southern England since 2002 and utilises ultra-high pressure water jetting and abrasive scabbling techniques to descale a range of equipment including pumps, tubulars and valves.

The other half of the joint venture, SITA UK, is a recycling and resource management company and subsidiary of SUEZ ENVIRONNEMENT. Generating environmental, social and economic value from the UK’s waste, the company delivers environmentally responsible and innovative solutions for the public, local governments, industry and commerce. Serving over 12 million people, SITA UK handles more than nine million tonnes of domestic, commercial and industrial waste through a network of recycling, composting, energy-from-waste and landfill facilities.

“The two companies have been working on the joint venture for some considerable time with most of the planning and permit documents having been submitted approximately 18 months ago” Phil states. “The primary aim since the onset has been the development of NORM treatment and disposal facilities at Stoneyhill, and other potential locations in the future should the opportunity present itself. Having leased the existing transfer station building at Stoneyhill, this facility is currently in the process of being converted into a NORM treatment plant.

“As an expert in its particular field, Nuvia undertook the detailed design process, which features the incorporation of a completely new, fully enclosed NORM descaling plant that is of a similar style to the site the company operates in Winfrith. As of May 2011, the joint venture had completed the prerequisite planning conditions and the civil engineering work needed to redevelop the building. This means the building has been re-roofed, the yard re-concreted and the mechanical and electrical installations have now commenced. With various key components to be delivered over the next few weeks, it is anticipated that the plant will be complete by August 2011 and fully operational no later than October.”

With work at the NORM treatment plant drawing ever closer, Phil is keen to highlight how the facility will function and how it will handle the volume of work expected in the years to come: “The facility contains a substantial external lay-down area where NORM scale contaminated equipment will be stored. The plant will operate with a three-month external and a one-month internal buffer capacity and will have two NORM treatment lines. Each piece of equipment will be pulled into a sealed operating area, which is air and moisture sealed, and manually sprayed with ultra-high pressure water jets that strip the NORM scale away.

“During the treatment process the staff will be kitted out with air-tight ballistic protective clothing and special breathing apparatus as they will be operating in a very misty environment. Air filtration systems will be in action to prevent any particle contamination leaking out into the atmosphere and water systems will filter and re-circulate the run-off. Once the materials have been treated they will be subjected to an intense descaling assessment to ensure all radiation has been removed. If the product fails the test it will simply be sent back for more treatment, and upon completion the equipment can either be returned to the client or stockpiled before re-entering the national recycling market through SITA’s substantial commodities and metals trading business.”

With a shared belief that a significant opportunity has presented itself as oil companies operating in the North Sea seek to find alternative forms of radioactive treatment that prevents the need for offshore cleaning and dumping, Nuvia SITA NORM is preparing for an exciting period ahead: “With business expected to begin in the Autumn of 2011, the joint venture has budgeted for relatively gentle commissioning in the early days as staff are further developed and trained to work with radioactive waste materials. From 2012 onwards it is expected that business will then increase steadily as decommissioning becomes a greater issue within the industry,” Phil continues.

“The way the business is setup, there is the potential to expand with the opening of a second NORM facility for the southern North Sea, where the company has stronger metals recycling capabilities and potential hard standing areas suitable for lay-down and barge or supply boat offloading. In the meantime everyone involved with Nuvia SITA NORM is looking forward to getting the business up and running, and the company fully intends to be around as long as there is a need for decommissioning and NORM treatment in the North Sea,” Phil concludes.

Services: Naturally Occurring Radioactive Material – NORM treatment and disposal