UK nuclear waste operator Nuclear Waste Services has recently achieved CIWM Accreditation for its Waste Management Career Pathway, Phil Lattimore looks at what this means for the organisation and the broader nuclear sector.
It may have a low public profile, but the UK’s nuclear waste management sector plays a critical role in servicing the needs of the country’s nuclear industry in what is a highly sensitive and sometimes challenging environment.
Within this specialist sector, operator Nuclear Waste Services (NWS) is a key component of the UK’s nuclear waste management capabilities, handling the majority of waste that can be safely transported to treatment/conditioning facilities.
NWS was launched in January 2022 as part of the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) group – the UK body in charge of nuclear clean-up and decommissioning – bringing together several sector bodies into one specialist organisation focused on the treatment and disposal of radioactive waste.
Recognising its role as part of the wider UK’s waste management community, NWS became a CIWM Affiliated Organisation last year and has recently gone through the process of achieving CIWM Accreditation for its Waste Management Career Pathway professional development framework (which came into effect in January).
We are looking to grow our expert capability in the field of radioactive and conventional waste management.
Four members of the NWS team are currently undergoing the journey to chartered membership, and the aim is to deepen this partnership with the CIWM further, according to Dr Craig Ashton, waste services director at NWS.
“In line with our strategy, we are looking to grow our expert capability in the field of radioactive and conventional waste management to support delivery of the wider NDA mission,” he explains.
“The long-term goals are to grow a pool of chartered waste managers within NWS and be the main point of contact for all waste management enquiries. Being affiliated with the CIWM and having this accreditation demonstrates to all external customers and partners how seriously we take the development of our staff, and how we always strive to be the best in this sector.”
Background in radiation
The establishment of NWS in 2022 integrated the long-established expertise of site operator Low-Level Waste Repository (LLWR), Radioactive Waste Management (RWM), and the NDA’s Integrated Waste Management Programme (IWMP).
The organisation, which employs around 750 people, draws on a range of specialist skills and innovative solutions – covering areas such as waste characterisation, treatment, recycling, volume reduction, packaging, and disposal. NWS is also seeking to develop more services for customers across the nuclear energy, defence, industrial, medical and research sectors.
NWS’s primary task is moving nuclear waste from one facility to another, to be disposed of, treated or stored. This, of course, demands a higher level of security and controls than standard waste; it operates within a strict regulatory framework, taking on nuclear liability that requires effective risk management and core considerations for public safety – in some cases requiring armed police vehicle escorts.
We want NWS to be a great place to work, where everybody is action orientated, ambitious, collaborative and acts with integrity.
NWS is also committed to helping deliver on the NDA’s decommissioning targets – recycling 50 per cent of waste from decommissioning and reducing secondary waste by around 70 per cent by 2030.
In her initial launch statement, NWS’s Chief Executive Officer, Corhyn Parr, set out the organisation’s commitment to professional development: “We want NWS to be a great place to work, where everybody is action orientated, ambitious, collaborative and acts with integrity. It will combine the talent of our people and give them an environment in which to thrive. Not only will this be good for our people, but also allow NWS to grow its capability even further.”
A journey to professionalism
Attracting the best possible talent to the organisation – and retaining it – were the key drivers for NWS to seek CIWM Accreditation. In an industry where long-term planning – sometimes over decades – is essential, getting recruitment and retention right is crucial.
Mark Worral, WMS standards manager at NWS, was tasked with making all this happen. “We want to attract high-calibre people, the best talent, to pursue a career in the nuclear industry,” Worrall says.
“We want to provide people with a development plan where they can graduate from college/university with a relevant degree and see a clear career pathway, a route from apprentice through to being a full-chartered waste manager – regarded as an expert in their field.”
NWS began its professionalism journey by contacting the professional services team at CIWM to discuss the requirements for CIWM Accreditation.
“We saw the partnership on accreditation, affiliation and chartership with CIWM as the most established and recognisable route for us to take to deliver our strategy for making our ‘waste expert pipeline’ a reality,” Worrall explains.
We saw the partnership on accreditation, affiliation and chartership with CIWM as the most established and recognisable route for us to take.
“It also enables us access to training through CIWM and other benefits, while chartership will enable our experts to tap into the pool of expertise from other sectors that CIWM offers.”
The first step for Worrall was to submit a programme for NWS’s proposed career pathway, outlining each element of NWS’s requirements at each step of professional development, from apprentice to expert level – in terms of qualifications, skills development, experience, training courses, and other relevant criteria necessary (or desirable) at every level.
The CIWM team then carried out a comprehensive assessment of the specification NWS submitted, requiring Worrall to provide additional evidence on elements such as how the organisation delivers and registers its courses, how it assesses and records experience and knowledge, and so on.
After a thorough assessment process, CIWM informed Worrall that NWS had been successful in gaining accreditation.
Worrall found the process suitably rigorous, but he sees this thorough approach as essential to ensure that the accreditation reflects the highest level of quality for its in-house professional development. “The team at CIWM were fantastic,” he says.
The NDA is looking at a long-term strategy for career pathways across all its organisations.
“They were extremely supportive, helpful and knowledgeable. They gave us good guidance at every step along the way. Every part of the process and reason for it was fully explained at each point. The professionalism, communication, clarity and focus on the end goal from the CIWM team were exemplary.”
Sarah Poulter says of the collaboration: “Working with NWS, to benchmark professionalism, career development and achievement of the waste management career pathway through CIWM Accreditation, was also important to our goals, which support the development of current and future skills in the sector.”
Worrall anticipates NWS’s experience will encourage other organisations within the industry to embrace CIWM Accreditation.
“The NDA is looking at a long-term strategy for career pathways across all its organisations, and the one we already have in place is the first of its kind – almost like a ‘flagbearer’. I strongly expect that CIWM will be receiving a lot of enquiries from others in the nuclear waste sector soon.”