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Lancaster Uni lends cyber support to nuclear decommissioning body

Lancaster University’s cyber team has joined with the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority to help support and protect its 300-year mission, while enhancing its own capabilities in the process

Cyber experts at the University of Lancaster have signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) to work alongside the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) as it goes about conducting its vital work of cleaning up and winding down the UK’s ageing civil nuclear estate.

Working alongside cyber services consultancy Templar Executives – which already supports many of the university’s other cyber-related projects such as its recently launched cyber MBA course – the university will align with the NDA on a number of key work areas with implications for the future security, growth and economic wellbeing of the UK.

Among other things, the MoU will support and expand Lancaster’s existing cyber security and protection sciences capacity and investment, and the current expansion in its Schools of Computing and Communications and Engineering. It also recognises the complementary skills and experience of all three parties, and will supposedly help them enhance cyber cooperation within the civil nuclear sector.

It will also contribute to the university’s expertise in nuclear engineering, including interests in decommissioning, robotics, nuclear fuel cycles and waste management, geological disposal, safety and regulation, environmental forensics, and safeguards and security.

“Lancaster is committed to working in partnership to develop the research and evidence base which underpins the security of critical national infrastructure [CNI] in the UK. By joining with organisations such as the NDA and Templar Executives we are bringing the full strength of our research and teaching excellence to the table, to foster knowledge exchange at the highest level and ultimately, together, effect operational change,” said Lancaster University vice-chancellor Andy Schofield.

NDA CEO David Peattie added: “We’re delighted to be furthering our relationship with Lancaster University and Templar Executives in the field of cyber space and cyber security.

“This MoU demonstrates our commitment to share understanding and expertise, recognising the complementary skills and experience of our organisations relating to cyber and the wider civil nuclear industry.

“Our work with all academic institutions is hugely important in progressing our mission and helping to create the subject matter experts we will need in the future to clean up our sites.”

A non-departmental public body sitting within the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero, the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority was established in 2004 having evolved out of the Coal and Nuclear Liabilities Board within what was then the Department for Trade and Industry.

The 250-strong body holds responsibility for decommissioning, cleaning up and making safe the UK’s 17 oldest nuclear sites, including nuclear power stations, research centres and fuel-related facilities, some of which now date back almost 80 years to the late 1940s.

Its sites are scattered around the UK at Berkeley, Oldbury, Hinkley Point and Winfrith in the West of England; Harwell in Oxfordshire; Dungeness in Kent; Bradwell and Sizewell in East Anglia; Trawsfynydd and Wylfa in Wales; Capenhurst in Cheshire; Springfields in Lancashire; and Chapelcross, Dounreay and Hunterston in Scotland.

Its most complex and dangerous work takes place at its 16th and 17th sites in Cumbria, Sellafield, the scene of the UK’s worst nuclear accident in 1957, and the Low Level Waste (LLW) Repository at nearby Drigg.

The authority’s mission will span many lifetimes, and it is estimated that its core goal of nuclear clean-up and waste management is expected to take at least a century, with the ultimate goal to achieve a so-called “end state” at all its sites by the year 2333 – 310 years from today.

By way of comparison, 310 years ago, in 1713, the Treaty of Utrecht was signed, ceding Gibraltar to Great Britain, and Charles Babbage's Difference Engine was still 109 years in the future.

Adjacent to the cyber realm, NDA recently hosted a demonstration day for technology designed to monitor and secure its 17 sites in the physical world.

Some of the solutions on show at the event hosted by the Satellite Applications Catapult – all developed through a £750,000 competition included a mobile, autonomous AI camera system that can be customised with specific algorithms to identify trespassers or vehicles; an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) or drone that learns its environment as it flies around, collecting data from ground-based sensors monitoring factors such as temperature, humidity, noise and motion; and Theia, an aerial robotic ‘Swiss Army knife’ that can deploy sensors and cameras at sensitive, inaccessible or dangerous (i.e. radioactive) locations.

Read more about cyber security for CNI

  • A Chinese threat actor known as Volt Typhoon has been observed infiltrating CNI networks in a cyber espionage campaign, according to intelligence.
  • Russian hacktivists supportive of their government’s war on Ukraine are turning their attention to disruptive or destructive attacks on critical infrastructure in the UK, the NCSC has warned.
  • An enhanced cyber security regime is being put in place to better protect UK government IT systems from growing threats.

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