Careful preparation and an in-depth assessment of the current situation are essential to avoid unwelcome surprises during decommissioning. In past projects, a wide range of challenges which every operator should know were met:
- Losing key staff — Particularly when a facility is being closed down, industries should try to retain their key staff throughout the decommissioning phase. No external staff can replace the experience of site engineers and chemists when it comes to a safe stop and depressurisation of the electrolytic process.
- Understanding the regulators' perspective — Companies that have postponed the decision often forget how determined the EU administration is to press ahead with the Mercury phase-out. The new regulation is a priority issue, and national authorities are under high pressure to swiftly implement the rules. It will be especially important to understand what national regulators require. Approval times can often take longer than planned since regulators within Europe are increasingly facing stretched resources.
- Site assessment is time consuming — Assessment is likely to require iterative investigations since sites are often large, complex and have long histories. Understanding the full scale of the operation, making financial preparations and planning timely allocations are three fundamental requirements for this. Sometimes operators forget the importance of documenting the site history in the past, often relying on old documents or even the memories of retired staff.
- Developing supplier support network — Identifying and engaging a variety of waste contractors that can accept the materials that arise is very important. If possible, companies should try to negotiate or build their own waste management supply chain. Golder Associates recently worked closely with a German chemical company to clear its site of mercury. It was decided that a plant to treat 70,000 metric tonnes of mercury-contaminated soil and rubble would be built. This treatment involved a combined process of soil washing and vacuum distillation. The plant was a prototype, built for the first time in industrial scale.
The new regulations are already reshaping the European chemical market, which has seen major merger and acquisitions as a result of a consolidation. Companies will have to adapt to this development parallel to a high technology transfer and remediation costs. However, the longer you wait, the harder it gets — this saying is especially true for players in the EU if they want to continue being global leaders in chlorine production.
* * The author is Business Development Manager for Sustainability Services at Golder Associates AB/Sweden.