Acorn Coaching and Development

Improving business performance

Sellafield Ltd

Delivering High Performance in the Nuclear Sector

The nuclear industry is arguably the world’s most challenging business sector, where the demands upon companies and the issues they face are more acute because of the nature of the work being undertaken and the high profile of the sector itself.

Companies operating in the sector, from SMEs to multi nationals, and Frameworks to individual contractors, must deliver high performance and are often called upon not simply to demonstrate outstanding technical capability, but also extraordinary levels of collaboration and team working.

Acorn has enjoyed a long association with companies working in the nuclear sector and in particular on the Sellafield nuclear site, where we maintain strong relationships with key players.

The scope of Acorn’s involvement spans framework board alignment and focus, senior leadership coaching, project team performance from bid stage through to delivery, and effective collaboration within multi-disciplinary and joint venture teams.

  • High-performance-nuclear-sector-2

Vault 9

Planning permission for the development of Vault 9 at the Sellafield nuclear site’s Low Level Waste Repository was granted in January 2008, and construction commenced in September 2008. Our first experience within the nuclear sector, Vault 9 saw us working alongside the NDA, Washington Group International and Birse Nuclear, tasked with creating a more collaborative culture between the client and contractors.

As a consequence of the subsequent success at Vault 9 Sellafield Ltd, the company responsible for delivering decommissioning, reprocessing and nuclear waste management at the Sellafield site on behalf of the NDA, asked Acorn coaching to work with the SPP1 and then the B30 storage facilities.


Following our success with Vault 9 Acorn was requested to assist with the Sludge Packaging Plant (SPP1), built to handle historic radioactive waste at Sellafield. The main contractors were Doosan Babcock and Balfour Beatty.

'Each organisation had a very different business culture and approach which had the potential to cause major headaches, and possibly cause delays. Our role was to help the Alliance gel, identify with each others’ point of view, and recommend some ground rules for their ongoing working relationship throughout the project’s duration. In short, to align expectations.'

Keith Longney, Director, Acorn Coaching

We also delivered 1-1 coaching for a number of key people within the project management team, to assist in leading the project effectively to deliver to required parameters.


Following our success within SPP1 we were asked to support the Joint Venture team tasked with managing the retrieval of highly radioactive materials from the cooling pond in the centre of building B30 at Sellafield, an extremely sensitive legacy from Britain’s rapid post-war nuclear expansion. This waste would be processed within the Sludge Packaging Plant.

The project presented a range of engineering and safety challenges. Acorn was engaged at a strategic stage when the major hurdles were establishing a realistic cost, and producing a schedule that was acceptable to all the stakeholders. Consequently, one of the initial requirements was to support the development of a cohesive team with a unified vision, to facilitate this extensive planning and development phase.

'Acorn is frequently involved in the early stages of joint venture and partnership projects which bring together various skill sets and business cultures. We have enjoyed considerable success in helping the various participants to begin to see themselves as a single team and to behave accordingly.'

Steve Gee, Acorn Senior Consultant

The Evaporator D Project

The UK’s largest nuclear project involving a framework of companies including Costain, Redhall, Interserve and Sellafield Ltd. Running from 2006, this has been a complex project with many challenges, aided by Acorn in the latter stages when we were asked to assist in enhancing alignment between the main contractors.The outcome from our intervention was the creation of closer working relationships between team members from the companies involved, a renewed commitment to achieving progress targets, and increased collaboration to overcome issues.

Fuller details of this intervention are available in the case study Accelerated Performance for Large Scale Joint Venture Project Team.


The new Silos Maintenance Facility (SMF) has been under construction at Sellafield for the last 4 years and once built will support the retrieval of historic waste from the Magnox Swarf Storage Silos (MSSS) and Pile Fuel Cladding Silo (PFCS).

The third phase of the SMF contract was awarded to a joint venture consisting of Sellafield Ltd, Cavendish Nuclear and Balfour Beatty.

Acorn has carried out a number of development interventions primarily centred around working with the SMT to develop a united approach to the effective management of the project. To date a number of diagnostic and research processes have been carried out in order to determine and monitor the level of collaboration occurring within the JV.

Nexus Decom Alliance

Nexus has been confirmed as a Delivery Partner for the Decommissioning Delivery Partnership (DDP) framework, worth a predicted £500m, and will enter a 10-year agreement to support Sellafield Ltd staff on the decommissioning of Europe’s most complex nuclear site.

Whilst still in the early stages, main contractors Costain have asked Acorn to be involved in supporting this Framework.

LLWR Graham

LLWR brought in Graham Construction, a construction, asset management and project investment business with experience in the nuclear sector, as a Framework Provider to work with them to deliver their projects in a cost-efficient, timely manner.

LLWR identified a desire to accelerate performance within their own company, but also in their interface with Graham, if they were to deliver projects within agreed parameters. They identified effective collaboration as the fundamental key to this success.

Summary of business benefits to date

Senior management in LLWR report that they are seeing significantly greater acceptance of Graham by LLWR than with previous contractors, where there has traditionally been a hierarchical and ‘contractual’ relationship.

Assisted by a clear project Vision, and with the ongoing engagement and support of key senior personnel, they are also gaining a sense of a genuinely collaborative approach to identify and resolve potential issues early.

This is already resulting in key areas of the project working in a highly effective manner in jointly problem-solving, resulting in performance improvement.

Fuller details of this multi-staged intervention can be read in the LLWR Graham case study Creating and Embedding a Collaborative Culture for the Lifetime of a Framework Agreement: 12 months in.


A nuclear decommissioning project on the LLW Repository site at Drigg is being delivered by an integrated team of LLWR personnel and contract support led by NSG Environmental. Working under increasingly tight parameters from the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA), Acorn were asked to assist with delivering cost savings.

We took the client and contractors through our Team Coaching Process, using our Team Coaching Questionnaire to systematically analyse the team’s capability in five key areas of team performance. Using this alongside other data, the focus was transferred to identifying significant issues impeding the project’s performance, and identifying the causal issues. This led to thedevelopment of highly impactful cost savings across the project.

As a result we subsequently worked with DAPS and Supervisors, and have provided executive coaching for senior team members.

"The Acorn programme has been instrumental in really focusing the project lead team...leading to multi million pound savings"

Andy Deall, NSG Site Operations North Director

For fuller details please see the case study Multi million pound Savings for West Coast Nuclear Decommissioning Project.

Our work with SMEs

SMEs play an increasing and important role in the delivery of specialist services to nuclear decommissioning, reprocessing and new build, and Acorn has had the opportunity to work alongside the following companies.

REACT Engineering

REACT Engineering is a specialist company delivering strategic, engineering and project management solutions to the challenges faced by the UK nuclear industry in decommissioning, waste management and asset care.

Acorn has supported REACT on succession planning, senior team coaching and development, and talent management to make the most of the graduates and young engineers recruited into the business.

NSG Environmental Limited

Another specialist in the nuclear decommissioning and waste management sector has benefited from support provided by Acorn in developing the leadership capability within the company, and improving the effectiveness of the senior management team.

Acorn provided Team Coaching to assist the three senior directors to align their thinking and look strategically at the business, while identifying the leadership behaviours and competencies required to meet the short to medium term needs of the business.

A development centre designed to identify talented individuals capable of taking the business forward gave the directors a clearer, objective perception of future talent within the business, and Acorn created a coaching capability to continue development of that future leadership talent and assist strategic development. To read more please see the case study Nuclear Specialist Develops Talent for Business Growth’.

In Summary

Acorn director Keith Longney said: 'Our experience and long term involvement with companies in the nuclear sector equips us with a unique insight into the demands, pressures and priorities, and that informs our offering. We don’t claim to know everything about the sector but we bring a sound understanding which, coupled with our pragmatic approach to enhancing performance, means our clients can be confident of added value and a positive outcome'.

Back to the top