Mark Mills and his team at RSRL used TRIZ to develop a new way of producing an accurate estimate for the clean of nuclear contamination within a building at Harwell. This produced a comprehensive scope document and ensured that the problem was considered from multiple perspectives with risk, uncertainty and opportunities documented, with all stakeholders engaged and developing a shared understanding of the project. The approach has been adopted as the framework for all future cost estimation revisions.  

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TRIZ Case Study – Research Sites Restoration Limited Estimating

The Requirement 

RSRL is responsible for the closure of Harwell, a nuclear research site whose history dates back to the dawn of the UK’s nuclear industry in the 1940s. There are many buildings with varying levels of nuclear contamination which must be cleaned before the buildings can be demolished, and RSRL must maintain up-to-date estimates for the nuclear decommissioning of each building

The workshop was held as RSRL needed to revise the decommissioning estimate for the clean-up of radioactive contamination within one specific building, to enable it to be demolished safely. This workshop was part of a larger project to revise the process for estimating nuclear decommissioning.


There is a large building with radioactive contamination, a management team with operational and maintenance experience and an in-depth knowledge of the building, but limited decommissioning experience. A new annual funding limit has been put in place that places a ceiling on how much work can be completed in a single financial year. Historical estimating practices lack focus and are risk adverse.

TRIZ was selected by the new estimating manager as a facilitation tool, to help shape behaviour during a workshop. The workshop was arranged to scope out the decommissioning project in line with the new requirements to inform the production of the plan and cost estimate.  

Tackling the Problem

The two tools that were selected for use in the workshop were:

Ideal Outcome:

  • Looking at the situation from a ‘can do’ perspective rather than a ‘can’t do’.
  • Allowing a creative mindset by focussing on what we want going forward rather than what we’ve had to accept in the past.  

Thinking in Time and Scale (9-Boxes):

  • Looking at how the structure had been contaminated through time and how that contamination had been managed.

  • Looking at how funding changed over time

  • Looking at where the building was in relation to the site, the organisation and the industry.

  • Looking at where rooms and areas were in relation to the building 
RSRL Nuclear Decommissioning 9 boxes diagram

Thinking in time and scale was the first tool introduced to the team and was used in conjunction with floor plans of the building. 

It was decided that individual rooms constituted the sub-system; the system was the building and the super system the site/organisation. 

The first task involved establishing a ‘best’ room and a ‘worst’ rooms (Cell 8) and then establish why they were the best and worst rooms (Cell 7) and how many similar rooms existed. 

Next was to understand the relationship between the rooms and the building and whether the contamination was confined to a room or covered a wider area (Cell 5), after this the way the building had been constructed was analysed (Cell 4) to see if there were any hazards or opportunities. 

Nuclear Decommissioning 9 boxes of TRIZ

It was established that the building had been constructed in three parts, that it could be naturally sectioned but that there were a number of shared services such as ventilation and drains that crossed these boundaries. Next the team looked at the problem from a site/organisation  perspective (Cell 2) in terms of were the building is with regards to other structures, what access is like and any services it provides or shares with the site. 

Finally they looked at what was there before the building was constructed (Cell 1); was it green field or was it brown field?

Before looking at the ‘Future’ cells (Cells 3,6,9) it was decided to introduce ‘Ideal Outcome’ to further help shape the thought process and to control the psychological ‘headwind’ that safety can create within the industry. 

Different types of contamination require different safety / containment management solutions; you need to protect people and also uncontaminated areas within the building.  Our building has had many uses throughout its history and safety management has evolved from very few to today’s strict requirements.

TRIZ case study RSRL nuclear decommissioning


Completing Cells 3, 6 and 9 was probably the purpose of the session, to establish the objectives of the project. 

Ideal outcome was used in conjunction with our risk, uncertainty and opportunity process. The team articulated what they thought would be an ideal outcome for a particular activity or package of work and then identified the assumptions and exclusions required to facilitate a successful outcome. 

The ideal outcomes were recorded in Cells 3, 6 and 9; and the assumptions and exclusions reviewed in terms of impact and probability of occurrence and recorded on the Probability Impact Grid (PIG).


  • Overall project duration
  • Individual workpackage durations
  • Yr on Yr liability / risk reduction
  • Process cost reduction
  • New waste disposal routes
  • No RHILW 
  • No site dependencies

TRIZ case study RSRL nuclear decommissioning final outcome


The workshop was successful on two fronts: 

  • It acted as launch event for the project and ensured that all stakeholders were involved in developing an understanding of what the project requirements were. 
  • It produced a comprehensive scope document and ensured that the problem was considered from multiple perspectives with risk, uncertainty and opportunities documented. 

The information was written up into a scope document and was used to develop the project plan using Primavera and the base cost estimate. 

Next Steps

The approach has been adopted for other projects that required estimate revisions completed.

Nuclear Decommissioning RSRL and Harwell


This case study is the result of a one day in-house problem solving session run by Oxford Creativity at Research Sites Restoration Limited, and was presented by Mark Mills from RSRL at an event organised by the IET and ACostE on 16 September 2010

Report prepared by:

Karen GaddOxford Creativity and Mark Mills, RSRL

View RSRL Nuclear Decommissioning Case Study (PDF)