Workers have now removed 50% of the radioactivity from the site's oldest nuclear fuel pond at the UK's Sellafield site. In October, the final 'canned fuel' was transferred from the facility to a modern handling plant, operated by the National Nuclear Laboratory (NNL).
The Pile Fuel Storage Pond is a relic from the Cold War when Sellafield produced material for the UK's nuclear deterrent. It is one of four high hazard facilities on the site prioritised for clean-up by the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA).
Removing its contents so it can be drained and demolished is hugely challenging because the facility was not built with decommissioning in mind. The stored fuel is several decades old, some in a fragile state, and the pond building itself had to undergo many years of improvements to be able to withstand the retrieval operations. Sellafield Ltd managing director Paul Foster said: "Removal of the entire canned fuel inventory is a major step towards decommissioning this facility and reducing the risk posed by Sellafield's legacy facilities. This is a fantastic example of how closer collaboration with our colleagues in Government, the NDA, our regulators and NNL is delivering fit-for-purpose solutions to the accelerated clean-up of the site."
Work is ongoing around-the-clock to remove the remaining contents of the pond, including 'metal fuel', which is expected to be cleared by April next year. Once achieved, more than 70% of the pond's radioactivity will have been removed. Attention will then switch to clearing other wastes, including sludge. The date at which the pond will be ready for draining has been brought forward 21 years since the 2011 estimate and is on track to reduce the original estimated cost by GBP700m ($1,068m).
The Pile Fuel Storage Pond was built in the 1940s to support plutonium production at Windscale. It was prioritised for clean-up by the NDA and contains 1,000 different wastes, including fuel, equipment and radioactive sludge.