Workers at Dounreay have destroyed one of the most hazardous legacies of Britain’s earliest atomic research: the liquid metal coolant from the primary circuit of Dounreay’s experimental fast reactor.

A purpose-built chemical plant processed the last of 57,000 litres of liquid metal (NaK) lifted from the primary cooling circuit of the experimental fast breeder reactor in April.

An estimated 1000 trillion becquerels of caesium-137 was removed from the coolant during the chemical process that turned the 57 tonnes of liquid metal into 20,000 tonnes of salty water and took four years to complete.

Scotland’s Cabinet Secretary for the Environment Richard Lochhead saw the last batches being processed.

He said: “This is a tremendous achievement and another example of how the highly skilled Dounreay workforce is delivering a world-class clean-up operation at one of the most complex nuclear sites in Europe.

The Nuclear Decommissioning Authority said it was “extremely pleased” the liquid metal no longer posed a hazard.

“This was very high on the list of hazards we wanted reduced across our whole estate,” said Nigel Lowe, head of the NDA’s Dounreay programme. “It’s a significant achievement for Dounreay and joins a long list of examples whereby the site has delivered on key objectives and technical challenges.”

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