Plutonium Contaminated Material (PCM) milestones reached

Waste teams from Sellafield Ltd are helping to make the Sellafield site safer having successfully reached two major milestones to retrieve historic Plutonium Contaminated Material (PCM) – ahead of schedule.

Completion of this work also coincides with a major safety milestone, as the PCM workforce have now worked for four years without a lost time accident.

PCM has arisen from reprocessing operations at Sellafield since the 1950’s and has been stored in various facilities adapted or purpose built at both the Sellafield and Low Level Waste Repository sites.

The teams have accelerated the project to compact plutonium mass retrieved from historic facilities into safe storage – processing almost the same amount of material in the past two years that has been processed in the previous eleven years.

PCM on the Sellafield site is stored within 200 litre drums. In order to process the drums they are compacted in the waste treatment complex and placed up to six at a time into larger 500 litre Product drums. These drums are then filled with a special grout which ensures that the PCM is immobilised into a safe and passive form suitable for long term disposal at minimal volume.

Last year, the contents of three stillages that contained radioactive filters (categorised as PCM) dating back to the mid 1970s were successfully transferred to modern high-integrity storage, as part of a five year retrieval project.

Building on this, the PCM team has now successfully retrieved a further six stillages – three months earlier than planned, safely repacking them and placing them in specially designed high integrity engineered drum stores pending long term disposal.

Les Martin, Head of PCM delivery said: “The filter stillage removal has been achieved thanks to the co-operation and mobility of the workforce. It demonstrates in tangible terms, the benefits of such partnerships in safely reducing hazard and risk on the Sellafield site. Going forward we will be specifically accelerating stillage removal and also targeting the compaction of drums with higher radioactive content to reduce the hazard even further.”

Traditionally held in a series of pre-cast concrete panelled buildings, retrieval of the stillages is a highly intensive task, with the workers involved required to wear full air fed suites equipped with respirators to prevent the risk of contamination.

Waste and Effluent Disposition Director, Mike Johnson added: “These teams have captured the very heart of our performance goals for Sellafield Ltd: safely performing hazard reduction. My congratulations and thanks to the teams and all who have supported them.”

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