Sellafield sludge retrieval receives a lift

It was one of the most technically challenging crane lifts ever performed on the Sellafield site of the 30 metre long pipebridge used to transfer radioactive sludge from the First Generation Magnox Storage Pond (FGMSP) to the new Sludge Packaging Plant (SPP1)

Space was extremely tight, the load was heavy and awkward, and the consequences of failure didn’t bear thinking about. However someone did think about potential failure and months of work were carried out to ensure the lift was a total success.

Project manager Steve Harnwell said: “It was an immense challenge for the team to plan and get this job approved. Failure wasn’t an option – we had to lift a 50te pipebridge into place in order to link a 60-year-old legacy pond with a new sludge storage facility.

“The job involved convincing ourselves, the safety experts and our safety regulators that we could safely build one of the world’s largest mobile cranes in the heart of the Sellafield site. Just finding enough space between the buildings was a challenge, never mind lifting the pipebridge over the top of neighbouring nuclear facilities.

“It was a mammoth task, carried out with an enormous crane, which had to be executed with surgical precision. Prior to the actual lift we had a dummy run off site to check that the whole lifting operation could physically be done. The team work was totally professional and I’ve nothing but praise for what is a landmark achievement in the decommissioning programme.”

The 30 metre long pipebridge will be used transfer radioactive sludge from the First Generation Magnox Storage Pond (FGMSP) to the new Sludge Packaging Plant (SPP1) for interim storage. The FGMSP is one of the priority decommissioning projects at Sellafield. The legacy sludge has to be retrieved from the pond floor to allow the pond to be emptied of nuclear fuel and the facility decommissioned. Installation of the pipebridge will not only allow retrievals to commence in 2014 but will provide a valuable back-up emergency route for the FGMSP pond, prior to it being emptied.

Ground preparations for the crane required 40m3 of concrete foundations to be poured to provide a stable base for the lifting operations. The 1200te crane travelled to site on a number of wagons. A second 100te crane was used to prepare the site and build the larger crane.

Mark Steele, head of programme, Sellafield, for the NDA, said: “The crane lift shows what good work can be achieved by challenging norms and expectations. Assembling the pipebridge off site and putting arrangements for the crane lift in place has saved significant work on site and allowed the task to be completed some 18 months earlier than scheduled.

“We appreciate the efforts by the project team and all involved on the site and supply chain. It’s good to see these initiatives being grasped by the programme and the more support we can all give to these endeavours the better. Congratulations to the team.”

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