Sellafield skip handler ready to start retrievals

Sellafield Ltd has taken an important step towards retrieving waste from a 60-year old nuclear fuel storage pond, now that a specially designed crane known as a skip handler machine is fully operational for the first time since the 1990s.

Jim French, NMP Executive Director for Sellafield Ltd, Decommissioning said: “This is a major step forward in our mission to reduce risk and hazard on the Sellafield site in accordance with the NDA’s requirements. I’m immensely proud of the workforce who used all their expertise and sought innovative solutions to bring the skip handler machine back into operation. The skip handler was in such a poor state from under-investment that it was actually condemned in 2002 and bringing it back into service will have a massive impact on the decommissioning programme.”

This success follows the completion of a complex refurbishment program, lasting many years and involving scores of specialist engineers. The 60 tonne skip handler machine is an enormous machine which straddles the 19 metre wide First Generation Magnox Storage Pond (FGMSP) and is used to move skips of fuel, waste and equipment around the pond. Now that the skip handler is operational again, the first job was to move four skips to demonstrate the skip handler’s capability and to reduce risk in the FGMSP.

Mark Steele, Head of Programme, Sellafield, for the NDA said: “Getting to a position where work can begin on retrieving waste from facilities such as the First Generation Magnox Fuel Storage Pond (FGMSP) is key to successfully delivering risk and hazard reduction. Its complex and challenging work and I’m pleased to see progress being made.”

Refurbishment of the supporting steelwork and rails for the skip handler to run on took two years and involved over 300 workers. This involved working at height over the pond, in often poor weather with significant radiation levels to contend with.

A complete new control system was also installed in the original machine and new, enhanced tooling was designed and manufactured for the skip handler. This new tooling will mean that fuel skips can be retrieved and relocated, and fuel and sludge can start to be retrieved from the storage pond.

Dave Skilbeck, Head of FGMSP Operations said: “The skip handler machine is critical to our retrievals programme and we are on schedule against the highly challenging performance plan to achieve this. “Next steps are to create enough space in this busy storage pond to install the equipment to retrieve radioactive sludge from the pond floor. The recently installed pipebridge will transfer the sludge between the FGMSP and the new the Sludge Packaging Plant 1 (SPP1), which when complete will store the retrieved sludge. The plan is to start sludge retrieval at the end of 2014.

”In parallel we’re using a Remotely Operated Vehicle, which is like a mini submarine, to pick up fuel and consolidate fuel skips in preparation for the retrieval of fuel from the pond. We have over 1200 skips in the pond, space is tight and pond water visibility can be poor, so we’ve got quite a challenge in front of us, but we’re totally committed to accelerating the work and reducing the hazards.”

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