Mini submarines prepare fuel for retrievals

Mini submarines or more correctly Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROVs) are being used at Sellafield to consolidate historic nuclear fuel and prepare it for retrievals.

Nuclear fuel consolidation is the next move in the complex game to decommission the 1950s First Generation Magnox Storage Pond (FGMSP).  The plan is to progressively retrieve and treat the Magnox spent nuclear fuel, radioactive sludges, miscellaneous nuclear wastes and fuel containers stored underwater in the legacy pond.

The ROV has an attached robotic arm which can pick up individual fuel rods.  The first 12kg spent fuel rod was successfully retrieved from the bottom of the seven-metre-deep fuel storage pond last year.  Since then, further trials have proved the ability of the ROVs to consolidate fuel in preparation for fuel retrievals from the pond.

Sellafield Ltd Technical Manager, Phil Toomey said: “The ROV trials have demonstrated that we can successfully sort, segregate and consolidate fuel between containers and from the floor to containers.

“We’ve moved over 4500kg of fuel rods using ROV technology, and some 50kg of spent fuel has been recovered from the pond floor and placed into containers ready for export.”

ROV pilots have had to train and practice extensively to gain the necessary dexterity to manoeuvre the ROV into position to safely pick up the fuel rods in an underwater radioactive environment.

Martin Leafe, head of FGMSP programme delivery said: “We’re working hard to decommission the FGMSP and recovering and consolidating historic fuel will help to reach our goal of removing one of the high hazards at Sellafield.  The FGMSP team has overcome yet another barrier to cleaning up the pond demonstrating real progress to our customer the NDA.”

Further development work is on-going with suppliers James Fisher Nuclear, Rovtech Systems Ltd, Hydrolec and VideoRay to extend the ROV capability to support decommissioning at Sellafield.

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