Since hazard reduction of the Pile Fuel Storage Pond (PFSP) at Sellafield was prioritised by the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA), the estimated time for emptying the facility has been brought forward by 21 years and the estimated cost reduced by £700million. Sellafield Ltd has now announced that, this month, they have passed the point at which half the radioactivity has been removed.
The milestone was achieved when the final ‘canned fuel’ was transferred from the facility to a modern handling plant, operated by the National Nuclear Laboratory (NNL).
The PFSP is a relic from the Cold War when Sellafield produced material for the UK’s nuclear deterrent. It is one of four high hazard facilities on the site prioritised for clean-up (the others are the First Generation Magnox Storage Pond, the Magnox Swarf Storage Silos and the Pile Fuel Cladding Silo). It needs to have its contents removed so it can be drained and demolished.
Like most of the facilities on the site, the PFSP was not designed for easy decommissioning and much of its contents are extremely difficult to handle. The building itself was not in a good state either and improvement work was needed just to allow the retrieval work to commence.
Speaking about the progress made so far, Paul Foster, managing director of Sellafield Ltd, said: “I’m immensely proud of the progress we’re making in the Pile Fuel Storage Pond.
“Removal of the entire canned fuel inventory is a major step towards decommissioning this facility and reducing the risk posed by Sellafield’s legacy facilities.
“This is a fantastic example of how closer collaboration with our colleagues in Government, the NDA, our regulators and NNL is delivering fit-for-purpose solutions to the accelerated clean-up of the site.”
For the regulator (the ONR), Andy Lindley, director of ONR’s Sellafield Programme, also commented on the good progress being made: “The remediation of fuel and sludges from the legacy ponds has been gathering pace during 2015 and the success in removing canned fuel is a key milestone in the long term goal of achieving risk and hazard reduction at the site.”
Work is continuing to remove the remaining contents of the pond, including ‘metal fuel’, which is expected to be cleared by April next year at which point 70% of the radioactivity will have been removed. The final stage will be to remove the remaining wastes, in particular the radioactive sludge.