The decommissioning of one of Sellafield’s most hazardous buildings has taken a huge step forward with the arrival of a machine that will scoop out its radioactive contents.
The Silo Emptying Plant – a kind of giant fairground grabber machine on wheels – will painstakingly remove waste from the Magnox Swarf Storage Silo (MSSS), an aging storage plant prioritised for clean-up by the site’s owners, the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA).
This nationally important decommissioning challenge is just part of the UK nuclear story being explored in an ‘access all areas’ BBC 4 documentary, ‘Inside Sellafield’ to be broadcast on Monday 10th August at 9pm.
In the coming months, the Silo Emptying plant will arrive in 33 separate deliveries, brought by road from Wolverhampton to the Sellafield site where the bespoke machine will be assembled by nuclear experts.
This is the first of three plants of its kind to arrive in West Cumbria and marks an important step forward in the decommissioning programme at Sellafield. The removal of decades-old material from the legacy plants is taking place on a daily basis, significantly reducing the risk and hazard on the site.
The Silo Emptying Plant (SEP), is essentially a huge grabbing machine which will run on rails above the waste compartments. It has been developed specifically to deal with historical nuclear waste from the MSSS, which contains a quarter of Sellafield Ltd’s intermediate level waste inventory.
It will lock onto the silo hatches, lower specialist grabs into the 16-metre-deep waste compartments to bring up the waste, pack it into nuclear boxes and safely transfer it to one of the site’s modern stores where it will be kept safe and secure until a decision has been made on a long term storage solution.
The three plants were developed with Ansaldo NES, who successfully tested and dismantled them within a replica of the MSSS store at their factory in the midlands. Each weighs more than 30 double decker buses and will be re-assembled and re-tested at Sellafield before waste retrieval operations begin at the silo.
“The SEP design is complex, it has to be to deal with the significant challenge of retrieving wastes from MSSS, but is based on simple, robust concepts.” Alan Haile, head of MSSS projects said.
“Think of one of those fairground machines with a metal arm that struggles to grab soft toys, but imagine it on a huge scale within a radioactive environment, grabbing huge volumes of potentially hazardous material with absolute precision from 22 underwater compartments and transferring into safe storage, with no room for error.”
The SEP machines will have to operate in a radioactive environment where operator access is restricted due to the radiation levels and are therefore heavily shielded. They will play a vital part in the Sellafield clean-up, with an estimated 11,000m3 of historic waste and 60,000 items of Miscellaneous Beta Gamma Waste to be removed from the 22 underwater MSSS compartments.
Sellafield Ltd is making significant progress in cleaning up the UK’s nuclear legacy, having recently began removing sludge from the First Generation Magnox Storage Pond and the dismantling of ‘Cockcroft’s Folly’ at the top of the Windscale pile chimney, marking a significant change to the Sellafield skyline.
Source: Nuclear Matters
SPP1 handover: accelerating the Sellafield clean-up?
The ageing facility presents a significant decommissioning challenge with programme timescales stretching out for more than 100 years. But the recent completion and handover of a new £240m Sludge Packaging Plant (SPP1) is being described as a major milestone.
The SPP1 has been built to receive historic radioactive waste from Sellafield’s First Generation Magnox Storage Pond (FGMSP), which in its lifetime handled 27,000 tonnes of nuclear fuel and is now an urgent decommissioning priority. It is estimated there is up to 1,500 cubic metres of radioactive sludge left in the 60-year old nuclear pond which will be pumped into the new SPP1 towards the end of 2014.
The emptying and decommissioning of FMGSP presents a host of technical and safety challenges. For a start, the structure has no roof and sits open to the elements, meaning that the radioactive sludge that has accumulated over the years lies up to one metre deep in places. Until now, the removal of the sludge from the bottom of the pond has proved impossible, as Martin Leafe, Head of FGMSP at Sellafield, explains: “We simply didn’t have the means to deal with it. [Now, with the arrival of SPP1], we can make significant progress in decommissioning part of the UK’s historic nuclear legacy.”
The FMGSP is one of four high-hazard facilities at Sellafield – two fuel storage ponds and two waste silos dating back to the Cold War defence programme and nuclear civil engineering industry of the 1950s and 60s.
Prioritised for clean-up by the UK’s Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA), these facilities represent a majority of the hazardous nuclear inventory at Sellafield. And as an NDA spokesman explained in conversation with Nuclear Energy Insider, their decommissioning requires unique technical expertise and solutions: “Each of these four facilities requires a discrete set of complex engineering projects in order to first gain access, then retrieve, treat and repackage their waste materials for long-term storage and disposal. Many of these projects are engineering firsts; unprecedented in their complexity, hazard and scope.”
Certainly, the construction of the SPP1 involved the installation of a 31-metre-long, 50-tonne pipe-bridge in what was one of the most technically-demanding crane lifts ever performed at Sellafield.
The rest of the SPP1 structure, which was delivered by contractors Doosan Babcock and Balfour Beatty, comprises three enormous stainless steel buffer storage vessels (each equivalent to the volume of seven double-decker buses) made up of 11 separate sections. These sections were welded together on site before being slid into a reinforced concrete building, where they were rigorously tested and retested before being handed over, in early June, to the Sellafield operations team.
Reducing uncertainty and cost
According to the NDA spokesman, the completion of SPP1 is critical as it will enable the operations teams to better understand the scale of the challenge presented by the FGMSP: “Pumping the sludge from FGMSP will reduce the hazard within the facility and allow improved visibility and access. In this way, it will make a significant contribution to overall risk reduction.”
And at a time when so many uncertainties remain regarding the decommissioning programme at Sellafield, ‘improved visibility’ is everything: “When we are more certain about the nature and scope of the challenges, we can engage the private sector in a competitive process to accelerate activity and drive down costs.”
Indeed, the completion of SPP1 comes amid ongoing debate about the expense and direction of decommissioning operations at Sellafield and in the UK generally. Speaking as Chair of Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee in late 2013, MP Margaret Hodge described the spiralling costs of decommissioning at Sellafield as “an appalling waste of public money” and said cash was being “scattered like confetti”.
With estimated costs of the Sellafield clean-up operation rising to around £79.5bn, both the NDA and Sellafield’s parent company, the American-led consortium Nuclear Management Partners (NMP), have come in for fierce criticism from MPs, industry officials and pressure groups. NMP in particular have been lambasted for underperformance in their handling of the Sellafield programme since 2008.
But according to Sellafield spokesman Karl Conner, such criticism is unjustified: “NMP comprises three companies with global expertise in nuclear and decommissioning and we have seen a great number of positive impacts which can be directly attributed to NMP’s influence at Sellafield. Our Chief Decommissioning Officer, Jack DeVine, is an NMP secondee who has extensive worldwide experience. Under NMP’s direction, we are making great strides against our decommissioning mission.”
For Sellafield and the NDA, such strides are reflected in the completion and handover of SPP1. As Conner explains: “The SPP1 project demonstrates our ability to deliver decommissioning work successfully at Sellafield and increases confidence in us from our key stakeholders. It is a significant enabler of our ultimate goal and will help to make Sellafield safer sooner.”
A long journey
However, both Sellafield and the NDA are keen to point out that decommissioning is not a process that can be rushed – particularly not at Sellafield, which has no comparable site in Western Europe in terms of the extent and complexity of its clean-up requirements.
And according to the NDA, the very nature of the task makes it difficult to make accurate time and cost estimates: “It is natural that refinements will be required as these projects mature and discoveries are made that unearth new information about the challenge – information that would have been impossible to know until these projects were in flight. Beyond the short term, the plans contained within this programme are merely a set of assumptions that are subject to change as technology advances, approaches to decommissioning alter, the regulatory framework shifts and societal and political change take place.”
The completion and handover to SPP1, then, while a significant achievement for those involved and a vital ‘enabler’ within the decommissioning programme, is ultimately a small step on a very long journey.
Source: Nuclear Energy Insider
Japanese industrial giant Toshiba has formally taken a controlling stake in NuGen, the consortium behind plans to build three reactors at Moorside, near Sellafield.
The agreement sees Toshiba secure a 60 per cent stake and French firm GDF Suez retain a 40 per cent holding in NuGen, which has formed a new management team with Sandy Rupprecht as chief executive.
The consortium has also reached an agreement of around £200m to acquire the Moorside site from the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA).
John Clarke, the NDA’s chief executive, said the sale marks a “significant milestone” in nuclear new-build and “excellent news for the local community in terms of investment and jobs.”
The Whitehaven News reported last week that NuGen plans to be back on site next month to begin geographical surveys. It is hoped that site suitability will be determined next year, planning permission and licensing granted in 2018, allowing for construction to begin in 2020. The first AP1000 reactor would go on stream in 2024 and all three, with a combined 3.4GW capacity, operational by 2026.
Mr Rupprecht said: “Moorside is the most exciting new nuclear build project in Europe.
“We will be taking forward our project in West Cumbria – the UK’s nuclear heartland – and we expect the national and regional economies to benefit extensively.”
The announcement has been roundly welcomed. Copeland MP Jamie Reed said: “I don’t believe that there is another area of comparable size in the UK set to receive the sheer scale of economic investment that we are in West Cumbria – and every penny has been hard won.
“NuGen has rightly called our area Britain’s nuclear heartland, and we are about to commence Europe’s biggest new nuclear project.
“None of this has happened by accident, but close to a decade of work is beginning to pay off: we are beginning to turn the corner, we are building a new West Cumbria.”
The Sellafield Workers Campaign, which last month held an industry day to promote the benefits of new-build, welcomed the creation of new jobs during construction and when the plant becomes operational.
Craig Dobson, SWC secretary, added: “Low carbon nuclear power represents a major way forward for the world and the UK to drastically cut those emissions, protect our environment and keep the country’s lights on.”
Elaine Woodburn, leader of Copeland Council, said: “This is another significant step in the journey towards billions in investment and thousands of jobs, and we are delighted.”
David Southward, Cumbria County Council’s Cabinet member for nuclear, said: “It’s another important step in the development of this massive project which will be a linchpin of West Cumbria’s economic future.”
Source: Whitehaven News
Up to £13 million for new nuclear technologies
As the nuclear renaissance gathers pace, the NDA has again joined with other public bodies to open up opportunities for UK businesses, offering a total of up to £13 million investment for new technologies covering new build, current operations and decommissioning.
The collaboration between the UK innovation agency the Technology Strategy Board, the NDA and the Department of Energy and Climate Change is aimed at helping UK-based businesses take advantage of the opportunities arising following the recent agreement on Hinkley Point C, the first nuclear power station to be built in the UK for almost 20 years.
The funds will be made available early in 2014 as part of a drive to grow a robust, sustainable UK supply chain through the development of innovative products and services for the nuclear sector. The initiative will focus on key technology areas such as construction, manufacturing, operation, maintenance and decommissioning and waste.
Business and Energy Minister Michael Fallon said:
“We are committed to nuclear power as part of the low carbon mix of our future energy supply. And through our nuclear industrial strategy we are working in partnership with industry to grasp the multi billion pound long-term opportunities for UK companies and for thousands of highly skilled jobs.
“This funding will help UK companies to compete for contracts in areas like construction, manufacturing, operation, maintenance and decommissioning and waste. We want to build a robust UK based supply chain for existing and future nuclear power stations.”
Melanie Brownridge, the NDA’s Head of Research and Development, said:
“This continues a collaborative drive initiated more than 18 months ago that is already delivering significant innovative technological progress. We rely on a vibrant, dynamic supply chain and are pleased to invest in future capability.”
Iain Gray, Chief Executive of the Technology Strategy Board, added:
“This country has strengths in a wide range of technologies that will contribute to our growing domestic civil nuclear programme as well as taking advantage of significant global market opportunities. We will be focussing our support to ensure that UK businesses have the opportunity to engage fully in these programmes.”
In 2012, £18 million was invested in nuclear Research and Development through a partnership between the TSB, NDA, the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) and Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC). The 35 projects, which received funding following a competitive submission process are ongoing and include a wide range of innovative UK SMEs, large businesses and research institutes.
The new competition will focus on the technologies needed for Britain’s new fleet of power stations, but will also include further opportunities for developing innovation for existing stations and decommissioning programmes.
Further details will be announced in the New Year.
Berkeley named as preferred nuclear waste site
The deactivated Berkeley power station has been selected as the preferred site to store nuclear waste from the decommissioned Oldbury power plant.
The Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) has recommended the site be used as an interim Intermediate Level Waste (ILW) storage facility.
Waste would be transported by road from Oldbury to Berkeley in secure containers from 2017.
A consultation into the plan has begun and it could be approved in March.
An NDA spokesman said a total of 100 lorries would transport ILW in “safe, heavily protected boxes” between the two sites over a six-year period.
ILW includes materials such as fuel-element cladding, contaminated equipment and radioactive sludge.
John French, from the anti-nuclear campaign group Severnside Together Against Nuclear Development, said the nuclear authorities have “completely run out of ideas of what to do with such dangerous material”.
“The site will have to be protected [from flooding] and guarded from terrorists for hundreds, possibly thousands of years,” he said.
“There are considerable dangers, from accidents and terrorism, of transporting such dangerously radioactive material along the very small roads around Oldbury and on to the busy A38.”
Berkeley Power Station in Gloucestershire was the first in the UK to be decommissioned, in 1989.
Oldbury Power Station, about 20 miles to the south west, was deactivated in February last year.
Source: BBC News
Toshiba Buys British Nuclear Firm NuGeneration
Nikkei reported last week that Toshiba will purchase half of NuGeneration for roughly $200 million. That company was founded as a joint venture by GDF Suez and Iberdrola. Interest from Asian companies in the British nuclear program has ramped up in recent years. Toshiba rival Hitachi purchased Horizon Nuclear Power last year from RWE and EON, which were planning reactors at Wylfa, Oldbury and Anglesey.
NuGeneration in 2009 secured a purchase option from the UK’s Nuclear Decommissioning Authority to buy land near Sellafield for 3,600 megawatts of new nuclear generation. The government deemed the site suitable for new reactors in 2011, according to the company’s website, and NuGeneration has been developing detailed site plans in anticipation of an investment decision in 2015.
Source: Nuclear Street
Major projects and programmes reporting
The NDA has today published a pilot report covering a number of major projects and programmes. The intention is to give stakeholders greater visibility on the major projects and programmes that are strategically important for our mission.
The first version of the Priority Programme Report is a pilot which looks at six major projects or programmes: four at Sellafield; one for the Magnox sites; and one for Dounreay.
The report covers progress against the current lifetime plan of the relevant site, with targets and objectives aligned to the NDA’s annual Business Plan.
The intention is to publish the report every six months and the NDA will consider which further projects and programmes will be included in future reports after taking account of feedback received from the pilot. The NDA welcomes feedback on the presentation of the data in the pilot report. Comments can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org