Dounreay Team Begins To Empty Reactor Of Nuclear Material
27th September 2017
Work is underway to retrieve the last remaining radioactive fuel elements that have been stuck for decades inside the iconic Dounreay Fast Reactor (DFR).
The experimental dome-shaped nuclear reactor once led the world in fast breeder technology and after it closed in 1977 most of the core fuel was removed. But work to remove elements from the breeder zone came to a halt when some were found to be swollen and jammed. Almost 1,000 - around two-thirds of the total - were left in place.
Decommissioning the 58-year-old reactor is one of the most technically challenging projects in the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) estate and removing the breeder elements has been a top priority.
Now, after many years of designing and testing remotely-operated equipment, a decommissioning team has started to recover the elements.
It is expected to take around three years to remove them all, after which work can begin on the final dismantling of the landmark reactor.
"Dealing with this material is one of the highest priorities anywhere for the NDA, not just at Dounreay but across our UK sites. The safe and timely retrieval of the breeder material is crucial to both the site's closure programme and the national defueling programme," said David Peattie, NDA Chief Executive. "I am very pleased with this achievement which is a great example of how the Dounreay team and the NDA can work together to deliver results of national importance."
Ron Hibbert, Senior Project Manager at Dounreay Site Restoration Limited (DSRL), the company carrying out the work for the NDA, added: “Reaching this important stage has been a huge achievement by the project team.
“Emptying the reactor vessel of this material is one of the biggest engineering challenges we face in decommissioning the site and it's a great moment for DSRL and our contractors to see their hard work pay off.”
DFR was built in the 1950s at a time when there was a worldwide shortage of uranium for electricity generation. Its core was surrounded by a blanket of natural uranium elements that, when exposed to the effects of the radiation, would “breed” to create a new fuel, plutonium. UK experimentation with fast breeders came to an end in the 1990s.
During a recent visit to the reactor, Jamie Stone, Member of Parliament for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross, said: “Actually watching on screen the removal of an element from the reactor core was fascinating. Seeing the intricate techniques and skills, and the special locally designed equipment being used was absolutely inspirational.
“In an age when sometimes you begin to wonder where British technology is going, it is hugely encouraging to see what is being done at Dounreay. I take my hat off to the workforce.”
When the damaged elements were discovered, decommissioning effectively stopped for 20 years, until the decision was taken in 2000 to close down Dounreay and the creation of the NDA a few years later gave fresh momentum to the task.
The elements were immersed in some 57 tonnes of highly reactive liquid metal which had to be removed and destroyed before remotely-operated cameras could inspect the condition of the material. This programme took more than 10 years.
Now, following extensive research and development trials inside the plant and at a test rig on the outskirts of Thurso, work has started to remove the remaining breeder material.
Photograph: Jamie Stone MP looks on as the Dounreay team removes a fuel element from the reactor.
The Dounreay Socio Economic Plan sets out the main activities to be undertaken by the Dounreay Socio Economic Alliance (DSEA) which consists of Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA), Cavendish Dounreay Partnership (CDP) and Dounreay Site Restoration Ltd (DSRL. DSEA's activities are based on support to mitigate the economic impacts of the decommissioning of the Dounreay site.
The companies responsible for decommissioning Dounreay on behalf of the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority have set out proposals to ensure long-term employment for their workforce after the site closes. Around 1,100 Dounreay Site Restoration Limited (DSRL) staff taking apart the former research site have been told about a series of future commitments including the offer of a job with one of the companies behind the site's parent body organisation Cavendish Dounreay Partnership.
Roc Technologies Awarded 5-year Strategic IT Transformation and Managed Service Partnership by Dounreay. Roc Technologies recently announced it has been awarded a 5-year contract to transform and manage IT services by Dounreay Site Restoration Ltd(Dounreay).
Roc Technologies today announced it has been awarded a 5-year contract to transform and manage IT services by Dounreay Site Restoration Ltd(Dounreay). Dounreay is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Cavendish Dounreay Partnership Ltd, a consortium of Cavendish Nuclear, Jacobs and AECOM and funded by the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) to deliver the site closure programme at Dounreay.
More than 200 people packed into the Weigh Inn hotel in Thurso this week as Dounreay Site Restoration Limited and supply chain partners shared plans and ideas about the decommissioning of the site. Leading nuclear firms mixed with numerous small and medium sized enterprises for the event which was attended by those who either support the site through existing framework contracts or have registered for the innovative ‘LINC with Dounreay' scheme.
The Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) welcomed Lord Duncan of Springbank, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State in the Scotland Office, to its Dounreay site to see decommissioning progress. Lord Duncan travelled to Caithness to learn more about work on Scotland's largest nuclear clean-up and demolition project.
Decommissioning a nuclear reactor is about more than removing the core itself and, around a decade after work started to pull apart a host of support facilities associated with Dounreay's oldest reactor, they have all gone. Radioactive facilities, including a cooling pond, storage compound and examination cells assisted Dounreay Materials Test Reactor (DMTR) during its operational life.
Work has started to make safe one of the most hazardous materials left at Dounreay. Highly radioactive liquid, known as raffinate, has been stored in tanks for around 20 years after being produced as a by-product of Prototype Fast Reactor (PFR) fuel reprocessing.
Construction of a new facility to support the decommissioning of reactors and demolition of historic active laboratories are just two of Dounreay's major projects expected to be delivered as part of a new framework agreement, potentially worth up to £400 million, which is being published in the Official Journal of the European Union (OJEU) today. - www.ojeu.eu The decommissioning services framework agreement will initially be for a period of up to 4 years with the possibility of extensions of up to 3 years meaning skyline changes could be delivered over the next decade under the arrangements.
Engineers at Dounreay have raided a scrap car and a kitchen can opener to help decommission one of the site's reactors. The handbrake from a vintage 1968 Ford Cortina has been used to help steer a camera, attached to wheels taken from can openers, into the Prototype Fast Reactor (PFR) where a detailed survey inside the plant was completed.
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