Bradwell Site has taken another critical step towards closing its doors later this year as work to safely manage the final remaining radioactive waste stream comes to an end.
In a programme of work spanning seven years, hundreds of thousands of litres of radioactive resins and sludge have now been successfully retrieved, conditioned and packaged – making progress against the mission of decommissioning and removing the hazards left over from the earliest days of the UK’s nuclear industry.
These intermediate level wastes were accumulated during the 40 years when Bradwell was safely generating low carbon electricity. The radioactive sludge was collected from the ponds which stored the site’s spent nuclear fuel during operation, while the resins were important for removing the radioactive content from site’s discharges – making sure they were kept within safe and permitted levels.
Once it had been retrieved, the waste was treated and packaged in innovative self-shielding ductile cast iron containers known as ‘yellow boxes’ making it suitable for interim storage in the site’s purpose-built facility.
Carl Harden, Magnox Project Manager, said: “Completing this work is absolutely critical to getting the site into care and maintenance. Our independent nuclear regulators need to be completely reassured that there’s no more waste left on the site which needs to be treated.
“The next step in the decommissioning programme will be to dismantle the operational plant itself.”
Bradwell is one of 17 civil nuclear sites in the UK owned by the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA), and will reach a milestone for the nuclear industry when it becomes the first to enter a care and maintenance (C&M) phase.
During C&M the site is left in a safe condition while remaining radioactivity decays naturally. However, the site’s interim storage facility will still be receiving packaged waste from other Magnox sites in the south east for some time.
The site will be monitored, maintained and periodically inspected until final site clearance is started in about 80 years’ time. The last stage in a site’s lifecycle will see the removal of reactor vessels and building demolition.
Bob Nichols, Bradwell Site Closure Director, added: “This is a fantastic achievement for the site, for the whole of Magnox and for the NDA. The work hasn’t been without its challenges, but the lessons we’ve learned will be extremely valuable for the other sites which follow Bradwell into C&M.
“We are now focused on the last few steps to get Bradwell into C&M – completing weatherproofing work on the reactor buildings and removing the remaining ancillary buildings on site. Closing Bradwell during this calendar year is firmly in our sights”.
Alan Cumming, Nuclear Operations Director at the NDA, added: “The clean-up of intermediate level waste at Bradwell has been a priority for a number of years and is a perfect demonstration of progress being made against our mission to decommission and clean-up the UK’s civil nuclear legacy.”
This achievement follows a significant 12 months of decommissioning progress at the site, which also saw the completion of fuel element debris dissolution in June 2017 and the reclassification of some of this intermediate level waste as low level waste, enabling it to be sent to the UK’s Low Level Waste Repository, in Cumbria, for disposal.