Radioactive sludge removed from UK’s Pile Fuel Storage Pond

Radioactive sludge has been transferred out of the world’s oldest nuclear fuel pond for the first time, the UK’s Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) and Sellafield Ltd announced yesterday. The project is being delivered ten years ahead of schedule and for half the expected cost, they said in a joint statement.

Sludge – formed from decaying nuclear fuel, natural growing algae and other debris – has accumulated in the water of the Pile Fuel Storage Pond (PFSP) at Sellafield during its 65-year lifespan. It must be removed so the facility can be safely decommissioned. The PFSP is one of the four ageing facilities at Sellafield which the NDA has prioritised for clean-up.

The project is being delivered for half the predicted £200 million ($246 million) cost. A ten-year project to dewater the pond will start in 2019, while sludge is still being removed.

The first 500-litre drum containing the mud-like substance was moved to an encapsulation plant last week. It is then grouted – rendering the waste passively safe – and processed into a storage state, ready for final disposal in a geological disposal facility. The initial sludge removal involves pumping the material into a purpose-built treatment plant next to the pond, before transfer to the drum filling plant. It will take several years to remove all of the sludge in the pond, according to the statement.

Dorothy Gradden, head of legacy ponds for Sellafield Ltd, said that with the start earlier this year of bulk fuel and sludge removal from our other legacy pond, the company is now “firing on all cylinders” in reducing the hazard and risk in these legacy facilities.

The 100-metre long pond was originally used to store nuclear fuel used to make atomic weapons. All the bulk stocks of fuel have now been removed, leaving sludge as the biggest remaining radioactive hazard.

Courtesy WNN