The cleanup contractor for the Dounreay fast reactor site in Scotland said Tuesday it has begun extracting all leftover radioactive fuel elements from the nuclear facility.
The majority of the core fuel was extracted shortly after the test reactor closed in 1977. However, roughly 1,000 fuel elements remained inside after they were found to be “swollen and jammed,’ according to a press release from Dounreay Site Restoration Ltd.
The elements are now finally being taken out, following years of development and testing of remote-control gear needed for the job. The removal project is expected to last three years, after which the reactor itself can be dismantled.
“The safe and timely retrieval of the breeder material is crucial to both the site’s closure programme and the national defueling programme,” David Peattie, chief executive of the U.K. Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, the nondepartmental body that oversees nuclear cleanup across the nation, said in the release.
The cost of the fuel elements extraction program was not immediately stated.
Finding of the damaged elements largely put a halt to decommissioning at Dounreay for two decades. It took over a decade to remove and eradicate 57 metric tons of highly reactive liquid metal in which the fuel elements were held, the release says. That enabled deployment of remote-controlled cameras to determine the elements’ status.
The reactor’s breeder material is being moved to a breeder containment facility to be opened for removal of uranium fuel slugs, cleaning, and preparation for shipment to the Sellafield nuclear site in Cumbria. Roughly 40 metric tons of breeder material from prior removals is already at Sellafield.
Dounreay Site Restoration is a partnership of Cavendish Nuclear, CH2M, and AECOM.