National Nuclear Laboratory


Sunday 27 July 2014

Refurbished NNL Windscale Laboratory Restarts Work on Historic Nuclear Fuel

Refurbished NNL Windscale Laboratory Restarts Work on Historic Nuclear Fuel.jpg

Work to empty canned fuel from the original Windscale fuel storage pond at Sellafield has restarted following two years of work to refurbish NNL’s specialist Windscale Laboratory, where legacy canned fuel is repackaged into modern containers.

Windscale Laboratory is a high-active facility, offering a range of services including Post Irradiation Examination of nuclear fuel, radioactive waste processing and management as well as material analysis and mechanical testing. The refurbishment programme has seen a major import/export section of the plant thoroughly modernised to ensure it can safely manage historic fuel. In addition, a new crane has been commissioned to enable efficient operations for remaining facility life.

The Pile Fuel Storage Pond (PFSP) was the very first nuclear fuel storage pond constructed at Sellafield back in the 1940s and to this day remains the largest open air nuclear storage pond in the world. It is currently being decommissioned and part of this work involves emptying the pond of its nuclear fuel.

Dorothy Gradden, Head of PFSP at Sellafield Ltd explained:

“The PFSP is well past retirement age and we’re fully committed to removing all the nuclear fuel that has been stored there for decades. The pond poses one of the most challenging decommissioning projects on the Sellafield site. Almost 1000 different waste forms have been identified and this canned fuel represents the most significant hazard in the pond and is therefore the highest priority to remove. We’ve given the National Nuclear Laboratory’s (NNL) Windscale Laboratory the job of opening up the old fuel cans in a controlled environment to examine the fuel condition and then repackage it for the site’s more modern fuel storage ponds.

In 2012 we accelerated the retrieval of the first sixteen cans of fuel to allow us to prove our retrieval techniques and underpin the treatment route; while this work was successful we had to pause the retrieval programme while a scheduled upgrade of the Windscale Laboratory was carried out. This is now complete and we are very pleased to be able to start moving canned fuel from the pond and reducing the hazard associated with the facility.”

Originally PFSP stored nuclear fuel and isotopes from the Windscale Reactors that produced nuclear materials for the defence industry. However, the majority of this canned fuel actually hails from the Windscale Advanced Gas Cooled Reactor (WAGR) – the AGR test reactor or golf ball as it’s commonly known. The PFSP received fuel from WAGR in the 1960s, but was never designed to store oxide fuel long term.

NNL Waste Management & Decommissioning Director Nick Hanigan said:

“NNL operate the Windscale Lab, which is strategically important to both the UK and Sellafield. Sellafield Ltd is NNL’s biggest customer and it’s very important that we work together on the legacy clean up of Sellafield. I’d like to take this opportunity to thank all of the Sellafield Ltd team involved in recommencing the processing of materials and also the NNL team. They worked closely together to make this project a success. We will continue processing materials for another 12 months, and at the end of this it will be a major step forward in decommissioning the PFSP.”