[T]he world’s oldest nuclear waste store has been cut open for the first time.
Experts at the Sellafield site have cut the first hole in the the Pile Fuel Cladding Silo (PFCS), a locked vault which was never designed to be opened.
This is the first of six holes that will allow radioactive waste to be removed from one of the site’s most hazardous buildings.
The Pile Fuel Cladding Silo was built in the 1950s when the site’s purpose was to make material for nuclear weapons.
Safely decommissioning the building is one of the highest priorities for Sellafield Ltd and the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority.
Steven Carroll, Head of Pile Fuel Cladding Silo said: “I am incredibly proud of the work that our Sellafield Ltd and supply chain teams have achieved together, in preparing the silo for successful waste retrievals.
“The level of challenge involved with this facility is unparalleled, considering the age of the building, the lack of historical information about the waste itself, the argon atmospherics, and its position on one of the most congested footprints of any site, anywhere in the world.
“Despite this, the teams have carried out some world class engineering in difficult environments to get us closer to getting the waste out and into safer storage, earlier than planned”.
The work is being carried out by Sellafield Ltd, along with Bechtel Cavendish Nuclear Solutions and Babcock Marine Technology.
Preparations have been underway for a number of years, which involved practising the cutting operation at a full-scale replica test rig in Rosyth, Scotland.
The six holes are cut at the top of each of the facility’s six compartments, allowing access to the waste within the silo’s walls for the first time in 65 years.
The section of the walls is cut away in a single piece (known as the monolith) and withdrawn into a containment bag. The silo containment door (already installed on all compartments) is then lowered over the aperture and closed.
The giant steel doors will seal the waste inside until they can start removing it in 2019.
To remove the waste, a crane will extend through the cut holes, a grabber will then drop down to scoop the waste up lifting it out of the container, back through the hole.
It will then be dropped it into a specially designed metal box, for safe and secure storage in a modern facility.
This is the first ever breaking of the silo containment structure since it was built. The silo door now provides a safe barrier between the waste inside the silo and the outside world.
It is one of the most significant moments in the history of Europe’s most complex nuclear site, and takes them a step closer to reducing the UK’s nuclear hazard.