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First Sellafield waste boxes cross the finish line

Waste boxes under construction at Darchem Engineering

The first stainless steel waste boxes are now ready to store hazardous nuclear waste from one of the most complex industrial sites in Europe.

Two firms, Darchem Engineering in Stockton on Tees and Metalcraft in Cambridgeshire, have finished manufacturing the first batch of highly engineered storage containers.

A total of 2200 of these boxes will be needed to hold legacy waste from one of the world’s oldest nuclear stores, the Pile Fuel Cladding Silo at Sellafield.

This is the most significant step yet towards getting the waste out of the facility in 2019.

Glenn McCracken, head of decommissioning for Sellafield Ltd, said: “We’re on the brink of seeing waste retrievals starting from our 2 legacy silos, and expect to start getting the waste out of both facilities next year.

“That will be a massive moment, but before getting the waste out, we need to be sure that it has got somewhere safe to go to.

“That means having enough boxes ready to be filled and having the confidence that a conveyor belt of production will be delivering a steady stream of them.”

The nuclear site is moving into a 100 year programme of environmental remediation, which means decommissioning old facilities and moving the waste into safe containment for centuries to come.

Moving the waste into modern stores will significantly reduce the UK’s nuclear hazard. This is going to involve manufacturing the right nuclear waste storage containers on a scale never before seen in the UK.

Highly engineered to allow any hydrogen to be safely vented, the boxes will be needed as the contents of the silo are emptied over 10-12 years. This means both companies will be making the containers at the rate of 2 a week, from the production lines they’ve now established.

The 1.3 tonne boxes are made from duplex steel, which is stronger and more resistant to corrosion than typical stainless steel. They are designed to last at least 500 years to see them through their journey into a Geological Disposal Facility.

Large parts of the production process have been automated, with Sellafield Ltd investing in a robotic welding machine at Metalcraft and a semi-automated welding machine at Darchem (which turns a weld which would take 3 hours by hand into a 4-minute job.)

For advanced manufacturers ready to think outside the box in how they work with Sellafield, it is a new age of opportunity.

The highest hazard plant on the site, the Magnox Swarf Storage Silo, is going to need an estimated 15,000 boxes to store the waste being taken out of the legacy silo over the next two decades.

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