A Bechtel-led team has delivered a waste retrieval system, under budget and ahead of schedule, that will help the UK clean up a structure known as one of Europe’s most hazardous buildings. Following final commissioning, the robotically operated system will help scoop up and package radioactive debris from a vertical compartment in the Pile Fuel Cladding Silo at the Sellafield Site in northwest England.
“This waste storage vault has been an environmental risk for decades, and reaching this milestone is a terrific achievement,” said Clive Billiald, Bechtel’s project manager. “Credit to the teamwork of contractors, suppliers, and the Sellafield Site workforce to engineer a solution and put it all in place. The site is now a huge step closer to retrieving this waste.”
The retrieval modules are now installed on a platform against the side of the silo structure nearly 60 feet above ground level. The system includes an extending, remote-operated retrieval arm, heavy doors with airtight seals, a waste loading area, and air quality monitoring. The system is very complex because oxygen must be kept to a minimum to prevent a fire in the silo. Inert argon gas has been pumped into the PFCS for decades.
Once repackaged, the waste will be taken to long-term, safe storage.
Bechtel Cavendish Nuclear Solutions Ltd designed, made, tested, and installed the retrieval system for customer Sellafield Ltd as part of the UK Nuclear Decommissioning Authority’s cleanup programme. Building and initial testing took place at a shipyard in Rosyth, Scotland so that changes could be made without interrupting work at the crowded Sellafield Site.
Waste from early military and commercial nuclear programs
It’s been 55 years since the UK stopped placing debris into the silo’s six vertical chambers. The waste includes pieces of empty metal tubes that once held uranium fuel for the UK’s early military and commercial nuclear programmes. Final testing of the retrieval system is expected to finish by mid-2019, 17 months ahead of schedule and about $125 million under budget. Retrievals will initially begin on chamber 5, with a pause for lessons learned and a decision on the other five in due course.
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