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Sludge clean-up work underway at Sellafield

The Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR) is pleased to see work begin this week at Sellafield to start removal of highly radioactive sludge from an ageing fuel storage pond.

This follows a period of extensive collaboration between ONR, Sellafield Ltd, Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, Department of Energy and Climate Change, Shareholder Executive and Environment Agency as part of a new approach to deliver agreed priorities.

The reduction of hazard and risk, quickly and safely, at Sellafield is a key national priority and ONR’s number one regulatory priority.

The removal of waste from the First Generation Magnox Storage Pond is a further major development in ONR’s new long-term strategy to help drive improvements.

This open-air storage pond is one of two similar legacy facilities on site. Over the years it has been used to accumulate quantities of spent nuclear fuel, waste materials and fuel fragments. Sludges from corrosion of fuel cladding have also accumulated.  Each of these wastes needs to be removed and processed through different routes.

Sellafield has now begun to remove and store the sludges from the pond in a newly built facility on site – Sludge Packaging Plant 1.

ONR’s Director of the Sellafield Programme, Andy Lindley, said: “The first transfer of sludges is a further significant milestone in our long term aim to drive forward reduction of hazard and risk at Sellafield.

“It is a priority to remove sludge from this storage pond and we are pleased to see Sellafield get this work underway.

“A lot of planning has gone into this. We engaged with Sellafield and other key stakeholders on the plans to construct the new sludge packaging plant and on all aspects of the removal of sludges from the pond to the new plant.

“This is a complex operation and a first of its kind at Sellafield. There will be challenges in removing this material and we acknowledge that there may be some setbacks. This is highly hazardous waste and its removal will take some years to complete. But the longer term benefit is huge in terms of overall hazard and risk reduction.

“Given the difficult nature of a project such as this, issues and problems may arise and so extensive work has been undertaken to identify and mitigate potential risks.

“ONR inspectors will work with other regulators to closely monitor progress and with Sellafield to overcome any issues that do arise.”

This latest development comes one year into ONR’s new strategy for regulating Sellafield and is a further successful outcome of the collaborative approach between key stakeholders.

The strategy and collaboration is having a positive impact on acceleration of hazard and risk reduction and has led to:

  • First sludges removed from First Generation Magnox Storage Pond and transferred to new Sludge Packaging Plant 1.
  • Improved engagement between key stakeholders.
  • Acceleration of removal of legacy canned fuel from Sellafield’s oldest fuel storage pond (PFSP). And the start of construction of a drum-filling plant to manage handling of sludge.
  • Re-package and transfer of highly radioactive plutonium waste from an ageing fragile structure to a modern robust storage facility.
  • Agreed methodology for allowing the use of mobile cranes on site for decommissioning work.
  • Improvements to Sellafield’s Periodic Safety Review processes.

You can read more about ONR’s Sellafield strategy and the highlights above on our dedicated webpage.