The Nuclear Decommission Authority (NDA) has begun the long process of removing radioactive waste from one of four legacy ponds located in Sellafield, the nuclear fuel reprocessing and decommissioning site in Cumbria.
Controllable robotic arms manufactured by Swedish machine designers Brokk are being used to gather up radioactive sludge currently dumped in a pond designated D-Bay. D-Bay holds a significant amount of nuclear waste with some estimates placing it at 700 tonnes.
The legacy pond D-bay is a highly radioactive area making it difficult to operate in. Robotic arms have been attached to an overhead crane that can move the arms into different positions above the pond before they are submerged into the radioactive water.
Attached to the arms is a suction device which vacuums up the sludge that has built up in the pond over time. The robotic device is also equipped with tools to cut up larger pieces of wastes so that can be removed easily.
The D-bay facility is a waste storage silo once used to dump radioactive materials from the UK’s Magnox line of power stations, predominantly used from the 1950s to 1970s.
D-Bay is only one of four legacy ponds located at the site in Sellafield that the NDA have targeted for risky cleaning operations; the risk is reduced with the use of robotics.
The United Kingdom has 17 historic sites that are destined to be decommissioned or ‘cleaned’ in the coming years. Three site are in Scotland, while the remaining 14 are located in England and Wales.
A report from the NDA states that: “Our current plans indicate that it will take around 110 years to complete our core mission of nuclear clean-up and waste management.”
The work is expected to cost £155 billion, but this number could increase in the coming years as the complexity of the challenge emerges. They estimate that over 70 percent of the funding and time will have to be committed to the Sellafield site.
The NDA has a daunting task ahead that will take many lifetimes to overcome as the UK has over 1,000 hectares of nuclear licensed land with over 10,000 plants and buildings that have to be demolished.