NUCLEAR experts at Sellafield have successfully removed a large volume of redundant contaminated equipment from the oldest storage pond in the world.

Known as the Pile Fuel Storage Pond, the  largest open-air nuclear store on the planet has to be emptied carefully as part of a plan to clean up and decommission the nuclear facilities.

Although 650 tonnes of contaminated metal remains in the pond, 100 tonnes have so far been removed from the facility.

“Our nuclear forefathers developed a technology that helped the UK secure a seat at the global power table in the aftermath of the Second World War,” said Dorothy Gradden, head of programme delivery in the Pile Fuel Storage Pond.

“The oldest plants at Sellafield were built in a time before computers existed and with little thought given to how they would be decommissioned.

“The challenge for this generation of nuclear pioneers is to safely decommission those earliest facilities as cost effectively as we can.

“When you are decommissioning a facility as old as this, issues can and do arise which mean carefully laid plans and schedules need to be changed.”

The PFSP was the very first nuclear fuel storage pond constructed at Sellafield in 1948, with the pond commissioned it started to receive fuel in 1952.

Originally, nuclear fuel from the Windscale piles – constructed specifically to make plutonium for the UK’s nuclear deterrent – was received, de-canned and cooled in the facility.

Later in the 1950s the pond was adapted to receive fuel from Magnox power stations, the first of which –Calder Hall – was opened at Sellafield in 1956.

Following the closure of the Windscale Pile reactors and the commissioning of the new First Generation Magnox Fuel Storage Pond, operations in PFSP were scaled down. 

When decanning in the plant stopped in 1962, the pond continued to be used as storage for fuel, contaminated items, and operational waste.

Derek Carlisle, PFSP head of projects added: “Sometimes it’s difficult to appreciate the decommissioning progress being made, because by the very nature of what we are doing things can take a long time and seem to cost a lot of money.

“However, when you think about 100 tonnes of equipment it really does give you some scale as to the difficulty in removing that much mass from the biggest nuclear storage ponds in the world.

“The 100 tonnes of contaminated metal we have removed so far has been cleaned up for disposal in the national Low Level Waste Repository near Drigg.”