The UK’s Sellafield site has launched a new plant that will support the clean-up of two of its historic nuclear waste stores. 

The £250 million ($330m) Silos Maintenance Facility (SMF), which took nine years to build, is a mechanical handling plant that provides equipment storage, inspection, package loading and unloading, decontamination and the maintenance capabilities essential to supporting waste retrievals. It has been described as the site’s ‘Formula One pit lane’, a place where the machinery doing the most important job in UK nuclear decommissioning can be maintained in a safe, secure environment.

Cavendish Nuclear, as part of a joint venture, was responsible for the SMF project from concept design right through to plant handover. The SMF Delivery Team (SMFDT) and Sellafield Ltd said they were "extremely proud" to announce the completion of the  project on schedule and within budget. The plant will now be used to support the retrieval of historical nuclear waste from the Magnox Swarf Storage Silo (MSSS) and Pile Fuel Cladding Silo (PFCS).

Concept design for the SMF began in the summer of 2011 and the project was delivered two weeks ahead of schedule. Moreover,  an exemplary health and safety record was achieved with no lost time accidents. This is a significant achievement for a complex project involving more than 3 million man-hours and a peak workforce of some 250 people. To mark their impressive safety record, the team has donated £8000 to eight local charities, chosen by those who worked on the project.

Paul Furness, Cavendish Nuclear SMF Project Director attributed the success to the collaborative working environment along with sheer hard work and determination. “The team has faced many challenges along the way but we have overcome them working together as one joint venture and client team to implement both innovative and fit for purpose solutions,” Furness said.

MSSS head Chris Halliwell said the new facility “will play an important role in the UK’s hazard reduction programme and is testament to the collaboration between Sellafield Ltd and our supply chain partners, Balfour Beatty and Cavendish Nuclear”. 

The MSSS built in the 1960s was used to store waste from the UK's earliest nuclear reactors. It closed in 2000 and is now being decommissioned. The 16m deep silos were built to accommodate the magnesium swarf waste produced by the decanning of Magnox fuel. The swarf was stored underwater. All the waste stored in the silos, including the water, has to be removed before the building can be demolished.

The 21m-high PFCS, subdivided internally into six individual compartments, contains irradiated cladding materials removed from fuel assemblies used at the Windscale and Chapelcross reactors. It holds more than 3200 cubic metres of intermediate-level waste and was originally designed to remain sealed permanently. The equipment to enable the safe removal of the wastes has now been installed and demonstrations are scheduled for later this year, in preparation for  removal operations set to start in 2020.

Date: Tuesday, 26 March 2019
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