Radioactive sludge from Sellafield is being removed as part of major decomissioning work.
The Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR) confirmed the work is now underway to remove the sludge from one of the old fuel storage ponds at the Cumbrian site.
The radioactive material is a mix of spent nuclear fuel, waste materials and corrosion and fuel cladding which accumulated over years at the old Magnox reactor. The pond was built in the 1950s and was constructed to store, cool and prepare used Magnox nuclear fuel for recycling into new fuel.
Work is now underway to empty 1500 cubic metres of radioactive sludge lying at the bottom of the pond, equivalent to more than half an Olympic-sized swimming pool.
Martin Leafe who’s heading up the clean-up at Sellafield said: “The pond is six metres deep and we’ve spent years devising an engineering solution to literally suck up the radioactive sludge from the bottom of the pond, which in places is over one metre deep.
“What makes the job more difficult is that the pond is very congested and full of large metal boxes containing nuclear fuel, so we need to work around these and ensure these remain fully submerged at all times.”
ONR’s Director of the Sellafield Programme, Andy Lindley added: “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.”
The sludge will be cleaned up and processed on site.