Sellafield Ltd and the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority have announced the first successful retrieval of a batch of waste from the site’s oldest waste store using a robotic arm.
A robotic arm reached into the silo to remove and repackage waste for the first time, with teams gathered around control room monitors observing the process.
The stores at Sellafield were built in the 1950s to store nuclear fuel from the Windscale Piles reactor but the vast concrete silo was designed as a ‘locked vault’ with no plans for retrieval or decommissioning being considered.
Today, this cladding is classed as intermediate-level nuclear waste, with the silos not receiving new waste since the last of the silo’s six compartments was filled in the 1970s.
Since then, the building has been upgraded to ensure the safe storage of waste while plans for its retrieval were developed.
According to Sellafield and the NDA, it now represents one of the most difficult decommissioning challenges in the world.
Testing of the robotic arm to help address this issue was completed earlier this month ahead of the successful retrieval. Operators used the arm to deposit the waste into a specially-designed stainless-steel box.
Once filled, this box will be put inside a shielded flask and transported to a new, fit-for-purpose store.
Euan Hutton, chief executive officer of Sellafield Ltd said: “The first retrievals from the Pile Fuel Cladding Silo are a huge step towards delivering our purpose of creating a clean and safe environment for future generations.
“This achievement means that for the first time ever Sellafield is retrieving waste from all four of our legacy ponds and silos.
“This represents the culmination of years of effort by hundreds of people throughout our organisation and contractor community. I am enormously proud of all of them.”