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Robots in effort to clean highly radioactive Thorp nuclear reprocessing plant

Sellafield: Europe’s most radioactively contaminated site

Inside Sellafield’s death zone with the nuclear clean-up robots, 27 November 2018

The Thorp nuclear reprocessing plant at Sellafield, Cumbria, has recycled its final batch of reactor fuel. But it leaves behind a hugely toxic legacy for future generations to deal with. So how will it be made safe?

Thorp still looks almost new; a giant structure of cavernous halls, deep blue-tinged cooling ponds and giant lifting cranes, imposing in fresh yellow paint.

But now the complex process of decontaminating and dismantling begins.

It is a dangerous job that will take decades to complete and require a great deal of engineering ingenuity and state-of-the-art technology – some of which hasn’t even been invented yet.

This is why.

Five sieverts of radiation is considered a lethal dose for humans. Inside the Head End Shear Cave, where nuclear fuel rods were extracted from their casings and cut into pieces before being dissolved in heated nitric acid, the radiation level is 280 sieverts per hour.

We can only peer through leaded glass more than a metre thick at the inside of the steel-lined cell, which gleams under eerie, yellow-tinged lighting.

This is a place only robots can go.

They will begin the first stage of decommissioning – the post-operative clean-out – removing machinery and debris……….. Cleaning up other parts of the plant will also need robots and remotely operated vehicles (ROVs).

Some will need to be developed from scratch, while others can be adapted from systems already used in other industries, such as oil and gas, car manufacturing and even the space sector……..

The site in Cumbria contains a number of other redundant facilities, some dating back to the 1950s and many of them heavily contaminated, which are currently being decommissioned………

Remote submarines have explored and begun cleaning up old storage ponds. Other remote machines are being used to take cameras deep inside decaying bunkers, filled with radioactive debris.

The job of developing machines like these is shared with a large network of specialist companies, many of them based in Cumbria itself. They form part of a growing decommissioning industry within the UK, as the country grapples with the legacy of its first era of nuclear power.

The NDA believes that these companies can use what they learn at Sellafield, and other plants, to attract further business from overseas……..https://www.bbc.com/news/business-46301596

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November 29, 2018 - Posted by | reprocessing, UK, wastes

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