U.K. LLW project completed ahead of schedule

March 14, 2024, 3:03PMRadwaste Solutions
Waste drums at the Winfrith site's treated radwaste storage facility. (Photo: NWS)

More than 1,000 drums of low-level radioactive waste in the United Kingdom have been safely disposed of earlier than expected. The project was completed through the collaborative work of Nuclear Waste Services (NWS), Nuclear Restoration Services (NRS), and Nuclear Transport Solutions (NTS).

The three companies are part of the U.K.’s Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, which is responsible on behalf of the government for cleaning up the nation’s earliest nuclear power sites safely, securely, and cost effectively.

The work: The project took eight years to complete and saw 11 consignments of waste transported by rail from the NRS site at Winfrith, Dorset, to the LLW repository in Cumbria for final disposition. The Cumbria repository is the U.K.’s primary LLW disposal facility.

The waste originated from the heavy water reactor (HWR) at Winfrith, which was shut down in 1990. The drums were initially characterized as intermediate level waste and put in interim storage in the treated radwaste facility at the Winfrith site. Over time, the waste’s radioactivity significantly decayed, and after further technical analysis by NWS it was recharacterized as LLW. This recharacterization allowed it to be disposed of at the LLW repository in Cambria sooner than expected.

The drums have been placed in empty space in Vault 8 of the repository, freeing up the Winfrith site for alternative use or decommissioning. The final disposal of the waste has also removed the requirement for long-term interim storage, which equates to savings for the U.K. taxpayer.

About Winfrith: The Winfrith site is located on an 84-hectare site in Dorset, in southwestern England. It was a center for nuclear research and development to enable vital research into reactor design. There have been nine experimental reactors on the site at various times, with only two remaining today: the Winfrith HWR and the Dragon, both of which are being decommissioned.

Quotes: Laura Street, NRS’s head of waste for the Winfrith and Harwell sites, said that the retrieval operation of the drums from treated radwaste storage went well. “We managed to improve our timings on each retrieval, meaning that the final drum was retrieved well ahead of schedule,” she said. “The shipment of the drums by rail provided significant savings to the taxpayer and saved 7,502 kg carbon emissions for each rail shipment compared to transporting these drums by road.”

She added, “This achievement takes us another step closer to completing our decommissioning mission and returning the site to heathland with public access.”

Howard Falconer, head of waste services for NWS, said, “Seeing the final train arrive at the repository was a proud moment and significant milestone for this successful project.”

Seth Kybird, NTS chief executive officer, noted, “This is what the NDA group does best—working together toward a shared goal and providing the best possible efficiencies.”

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