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UKAEA today set out its plans to make safe for future generations one of the most hazardous legacies of the fast reactor experiment at Dounreay.  Following public participation in the options, UKAEA has confirmed its intention to solidify liquid waste from the reprocessing of fast reactor fuel using cement instead of glass.

Almost half the radioactive waste hazard at Dounreay is concentrated in this liquor and its conversion to a form suitable for long-term storage or disposal as solid intermediate-level waste is one of the highest priorities of the site restoration plan.

The waste will be transferred from underground storage tanks to a new plant where it will be mixed with cement and set inside 500-litre drums that can be stored safely above-ground pending a national policy for the long-term management of intermediate-level waste.

Subject to regulatory and other consents, construction of the new plant is scheduled to begin in 2007. The first batch of waste is due to be treated in 2012.

Norman Harrison, UKAEA director at Dounreay, said: "Cementation is a tried and trusted technology for conditioning intermediate-level waste at Dounreay and carries fewer health and environmental risks than vitrification. Innovation in our thinking means we can now reduce the largest single hazard at Dounreay on an earlier timescale and at substantially lower cost to the taxpayer.

"This waste accounts for nearly half of all the radioactivity in our waste inventory at Dounreay, so its conversion to a solid form that can be stored safely and securely in the longer term is one of our highest priorities. Public participation enabled stakeholders to examine and question the rationale behind this strategy, and I'm pleased they have agreed it is the right way forward."

Simon Middlemas, UKAEA's new build manager at Dounreay, said "This plant will be responsible for converting the largest single hazard on the Dounreay site to a form that makes it passively safe for long-term storage or disposal as solid intermediate level waste. Today's announcement about the choice of treatment represents a significant step forward."

Fuel irradiated in the UK's Prototype Fast Reactor (PFR) was reprocessed at Dounreay until 1996 to separate the waste from the re-usable plutonium and uranium. The waste was extracted in the form of an acidic liquor, or raffinate, and approximately 200 m3 accumulated in underground tanks, where it continues to be stored safely and securely today.

UKAEA submitted its changed in reference strategy from vitrification to cementation to panels of stakeholder. Their findings were issued to almost a thousand stakeholders who have registered an interest in the Dounreay site restoration plan. A total of 13 responses were received, and all agreed that cementation appeared to be the most sensible way forward.
Further information can be found on UKAEA's website

The proposed plant will be combined with two other facilities required to manage other types of waste from the site clean-up. The capital cost of the new facility is expected to be in the region of 100 million which represents a saving to the taxpayer of some 200 million on the previous plans for separate facilities. Tenders for construction are now being considered.