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10 January 05
Sodium Disposal World Record For Dounreay
The sodium disposal plant at PFR, built at a cost of £17 million and which became operational in March, 2004, has broken the world record for the safe destruction of liquid metal. The total destroyed to date, 770 tonnes, far exceeds the previous record of 633 tonnes, which was achieved in 2001 by EBR2, a nuclear complex in Idaho, USA. It also means that UKAEA has now safely destroyed half of the hazardous metal left over from the fast reactor programme.

The fast reactors developed at Dounreay were unique in the UK for their use of liquid metals to transfer the heat from the core to steam generators to produce electricity. At the time of its closure in 1994, PFR had an inventory of 1500 tonnes of liquid metal.

To safely dispose of this coolant required the construction of a dedicated plant which was built in the plant’s former turbine hall. The plant reacts small quantities of sodium with large quantities of aqueous sodium hydroxide which, following neutralisation with hydrochloric acid, produces salt water. The salt water passes through an ion exchange column to remove any radioactivity before it is discharged to sea in accordance with the site’s waste disposal authorisation.

Tony Wratten, head of reactor decommissioning group, said this was a historic milestone in the restoration of the Dounreay site. “The decommissioning of the site is prioritised towards dealing with major hazards, such as liquid metal,” he said. “This latest record-breaking figure confirms our commitment to reducing these hazards, and I congratulate everyone involved in its operation.”

Neil Maclean, manager of the sodium disposal plant, said the whole team was delighted at the news of the world record. “Since receiving the go-ahead from the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate we have worked very hard to reduce this hazard,” he said. “I want to thank my own staff and those of RWE NUKEM, who operate the plant, for their dedication. Our next goal is the complete destruction of this hazard.”