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The  UK  Atomic  Energy  Authority  has  applied for planning permission to construct   a   new  facility  for  the  management  of  intermediate-level radioactive waste (ILW) at Dounreay.

The  proposed  waste  transfer  facility is designed to increase the site's capacity  for  storage  of  waste  from  the  decommissioning  programme at Dounreay.  It  will  also  enable  the long-term management of liquid waste after  it  has  been  conditioned  in cement. The new facility will allow a small proportion of this cemented waste to be returned to foreign customers from 2008 under the terms of historical reprocessing contracts.

The Dounreay site with new facility marked with black box

50 New Jobs
Subject to planning and regulatory consent, the new facility is expected to create  50 jobs during its two-year construction and a further five when it comes  into  operation. It is expected to cost in the region of 16 million to design and build.

Energy Minister Brian Wilson welcomed the proposed development, saying: "The delivery of the site restoration plan by the UKAEA is opening up a raft of opportunities for British industry to develop world-class expertise in the decommissioning and environmental restoration of nuclear sites, with particular opportunities for local companies.

"I am determined that the Highland economy should get as much benefit as possible from the de-commissioning process and this is another valuable project which will boost local jobs, both directly and indirectly."   

Dounreay  site  director  Peter  Welsh  said:  "The  proposed import/export facility is a key project in the site restoration plan because it will open a  new  and  additional  route for managing ILW. It will unlock more of our storage  capacity  to  receive solid ILW as the decommissioning of the site gathers  pace,  and enable us to honour commitments made during the days of commercial  reprocessing  to  return  the  waste arisings to the country of origin."

The  proposed  new  facility  will form part of a complex at Dounreay where liquid  raffinate  from historical reprocessing operations is set in cement inside stainless steel drums.   These  drums  are  then  placed  in  an  adjoining  store  alongside  solid intermediate-level  waste  from  other  decommissioning  work,  such as the dismantling of reactors. At present, the shielded drum store cannot receive this  solid  ILW  when  cementation  of  raffinate is taking place. The new facility  will  enable  cementation  and  the  receipt  of waste from other decommissioning work to take place simultaneously.

The  planned  import/export  facility  will  enable  the  solid  waste from decommissioning  to  be exported at a later date for conditioning elsewhere on  the  site.  It  will also permit the remaining cemented raffinate to be removed from the store at some point in the future for long-term storage or disposal,  depending  on  the outcome of a Government review of radioactive waste  management  policy in the UK. A small proportion of this conditioned waste  belongs  to  foreign operators who sent their spent fuel to Dounreay for  reprocessing  during  the  1990s, and the new facility will enable the return of this waste to begin from 2008 onwards.

Mr  John  Swanson,  project  manager  for the import/export facility, said: "Subject to planning and other consents, the proposed facility will improve our  ability  to manage our waste arisings and reduce our inventory through the  discharge  of  historical  commitments to return waste from commercial work once it is conditioned. We have worked closely with Taylor Woodrow and a  number  of  local companies on the design and ground preparation, and we hope soon to begin the tendering process for the construction contract."

Mr  Neil Money, director of the decommissioning task force at Caithness and Sutherland  Enterprise,  said:  "The construction of this new facility will provide  further  opportunities  for  local  manufacturers and suppliers to engage  with  whichever  major  contractor wins this contract.  It is up to local  businesses  to  show  that  they  can  compete  successfully in this specialised  decommissioning  market  and  hopefully  go  on to secure work elsewhere, based upon the skills gained at Dounreay."

Reprocessing of experimental and research reactor fuel, which started at Dounreay in 1958 and ceased in 1996, produced raffinate that is stored at the site. It is expected to take 15 years to complete the cementation of the raffinate and convert it to 5500 drums of solid ILW that is suitable for long-term storage or disposal as solid intermediate-level waste. The cementation programme was interrupted in 1998 by the Direction served on the Fuel Cycle Area by the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate of the Health and Safety Executive. UKAEA expects to apply for consent from the NII in the near future to resume cementation during 2003.

During the 1990s, UKAEA Dounreay entered into commercial reprocessing contracts with foreign operators of materials test reactors. A condition of the contracts was that the waste separated from the reusable uranium during reprocessing would be returned to the country of origin. The new facility will enable UKAEA Dounreay to begin returning up to 300 drums of conditioned wastes from 2008 to customers in Australia, Germany, Spain and Belgium.

UKAEA is currently spending 140-150 million per annum on the decommissioning and site restoration of Dounreay. The amount of work let in contracts in recent years has increased to 95 million per annum. UKAEA expects this figure to remain high during the major period of activity associated with the first phase of the site restoration plan over the next decade or so. Decommissioning of Dounreay is currently worth approximately 75 million per annum to the economy of the Highlands.

The Dounreay Site Restoration Plan was published by UKAEA in October 2000. It can be viewed at www.ukaea.org.uk.