The science of nuclear energy
The science of nuclear energy

Start this free course now. Just create an account and sign in. Enrol and complete the course for a free statement of participation or digital badge if available.

Free course

The science of nuclear energy

2.3.3 Decommissioning at Dounreay

Download this video clip.Video player: ou_futurelearn_nuclear_energy_vid_1044.mp4
Skip transcript

Transcript

JEM STANSFIELD
After 35 years of service, Dounreay power station was finally decommissioned in 1994. But nearly 20 years later, it's still full of radioactive waste.
Nuclear reactors always produce radioactive waste, and this can range from the contents of the actual core, where the reaction happens, to really anything in the entire plant that becomes contaminated with radiation. Now, current figures show that right now in the UK, we've got well over 160,000 tonnes of the stuff, and something needs to be done with it.
Here at Dounreay, a 2.9 billion pound cleanup is well underway. But after six years, they're still dealing with the lowest level waste. Contaminated paper, rags, tools, which all must be sealed into steel drums and painstakingly analysed.
There's far more low-level waste here than anything else, and some of it's barely radioactive. But inside the reactor itself lies a far more serious challenge.
Literally where I'm walking now below my feet is the Dounreay reactor. Now, it's not in use anymore, but inside the core just down there is some very hazardous radioactive material that still remains - uranium, and plutonium. And the big challenge is to get all that stuff out and make it safe.
This final stage of the cleanup is due to start next year. Handling this waste will be so hazardous, they're now installing robots ready to do the entire job remotely.
MIKE BROWN
The core on this reactor is going to be radioactive for hundreds and hundreds of years. First thing you would do is remove the fuel from the reactor. This is a very sophisticated mast, and it has 14 different tools on it. Tools can go into the reactor and cut free the elements.
JEM STANSFIELD
So it's like a big Swiss army knife of multi-tools that can rotate on a mast.
MIKE BROWN
It's a huge Swiss army knife that is designed to work remotely and reliably. That gets rid of all the fuel that's in the system.
JEM STANSFIELD
Once extracted, the fuel rods will be transferred into a cell containing an automated dismantling robot. For now the robot's practising with dummy fuel rods, but once active, it'll be handling the plant's most radioactive waste.
So once it's on, once it starts, you're in production as it were, that's it. Nobody will be in here again.
MIKE BROWN
Unlikely we'll ever put anybody in here again.
JEM STANSFIELD
From here, another robot will transfer the individual fuel pellets into stainless steel drums, before sealing them in turn inside heavily shielded containers.
MIKE BROWN
These drums of waste would go into an underground repository under very controlled conditions, and they would be stored there forever.
End transcript
 
Interactive feature not available in single page view (see it in standard view).

The video shows the progress made, by 2011, of the decommissioning of the Dounreay power station in the north of Scotland, UK.

The task of dealing with the waste continues. The end date for the entire process is given as 2022–25, that is about 30 years after the last reactor closed in 1994.

You can learn more at the Dounreay decommissioning [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] website (Dounreay Site Restoration Ltd, n.d.).

Next week you’ll consider the decommissioning of reactors that have malfunctioned.

OUFL_18

Take your learning further371

Making the decision to study can be a big step, which is why you'll want a trusted University. The Open University has 50 years’ experience delivering flexible learning and 170,000 students are studying with us right now. Take a look at all Open University courses372.

If you are new to university level study, we offer two introductory routes to our qualifications. Find out Where to take your learning next?373 You could either choose to start with an Access courses374or an open box module, which allows you to count your previous learning towards an Open University qualification.

Not ready for University study then browse over 1000 free courses on OpenLearn375 and sign up to our newsletter376 to hear about new free courses as they are released.

Every year, thousands of students decide to study with The Open University. With over 120 qualifications, we’ve got the right course for you.

Request an Open University prospectus371