Jacob Engineering Group Inc. said Wednesday that it had been awarded a four-year framework agreement from Dounreay Site Restoration Ltd., to provide mechanical, electrical, control and instrumentation services for the decommissioning effort at the experimental dome reactor that was closed in 1977.
The work in Dounreay on the north coast of Caithness in the Highland area of Scotland is considered some of the most complex and challenging decommissioning projects in Europe. Dounreay Site Restoration Ltd. (DSRL) announced in September that work was underway to retrieve the last remaining fuel elements that have remained inside the experimental Dounrey Fast Reactor for decades.
Most of the core fuel was removed soon after the reactor closed down in 1977. However, some of the fuel elements were found to be “swollen and jammed” in place, DSRL said. This left about two-thirds of the fuel elements – almost 1,000 – left in place.
“Now, after many years of designing and testing remotely operated equipment, a decommissioning team has started to recover the elements,” DSRL said on its website.
“We share DSRL's vision to make this site and the surrounding area safe for future generations,” said Jacobs Aerospace and Technology Senior Vice President and General Manager U.K. Nuclear and Defense Peter Lutwyche in a statement.
It is 60 years since first criticality was first achieved at the reactor. “Now the decommissioning team responsible for the site is marking that milestone by taking a major step towards demolishing the oldest reactor that remains at the former fast reactor,” said DSRL.
The Dounreay Fast Reactor was built in the 1950s, when uranium was in short supply for domestic electricity production. This supply issue gave rise to the fast breeder reactor which operated with a layer of natural uranium elements that would create plutonium when exposed to radiation. Britain, however, stopped building the so-called “breeder” reactors (as they would “breed” new fuel for commercial use) in the 1990s.
However, the discovery of damaged elements at the Dounreay site brought a halt to decommissioning efforts, which stalled for 20 years while solutions to the problem were explored. In defining the process, DSRL said “the elements were immersed in some 57 metric tons of reactive liquid metal which had to be removed and destroyed before remotely-operated cameras could inspect the condition of the material. This program took more than 10 years.”
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