News story

Dounreay team begins to empty reactor of nuclear material

Work is underway to retrieve the last remaining radioactive fuel elements that have been stuck for decades inside the iconic Dounreay Fast Reactor (DFR).

Photograph of breeder removal

The experimental dome-shaped nuclear reactor once led the world in fast breeder technology and after it closed in 1977 most of the core fuel was removed. But work to remove elements from the breeder zone came to a halt when some were found to be swollen and jammed. Almost 1,000 – around two-thirds of the total – were left in place.

Decommissioning the 58-year-old reactor is one of the most technically challenging projects in the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) estate and removing the breeder elements has been a top priority.

Now, after many years of designing and testing remotely-operated equipment, a decommissioning team has started to recover the elements.

It is expected to take around three years to remove them all, after which work can begin on the final dismantling of the landmark reactor.

David Peattie, NDA Chief Executive, said:

“Dealing with this material is one of the highest priorities anywhere for the NDA, not just at Dounreay but across our UK sites. The safe and timely retrieval of the breeder material is crucial to both the site’s closure programme and the national defueling programme. I am very pleased with this achievement which is a great example of how the Dounreay team and the NDA can work together to deliver results of national importance.”

Published 12 September 2017