News story

Waste vaults completion is latest step in Dounreay closure plan

Cavendish Dounreay Partnership today marked the second anniversary of its Dounreay contract by taking possession of 2 new facilities for radioactive waste.

Each underground vault has been designed to take low-activity waste. The waste is generated during the clean-out and dismantling of nuclear reactors, reprocessing plant and other radioactive facilities at the site. It is currently stored in containers on the site.

The first of up to 6 vaults needed to take all the waste, they were handed over today to Cavendish Dounreay Partnership and its site licence company DSRL in a ceremony that also marked the beginning of the consortium’s third year in charge of Europe’s biggest nuclear site closure project.

Today’s milestone triggered a £300,000 payment to good causes in Caithness and North Sutherland under a scheme funded by the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority to mitigate the social and economic effects of site closure.

Roger Hardy, chairman of Cavendish Dounreay Partnership and managing director of Cavendish Nuclear, the lead partner, said:

Without these new facilities, we could not complete the clean-up and closure of the site, so today’s handover is a major step forward in our work to decommission this site and return it to the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority in a condition that is safe for future generations.

This project was one of the major milestones of the contract we signed with the NDA in 2012. I’m delighted today, at the start of the third of the year of our contract with the NDA, to report that we are continuing to deliver on all of the commitments contained in that contract.

He was speaking inside the covered vaults at a handover ceremony attended by more than 200 guests and members of staff.

Low-active waste created during the operation of the site was disposed of in a series of shallow pits, until they became full in the 1990s.

The site consulted in 2003 on what should happen to up to 175,000 cubic metres of low-active waste expected to arise during the decommissioning phase. Planning permission was granted in 2009 for up to 6 underground vaults adjacent to the eastern perimeter of the site, capable of taking the existing and future arisings of low-active waste as more of the site is decommissioned.

The Nuclear Decommissioning Authority agreed to create a £4 million community benefit fund as part of the development. Today’s milestone sees a further payment into the fund of £300,000, following an initial £1 million in 2011 when construction started.

Subject to regulatory and other consents, the first containers of waste are due to be moved off the Dounreay site later this year, filled with grout and placed in the vaults. Once each vault is full, it will be back-filled with grout to create a monolithic block that will protect future generations from harm.

John Clarke, chief executive of the NDA, said:

The NDA is committed to managing radioactive waste in a way that protects the public and the environment. Our major investment in these facilities underlines how seriously we take that responsibility and our responsibility to help the community adjust to the effects of closing down Dounreay.

The first two vaults and ancillary plant were developed at a cost of approximately £20 million. The total cost of managing the low-active waste through the closure programme is expected to be in the region of £110 million. GRAHAM Construction excavated a total of 243,000 cubic metres of rock during construction of the two vaults. Each vault is equivalent in volume to between 370 and 450 double-decker buses, with the floor 11 metres underground. A total of 7,600m3 of concrete, 1,330 tonnes of reinforcement and 260 tonnes of structural steel were used during their construction.

Decisions about the development of further vaults will be made as part of a review of the site closure programme now being carried out to accommodate changes made by the NDA to its nuclear fuels strategy.

The Caithness and North Sutherland Fund was set up in 2011 to receive £4 million from the NDA as part of the development.

An initial payment of £1 million was made in 2011. Since then, grants totalling £855,000 have been awarded to 65 community groups to pursue projects with a total combined value of £4.4 million.

Over the next 10 years, the NDA will make available a further £3 million to the fund.

Published 15 May 2014