Huge move of HEU from UK to USA

07 May 2019

The USA and UK have conducted a transfer of some 700 kg of high enriched uranium (HEU) from Dounreay to the USA. The engineering firm, Wood, created specialist facilities for the air shipment.

The Dounreay Fast Reactor (Image: DSRL)

The fuel was repacked into transport containers by specialists using equipment designed for the task by Wood. The company created a suite of bespoke gloveboxes within a purpose-built seismically qualified structure inside an existing facility. Specialists handled the material within that controlled environment and packaged it for air transport.

The BBC reported that the HEU was moved in batches from Dounreay to Wick John O'Groats airport and then flown to the USA using US military Boeing C-17 aircraft.

"The successful completion of the complex work to transfer HEU is an important milestone in the programme to decommission and clean up Dounreay site," said David Peattie, CEO of the UK Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA), which manages the overall programme to manage and dismantle UK legacy sites.

Dounreay is managed for the NDA by the Cavendish Dounreay Partnership, which includes Jacobs and AECOM along with Cavendish Nuclear. The consortium chairman Simon Bowen praised the "hard work and collaborative approach" of its members and their supply chains. Wood praised its partners Gow's Lybster, Aquila Nuclear Engineering and Oldham-based Universal Fabrications.

HEU is a nuclear fuel used by certain nuclear reactors, in research or submarine applications, that enables them to be small in size and to perform very flexibly. However, it can also be used in nuclear weapons and therefore must be handled with the highest levels of security. HEU is being phased out and replaced in civil applications worldwide. Mainstream nuclear power plants use low-enriched uranium (LEU), which cannot be used for weapons, and the HEU shipped from Dounreay will be downblended to this form in the USA and will contribute to power generation.

The US National Nuclear Security Administration will send other forms of HEU back to Europe as research reactor fuel and in the production of medical isotopes. For example, in order to produce technetium-99 used in medical procedures, research reactors typically irradiate small HEU targets. Among other specialist tasks, Dounreay made many thousands of molybdenum targets for use in research reactors such as Petten in the Netherlands.

In addition to this fuel cycle work, Dounreay, in the north of Scotland, is known as the UK's demonstration centre for fast reactors. From the 1950s until the 1990s it saw the operation of the Dounreay Materials Test Reactor as well as the 60 MWe Demonstration Fast Reactor and the 250 MWe Prototype Fast Reactor.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News