Reprocessing waste packed and ready for return shipment

10 December 2021

Work to prepare all foreign-owned high-level waste for return to overseas customers has been completed, the UK's Sellafield Ltd has announced. A total of 1840 containers have been prepared for return to overseas customers since 2008, as part of the closing out of commercial reprocessing contracts from the Thorp reprocessing plant.

(L-R) Ashley Cowan, head of operations, high level waste plants; David Marsden, highly active liquor programme integration manager; Tony Meggs, Sellafield Ltd chairman (centre); and Jonathan Clingan, highly active liquor programme manager, outside one of the Sellafield nuclear waste buildings (Image: Sellafield Ltd)

Used nuclear fuel from around the world was sent for reprocessing at Thorp - which stands for Thermal Oxide Reprocessing Plant - generating GBP9 billion (USD12 billion) in revenue for the UK. Reprocessing operations at the plant, at Sellafield in Cumbria, north-west England, began in 1994 and ended in November 2018. During its operation, the plant reprocessed over 9000 tonnes of used nuclear fuel from 30 customers in nine countries.

Waste created during the process remains the property of overseas customers who are contractually obliged to take it back. Before it is returned, the highly-active liquor is converted into glass - in a process known as vitrification - to make it more stable and easier to handle. It is then packaged into metal containers, weighed, cleaned, inspected, and monitored for gamma radiation, and then set down for storage.

"Our teams have shown resilience, determination and nuclear professionalism to overcome a range of operational challenges, including maintaining operations during the COVID-19 pandemic,"
Stuart Pearson, Sellafield Ltd's head of high-level waste plants, said. "We have delivered on our commitment to our overseas customers."

More than half of the containers have already been sent back to customers in Japan, Switzerland, Germany, and the Netherlands. The remainder will be returned to Japan, Germany and Italy over the next 6 years. Japan is the biggest customer, with half of all containers returning there, Sellafield Ltd said.

Waste returns are managed by Nuclear Transport Solutions (NTS). NTS and Sellafield Ltd are both part of the UK's Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, which reports to the UK government Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.

Used fuel from UK reactors accounted for some 60% of that reprocessed at Thorp, and Sellafield's vitrification plant will continue to operate into the 2030s to manage the UK's inventory of highly active liquor.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News