Vitrified waste is good to go

26 November 2009

Radioactive waste belonging to Sellafield's Japanese customers is packed and ready for its journey home. Loading of the shipment flask containing the first consignment of solid highly active waste has been completed at Sellafield's dedicated Residue Export Facility (REF).

Pacific Heron (PNTL)
Pacific Heron, one of PNTL's transport ships (Image: PNTL)

The completion of checking of the canisters and the loading of the flask finishes the on-site preparations for the first return of canisters, and sees the handover of operations from Sellafield to the transport arm of the operation, run by International Nuclear Services (INS).


The loaded transport flask has now been transferred from the REF to the Flask Marshalling Area at Sellafield, ready for its onward transfer by rail to the port of Barrow, where it will be loaded onto one of PNTL's specialised nuclear transport vessels for the journey to Japan. State-of-the-art railway wagons have been specifically designed to carry the flasks, which are bigger and heavier than flasks that have been transported along the Sellafield to Barrow railway line in the past.  

The shipment comes under the auspices of the Vitrified Residue Return (VRR) program, which will see waste from UK reprocessing services returned to overseas customers in Japan, the Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland and Italy over a 10-year period. The first shipment is planned to be complete by March 2010 subject to final detailed arrangements with customers and authorisations from regulatory bodies in the UK and Japan, a Sellafield spokesperson told World Nuclear News.

VRR programme manager John Brocklebank described the milestone as a "major achievement", with the canisters and flasks being checked and accepted by Sellafield, the customers, regulators and the customer's specialist representatives. "We have completed all the necessary steps to ensure a quality return," he said, adding "the main objective of repatriating waste to overseas customers is now good to go."

At the waste's ultimate destination, Japan Nuclear Fuel Ltd (JNFL) is preparing to receive the 28 canisters of the shipment, weighing about 14 tonnes in total. Originally it had been planned to return both high- and low-level reprocessing wastes to Japan, but UK government policy on waste substitution now means that the UK can instead return a greater amount of high-level waste to the customer but retain a radiologically equivalent amount of low- and intermediate-level waste in the UK for long term management. As a result, instead of transporting 850 packages of high-level wastes and 12,000 cubic metres of low-level wastes to Japan, only about 150 cubic metres of high-level wastes will need to be transported, substantially reducing the number of trips needed.

The repatriation of high-level wastes from Japanese fuel reprocessed in France was completed in 2007. Without a waste substitution policy, low level wastes from French reprocessing will also be returned to Japan, with transports expected to begin in 2013.