Dounreay ready to assist fire investigation

08 October 2014

A fire on a ship carrying radioactive waste from Dounreay as part of its site closure program has been extinguished and posed no threat to the cargo, crew or environment, Tina Wrighton, spokeswoman for Dounreay Site Restoration Limited, told World Nuclear News.

Dounreay is an experimental nuclear power plant near Thurso which is being decommissioned.

Wrighton was responding to media reports that Danish-owned MV Parida was drifting in the Moray Firth after losing power.

The fire occurred during the evening of 7 October in one of the two funnels of the Parida, which is carrying six 500-litre drums of cemented waste in transport flasks from Scrabster to Antwerp. The fire was extinguished but the vessel was unable to regain power.

"A tow line was established and a towing vessel is in the process of towing the MV Parida to a safe harbour. Weather conditions have improved and the journey will take several hours," Wrighton, said. The regulators and the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority have been notified.

Dounreay Site Restoration Limited said later the same day that the ship had been towed to the Cromarty Firth Port Authority area "where it is now anchored safely within the port limits whilst it undertakes necessary repairs."

Commercial reprocessing contracts undertaken at Dounreay by the UK Atomic Energy Authority in the 1990s require the repatriation of the radioactive waste as well as the recovered fissile material.

The operators of the BR2 research reactor in Belgium, which produces isotopes for medicine and industry, sent 240 spent fuel elements to Dounreay for reprocessing in the 1990s. The reprocessing contracts were with The UK Atomic Energy Authority and included the return of recovered products and waste. This work produced about 22,680 litres of liquid waste. The waste was solidified with cement in 123 drums, each weighing about 1.25 tonnes.

Belgian nuclear research centre SCK.CEN "did not seek waste substitution of their waste so the Belgian authorities have started collecting their waste from Dounreay," Wrighton said. This involves 21 shipments of waste. The Belgians have contracted the Danish company Poulsens to carry out the transport. The first collection took place in September 2012. The ongoing removal of nuclear materials and waste is "a small but important" step towards site closure, she said.

The waste was being transported by a contractor hired by the Belgian authorities, to whom Dounreay is providing "every assistance".

"We will co-operate fully with the UK and Belgian authorities in support of any investigation," she said. "Our priority at all times is the safety of the public, our staff and the environment. We apply the same high standards to the protection of people and the environment during transport as we do during storage at the site.

"We do not allow any cargo to leave the site unless we are fully satisfied that the carrier complies with stringent safety and security regulations. In almost 60 years of nuclear transports from the site, there has never been a release of radioactivity. We are determined to keep that record intact."

As of today, the Belgian authorities were in the process of transporting the 19th out of a scheduled 21 shipments of their waste, with two flasks per shipment. The total inventory to be returned is 123 drums of intermediate level waste, with each drum weighing 1.25 tonnes.

MV Parida is an INF1 Class vessel, meaning it is certified to carry materials with an aggregate radioactivity of less than 4,000 terabecquerels.

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News