Harwell test facility prepares for decommissioning

07 August 2014

Operations have ended at a post-irradiation examination (PIE) facility at the UK's Harwell nuclear research site. Decommissioning activities will begin in about three years.

Harwell B459 PIE facility 460 (NDA)
Workers use manipulators to handle irradiated fuel and materials in PIE's cells (Image: NDA)

Research Sites Restoration Limited (RSRL) announced that active operations at the B459 Post Irradiation Examination (PIE) facility at Harwell ended last month.

The facility was built in 1956 to carry out metallurgical post-irradiation examination on highly radioactive fuels and components from the research reactors at Harwell, one of the main research sites in the UK's national push for nuclear science and technology. The PIE facility comprises two suites of five concrete cells, one for high activity and one for medium activity materials, plus an active maintenance area.

Its main task was to examine materials irradiated in the Materials and Testing Reactors at Harwell. It also investigated materials from other countries. The facility was also used for reducing the size of large radioactive items, as well as an important link in the production of sources for medical and other purposes.

These operations effectively ceased in 2009 and both cell lines were fully cleared the following year. However, limited operations continued until November 2013 with the processing of sealed sources used in medicine, research and industry around the UK. This culminated with the recent final shipment for disposal to Harwell's solid waste complex.

The PIE facility will now remain mothballed over the next three years, during which time it will be monitored and maintained. Once further decontamination of the high activity cells is complete, the decommissioning process will begin. This is expected to be completed by 2025, after which the land it stands on will be delicensed.

RSRL senior project manager Gary Reid said, "The facility has played a significant role throughout the history of Harwell and watching the final flask leave its doors is really the end of an era."

Most of the nuclear reactors and research facilities at Harwell were built between 1946 and 1960. Operations continued until the early 1990s, at which time it was decided there was no further need for research and development at the site. Plans call for all buildings and facilities at Harwell to be decontaminated and demolished and the site delicensed by 2064. So far about one-quarter of the land at Harwell has been delicensed.

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News