High-level waste sets sail for Japan

21 January 2010

The first consignment of solid highly active waste belonging to Sellafield's Japanese customers has started its journey back to Japan from the UK. The waste arose from the reprocessing of those customers' used nuclear fuel at Sellafield.


HLW heads for Japan (Sellafield Ltd)
The flask of waste is transferred onto the Pacific Sandpiper (Image: Sellafield Ltd)
The first stage was the transport of a single flask, containing 28 stainless steel containers of solid high-level waste (HLW) from the Sellafield site, on a specially constructed rail wagon, to the port of Barrow, ready for shipment to Japan.


The loaded flask, weighing about 113 tonnes in total, was then transferred on to a Pacific Nuclear Transport Ltd (PNTL) vessel, the Pacific Sandpiper, prior to its departure for Japan. The voyage is due to be completed by the end of March. At the waste's ultimate destination, Japan Nuclear Fuel Ltd (JNFL) is preparing to receive the 28 canisters, which weigh a combined 14 tonnes.


Overseas used nuclear fuel has been reprocessed in the UK, under contract, to recover and separate the 97% of reusable nuclear materials from the 3% waste. Since 1976, all UK reprocessing contracts have contained an option for this radioactive waste to be returned to its country of origin and in 1986 the UK government took the decision that this option should be exercised.


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 HLW is being returned in a solid glass (vitrified) form under what is known in the UK as the Vitrified Residue Return (VRR) program. The program will see waste from UK reprocessing services returned to overseas customers in Japan, the Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland and Italy over a 10-year period, with at least one return shipment per year. Overall, the UK phase of the program will return some 1850 containers of vitrified waste. The return program will mean that the volume of solid HLW stored temporarily in the UK is substantially reduced.


Ian Hudson the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority's Sellafield programme director said: "The commencement of this first return of high level waste to overseas customers is a significant milestone in meeting our contractual commitments and delivering on government policy."


The repatriation of high-level wastes from Japanese fuel reprocessed in France was completed in 2007, with PNTL completing a program of 12 similar shipments. Without a waste substitution policy, low-level wastes from French reprocessing will also be returned to Japan, with transports expected to begin in 2013.


Mark Jervis, Managing Director of International Nuclear Services (INS), parent company of PNTL, said: "The waste is being transported by sea which is a tried and tested method that is safe, highly regulated and internationally approved."


Researched and written
by World Nuclear News