Nuclear waste shipment begins

02 August 2011

HLW canisters leaving Sellafield, 2 August 2011 (INS)

A shipment of high-level radioactive waste left Sellafield by train this morning in the first leg of a journey to Japan. 


Three large flasks, holding 76 canisters, are to be loaded aboard the Pacific Grebe at Barrow-in-Furness to complete their journey by sea. The waste originally came from Japanese nuclear power plants, but has been reprocessed at Sellafield's Thorp facility to reduce its volume and to recover fuel materials for recycle.


Legislation requires the return of resulting waste to the country of origin and in 2010 the UK started on a program of 11 shipments to move a total of 1850 canisters. Today's shipment takes the total number of canisters sent back from the UK to 104. France is the other place that Japan can get its used fuel reprocessed, and that country sent back 1310 canisters between 1995 and 2007.


The Pacific Grebe is classed as an INF 3 vessel, certified to carry plutonium or used nuclear fuel up to any level of radioactivity. It is owned by Pacific Nuclear Transport Ltd, which is majority owned by International Nuclear Services (INS), itself part of the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority that owns the Sellafield site along with all other assets from the UK's former national nuclear program.


Loaded transport flasks weigh about 130 tonnes each, making the total cargo some 390 tonnes. However, INS said that about 90% of the flask weight was related to safety, putting the total amount of high level waste being moved at around 38 tonnes.


The waste itself takes the form of a solid borosilicate glass matrix that immobilises highly radioactive fission products. This is held in stainless steel canisters. This form is suitable for permanent disposal and can be handled separately from intermediate-level wastes, which require less complex management, and the recovered uranium and plutonium that can be incorporated into new reactor fuel.

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News