Work has started to remove historic waste from one of Sellafield’s oldest storage facilities in a significant step forward at the Cumbrian site.

This week saw the achievement of a momentous milestone at Sellafield as the first batch of waste was successfully retrieved from the site’s oldest waste store.

After weeks of preparation, the Pile Fuel Cladding Silo retrievals team gathered around to witness the moment a state-of-the-art robotic arm reached into the silo to remove and repackage waste for the first time.

Built in the 1950s to store cladding from used nuclear fuel from the Windscale Piles – the first nuclear reactors to be built at Sellafield – the vast concrete silo was designed as a ‘locked vault’ with no plan for how to retrieve its contents or decommission the building.

After almost 20 years of operations the silo’s 6 compartments were filled and it stopped receiving waste in the early 1970s. In the years that followed the building underwent several upgrades to ensure it could continue to store its contents safely while a plan for retrievals was developed.

Today it represents one of the most complex decommissioning challenges in the world and one of the highest priorities for Sellafield Ltd and the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA).

In the last decade a giant concrete superstructure has been built around the silo and specially engineered shield doors have been installed on each of its 6 compartments. In 2017 holes were successfully cut in the top of each compartment, allowing access to the waste for the first time in 65 years.

Sellafield Ltd then designed, manufactured, tested, and installed 9 huge modules containing the machinery needed to empty the silo. This was done in collaboration with Bechtel and Cavendish Nuclear Solutions.

Successful testing of the robot grab was carried out earlier this month, paving the way for the historic achievement of the first waste retrievals from the silo. Operators remotely reached into the silo and picked up the waste before loading it into a specially designed stainless-steel box. Once filled, the box will be loaded into a shielded flask and transported to a new, fit-for-purpose store called the Box Encapsulation Plant Product Store.

Retrievals from the silo mark a significant step forward in the clean-up and decommissioning of one of the most hazardous buildings on the Sellafield site.

Euan Hutton, chief executive officer of Sellafield Ltd said:

“The first retrievals from the Pile Fuel Cladding Silo are a huge step towards delivering our purpose of creating a clean and safe environment for future generations. This achievement means that for the first time ever Sellafield is retrieving waste from all four of our legacy ponds and silos. This represents the culmination of years of effort by hundreds of people throughout our organisation and contractor community. I am enormously proud of all of them.”