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DFR - Dounreay Fast Reactor

The renowned Dounreay dome - described as the ‘dome of discovery’ by the media in the 1950’s is pperhaps the most well known feature on the site.  This is the Dounreay Fast Reactor, the first fast breeder reactor to produce electricity for the national grid.  The reactor was constructed between 1955 and 1958 and until its closure in 1977, it played an important part in the world’s fast reactor research by developing fuel designs, coolant technology, efficient reprocessing and nuclear waste management.

DFR demonstrated that a safe and easily operable fast reactor could be built on the scale required for power station use.  The success of the design, construction and operation of the reactor was even more remarkable because no precedent existed and designers had to rely on their engineering expertise to guide the concept.

Now that DFR is no longer operational, it is being decommissioned and stage one of this three-part process, will be completed at the earliest by 2013.  This involves the removal of the remaining 57 tonnes of liquid metal coolant, and its disposal following treatment; the removal of the remaining nuclear material (33 tonnes of breeder fuel) and the cleaning out of some nine kilometres of pipework in the reactor. Thereafter, the reactor components will be stripped out and ancillary equipment removed. It will take up to the year 2040 or so to complete this at a cost in the region of £250 million.

Because it is such an old reactor, it was experimental, and time has robbed the organisation of many of the people with experience of its operation.  Decommissioning this facility is one of the biggest challenges on the site. Because of the complexities involved, they are using alliances of companies to carry out the bigger tasks - this allows UKAEA to tap into their expertise and skills in a more flexible way than conventional contracts.

The dome is a landmark that is recognised worldwide.  There is an undertaking with Historic Scotland that the sphere will become a Listed Building once the reactor has been removed.  So, when every other building here has gone, the dome will remain as a monument to the pioneers who established this site in the 1950s and led the world in fast reactor technology.