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The  UK  Atomic  Energy  Authority  has applied for planning permission to  construct  a  new  plant  to clean up radioactive effluent that will arise  during  the next  phase of decommissioning the Prototype Fast Reactor at Dounreay.

The  2.4  million  project  will  remove  radioactivity from the effluent before it is discharged to the sea.  Since  the  reactor  closed  in  1994, the fuel has been removed and a 17 million plant built to destroy the 1500 tonnes of sodium liquid metal used as coolant.

The  next  stages  in decommissioning include steam cleaning of components  and  facilities  that are coated with traces of sodium. This will generate  liquors  containing  radioactive  caesium-137  and  cobalt-60 that will be  cleaned up before being discharged to sea.

UKAEA  is  seeking planning consent to build a new plant containing an ion  exchange  column  to  clean  up  the  liquors.  A special resin in the ion exchange  column will trap radioactivity as the effluent flows through it.  A contract has been let to Prague University to optimise the design of the column  and  so  ensure the highest practicable standards of environmental protection. The radioactivity trapped in the resin will be stored on site.

UKAEA  project manager Mick Moore said: "More than four decades of nuclear  research  and development have left a legacy of facilities that we need to dismantle  safely  and in a way that protects the environment.  Subject to planning  and  regulatory consent, the new plant will be good news for the  environment  because  it  means  we  will be able to clean up the effluent before it is discharged. It is also good for the local economy because the  construction phase will create jobs and opportunities for businesses."

The Prototype Fast Reactor operated from 1974 until 1994, and was one  of three reactors built and operated at Dounreay when it was Britain's centre for fast reactor research and development.

Decommissioning of Dounreay is expected to take 50-60 years to complete and cost in the region of 4 billion. Published in October 2000,  the Dounreay Site Restoration Plan can be viewed at www.ukaea.org.uk

UKAEA is currently spending 140-150 million a year on decommissioning Dounreay. This is worth approximately 75 million a year to the economy of the Highlands.