New Waste Treatment Plant - Dounreay
24 October 2001


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NEW WASTE TREATMENT PLANT COMMISSIONED AT DOUNREAY

A 6 million investment in the treatment of low-level radioactive waste at Dounreay has been described as a 'shining example' of the progress being made towards safely decommissioning the site.

Helen Leiser, Director of Nuclear Industries at the Department of Trade and Industry, officially opened the WRACS (pronounced RAX) facility during a routine visit to the Caithness plant.


Helen Leiser Oepns New Plant

She said: "The state-of-the-art technology now being used at Dounreay to deal with low-level waste from the decommissioning of the site is a shining example of the progress that has been made here in the last few years.

'This plant represents the future of Dounreay and restoration of its environment. It epitomises the drive to maintain the highest standards that has transformed this site since the 1998 Safety Audit and gives added confidence to stakeholders in the ability of the UK Atomic Energy Authority to manage the decommissioning of Dounreay in a safe and cost-effective manner.

"Decommissioning a site as complex as Dounreay is a tremendous challenge to the people who work here and it was clear to me throughout my visit that there is a new-found enthusiasm and commitment to meet that challenge in a highly skilled and professional manner.'

Site director Peter Welsh said: 'WRACS is solid proof of how this site Today is approaching the management of its waste. I am delighted to report that it has exceeded its initial performance targets since consent to begin operations was granted a few weeks ago by our regulators.

"This site has come a long way since the 1998 Safety Audit and bringing new and modern plants such as this on line is key to delivering the safe decommissioning of the site.  'We recognise the commitment made by Government to provide the resources necessary to manage our wastes in modern and efficient plants and we look forward to opening more waste treatment plants built to the same high standard as decommissioning progresses."


Dounreay Site

George Sinclair, Dounreay's low-level waste manager, said: 'WRACS is a tremendous asset to a site such as Dounreay. Not only does it provide quality assurance in how we prepare our solid low-level waste (LLW) for storage and disposal, it opens up opportunities for our staff to develop their skills in decommissioning using state-of-the-art technology.

WRACS, which stands for Waste Receipt Assay Characterisation and Supercompaction, will significantly reduce the volume of solid low-level waste. It is fitted with special instruments for the non-destructive analysis of 200-litre drums containing LLW and these are then crushed to a fifth of their size in a supercompacter for storage.

Approximately 3000 drums of solid LLW are produced at Dounreay each year from the site's decommissioning programme.  The clean-out and dismantling of more than 300 buildings and areas which make up the former nuclear research and development establishment is expected to generate substantial additional volumes of solid LLW over the next 50-60 years.

WRACS, which took four years to design and build, followed a review of LLW management at Dounreay.  It can handle up to 200 drums a week and employs 10 people in plant operations and transfer of waste to a surface store.

 LLW arises wherever radioactive materials are used. It includes metals and concrete, glass, ceramics and other materials, such as polythene sheets, plastic gloves and paper towels.

After supercompaction of the drums in WRACS, the "pucks" are transferred to half-height ISO containers and taken to a surface store at Dounreay.

 In the short-term, UKAEA intends to transfer some of its LLW to the national disposal facility at Drigg in Cumbria. An application to SEPA in Spring 2002 for consent to transfer the waste is expected to be the subject of public consultation. At the same time, UKAEA is committed to consulting stakeholders about the options for the managing LLW at Dounreay in the longer term.

Regulatory consent to begin operating WRACS was granted in July 2001.

The Dounreay Site Restoration Plan was published in October 2000. It can be viewed at www.ukaea.org.uk