Summer 2012

ROVs help nuclear decommissioning

James Fisher Nuclear is helping Sellafield Ltd and the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority to investigate the first generation Magnox fuel storage pond with a view to its eventual decommissioning.

The first generation Magnox storage pond (FGMSP) was constructed in the 1950s at the Sellafield site in Cumbria, UK, to store, cool and prepare Magnox fuel for reprocessing. During its 26 years in operation,the facility processed fuel from both the UK’s Magnox reactors as well as those from similar power stations in Italy and Japan.

Since 1992, considerable work has been carried out to improve the condition of the building, including removing redundant facilities in order to allow the safe retrieval of the nuclear materials stored in the pond. The pond holds some 14,000 cubic metres of contaminated water where the spent Magnox fuel is stored together with radioactive sludges, miscellaneous nuclear wastes and skips. The plan is to progressively retrieve and treat the facility’s radiological inventory, first reducing the on-going risk posed by its storage and then the inherent hazard posed by the materials.

Based just six miles from Sellafield at Egremont, James Fisher Nuclear’s Remote Operated Vehicle (ROV) development team has been supporting this project by developing and deploying mini submarines to survey the contents of one of the historic fuel storage ponds.

Two underwater vehicles have been deployed by the team which have enabled the team to access, video and map the contents of the 1,200 plus storage skips in the pond. This has provided valuable data about not only the skips contents, but their position and condition. Two of the biggest challenges for the team were the lack of detailed knowledge of the inventory in the aging facility and the difficulty in cross-referencing inventory to the existing databases.

Initial work was carried out using a ‘Seaker®’ ROV. While this vehicle was successfully able to map large areas of the pond, its comparatively large size restricted it from accessing many of the lower stacked skips. To overcome this obstacle, the team carried out an extensive market research into the mini-ROV market, and selected the ‘Videoray mini-ROV’ due to its robust design, ease of use and excellent track record in the nuclear industry. Next, the James Fisher Nuclear R&D team set about developing special tools to assist with the FGMSP surveys, including a boom camera with variable light brightness control, and a fail-safe manipulator. These tools and the smaller size of ROV have proved invaluable in surveying otherwise inaccessible areas of the ponds.

A bespoke skid was designed with a hydraulically-driven manipulator arm and power pack. After intensive trials and training at the JFN rig hall in Egremont and at Barrow docks, this was deployed in the FGMSP to pick up the loose fuel elements and place them into one of the skips. The success of this work paves the way for further recovery efforts to repack fuel skips and enable their removal from the pond.

Phil Toomey, technical manager, Sellafield Ltd. explains:

“The ROV project has been incredibly successful. When we started, we were told by contacts in the oil industry that it wasn’t possible to make a ROV so adaptable – that it couldn’t be done!”

Jim French, executive director – decommissioning, Sellafield Ltd. adds:

“One of the greatest challenges for decommissioning at Sellafield has always been the unknown. This project has made a significant step towards removing that unknown from the FGMSP and to have this level of detail about the contents of the pond and their condition means we are now in a strong position to start and attack the retrievals programme with vigour.”

The supplier team on this project was Rovtech Systems Ltd who designed and manufactured the Seaker® to a JFN specification; Hydrolek, supplier of industry standard off-shore manipulators; Atlantas Marine, the UK distributor of VideoRay submersible ROVs and MTCS Ltd, an independent accredited ROV training supplier. The project and its success is a powerful demonstration of the ability of James Fisher Nuclear to work with leading partners to take on some of the toughest challenges of nuclear decommissioning.

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