Bradwell decides against further FED discharges into the Blackwater Estuary MCZ

The Nuclear Decommissioning Authority announced 21st June 2017: “The site of the former Bradwell nuclear power station [Blackwater estuary, Essex] has now successfully dealt with all of its Fuel Element Debris (FED) waste mdash; a major source of intermediate level radioactive waste at the Essex site.
 

Bradwell nuclear site in Essex

“This is an important step towards the site’s planned closure, as part of the NDA’s mission to clean up and decommission the UK’s earliest nuclear sites.

Magnox Ltd and its supply chain used innovative techniques and unique solutions to manage the waste, which mainly consists of pieces of the magnesium alloy cladding that surrounds Magnox nuclear fuel. They dissolved the material in acid and explored new options for disposing of the waste. The result is a reduction in the hazards on the site and shortening the FED treatment project by more than a year.

Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) Chief Executive, David Peattie, said: “This is another really important milestone and a huge step forward in cleaning up and decommissioning the UK’s earliest nuclear sites. Finding new solutions and techniques to deal with radioactive waste is helping us to do things more quickly and efficiently, making our sites safer sooner and providing best value for the taxpayer. I would like to thank everyone involved in delivering this successful programme.”

65 tonnes of FED were treated in an on-site ‘dissolution plant’, which dissolved the waste in an acid, separated the radioactive materials and reduced the volume of the solid waste by more than 90 per cent. Over half of the FED at Bradwell was re-classified as suitable for disposal as Low Level Waste (LLW) in a first-of-a-kind collaboration between Magnox Ltd, the Low Level Waste Repository Ltd (LLWR) and specialist contractor Tradebe-Inutec.

More than 140 tonnes of FED have now been sent to Tradebe-Inutec as LLW for treatment and eventual disposal at the Low Level Waste Repository in west Cumbria mdash; saving around 2 years of dissolution operations.
 

Fuel Element Debris (FED)

 
Bob Nichols, Magnox Ltd’s Bradwell Site Closure Director, said: “I want to pay tribute to the Bradwell and wider Magnox workforce who have worked tirelessly to manage Bradwell’s FED inventory, which has proved to be one of the most challenging work programmes undertaken by Magnox.

“We have shown we are able to work collaboratively, both with our supply chain and other parts of the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority estate, to accelerate progress without compromising our high safety standards, which stands us in good stead as the site approaches Care and Maintenance.

“A second major achievement at the site is the demolition of the used fuel ponds complex — which was used to cool and store spent nuclear fuel under water after it was taken out of the reactors when the site was generating electricity.”

The redundant buildings were decontaminated over a 4 year period, which meant they could be taken down using conventional demolition methods. The remaining buildings on the site will now be enclosed in weatherproof cladding in preparation for Care and Maintenance.

 

Source: The Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, 21st June 2017. For further details, see
www.gov.uk/government/news/magnox-ltd-complete-fed-treatment-programme-at-bradwell-in-essex

 

Marinet observes: This is a major surprise and turn-around in nuclear waste management policy at Bradwell, and it is most welcome.

It was in March of this year that the Environment Agency announced, after a long and protracted public consultation relating to the discharge permit EIA process, that Magnox Ltd’s Bradwell plant could discharge waste nitrates, heavy metals and radioactivity into the Blackwater Estuary MCZ.

The MCZ hosts the most significant remaining UK population of the native oyster (Ostrea edulis) which is still commercially harvested in the estuary. The Fuel Element Debris (FED) amounts to 200 tonnes, and the treatment process involves dissolving this metal debris in nitric acid and then seeking to recover its radioactive content.

The permit was contentious because the original permit, issued in 2014, was issued by the Environment Agency without conducting a proper assessment under the Habitats Regulations. The Blackwater estuary is a SAC and a SPA. The permit was thus subject to a renewed public consultation which this time also included the protected features of the MCZ (the native oyster).

Marinet submitted detailed comments in 2016 to the EA which recorded the fact that the applicant’s own EIA showed that the nitrate discharges would routinely exceed the Water Framework Directive (WFD) quality status for the estuary, would likely cause excessive heavy metals contamination (particularly Chromium) under the quality standards of the WFD, and would lead to increased levels of a broad range of radionuclides in the oysters and biota of the estuary and that the EIA had never assessed this prospect.

The decision to grant the permit in March 2017, notwithstanding these documented objections, regularised the historic discharges dating from 2014.

The decision on 21st June 2017 to abandon the FED process means that around 140 tonnes of the original 200 tonnes of fuel element debris will not now be reprocessed. Instead, it will be stored in solid form at an alternative waste disposal facility.

This reprieve for the Blackwater MCZ, and its SAC/SPA, marks a memorable change of heart. Although the author of this revised decision remains unknown, their good sense is to be greatly applauded — and Marinet expresses its own appreciation to the author for this decision.

Let us now hope that the communities of the Blackwater estuary, the oyster fishermen and their shell fishery, and the wider ecological features of this important area can prosper; and, that the shadow of a proposed new-build nuclear plant for the estuary will similarly slip away.


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