West Test Facility Aids Nuclear Sludge Retrieval

| Environmental Testing

Sludge retrieval trials were carried out at Forth’s Deep Recovery Facility

A new technique to remove sludge from nuclear fuel ponds has been successfully trialled at one of the UK’s largest wet test facilities

The Decommissioning Alliance (TDA) has been given the task of installing equipment to allow power station operators to safely retrieve debris that is found lying at the bottom of fuel ponds. The site that’s currently being looked at is operated by the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) in order to safely remove and transport the recovered material for safe, long-term storage.

TDA representatives will complete the task by attaching a Bulk Sludge Retrieval Tool (BSRT), which ultimately acts like an industrial hoover, to a 40 metre umbilical device. The tool will retrieve the sludge and then store it in a safe manner.

To test the new way of working, which includes the use of remotely operated vehicles to lock a hinged double boom arm in position, the team trialled the methods at engineering specialists Forth’s Deep Recovery Facility (DRF) in the company’s headquarters at Flimby, in Cumbria.

According to TDA’s Project Manager Scott Bond, the work that is being carried out by TDA at the site has been going on since 2010 and has been instrumental in reducing the inventory in the pond, which in turn reduces the overall risk.

“We are always looking for ways to ensure our work is safer, more efficient and more cost effective for the client, and the new methodology of installing the BSRT and the umbilical has the potential to be a game changer,” he explains.

However, before implementing these new practices live on-site, the company needs to be 100 per cent certain that they are safe and effective. For this reason, the trials being conducted at the wet test facility are absolutely essential.

As Bond explains further, being able to successfully test the equipment at Forth’s DRF, particularly when it’s on the doorstep of TDA, was a real advantage for the project because they would otherwise not have been able to find a facility big enough to host the trials unless they had used the open sea or a dock. However, doing it this way would have brought with it more hindrances as the sea water is very corrosive.

“Using the excellent indoor facility meant we were able to successfully trial the methods and replicate site conditions on more than one occasion, ensuring the TDA installation team would be familiar with the equipment, tooling and installation sequence, when the time comes to putting the learning into live action,” Bond concludes.

Able to hold 1.2 million litres of water as it measures 22.5 metres long, 10 metres wide and six metres deep, the DRF at Forth is the largest of its kind in the north of England.

To facilitate the tests, engineers at Forth designed and manufactured a frame to attach the equipment, and they provided access scaffolding and operators to deploy the equipment.

Graham Cartwright, the projects director at Forth, said: “It’s been great to be able to play a part in what is such a major development for the nuclear industry. Our DRF has time and again proven to be vital in providing wet testing for key projects and being in a position to facilitate these trials has been something we are really pleased with.”

Jonathan Newell
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