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£4 Miilion Dounreay Clean-Up Cost

THE bill to deal with Dounreay's radioactive liquor spill within a waste plant is now expected to be over £4 million.

The job of recovering the fissile material which accidentally spewed on to the floor of a shielded cell in September 2005 has been much tougher than initially envisaged. A failure of management systems led to intermediate-level active liquid waste spilling over a steel drum after an automatic mechanism to release its lid failed to activate.

Before the flow was stemmed, 58 gallons had poured out, much of it mixing with a separate feed of cement powder.

It has also halted operation at the plant where the highly-active liquor – viewed as the site's highest hazard – is cemented in drums before being put in long-term storage.

Those dealing with the clean-up initially envisaged having the plant back in action in the summer of last year at a cost of about £1 million. But it has proved much trickier than anticipated.

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THE bill to deal with Dounreay's radioactive liquor spill within a waste plant is now expected to be over £4 million.

The job of recovering the fissile material which accidentally spewed on to the floor of a shielded cell in September 2005 has been much tougher than initially envisaged. A failure of management systems led to intermediate-level active liquid waste spilling over a steel drum after an automatic mechanism to release its lid failed to activate.

Before the flow was stemmed, 58 gallons had poured out, much of it mixing with a separate feed of cement powder.

It has also halted operation at the plant where the highly-active liquor – viewed as the site's highest hazard – is cemented in drums before being put in long-term storage.

Those dealing with the clean-up initially envisaged having the plant back in action in the summer of last year at a cost of about £1 million. But it has proved much trickier than anticipated.

The first phase, involving the extraction of the contaminated drum and pumping out material still in liquid form, was relatively straightforward. The job to recover the spent fuel liquor which had drained into the sump below the cell and mixed with the powder was much more challenging.

This has involved extended-reach manipulator tools as well as personnel in airline suits going into the cell. The clean-up team has also had to remove and replace the contaminated section of the conveyer belt on which the waste drums are moved.

Subject to the approval of regulators, the UKAEA is gearing to have the £15 million cementation plant back up and running by May.Before the spillage it had processed 1850 drums – comprising about a third of the site's stockpile of the liquid waste from historic reprocessing activities.

An internal UKAEA probe found there to be no single cause but a build-up of circumstances including poor communications, an over-reliance on automated controls and a tolerance of defects. Four employees were suspended on full pay during the initial investigation but were later reinstated. No disciplinary proceedings were taken.