Game-changing innovation for waste containers

Three industry partnerships are developing new waste container concepts which could prove game-changing for the decommissioning programme at Sellafield.

The projects are the result of the Game Changers challenge event hosted by the Nuclear AMRC in early 2017. The event aimed to stimulate fresh thinking among manufacturers and engineers on how to increase efficiency and reduce cost for waste containers used in the UK’s decommissioning programme.

A large part of the challenge at Sellafield and other decommissioning sites involves the efficient and safe movement and storage of radioactive waste, ranging from wet sludge to large items of machinery and building components. Sellafield Ltd expects to spend up to £4 billion during decommissioning, based on the high cost of current stainless steel containers, so production savings could mean significant savings for the taxpayer.

Following the event, companies submitted 29 funding applications to the Game Changers programme, with 18 receiving £5,000 initial grants to develop their ideas. Seven were then identified by Sellafield Ltd as being of clear interest, and combined into three collaborative projects which have now been awarded proof-of-concept funding.

The first project is led by Heatric, part of the Meggitt Group, which will develop a solid-state joining technique for the top flange of waste containers (above). Heatric believes its diffusion bonding technology, which it currently uses to produce compact heat exchangers, can address a weak point in waste container production while reducing costs.

The second project will develop an innovative steel container of completely new design. Design engineers Eadon Consulting, filter manufacturer GFSA, and welding specialists Arc Energy Resources say the cylindrical design (below) can provide greater ease of use and minimise through-life costs, while allowing volume manufacture to meet Sellafield’s requirements.

The third project will investigate a potential new generation of fibre-reinforced concrete waste container, and brings together Amber Precast, LKAB Minerals and construction specialist RWS, with additional support from Tarmac. The project includes a full review of the latest concrete admixture technology and identification of appropriate test methods to evaluate the suitability of new materials for use in nuclear decommissioning.

The seven companies are now developing their concepts through testing and trials, with support from Sellafield Ltd and the National Nuclear Laboratory.

“Through this process, we have been able to explain our needs to a wide range of potential suppliers and are funding three partnerships and engagement continues throughout,” says Ciara Walsh, waste integration manager at Sellafield Ltd. “It has enabled Sellafield Ltd to work with suppliers in a different way that has accelerated progress through to proof of concept stage.”

Three of the manufacturers – Heatric, Arc Energy Resources and RWS – have previously worked with the Nuclear AMRC through the Fit For Nuclear programme.