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Robots hoover radioactive sludge from 'most hazardous' Sellafield area

Professional Engineering

The Brokk manipulator robot (left) hoovers underwater radioactive sludge at Sellafield's D-Bay (Screenshot credit: Sellafield Sites/ YouTube)
The Brokk manipulator robot (left) hoovers underwater radioactive sludge at Sellafield's D-Bay (Screenshot credit: Sellafield Sites/ YouTube)

Robots have begun to hoover up radioactive sludge at Sellafield’s “most complicated and hazardous” area after 10 years of planning.

The Brokk manipulator robots are tackling the hotspot, known as D-Bay, in a section of the first-generation Magnox storage pond. It has been a no-go area for about 40 years, after radioactive sludge began accumulating in the 1970s.

D-Bay now holds the equivalent of 35 concrete mixer trucks full of the radioactive material, which is a by-product formed from decaying nuclear fuel and other debris.

Operators control the robots from behind a shielded wall to protect themselves from dangerous radiation. The robotic arms are attached to an overhead travelling crane and various tools can be attached to the arms for different tasks. A suction device is used to ‘hoover’ up the sludge, while other tools pick up larger items and chop them into smaller pieces to provide easier access to the sludge.  

“D-Bay has always been one of our biggest headaches at Sellafield,” said Dorothy Gradden, head of legacy ponds for Sellafield Ltd. “It is a concentration of a problem in our most complicated and hazardous legacy facility. After years of designing, making and installing the necessary equipment, we are now delighted to be safely reducing the hazard day-by-day.”

The clean-up follows planning with supply chain partners ACKtiv joint venture and Jacobs.

The sludge is being transferred to a “state-of-the-art” plant for safe storage, said a government announcement.

The storage pond was originally used to store, cool and prepare Magnox fuel for reprocessing. It is now one of four ‘legacy ponds’ and silos at Sellafield that the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority has prioritised for clean-up. D-Bay is one of the plant’s ‘wet bays’, separate areas designed for removing the cladding on nuclear fuel rods.

Work is ongoing to remove waste from the main pond, which is due to be emptied by 2031.

Content published by Professional Engineering does not necessarily represent the views of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.


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