Nuclear Decommissioning Authority
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Work starts on lifting last material from Dounreay reactor

After many years work, nuclear material starts to be removed from Scottish reactor.

Work is under way to retrieve the last remaining radioactive fuel elements that have been stuck for decades inside the iconic Dounreay Fast Reactor (DFR).

The experimental dome-shaped nuclear reactor once led the world in fast breeder technology and after it closed in 1977 most of the core fuel was removed. But work to remove elements from the breeder zone came to a halt when some were found to be swollen and jammed. Almost 1,000 – around two-thirds of the total - were left in place.

Decommissioning the 58-year-old reactor is one of the most technically challenging projects in the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) estate and removing the breeder elements has been a top priority. Now, after many years of designing and testing remotely-operated equipment, a decommissioning team has started to recover the elements.

It is expected to take around 3 years to remove them all, after which work can begin on the final dismantling of the landmark reactor.

NDA Chief Executive David Peattie welcomed the news:

Dealing with this material is one of the highest priorities anywhere for the NDA, not just at Dounreay but across our UK sites.

The safe and timely retrieval of the breeder material is crucial to both the site’s closure programme and the national defueling programme.

I am very pleased with this achievement which is a great example of how the Dounreay team and the NDA can work together to deliver results of national importance.

Ron Hibbert, Senior Project Manager at Dounreay Site Restoration Limited (DSRL), the company carrying out the work for the NDA, added:

Reaching this important stage has been a huge achievement by the project team. Emptying the reactor vessel of this material is one of the biggest engineering challenges we face in decommissioning the site and it’s a great moment for DSRL and our contractors to see their hard work pay off.

DFR was built in the 1950s at a time when there was a worldwide shortage of uranium for electricity generation. Its core was surrounded by a blanket of natural uranium elements that, when exposed to the effects of the radiation, would “breed” to create a new fuel, plutonium. UK experimentation with fast breeders came to an end in the 1990s.

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