I am using Scott’s quotation to describe how it appears that the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA), Magnox and the Environment Agency (EA) have been twisting and turning in their attempts to justify continuing the use of the fuel element debris (FED) dissolution plant at Bradwell.
The NDA and site operator, Magnox, wished to use a process that dissolves fuel element debris (FED) with nitric acid basically to save taxpayers’ money. Dissolution reduces the volume of FED, which is intermediate-level radioactive waste (ILW), by a factor of 20 before it is packaged and stored. An abatement plant removes the majority of the radionuclides and heavy metals from the FED but a residue of around 15% of the radioactivity is released into the environment, in this case the Blackwater estuary, and Tritium is also released into the atmosphere. It was originally planned to use this process at the majority of Magnox stations but, as you will see, the bad experience at Bradwell has scuppered this idea.
BANNG has been opposing these radioactive discharges over the past 3 years. Discharging officially commenced on 23 June, 2014 but came to a halt after only two rounds because of very serious technical ‘challenges’ relating to the abatement plant. The situation was considered serious enough for the EA to suggest to Magnox in November, 2014 that a Plan B should be instigated, i.e. the cessation of dissolution and the packaging and storage of the FED. This did not happen. Instead there was an outage that lasted 8 months. Various reasons were given for this: there were fundamental problems with the abatement plant; the process had not been operating to full design output; and, bizarrely, such an extended outage had been planned.
When the problems with the plant were finally made public in December, 2015, that is eleven months after dissolution re-commenced (March, 2015), it was obvious that they were extremely serious and included a leak in the abatement plant (detected by luck), failure of safety barriers and questions about the installation and commissioning of the plant and of the operators’ level of skills and experience.
Operational difficulties with dissolution persist to this day. As a result, the date into which the former power station could enter its Care and Maintenance (C & M) phase has continually been put back.
But there is much confusion about when dissolution and the associated discharges into the Blackwater estuary of radioactivity and heavy metals will finally cease.
In a second consultation (comprising 2,000 pages in 97 files) of October, 2016, the EA said that Magnox had informally told them that 24 months might not be long enough time to finish FED dissolution. But at the meeting of the Bradwell Local Communities Liaison Council (LCLC) on 14 December, Scott Raish, the Closure Director at Bradwell, confirmed that dissolution of FED would finish in May, 2017.
BANNG had planned to meet with Mr. Raish in early March and would have asked how this amazing reversal in timings had come about but, unfortunately, this meeting was cancelled. Mr. Raish has since stepped down as Closure Director for personal reasons. BANNG submitted its questions to Magnox but still awaits a response.
The answer may lie in the EA’s recent statement that 50% of the Bradwell FED is actually made up of Low-Level Waste (LLW) which does not require to be dissolved and is being transported to Drigg for disposal. This is a complete contradiction of the information given originally, i.e. the FED was majority ILW.
As far back as March, 2015, the LCLC was told that it would be more cost-effective to package and store the FED arising at Hinkley A than to process it by dissolution. The majority of the FED at Hinkley A was said to be ILW, as at Bradwell. But, in fact, the EA somehow continues to maintain that in the case of Bradwell, but not at Hinkley A, FED dissolution remains the Best Available Technique in the ‘absence of any other disposal route being available’.
But another disposal route is available and it is the one long advocated by BANNG and now being used at other Magnox stations as a result of the severe problems with FED dissolution at Bradwell. It is the packaging and storage of FED.
BANNG believes that the only reason why FED dissolution is continuing at Bradwell is because of the huge amount of taxpayers’ money already expended, said to be £100M+.
On top of that, there has just been a Court case involving the NDA over the way in which the contract to continue decommissioning the Magnox former nuclear stations was awarded. The NDA has had to pay costs amounting to £100M.
Questions need to be asked of the NDA and Magnox as to why investigations which have now shown that the Bradwell FED is 50% LLW, and thus suitable for disposal at Drigg, did not take place before the decision was taken to spend £Ms on just one FED dissolution plant to process just 50% of the Bradwell FED and why the process was not stopped when it became obvious in 2014 that the plant was malfunctioning. It continues to malfunction.
A tangled web indeed!