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Green Light For Nuclear Waste Reduction Project

24 November 2014

Costain has secured Government funding for a £1 million project that aims to dramatically reduce the amount of nuclear waste needing to be stored.

Working with partners MDecon, Tetronics International and the University of Manchester, the Manchester-based Costain team will develop new ways to treat irradiated graphite from decommissioned nuclear reactors. The project will begin in April 2015 and will last three years.

Funding has come from a joint £13 million initiative between Innovate UK (formerly known as the Technology Strategy Board), the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) and the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) to stimulate the UK’s civil nuclear power sector.

Making the announcement, Vince Cable, the Government’s Business Secretary, said: “The nuclear industry offers billions of pounds of business opportunities for British businesses, so we want to make the most of this growing sector. That is why we are funding inventors to use innovative processes to protect this valuable industry.”

The Costain-led project will be tackling a major issue facing the industry, said Dr Bryony Livesey, Costain Head of Research and Technology.

“Irradiated graphite is one of the key challenges in the decommissioning and radioactive waste management of legacy nuclear facilities, both in the UK and internationally. Graphite is a very bulky form of radioactive waste that is difficult to remove from the reactor core at the end of life.  If it is removed from the core it represents a large, and hence expensive, waste stream for storage and subsequent burial.  This disadvantage has led to the current strategy of leaving graphite ‘in-situ’ in shut-down reactors until waste facilities become available. 

“Our project aims to develop a new and innovative method of graphite management which would convert the graphite to carbon dioxide gas, which could then be incorporated in a carbon capture and storage scheme.  The small residue containing the majority of the radioactivity would be treated conventionally.  This approach will reduce the volume of material to be stored by about 95%, dramatically reducing overall costs.”

Commented Alex Vaughan, Managing Director, Natural Resources: "Costain continues to develop new innovative solutions with its partners to meet many of our country’s national needs. We are delighted with the continued progress in developing this ambitious solution."

The decommissioning market is set to expand, with up to 145 reactors, mostly in Europe, expected to reach the end of their lives in the next 15 years. The global decommissioning market is estimated to be worth £50 billion annually.



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