Essay on Future Perspectives for Sellafield Decommissioning

Published: 2021/11/11
Number of words: 1410

Abstract- Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) announced that all the reprocessing activities at the Sellafield will cease by 2020, and the operations will focus on waste management, completely clean out, and other decommissioning activities. However, decommissioning of Sellafield poses many challenges since the design and commissioning of the plant was not made considering the decommissioning in mind. Also, the age of the plant is one of the challenges. This paper discusses the challenges in the Sellafield decommissioning and the future perspectives.


In the development of nuclear technology, the United Kingdom has been leading the world since the 1940s. Developing, building, and operating nuclear power reactors and allied nuclear reprocessing and nuclear-decommissioning activities [1]. The development of nuclear technology has resulted in significant challenges and opportunities in nuclear waste management and decommissioning in the United Kingdom. These challenges have deployed various technological solutions on the United Kingdom nuclear sites that include Sellafield. In fact, in the 21st century, decommissioning of old nuclear facilities like Sellafield post significant challenges. The statistics show that the global market for nuclear waste management and decommissioning concerned with reprocessing plant and electricity generation is approximately £250 billion, and the estimated UK share is approximately £70 billion. It is necessary to note that the completion time required for these activities exceeds 100 years [2]. Sellafield is regarded as a most complex industrial site that requires critical attention in Western Europe. Sellafield is located in west Cumbria over approximately six square kilometres, consists of approximately 2200 buildings and 170 nuclear facilities. The nuclear operations at Sellafield started in the late 1940s. Many activities are being performed in the Sellafield [3]. Therefore, this essay will discuss the background, different challenges Sellafield faces, and its future perspectives.

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The era of the rich history of producing electricity will come to an end with the ceasing of all the reprocessing activities in the Sellafield in 2020. Once the reprocessing activities are ceased, then the clean-up operations will begin at the Sellafield. The decommissioning work worth billions of pounds has already been carried out and is continuously ongoing, although decommissioning the entire site will be a massive challenge in front of Sellafield [4].

Sellafield Ltd. is set to demolish the different manufacturing and reprocessing plants within the Sellafield under the clean-out project. Decommissioning requires a specific set of skills as Sellafield is the most complex and congested nuclear site in the world, which poses uncertainties in the financial budget and planning. Modern nuclear plants have been designed and commissioned considering the possibility of decommissioning; on the other hand, the 1940s design and commissioning of Sellafield were not done considering the decommissioning. Therefore, the following challenges are being faced during the process of decommissioning [3][4],

  • Glove boxes decommissioning
  • Emptying of spent fuel storage facilities
  • Spent nuclear fuel reprocessing
  • Pipe and ductwork dismantling
  • Trenches, sewer, bridges decommissioning

The decommissioning activities have already been started in the Sellafield. For example, the reactor core has been removed from the “Windscale Advanced Gas-cooled Reactor” [4]. The “Windscale Pile Chimney” has been demolished from the skyline of Sellafield [4]. Approximately ten buildings have been demolished to create a site for new storage and processing building [4]. Sellafield has approximately 11 major ongoing constructions projects, and the demand for the land is increasing for a modern storage facility.

Another factor involved in the identified decommissioning of the Sellafield is the remediation schedule and the cost. The assumption made by Sellafield Ltd. in their plan is that the licensed area of the plant has a lower amount of activity and unique nuclear material. However, in reality, it will take approximately more than 100 years to achieve this state, as the amount of waste and associated risk that needs to be managed the waste is enormous. However, this could be managed by the alternative approach by achieving and agreeing on the interim state. Therefore, agreeing to the interim state would provide many opportunities for land reuse at Sellafield [5].

Different strategies to reuse the Sellafield land could be exercised, such as new and advanced nuclear missions and better surface management support for the decommissioned waste. It is considering alternative plans to managing waste than that of the current plan. The alternative plan may provide significant savings in cost as well as schedule. A change in strategy sometimes challenges the existing policies of the government agencies; in this scenario, it is Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) and Department for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy along with regulators. Sellafield Ltd. must work out the best solution that suits the need of Sellafield Decommissioning also the best value for the assets of the Sellafield. Therefore, to develop these opportunities further, it is necessary to review technology innovation and waste management plans. Sellafield needs Continuous innovation as well as new technology to improve efficiency. However, this can be achieved by collaborating with universities and significant technical contractors of the Sellafield. Development and implementation of the new technology can be facilitated through this collaboration. This collaboration will also provide cost benefits to Sellafield [4] [5].

There are allied opportunities for Sellafield decommissioning, such as exporting nuclear expertise; the Sellafield has been working for the last 80 years. Therefore, a vast amount of work has been carried out in the field of nuclear energy and its reprocessing. Therefore, Sellafield has the asset of the workforce with the knowledge and the expertise that could be employed in the various nuclear community. The Sellafield is the pioneer in complex decommissioning problems and corresponding innovative solutions that have not been carried out anywhere else in the United Kingdom. For example, “remote-operated vehicles in the legacy pond [5] to support characterization as well as waste retrieval” [5]. This experience of the Sellafield could be employed within the nuclear community in the United Kingdom. Along with the decommissioning, Sellafield is extensively experienced in waste management, especially spent fuel management that could develop international nosiness in nuclear energy [5].

The life management plan of nuclear waste through the defence ministry could be another prospect for Sellafield. However, the UK government retains the absolute right to transfer the ministry of Défense’s liability to the NDA- Nuclear Decommissioning Authority. If this system works out, Sellafield can store the nuclear waste generated by nuclear programmes of the ministry of defence [5].

It is possible to utilize the facilities of the Sellafield to support the “Nuclear new build programme” by examining the spent fuel from the programme. After the examination, this fuel could be stored in the Sellafield facility followed by the disposal of the spent fuel in the geological disposal facility as the reprocessing of this spent fuel is not the viable option financially at this moment [5].

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The Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE) and the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority have defined the optimized storage and the treatment plan for the drum that has been contaminated by plutonium material. These drums can be stored in the Sellafield facility, and potentially it will have no impact on Sellafield’s work and the storage capacity of the Sellafield. This will offer the best cost-effective solution to erect a storage facility for AWE drums [5].

Constructing a geological disposal facility could be one of the opportunities for Sellafield. The Sellafield can be utilized as acting storage for the nuclear waste before final disposal in the geographic disposal facility [5]. Sellafield already contains a large amount of nuclear waste; therefore, the location of the Sellafield is optimum that could receive-pack and condition nuclear waste from other facilities for geological disposal.


This report discusses the brief background of Sellafield along with the reasons for decommissioning of Sellafield by 2020. Decommissioning poses different challenges due to the design and the age of the Sellafield, which has been discussed briefly along with the current status of decommissioning of several activities. Various opportunities are discussed for Sellafield are purely based on the current plan and progress of the activities by Sellafield Ltd.


[1] M. Dunn and I. Topliss, “The Status of Spent Fuel Treatment in The United Kingdom,” British Nuclear Fuels pic, vol. XA9952149, pp. 61-65

[2] A. Sherry, P. Howarth, P. Kearns, and N. Waterman, “A Review of the UK’s Nuclear R&D Capability,” Battelle, pp. 41-45, 2008.

[3] R. Alford, “Plant Dismantling and Decommissioning Challenges,” A Sellafield Ltd initiative, vol. 28, pp. 1-10, 2016.

[4] Sellafield “What is decommissioning?”, Sellafield, no. 3, p. 6, 2016.

[5] Sellafield “Future opportunities,” Corporate Plan 2016/17-2036, pp. 21-22, 2018.

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