A BREAKTHROUGH has been achieved as one of the UK’s most important nuclear clean-up projects takes a major step forward.

A new way of taking intermediate level waste out of Sellafield’s Pile Fuel Storage Pond has been developed.

The technological advancement means that material can be removed six years earlier than originally planned, saving the UK taxpayer millions of pounds.

Sellafield Limited have called the breakthrough “a simple solution to a complex problem.”

The radioactive waste was originally set to be taken out via a new processing facility called the Box Encapsulation Plant. But decommissioning teams looked at a more efficient plan.

A new waste export route was designed, using and existing building on the Sellafield site, the Waste Encapsulation Plant.

The alternative plan means that the waste can be removed now, rather than waiting until 2026.

Dorothy Gradden, head of legacy ponds for Sellafield Limited said: "This is a major breakthrough. Everyone involved is justifiably proud of what we’ve achieved. It’s particularly pleasing to have it done it during Covid-19."

She said: “By finding a simple solution to a complicated problem, we’ve taken a significant step towards emptying the pond and retiring the risk from this legacy facility.”

The pond is a relic of Sellafield's original mission in the 1940s, supporting the production of plutonium for Britain’s nuclear deterrent.

Sellafield's Pile Fuel Storage Pond is one of four facilities on-site being prioritised for clean-up by the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority.

The new waste route is a Sellafield Ltd/supply chain collaboration via the Decommissioning Delivery Partnership.

James Fisher Nuclear played a key role in the work, helping to manufacture new equipment and tools. Sellafield Ltd teams made a range of contributions including adapting software systems, introducing a micro-digger into the pond, and repurposing existing technologies and equipment.

Sellafield Limited hope that other intermediate level waste projects will benefit from the lessons learned about ingenuity during this work.