New waste plant to cost BNFL pounds 100m

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The Independent Online
BRITISH Nuclear Fuels is to spend at least pounds 100m on a new facility to handle highly radioactive waste from its Sellafield reprocessing plants, just three years after opening a pounds 240m installation to deal with the waste, writes Susan Watts.

The new plant will operate alongside two existing vitrification lines that convert high-level waste from the liquid form that emerges after reprocessing into glass blocks for long-term storage and disposal.

In its announcement of the new line on Thursday, BNFL admitted it had had 'teething problems' with its two existing vitrification lines. These have been working at less than half their target capacity and with a history of safety problems.

Melters used during the vitrification process were not able to withstand the thermal shock of glass being poured through them, BNFL said, and had to be replaced more often than expected. Other equipment associated with the melters wore out more quickly as a result.

The company had anticipated that production would reach 600 blocks a year. However, early runs produced just 113 blocks a year, rising to 267 last year, BNFL said. Melters on the new line will have an extra jacket on the outside to avoid this problem, and the company hopes the three lines will be producing 600 blocks a year by 2000.

The new line will help cope with the backlog and with extra waste generated once BNFL's controversial new pounds 2.8bn Thermal Oxide Reprocessing Plant (Thorp) starts up. This is not now expected until later this month, after a three-month delay following a spillage at the end of March of highly corrosive nitric acid.