Decommissioning of the Dragon High Temperature Reactor (HTR)

The Winfrith Dragon Reactor, located at the former United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA) Research Site, was a prototype High Temperature Gas Cooled Reactor (HTR) (20 MW Thermal) that operated between 1964 and 1975. It is being decommissioned as part of the Magnox Ltd Site Closure Programme.

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Characterization for Decommissioning: Yes, But to What Extent?

A comprehensible and verifiable determination of the radiological inventory is essential for the decommissioning management with respect to safety, time and costs. For example, right from the start of the post operational phase, the radiological characterization has to enable the decision whether or not to perform a system decontamination, or to investigate waste disposal pathways.

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Magnox, EnergySolutions (Magnox’ s parent body organization), and the NDA have developed and implemented an optimized approach to the decommissioning of the Magnox sites known as the Magnox Optimised Decommissioning Programme (MODP). The programme sets out what the business will deliver over the comprehensive spending review period, including pioneering innovative ways of working, accelerating Bradwell and Trawsfynydd sites to a state of care and maintenance, and carrying out safe and efficient cleanup. Other sites have also received additional funding to accelerate some decommissioning projects. Acceleration of work on key sites is counter balanced by a reduction in scope or deferred demolition across other parts of the programme. The MODP offers a savings of about £1.3 billion from the original Magnox decommissioning strategy.

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A frequently asked question is whether nuclear decommissioning has reached technological maturity. A generally accepted definition of technological maturity is given as:

“A mature technology is a technology that has been in use for long enough that most of its initial faults and inherent problems have been removed or reduced by further development…One of the key indicators of a mature technology is the ease of use for both non-experts and professionals. Another indicator is a reduction in the rate of new breakthrough advances related to it—whereas inventions related to a (popular) immature technology are usually rapid and diverse, and may change the whole use paradigm—advances to a mature technology are usually incremental improvements only.”

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On September 30, 1999, Japan experienced the second worst civilian radiation exposure in its history at the Tokaimura fuels facility. Two technicians were performing routine work conducted in a similar manner for over the past seven years when a previously determined ‘impossible criticality event’ became an inevitability. The accident claimed two lives and exposed over 300,000 people living in proximity to the plant.[1] In little over a decade later, the worst nuclear materials accident occurred 250 miles away at the Fukushima Daiichi fuels storage facility, with the structural and biological damage already exceeding the $70 billion mark. Though the facilities differ in terms of their mission and scope of work, a common root cause was that both facilities either provided no training in an important area, such as the absence of fissile material handling fundamentals at Tokaimura, and the training provided was deemed ineffective.[2] Both facilities had a training department that at some point worked to an approved training plan. So, what happened?

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