FLEXIBLE PACKAGING SYSTEMS: Innovative and Sustainable Solutions
In the United Kingdom (UK), the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) has a complex and difficult mission to clean up and dismantle numerous facilities across 16 sites. This program generates large quantities of Low Level Waste (LLW) which is required to be packaged in safe and regulatory compliant packaging suitable for storage, transport and disposal.
Historically, LLW has been packaged in metal containers such as steel drums and ISO freight containers, as this was the only engineered system available at the time. These systems may be seen to have several disadvantages in comparison to flexible packaging, such as low packaging efficiencies and space for storage. They can also be heavily reliant on continuous quality assurance inspection and testing, as well as large capital cost for a packaging system that is ultimately destined as an additional disposable item.
UK’s Demand on the Rise
LLW has, for many years, been transported and disposed of in ISO freight containers at the Low Level Waste Repository (LLWR) in West Cumbria, UK. The initial concept of packaging LLW in what were redundant ISO freight containers to provide a containment structure for the waste evolved to a system whereby each ISO container is procured as a new item with stringent quality control criteria at a significant capital cost. It is forecasted that with the accelerated pace in the decommissioning of the UK’s legacy sites and facilities, demands for safe and sustainable packaging will be on the rise.
Signs of an increase in demand are already being seen following the opening of a new route in the UK for the disposal of lower category LLW comprising high standard engineered landfill. The East Northants Resource Management Facility, operated by Augean PLC, has safely received and disposed of lower category LLW generated from decommissioning operations at Research Sites Restoration (RSRL) Harwell site. This LLW was safely packaged, transported and disposed of in PacTec certified IP1 flexible packaging.
This milestone for the UK will assist in alleviating the demands on the LLWR facility in West Cumbria to accept all lower categories of LLW, as well as in maximizing the efficient use of the LLWR facility for the NDA’s future program of decommissioning across the UK. The acceleration and adoption of certified flexible packaging for storage, transport and disposal of LLW will provide a system that maximizes efficiencies. These efficiencies will cascade throughout the UK LLW transport and disposal infrastructure, and ultimately result in savings to the UK tax payer.
For almost two decades, innovative and sustainable flexible packaging has been developed and utilized in the United States, designed specifically for LLW and other hazardous wastes with over 25,000 flexible containers safely deployed across the US nuclear industry. PacTec’s certified IP1 and IP2 flexible packaging meets the demands for a safe and sustainable packaging system that is ideal for the storage, transport and disposal of LLW such as contaminated soils, demolition debris, redundant equipment, etc.
IP1 and IP2 Certified LiftPac
PacTec EPS Ltd borne of PacTec Inc. USA, has almost two decades of experience in providing innovative design and manufacturing of safe and sustainable certified IP1 and IP2 flexible packaging for the transportation, storage and disposal of LLW to the US nuclear industry. Although PacTec provides a range of innovative products, the primary product focus is the LiftPac flexible container.
Development and Testing
The LiftPac was developed and evolved over several years with independent testing, often using state universities to provide support and underpinning. The LiftPac has been independently tested and certified to IP-1 and IP-2 standards meeting the IAEA Safety Standards for the transport of radioactive material. Additional demonstrable testing was successfully carried out at the LLWR facility in West Cumbria, providing further underpinning of the engineering and robustness of the LiftPac flexible packaging system. Additional independent material assessment research has also been carried out to provide further reassurance of the materials’ suitability for packaging LLW for storage, transport and disposal.
The LiftPac flexible packaging is manufactured in purpose facilities with ISO 9001:2008 quality manufacturing certification with each package underpinned by Certification of Conformity (CoC) providing full traceability of materials. The flexible package is usually manufactured as a multi-layered unit dependant on the waste material to be packaged to provide a multi-barrier system with various materials employed from woven and non-woven polypropylene, polyethylene, nylon and other special materials. The standard LiftPacs are rectangular and are manufactured in a number of sizes; bespoke sizes are manufactured on request. The LiftPac incorporates a unique patented closure system utilizing a combination of internal duffle containment and robust zipper closures, and can also be supplied as a self-standing unit.
Loading and Handling
Various methods of loading the LiftPac can be employed dependant on the type of waste and the logistics of the site location. Purpose designed loading frames are often provided to facilitate easier loading. This reduces manual handling and provides a controlled sequential process for ease of operators, which is supported by an operator instruction to provide guidance and reassurance. Because challenging items of waste require loading with ‘intelligence,’ the operator instruction provides guidance to loading such items.
Bespoke IP1 certified flexible packaging were developed and provided to a number of nuclear sites in the UK where a purpose designed and engineered system was required. The demand to seek an innovative and sustainable solution to improve historical practices and systems has been driven from a need to improve contamination management and dose control, reduce secondary soft waste and maximize cost efficiencies. In addition to providing a unique certified product, it is seen as a key requirement to be interactively engaged with each client team to ensure a fit-for-purpose and cost-effective solution is engineered in each case.
For example loading frames with IP1 LiftPacs have been successfully used at a UK nuclear site to aid decommissioning activities where alpha contamination control was a priority. A unique system was jointly developed to minimize the risk of contamination migration from a packaging area to a clean area. In another application a bespoke IP1 package was developed that improves contamination management and operator interface, and reduces secondary soft waste.
Rising to the Demand
Building on the success of the LiftPacs in the US, innovation and sustainability are seen as a priority in the UK. By constantly seeking client input and feedback, working interactively with client teams, and sharing a commitment to provide a fit-for-purpose solution, PacTec is rising to the demands of the industry by providing certified flexible packaging for LLW.
Click the link to watch a video showing LiftPac IP-1 and IP-2 Soft-Sided Containers
About the Author:
Mike Nichols has over 30 years of experience in the nuclear industry, predominately working on the Sellafield nuclear complex in Cumbria. He also has extensive commissioning experience on new facilities and project delivery of hazard reduction and asset care programs on legacy facilities.
A control and instrumentation engineer, Nichols previously worked in diverse industries such as the European Space Agency and Off-Shore gas production, and most recently was project manager working in the supply chain delivering multidiscipline design solutions in support of hazard reduction, asset care and site infrastructure project across the Sellafield site.
Nichols is an active member of the Institute of Measurement & Control, and a member of the Association for Project Management.Tags: decommissioning, Decommissioning technology, flexible packaging, flexible packaging systems, LLW, NDA, NRC, nuclear, nuclear decommissioning, nuclear industry, nuclear waste, nuclear waste disposal, pac tec, radioactive waste, safety, site decommissioning, Site Remediation, waste management