The decommissioning authority managing the long term response to the Fukushima Daiichi disaster site has cited three previous nuclear disasters as sources of information for planning their efforts. Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and Windscale.
The Windscale reactor was a graphite pile weapons material reactor using highly enriched uranium unlike Fukushima Daiichi’s units that are all boiling water power reactors using low enriched uranium. Yet some of the challenges at Windscale show where technology is at currently along with where the challenges still are.
Windscale suffered a graphite fire and meltdown of a section of the reactor core in 1957. Over 50 years later the UK has not been able to decommission the reactor. It sits sealed off at the Sellafield nuclear site.
Some of the challenges with this reactor include the potential for graphite based explosions or reactions. This is something that does not exist at Fukushima Daiichi but the criticality concerns do exist at both. At Windscale they still lack a proper understanding of the state of the reactor core, this is complicating the decommissioning plans.
The extent of the future plan for Windscale is to eventually cut apart the damaged reactor core, store it in heavy duty containers, move it to above ground storage and eventually to an underground storage facility. When any of that will actually take place isn’t clear. Complications of the graphite component of the reactor core seem to be the major problem and safety risk that has yet to be overcome. Using Windscale as a roadmap for Fukushima Daiichi doesn’t provide much of a plan. Below are two useful photos from the presentation showing damaged fuel from Windscale’s core. Both show tell tale yellow from the uranium content of the fuel pellets. Similar substances to the second photo have been spotted inside unit 1’s containment.
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