If it wasn’t for the fixed beeping from our radiation screens, the constructing would not appear a lot totally different from every other ageing industrial website.
But in actual fact, we’re standing in one of many world’s largest and most unstable shops of nuclear waste left over from the UK’s race to develop nuclear vitality and atomic bombs in the course of the Cold War.
The Magnox Swarf Storage Silo (MSSS) at Sellafield in Cumbria has been described as essentially the most hazardous constructing in Western Europe.
Even Sellafield Ltd, which now manages the location on behalf of the taxpayer, does not dispute the outline.
The nuclear regulator, the ONR, has designated the constructing “an intolerable risk”.
Now engineers are lastly attending to grips with it.
We’re watching as they put together to ship a robotic grabber down into one of many waste silos beneath to fish out among the first batches of nuclear waste.
Lead glass greater than a foot thick shields us and the robotic’s operator from the radiation beneath. It seems like a fairground grabber, solely as a substitute of a teddy, the prize is a bucket filled with intensely radioactive sludge.
There’s a way of pleasure among the many workforce of engineers who designed the British constructed “retrievals machine” – but additionally aid.
Finally, they will begin emptying the constructing and shifting the waste into a contemporary retailer.
“It’s such a significant moment,” mentioned Chris Halliwell who’s head of the retrieval programme.
Mr Halliwell has devoted a lot of his profession to emptying the constructing – thought of the one option to make it secure.
The MSSS constructing was constructed within the late Fifties to obtain waste from the UK’s rising fleet of nuclear reactors.
For a long time the waste has been dissolving into an intensely radioactive sludge releasing hydrogen fuel into the air above it – a doubtlessly explosive combine that must be continuously ventilated.
And the constructing is ageing badly, in 2019, radioactivity started leaking once more into soil beforehand contaminated by a leak within the Seventies.
It will not be a fast job. The grabber removes lower than a cubic metre of waste in anybody scoop.
“It’s like emptying a wheelie bin with a teaspoon,” mentioned Mr Halliwell.
The venture is anticipated to take at the least 20 years however time passes otherwise at Sellafield.
Our subsequent cease is the constructing that may home the repackaged waste from the MSSS constructing for the subsequent century.
Unlike the decaying concrete of its neighbour, the Box Encapsulation Plant Product Store (BEPPS) is an enormous concrete sarcophagus with partitions greater than two metres thick, served by an underground tunnel and robotic cranes that may shuttle waste in purpose-built containers into the shop with out people having to go anyplace close to it.
The echoing tunnel will in the end hyperlink eight vaults that may retailer the majority of Sellafield’s waste till a everlasting “geological storage” facility is discovered to place it in endlessly.
In just some weeks’ time, the brand new constructing can be prepared to be used. We can be among the final people to face within the tunnel for 100 years.
Getting waste out of the MSSS constructing is a giant second for Sellafield Ltd however the prices of coping with our Cold War nuclear legacy are colossal.
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Nuclear decommissioning prices the taxpayer greater than £3bn a yr. Sellafield alone is projected to value £97bn to scrub up over the subsequent 120 years.
Can the federal government justify a brand new nuclear programme if it prices this a lot to scrub up the final one? And can the trade be trusted to scrub up, given the pricey mess that was left at Sellafield?
“The priority at that time was in fact military and then the expansion civilian nuclear power that left us with legacy challenges,” mentioned Phil Hallington, head of coverage at Sellafield.
New nuclear crops have to boost cash to pay for their very own decommissioning so, in concept, at the least, the taxpayer should not be left choosing up the invoice.
But to make sure belief, “we need to keep our part of the bargain here at Sellafield,” Mr Hallington mentioned.