Radioactive power plant fittings from the Royal Navy’s decommissioned nuclear subs could find their way to Ellesmere Port’s outskirts.
Capenhurst Nuclear Services (CNS) has welcomed a Ministry of Defence (MoD) announcement it has been shortlisted to be involved in work connected with the dismantling of 27 British nuclear subs once they have left naval service and have been defuelled.
These include 12 subs currently stored afloat at Devonport, Plymouth, the largest naval base in western Europe and seven at Rosyth in Scotland as well as eight subs that are still in service.
If selected, CNS would handle the safe storage of reactor pressure vessels removed from the subs.
These are radioactive due to their previous proximity to the subs’ nuclear reactors.
The intention would be the contaminated materials would eventually be moved to underground storage when this becomes available at a location to be decided some time after 2040.
The interim storage at Capenhurst, involving, if approved, a secure building, would be designed for at least 100 years’ use to provide for uncertainties.
Capenhurst was provisionally shortlisted in February following an assessment of all the licensed nuclear sites in the country along with the Atomic Weapons Establishment sites at Aldermaston and Burghfield in Berkshire, Sellafield in west Cumbria and Chapelcross in Dumfriesshire.
David Slater, managing director of CNS, said: “This announcement is testament to the nuclear experience and expertise we have here at CNS.
“We will continue to work closely with the MoD throughout this site selection process and remain committed to maintaining an open dialogue with our stakeholders and the local community.’’
The MoD will be launching a 12 week public consultation next month (November) in advance of a final decision being made in 2015.
If selected, CNS’s role in the project would involve developing a solution for the interim storage of the steel reactor pressure vessels that will be removed from the defuelled subs.
The vessels would be removed from the subs at Devonport and Rosyth and then transported to the selected management facility, potentially at Capenhurst, for interim storage in advance of final disposal at the UK’s planned geological disposal facility.
Capenhurst already manages material owned by the MoD under another contract.
Mr Slater said at the time of the earlier announcement the provisional shortlisting was ‘testament to the nuclear experience and expertise we have at CNS’.
“Our workforce is committed to providing the centre of excellence for the management of nuclear materials, decommissioning and recycling,” he said.
The vessels, classified as intermediate level radioactive waste, each weigh between 90 and 135 tonnes according to the MoD.
In total they amount to less than 0.2% by volume of the UK’s national accumulation of intermediate level waste.
Commenting on the radiation risk for residents around the proposed storage, MoD documents point out: “The level of radiation exposure for local people will be subject to tight regulations, which require these levels to be kept to an absolute minimum.
“From our experience with similar sites and activities, there will be no measurable increase in radiation levels or associated health risks.”
The store, as with all nuclear activities, would be independently regulated to stringent standards, the MoD insists.
Chester MP Stephen Mosley said at the time: “The team at Capenhurst are absolute professionals who are leading the way in nuclear technology in the UK.
“It is therefore not surprising that they have been listed as a candidate site for the nuclear submarine dismantling process.
“This is brilliant news for highly-skilled, long-term jobs and investment locally.”
Capenhurst Nuclear Services Limited commenced operations in 2012 following a long term contract with the country’s Nuclear Decommissioning Authority.
The company claims it has over 1,000 years of combined nuclear experience from across its highly skilled workforce.
A public information event has already taken place at the site following the provisional shortlisting.
Defence minister Philip Dunne MP described the earlier stage as ‘another step towards a safe and sustainable solution for the disposal of radioactive waste from our submarine fleet’ and added that all of the potential sites had a proven track record in handling radioactive material in a safe and secure way.
Public consultation will begin on November 14 and end on February 20, 2015.