Following a thorough site selection process conducted by the Ministry of Defence (MOD), URENCO Nuclear Stewardship has been selected as the MOD’s preferred site for a new interim storage project. The project will involve managing the interim storage of steel Reactor Pressure Vessels (RPVs), which will be removed at Devonport and Rosyth from 27 defuelled nuclear submarines after they have left the Royal Navy’s service. Being selected by the MOD for this important work reflects URENCO Nuclear Stewardship’s proven capability in the responsible management of the UK’s nuclear legacy and complements work already carried out at the Capenhurst site.
URENCO Nuclear Stewardship worked with the MOD to agree the final detail for an interim storage and management solution. The preferred option is for an existing URENCO Nuclear Stewardship facility to be used for the interim storage of the RPVs at Capenhurst. Transportation of the RPVs to the site will start in the early 2020s and is likely to consist of one delivery each year.
From 2 June 2008, URENCO’s Capenhurst site changed its registered name from URENCO (Capenhurst) Limited (UCL) to URENCO UK Limited (UUK). URENCO UK Limited became a wholly owned subsidiary of URENCO Limited in 1993 following a restructuring of the URENCO Group. Since then, the site has established itself as a highly successful operation, expanding its production capacity to 4,700 tSW/a by the end of 31 December 2017.
Located in Capenhurst, near Chester in the north west of England, the site operates three plants producing enriched uranium to enable nuclear power stations around the world to generate electricity. The site provides the local community with long-term employment in a technical environment, as well as opportunities for young people to pursue engineering and scientific careers. The largest of Capenhurst's three plants, E23, houses more than 80% of the site’s enrichment capacity.
At its formation in 1971, British Nuclear Fuels Limited (BNFL) inherited the Capenhurst Site and the massive Gaseous Diffusion Plant was used to 'enrich' uranium, one of the processes required to make fuel for nuclear power stations. Even then, research was underway into a new and much more efficient way of enriching uranium, the Centrifuge process. BNFL collaborated with Dutch and German partners in URENCO to develop centrifuge technology, and the first commercial scale centrifuge plant was opened at Capenhurst in 1976.
In 1982, the Diffusion plant ceased operation and BNFL began the task of decommissioning the plant, which was completed in May 1997. The special military enrichment plant at Capenhurst is currently inactive, given the large inventories of highly enriched uranium [HEU] held by the UK. In 1993, the Urenco partners transferred their centrifuge enrichment businesses into a new subsidiary, Urenco Limited, based at Marlow (Urenco [Capenhurst] Limited was renamed Urenco UK Limited [UUK] on 2 June 2008). At Capenhurst, the result was that the centrifuge plants and their operators, together with design offices, laboratories, and other functions were transferred. On the BNFL site, this left only one major project, the decommissioning of the old Diffusion Plant together with material storage and some service work in support of Urenco.
Since 1993, Urenco has used Capenhurst as a fuel-enrichment plant for civilian reactors. The largest of Urenco’s three Capenhurst plants, E23, began operation in 1997 and houses more than 80% of the sites enrichment capacity. The other two sites, E22 and A3, add significant contributions to the sites total output. By December 31, 2010, production capacity was at 5,000 tSW/year. Uranic materials stemming from the reprocessing of spent fuel from the Sellafield site and from the uranium enrichment process undertaken by the Urenco reactor are still stored on-site. On 2 July 2009, the Urenco Limited Board approved EUR 360 million for the creation of a Tails Management Facility (TMF) at URENCO's Capenhurst site, north-west England, UK. The Facility will include a 7,000 tU per year capacity depleted uranium hexafluoride (hex) tails deconversion plant, a hex cylinder washing plant, a uranium oxide store, and associated support facilities. The construction program has a completion target and online date scheduled for 2014.
According to the Nuclear Decommission Agency (which now owns the land and reactor that belonged to BNFL, then to Sellafield Ltd.), as of 2006, the milestone timeline for the NDA’s portion of Capenhurst was as follows:
- 2007- Enriched uranium operations – All EU waste processing completed
- 2010- Diffusion Plant – decommissioning complete
- 2010- Site reaches care and maintenance status
- 2020- Hex deconversion plant – construction and operation of hex deconversion facility
- 2120- Uranic storage – uranium storage operations cease
- 2120- Final site clearance and closure.
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