Sellafield’s original and infamous Irish Sea discharge pipelines are to be removed under plans recently announced by BNFL. Unused since they were replaced around 20 years ago , the 10 inch mild steel pipes are to be removed from the sea-bed and shore alongside Sellafield.
First constructed in 1950 and stretching over 2000 metres into the Irish Sea, Sealines 1 & 2 will have carried the highest levels of radioactive effluent from the plant during the 1950’s to the 1970’s – levels that are largely responsible for the significant environmental contamination measured today along the West Cumbrian coast.
Planning permission to remove the pipelines was first obtained in 1989 since when BNFL has missed numerous target dates for the work. After two years of project planning and preparation, the current plans are already behind schedule with a start date of April now pushed back to later this year. Completion of the project is expected by Spring next year.
Contractors Land and Marine, whose divers were involved in the raising of the Russian nuclear submarine Kursk, will be leading the £13M pipeline removal project which will see 25m sections of pipeline cut by divers into 5m lengths on an underwater cutting platform. With these lengths placed in a container, the container will be raised from the sea bed and fitted into a licensed transport container on board a floating barge which will deliver its load to Workington Docks. From Workington the containers will be shipped by rail to BNFL’s Low Level Waste Dump at Drigg.
The shore based sections of the pipelines, with bouyancy collars attached, will be floated offshore at high tide and dismantled using the same cutting process. Responding to local concerns about the possibility of radioactive materials inside and around the old pipelines being transferred to the shore during the removal operations, BNFL is planning to increase monitoring programmes of the beaches during and after the project. This will be accompanied by independent monitoring by the Environment Agency.
A BNFL spokesperson has said there will be ‘absolutely minimal environmental impact’. Many locals will well remember the 1983 ‘beach incident’ when, after an unauthorised cocktail of radioactive material discharged from the pipelines polluted local beaches, whole stretches of the coastline were closed for 9 months. The discovery just last month of a radioactive particle of Caesium-137 lying 2cm below the saurface of the sand on a local beach will not have boosted local confidence.
Following the removal of the pipelines and other associated man-made items, the beach will be reinstated with the distrubtion of natural material. Sellafield’s current reprocessing discharges and other site effluents will continue to be pumped at around 2 million gallons per day through two 18 inch carbon steel pipelines. The first of these was laid in 1975 and the second in the early 1990’s.