Going rusty – the containment vessel at Dounreay fast breeder reactor, shut down in 1977 and still not completely decommissioned and still full of highly radioactive crap. There are disputes between management and workers about safety...the workers must be very conscious of the Karen Silkwood history...

Why is it still not fully decommissioned? The fuel has been removed – but the breeding material hasn’t, because under irradiation the elements have distorted so much that they’re jammed in place. This breeding material, originally natural (that is, neither enriched nor depleted in 235U) uranium, has been partially converted to plutonium, and also contains fission products due to fissioning of some of the 235U and some of the plutonium; thus it’s highly radioactive. And firmed jammed in place. Cutting it out with gas torches or grinders really isn’t on. In a steel containment vessel that’s going rusty...

This stuff will remain highly radioactive for thousands of years. The fission products will mostly decay to stable isotopes in a few hundred years, but the plutonium (and some other actinides, but plutonium is the main one) will be around for tens of thousands of years. For more about this, see Nuclear Power?

I can’t imagine why politicians thought this thing ought to be a long, long way from Westminster.

I caught the ship in the background in numerous pictures, mostly (like this one) quite accidentally – all the way from Bettyhill to Duncansby Head.

August 2016

A couple of articles in the John O'Groat Journal and Caithness Courier:

Employees claim Dounreay is in 'freefall' as staff morale hits 'all-time low' (February 2024)

Dounreay decommissioning date ‘never achievable’ says Caithness councillor (March 2024)

(I’d be sceptical about any timeframe given for decommissioning. Like fusion power, it will always be safely after those currently responsible have retired.)

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