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AGR storage drum challenge: Sellafield project sprint


In October of 2022, Eadon worked in collaboration with Sellafield’s Engineering Centre of Excellence on their second problem-solving sprint of the year, this time with Dan Camps in post as the experienced mechanical engineer. Working with a team of four graduate engineers from varying disciplines, Dan was provided the mechanical engineering support for the project.

The project was based around AGR (advanced gas-cooled reactor) fuel storage drums. The drums are filled and sealed ready for GDF (Geological Disposal Facility) storage in future, where the drums will be stored deep underground. The problem that the team were allocated to work on was an issue whereby some of the drums had not been filled with grout, leaving voids between the radioactive waste. The key challenge lay in finding a way to either remove the lids (managing the sealing gaskets in the process), fill with grout and re-seal, or alternatively in finding a method of penetrating the inner and outer lids to fill with grout and then seal up those holes. The main difficulty faced by the team was how the penetrations would be made given that the lower lid was free to rotate and therefore any cutting forces had to be reacted accordingly. This was coupled with the fact that the work had to be undertaken remotely due to the hazardous environment.

The project team used a Pugh matrix to score the proposed ideas from the initial brainstorming session, and then tested the highest-scoring solution for viability. The proposed solution was to use a milling technique, remotely deployed, to drill through the lid. The concept was tested using a rig set up with the materials and the profiles of the actual drum lids. Dan designed a remotely deployable cutting fixture; by using two cutting tools simultaneously, the inner lid could be stabilised, preventing movement during the milling process.

The mock-up solution was found to be a success and was subsequently presented to the Problem Manager at Sellafield, who was impressed with the proposal. The decision as to how to proceed to the next stage now lies with Sellafield, but there is likely a wider study required to consider feasibility of implementation and any restrictions on space and deployment.

Dan thoroughly enjoyed his time on the project sprint; the team worked well together and remain firm friends – during the project they got together one weekend and enjoyed a hike up one of the nearby Cumbrian fells. The 6-week time constraint created a dynamic unlike standard commercial projects and forced an alternative approach from the team, which was an interesting learning experience. Dan also enjoyed working with engineers from different disciplines; alongside his mechanical engineering knowledge, the team included two civil engineers, an operations engineer, and an electrical engineer, each of whom had a different way of approaching the problem given their specific skillsets.

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