If you ever felt that sorting waste into different boxes for recycling was a challenge, then the task facing British Nuclear Group (BNG) puts this job into clear context.
In April last year, the Government set up the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, whose objective is to clean up every UK nuclear power plant down to a greenfield site within 25 years.
As a specialist site management and nuclear clean-up business,
BNG must meet the challenge head-on. With waste falling into four streams relating to its level of radioactivity, everything from overalls to office blocks has to be checked, with asbestos and other hazardous factors also accounted for.
BNG commercial manager John Gould says: "We have no option. The last thing we want is contamination in the recycling chain. We operate very strict controls. For example, you couldn't bring a lump of coal offsite because of potential risks."
Even with such stringent regulations, Gould estimates that anything between 60% and 80% of a nuclear power plant gets recycled. But the task is a lot more complicated than merely stripping the plant down.
He explains: "At the end of a nuclear plant's life, when it stops producing, we'll begin removing the nuclear fuel elements. There will be 50,000-60,000 or more of these elements in the feed. Once removed, we'll put them into intermediate storage for cooling down, and then to Sellafield for reprocessing."
Only when this has been completed can the company even begin thinking about what could be re-cycled.
"The plants are generally fairly old, from the 1950s or 1960s. They are disposed of as scrap and treated accordingly," says Gould. "As for the turbine generator, the copper is reused and recycled. The rotar will weigh about 200 tonnes and will have lots of good quality steel and copper."
Gould works on contracts for scrap metal and anything from refurbishing building structures to getting radio-active waste out. After a plant is decommissioned, he employs contractors to sort waste into different streams and dispose of it.
Office blocks will be used as rubble, while steel windows, copper wiring and lead will be sorted.
They will leave in different releases, carefully checked. Some will be declared not contaminated and will enter the recycling chain, while other materials will be monitored, and those that are contaminated will be treated and stored.
He says: "Solid low-level waste is stored at Drigg in Cumbria. Intermediate goes to Sella- field pending disposal, as does the high-level waste. We have no ceiling on the amount of time it is kept - it'll probably be there for 1,000 years."
Other entities such as workshop equipment, filing cabinets, benches and desks will be looked at and if there is no further use for them within the company, they will also be put out for recycling.
The lead acid batteries that power the stations can be separated into acid, lead and glass for reuse. They are 100 times bigger than a car battery and there are up to 700 of them in a room.
Gould says: "We go through everything and as much as possible is recycled. But obviously we have to account for asbestos and ot