Highlands & Islands

Thurso dressmakers aids clean up of Dounreay reactor

Camera hood handover Image copyright DSRL
Image caption The camera and its hood were both specially designed to operate in difficult conditions

A dressmakers, a silver ironing board cover and a duvet are playing a part in a £1.6bn project to demolish and clean up a Scottish nuclear power plant.

The decommissioning of Dounreay includes the dismantling of the Dounreay Fast Reactor (DFR).

A robotic camera built to explore pipes inside the reactor has to operate in high temperatures.

The DFR team turned to Elizabeth's Fabrics in nearby Thurso to create a hood from the cover and 7.0 tog duvet.

The hood insulates and protects the camera and will allow staff at Dounreay to look for radioactive liquid metal coolant known as NaK inside the DFR.

Gail Russell, of Elizabeth's Fabrics, said the order from the nuclear plant had posed an interesting challenge.

She said: "Making the cover fit was like making a dress fit as I needed to cut in darts like the bust of a dress and allow for movement of the camera head.

"The robot was actually easier to work with and less stressful than some humans."

Aly Mackay, DFR characterisation and dismantling project manager, said making the camera, which was designed and built in-house, and the hood had required some lateral thinking.

He added: "The camera should allow the team to see any radioactive coolant blockages inside pipework, it's a bit like having X-ray vision.

"A lot of innovation was required to put this inspection together and it could be a real game-changer for the removal of residual NaK and for us to understand what radiation will still be there when we come to dismantle this complex structure."

Plutonium stains

Staff at Dounreay have sought unusual solutions to problems before.

Two years ago, cardboard tubes inside rolls of paper towels emerged as a solution to a problem operating a piece of equipment used to treat radioactive waste.

The sludge mixer stirs radioactive material dredged from the DFR with cement inside 200 litre steel drums.

Workers were having difficulty fitting the machine's motor drive to the spindle of its mixing paddle.

They have been using the tubes to make it easier to access the spindle.

Image copyright dsrl
Image caption Facilities at Dounreay are in the process of being dismantled and cleaned up

By cutting the cardboard rolls into equal sized pieces they have been able to raise the paddle off the bottom of the drums.

The spindle can then be easily reached because it pokes above the top of the drums.

The cardboard easily squashes down and mixes with the sludge and cement without risking any damage to the device.

Domestic cleaning products have also been used to clean plutonium stains from equipment.

More on this story

Related Internet links

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites