THE book is closing on an important piece of science at the former nuclear research site at Winfrith.

In what has been hailed as a ‘highly significant landmark’, phase one of decommissioning the experimental Dragon reactor has now been completed.

It is another milestone achieved in moves towards final closure of the site.

Dragon operated successfully from 1964 to 1975 and was widely regarded as one of Europe’s most successful collaborations in applied science, and the most important multi-national technical collaboration in nuclear energy.

Technology pioneered by Dragon, a forerunner of gas turbine-modular reactors, developed highly efficient and reliable reactors with little contaminated waste. Winfrith was a major centre for groundbreaking reactor development from the late 1950s to the 1990s.

The site is now managed by Research Sites Restoration Limited (RSRL), responsible for the closure programme.

Dragon decommissioning began in 2005 but was halted after a couple of years due to funding problems.

Further money became available for projects at Winfrith in 2011 which enabled decommissioning to restart. Phase one involved removing all of the reactor plant outside of the reactor pressure vessel, a task which saw 360 tonnes of reinforced concrete, 258 tonnes of steel, 85 tonnes of lead, 140 cubic metres of perlite and 25 cubic metres of asbestos shifted.

It was a very challenging undertaking according to RSRL, demonstrating the firm’s expertise at the sharp end of nuclear decommissioning.

Much of Dragon’s workface had not been exposed for almost 50 years. New techniques were tried, including using cutting machinery normally used in the oil and gas industry.

There were also a number of challenges to overcome including asbestos and disposing of some ‘unique’ waste.

Most of the metal removed, and all of the concrete, was reused or recycled.

RSRL directly managed all of the operations. Baker Dougan Nuclear supplied decommissioning operatives and Nuvia provided health physics cover. Work on phase one was completed two months ahead of schedule.

Senior Dragon Project Manager Andy Philps said: “Our main challenges lie in the uniqueness of the Dragon reactor.

“After the successful completion of phase one, we are now focusing on the planning of phase two which will involve the removal of the reactor core.”

Meeting tonight on progress

AN OPEN meeting is being held for residents to update them about work at the site.

It will be held this evening at 6pm in Winfrith Newburgh village hall. It is a meeting of the Winfrith Site Stakeholder Group but local residents are invited to attend. The group is the link between the site operator, the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority and the community.

The event will be a chance to be updated on developments at the site. Contact the group’s secretary Emma Burwood on 01305 203107 or email: emma.