A blocked pipe threatens to stop British Nuclear Fuels from operating its £2.8bn reprocessing plant at Sellafield for three months.
BNFL discovered the problem at the Thermal Oxide Reprocessing Plant (Thorp) in December in a pipe that transfers dissolved fuel from Thorp’s head end plant to its chemical separation units.
The partial blockage forced BNFL to halt operations at the head end, and meant it could only operate the rest of the plant for another two weeks as it depleted the buffer tank of dissolved fuel.
A BNFL spokeswoman said the blockage had been removed and pipework was being flushed out. But remedial work will go on into March. Much of it will focus on finding out what caused the build-up of fragments of cladding inside the pipe.
Experts claim this could lead to a safety hazard with certain types of nuclear fuel cladding notably zirconium alloy. BNFL insisted the material in the pipe posed no safety threat at the time.
The stoppage means Thorp is likely to reprocess just over half the 900 tonnes of fuel scheduled for 1998 99.