Nuclear sites across Britain are showing interest in the discovery by workers at Dounreay that one of the country’s best-selling household cleaners removes plutonium stains more effectively than many industrial clean-up products.
The discovery came when a decommissioning team found their normal cleaning fluid was slowing down work to dismantle an experimental chemical plant used in the 1980s to recycle plutonium liquor.
One of the team suggested trying Cillit Bang, after watching a television advert that suggested it could strip grime instantly from a 2p coin.
The idea was taken up by managers who ordered tests on the £1.99 household cleaner. These confirmed its effectiveness and the product is now playing a key role in keeping on the track the clean-out and demolition of the plant, a test-bed for the giant THORP reprocessing plant at Sellafield.
The nuclear site in Cumbria is among those who have been in touch with Dounreay to learn more about the discovery.
David Manson, project manager with Dounreay Site Restoration Ltd, says it is a good example of innovation from the shopfloor driving down the £2.6 billion cost of demolishing the site.
The experimental chemical plant was one of many built at Dounreay during the 20th century to research more efficient ways to generate electricity from plutonium.
The Marshall Laboratory opened in 1986 and paved the way for the next generation of reprocessing plant in the UK and France, testing a new method of recycling plutonium using a series of pulsed columns. It closed down in 1988 when the UK Government abandoned research into fast breeder reactors.
A £9 million project to clean-out and dismantle the laboratory is now well underway as part of the site clean-up and closure.
The four-storey chemical plant was a series of vessels, pipes and boxes made from steel and toughened glass. The solutions run through the plant left it stained with plutonium, creating a hazard for the team tasked with taking it apart.
“We need to decontaminate as much of the surfaces as possible before we can cut them up,” explained David Manson.
“The normal decontamination agents we’d use on steel and glass need time to dry and this slowed us down. The acids that had been used years ago also created problems. It meant we had to think carefully about the most effective way to wipe the plutonium from the steelwork before we could cut it up.
“It was at one of our regular toolbox talks that one of the guys suggested Cillit Bang. He remembered seeing it dissolve the grime on a 2p coin in an advert on TV and thought it was worth looking at. I’m very glad we did. We tested it and found it to be very effective.”
Six large glass columns and gloveboxes that formed the heart of the plant have now been cleaned up and dismantled. The glass columns were transferred to a nearby decontamination unit where another household product, Mr Muscle window and glass cleaner, was used to decontaminate them.
The 15-strong clean-up team wear whole-body plastic suits with their own oxygen supply and often need 4 or 5 layers of gloves to protect them from radiation.
They are now using Cillit Bang to clean out the ancillary plant, such as ventilation ducts.
“The ductwork is stainless steel and contamination levels upstream of the filtration units have been measured in thousands of counts per second. These levels have been reduced to 20 or 40 counts following spray and wipedown with Cillit Bang.
“This would have been possible using other decontamination agents, such as strippable coatings, but domestic cleaners such as Cillit Bang have proven to be very quick and effective.”
Dounreay belongs to the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority. Its regional director, Randall Bargelt, said: “It’s great to see DSRL taking such a fresh approach to a complex task. It really fits with the NDA’s principle of driving innovation. It is this kind of thinking which will help reduce the decommissioning cost to the tax payer while improving efficiency – ensuring that the site clean up is as thorough as possible.”