Minnow cleans up with a £4.3m nuclear waste deal

Herald Series: From back left, Zino Perdikou, Lewis Meredith, Simon Delavalle, Simon Mills, Stephen Sanders, Hassan Omran, Steve Chamberlain, Chris Belcher, Alan Rolfe and Haydn Robinson of Oxford Technologies. Picture OX62045 Antony Moore Buy this photo From back left, Zino Perdikou, Lewis Meredith, Simon Delavalle, Simon Mills, Stephen Sanders, Hassan Omran, Steve Chamberlain, Chris Belcher, Alan Rolfe and Haydn Robinson of Oxford Technologies. Picture OX62045 Antony Moore

A HI-TECH engineering firm is set for major expansion after winning the biggest contract in its history to clean up a nuclear waste site.

Oxford Technologies, based in Abingdon, is looking to boost its workforce by 20 per cent and move into new premises after landing the deal which will see its specialist team employed on the Dounreay site in Scotland, which oversaw nuclear experiments in the post-war era.

Business development director Stephen Sanders said: “Our annual turnover is £2m and this contract alone is worth £4.3m, so this is brilliant news for us as a small engineering company.”

At least six engineers will be recruited to the business to add to the existing 27-strong workforce.

The search has also started for new, larger premises, although Mr Sanders pledged the firm will be staying in the area.

The project will involve a team from Oxford Technologies using remote handling machinery to extract nuclear materials from a shaft where it was dumped from the 1950s until 1977, when an explosion caused by a build-up of hydrogen gas occurred.

According to Mr Sanders, it is not clear exactly what was placed in the shaft in the early days, as very few records were kept.

“This shaft was not intended to be a dump – it was originally intended to be used to flush low-level radioactive waste out to sea.

“This is low and intermediate level waste as far as we know but the Dounreay people themselves say the evidence is very anecdotal. Things were not very well controlled at the time.

“It will be hazardous but that is what remote handling is all about – solving challenging problems where people can’t go.”

Once removed, the nuclear material will be transferred to another facility on the Dounreay site where it can be stored more securely.

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Oxford Technologies was a spin-out from the Joint European Torus (JET) programme at Harwell which continues to research into power from nuclear fusion.

The jobs that are being made available include engineers with specialities in mechanical design, robotics, electronics and software engineering.

Mr Sanders said: “We want to stay as close to Abingdon as possible as it is a fantastic area for the expertise we require.”

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