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Historic Sellafield chimney ready for demolition

Demolishing this chimney will cost more than £60m Photo: ITV Border

A historic chimney is set for demolition at Sellafield.

The Primary Separation Plant Chimney Stack was built in the 1950s to provide ventilation for surrounding buildings.

It is now one of the biggest risks at Sellafield because it does not meet modern safety standards.

Demolishing a 61-metre chimney in the middle of Europe's most complex, congested nuclear site is a challenge.

Explosives are not an option and there is no space for a crane so engineers have spent the last seven months getting a self-climbing platform to the top of the chimney metre by metre so they can begin demolition:

This project is to reduce the hazard to Sellafield by taking down the chimney and it's taken four years in the making...now we can see the climbing platform at the top of the chimney ready for the campaign which will be to take down the chimney"

– John Ball, Sellafield Contractor, Nuvia Ltd

ITV Border was given exclusive access to the newly installed platform at the top of the chimney more than 100 metres above Sellafield.

Later this year hydraulic machinery will be used to "nibble" the chimney away at a rate of one metre a week.

The work is due to be finished by 2020 and its final height will be nine metres.

The chimney is surrounded by nuclear buildings so it is crucial that no equipment or debris falls to the ground:

We limit the number of people at any one time on the platform. We have a number of different escape mechanisms for working at height and equipment is contained within the platform, tethered to prevent drop.

At the base of the platform we have elements like exclusion zones to prevent people near the base while people are working on it."

– Stuart Latham, Head of Remediation, Sellafield Ltd

Demolishing this chimney will cost more than £60m.

The Nuclear Decommissioning Authority which oversees Sellafield says the complexity of this one project demonstrates why cleaning up this site is so expensive.

£2bn was spent at Sellafield last year alone.

The MPs who monitor government spending say they are keeping a close eye on the budget:

We know the cost of decommissioning at Sellafield is high. The challenge for our committee is to make sure it's not higher than it should be. That normal proper project management rules apply and that the NDA is aware we're looking at their spending. Just as we are every other government department on behalf of the taxpayer. So we're going to be examining this much more closely in the Autumn."

– Meg Hllier, MP, Chair of Public Accounts Committee