[O]n this day (17th October 1956 ) 60 years ago Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II opened the world’s first full-scale nuclear power station, Calder Hall, at Sellafield.
Delegates from 48 countries gathered at the nuclear site on the Cumbrian coast, at a grand event that would see Her Majesty cut a ribbon that would transform the nuclear industry, and a small farming community, overnight.
Calder Hall led the way for the UK in the use of nuclear fuel to generate electricity, and was the first in the world to be connected to the national grid.
Operating safely for 47 years, twice its planned design life, it was a feat of British engineering and is known as ‘the father of the nuclear industry’. A further 14 reactors were built across the UK, in exact replica of the design, along with a further two stations in Italy and Japan.
Covering over 43 acres of the Sellafield site on the coast of Cumbria, the iconic station has the same sized footprint as Buckingham Palace and its grounds. Itcontinues to blaze a trail, this time in nuclear decommissioning. The complex clean-up of the facility station is well underway.
When the station stopped generating electricity in 2003, all four of the reactors were full of fuel that would, after a period of cooling, need to be treated in our Magnox reprocessing plant.
The four iconic cooling towers had dominated the Sellafield and West Cumbrian skyline for more than half a century before they were demolished in September 2007. The explosive demolition was 3 years in the planning to ensure that when the towers were imploded they would fall within their own footprint.
In 2010, Sellafield Ltd completed what was, at the time, the biggest asbestos removal project in Europe. The material was stripped from Calder’s heat exchangers, turbine halls and associated buildings. In all, 2,300 tonnes of asbestos cladding was removed in five years.
A project to transfer the 40,000 fuel rods from the four reactors to the Fuel Handling Plant started in 2011. One of the reactors is now completely empty and the remaining three are on course to be empty by 2019.
Once the reactors are empty and initial Post Operational Clean out work has been completed, Calder Hall will pose not nuclear or radiological risk or hazard. The site will enter a period of interim care and maintenance while work is focused upon on reducing risk and hazard in the high priotity areas of the site.
Current plans indicate that by 2027, only the four reactor buildings will be left of the original Calder Hall station. The reactor buildings will be dismantled to the point where only the concrete bio-shield that contains the reactor core remains. This ‘safestore’ principle is already in use for reactors in France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the USA, as well as for the other Magnox reactors in the UK.