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World's First Commercial Nuclear Plant Defueled

Monday, September 9, 2019

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It's official: The world's full-scale nuclear power station has been emptied of fuel, taking the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority's Magnox Operating Program one step closer to completion.

Known as Calder Hall, the Sellafield Ltd.-operated commercial nuclear power plant, located in Cumbria, England, is reported to have been the first nuclear reactor site in history built for industrial-scale civilian power generation and connection to a national electrical grid.

Calder Hall History

According to New Atlas, the nuclear power plant was opened by Queen Elizabeth II on Oct. 17, 1956, and operated for 47 years until it was shut down on March 31, 2003. The first of eight small prototypes Magnox units to be built, the 50 MWe (net) reactor had three additional 50 MWe units added from 1957-59.

Over time, the reactors’ design also served as a template—different from the way current reactors are built today, as Magnox reactors from this time were cooled by carbon dioxide gas, fueled with rods made from enriched natural uranium and used blocks of graphite as moderators—for 22 other Magnox reactors built in Britain at 10 other sites, as well as two other sites in Italy and Japan.

Although the plant was intended to run for only 20 years, over the course of its service, it generated enough electricity to power the average energy demands in England and Wales for three months.

Following its official closing in 2003, the Magnox Operating Program demolished Calder Hall’s four cooling towers in 2007, the first steps in its decommissioning services. By 2011, the first of 38,953 spent fuel rods had been removed from the reactors by the same handling gear that was previously used to fuel them.

After extraction, the rods were closed inside special flasks and transported to Sellafield’s Fuel Handling Plant. Upon arrival, the rods were cooled in water-filled storage ponds, followed by the stripping of zirconium alloy cladding and reprocessing to extract uranium-235 and plutonium for reuse.

What’s Happening Now

Sellafield reports that the Calder Hall’s reactor buildings have been given a “care and maintenance” status, giving protection against deterioration until after 2027, when the site is slated to be dismantled and recycled down to its concrete bio-shield containing the reactor core.

"This is a truly iconic moment," said Stuart Latham, head of remediation for Sellafield Ltd.

"Calder Hall was the birthplace of the civil nuclear industry. It inspired the world and put our site at the forefront of the atomic age. Completing the defueling program is an important moment for Sellafield. The defueling team have completed the task safely and professionally and have made a huge contribution to our mission."

According to the BBC, the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority expects to reach a full decommission by 2120 at the cost of 70 billion euros ($77.3 billion).


Tagged categories: Asia Pacific; Building operations; Demolition; EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa); Infrastructure; Latin America; North America; Nuclear Power Plants; Ongoing projects; Power; Power; Power Plants; Program/Project Management; Project Management; Z-Continents

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