Energy

World's first commercial nuclear reactor defueled

World's first commercial nucle...
Composite image of the Calder Hall fueling hall in 1956 and the present
Composite image of the Calder Hall fueling hall in 1956 and the present
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The world's first commercial nuclear power plant, which operated for almost half a century, has been defueled. Opened by Queen Elizabeth II on October 17, 1956, Calder Hall was the first nuclear reactor site built for industrial-scale civilian power generation and connected to a national electrical grid.

Originally designed to run for only 20 years, Calder Hall remained in service until March 31, 2003. According to its present operator, Sellafield Ltd, during its 47 years in service, it generated enough energy to meet the average electricity demand of England and Wales for three months.

Calder Hall's four Magnox reactors are different from those being built today in that they are gas-cooled reactors that are fueled with rods made out of enriched natural uranium, and use blocks of graphite as a moderator and carbon dioxide gas as a coolant. A simple design, it served as the template for 22 Magnox reactors built in Britain at 10 sites, as well as two more sites in Italy and Japan.

After it was closed in 2003, decommissioning began in 2007 by the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority’s Magnox Operating Programme with the demolition of the cooling towers, and in 2011 the first of 38,953 spent fuel rods were removed from the reactors by the same handling gear previously used to fuel them.

The fuel rods were sealed inside special shielded and armored flasks and transported to Sellafield’s Fuel Handling Plant, where they will be allowed to cool in water-filled storage ponds before being stripped of their zirconium alloy cladding and reprocessed to extract uranium-235 and plutonium for reuse.

According to Sellafield, Calder Hall’s reactor buildings have been granted "care and maintenance" status, which means they will be protected against deterioration until the site, which has been extensively dismantled and recycled, is reduced to only the concrete bio-shield containing the reactor core after 2027.

"This is a truly iconic moment," says 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."

Source: Sellafield Ltd

7 comments
John Austin
Graphite? Just like Windscale and Chernobyl! Carbon molecules build up stored mechanical energy in a high neutron flux. Reactors like this can explode. This is why almost nobody except the UK and the USSR used that design.
Ernie
Good riddance. Nuclear power generation has been a scam since it was first conceived.
Kpar
John...And yet, only Chernobyl exploded, and that was due to a series of serious blunders by the operating staff. Gas cooled, graphite moderated reactors have significant advantages over high pressure WC reactors- A Scientific American article many years ago described US experiments with high temperature gas cooled reactors and reported many safety advantages over boiling water and pressurized water types. Of particular interest was the helium cooled graphite reactor. The helium did not get radioactive, and, in a serious LOCA (loss of coolant accident) overheating occurred in 8-12 HOURS, not the 90 seconds for a pressurized water reactor, or the three to ten minutes for a boiling water reactor. Of course this study came out shortly after Three Mile Island (which itself was reported incorrectly) and the anti-nuclear lobby was on the warpath, bolstered by the movie China Syndrome, rushed into distribution to take advantage of the financial disaster which was TMI.
Johannes
Forty seven years of active service without a significant safety incident is commendable, but have a think about the ongoing legacy of this power plant. It's now 16 years inactive, with at least 8 years more attention until only the reactor containment is left. Then another who-knows-how-many years before all the residue from this endeavour is recycled or contained "permanently". Is it really worth it?
Dr. Hujjatullah M.H.B. Sahib
It is quite understandable that despite being relatively safe the Sellafield Magnox reactors had to go because of antiquated technology. But why are the nearly 39K spent fuel rods being destined for reprocessing instead of being consigned to waste storage ? Anyway, are those rods to be reprocessed into MOX fuel or to weapons designated HEU/Plutonium ? In a post-Cold War age where most nuclear energy-focused countries are headed along the Thorium-based MSR route, isn't this development a little disquieting !
Jjack
John, I Idon't usually comment on these things but this was something I had to point out from your comment -Graphite? Just like Windscale and Chernobyl! Calder Hall was next to Windscale and originally built to help power it, until the Windscale disaster. Graphite was what they used back then, of course compared to today's designs it would be easy to point out the flaws but it was one of the first power producing reactors.
Wolf0579
Good! Now on to the rest of those infernal machines. Nuclear Power was a scam... all the profit up front, and all the costs come home to roost after the profiteers have long vanished. We need to MAKE SURE that those MotherF#cker's PAY THEIR SHARE OF THE SPENT FUEL STORAGE COSTS!!!!!!!!!!