Historic Calder Hall cooling towers demolished

01 October 2007

The four cooling towers of the shut down Calder Hall plant at Sellafield, UK - the world's first industrial-scale nuclear power plant - were demolished using explosives on 29 September.


At 9:00 a.m. on Saturday morning, two of the towers were reduced to rubble in a controlled explosion, followed five minutes later by the other two. Following thorough safety inspections of the exclusion zone and surrounding plants, the demolition was declared a success. The project drew thousands of spectators and was broadcast live on the Internet. In total, 192 kilograms of explosives were used to bring down the four 88-metre tall cooling towers, which many regarded as a major part of the UK's industrial heritage.


Over 20,000 tonnes of rubble now need to be disposed of. It will take some 12 weeks to clear the rubble. The steel is to be recycled, while the concrete will be ground up. Debris from the towers will be recovered, processed and used to fill the voids of the cooling ponds beneath the towers.


The first reactor at the Calder Hall plant was officially opened by Queen Elizabeth II on 17 October 1956, just under three years after construction began. In addition to generating electricity, the plant's four 50 MWe Magnox reactors also produced weapons-grade plutonium. The plant operated for 47 years, ceasing operations in March 2003. After a period of public consultation, the UK Health and Safety Executive (HSE) granted decommissioning consent for Calder Hall in June 2005. The decommissioning of the Calder Hall plant is due to be completed by 2117.


On 13 September, the demolition team received the Licence Instrument, the final consent document from the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate (NII) to allow the demolition to go ahead.


The demolition of the Calder Hall cooling towers follows the demolition of the four cooling towers at the similar Chapelcross Magnox plant in May 2007. The demolition of the cooling towers is the initial part of a plan to decommission the Calder Hall plant, which comprises 62 buildings.


Plans to turn the Calder Hall plant into a museum were scrapped by the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) last week. The NDA commissioned a feasibility study into preserving unit one of the Calder Hall plant and constructing a hi-tech museum at the site. However, the study estimated the cost of the project at GBP128 million ($260 million). The NDA said it had been unable to gather enough support for the project from the private sector or local authorities to make the project viable.


Further information


Sellafield Sites

Footage and further details of the demolition are available on the Sellafield Sites website


WNA's Nuclear Power in the United Kingdom information paper
 Decommissioning Nuclear Facilities information paper

WNN: Chapelcross cooling towers demolished