Oldbury plant enters retirement

29 February 2012

Unit 1 at the UK's Oldbury plant - the world's oldest operating nuclear power reactor - has been closed after 44 years of power generation. Construction of a new plant is planned at the site.

Power generation at the 217 MWe unit was stopped at 11:00am today, marking the end of 44 years' of electricity production at the Magnox plant.

Oldbury 1 control room
The control room at Oldbury unit 1 (Image: Magnox Ltd)

Built in the 1960s and among the first generation of UK reactors, both of the gas-cooled, graphite-moderated first generation reactors at Oldbury were originally scheduled to shut down at the end of 2008. However, plant owner the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) requested permission from the regulator to operate beyond that date, earning revenue to help pay for decommissioning. Unit 2 was eventually shut down in June 2011, while unit 1 was expected to continue operating until the end of this year. Plant operator Magnox Ltd announced last October that it had decided to end operations ten months early as it was "no longer economically viable."

To date, the Oldbury plant has generated over 137.5 TWh of electricity - enough to power one million homes for 20 years, according to Magnox Ltd. Since the scheduled 2008 closure date, the plant has generated an additional 7.4 TWh of electricity, worth an estimated £350 million ($558 million) to the taxpayer and saving some 3.5 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions.

The end of power generation marks the start of a new phase in Oldbury's life as preparations get under way for the decommissioning process, which will include the removal of used fuel by 2013, management of waste and eventual demolition of the buildings. After most of the structures at Oldbury have been removed, the site will enter the 'care and maintenance' stage of decommissioning around 2027, allowing radioactivity to decay naturally. Final site clearance activities are scheduled between 2092 and 2101.

The last two remaining Magnox reactors currently in operation in the UK are at Wylfa site. The two 490 MWe units there are scheduled to shut down at the end of 2012 but the NDA is seeking permission to continue operating the units until the end of 2014.

Oldbury site director Phil Sprague commented, "Oldbury has been a terrific success story for the UK nuclear industry. We have generated safe, carbon free electricity for 44 years which is a remarkable achievement when you consider that the original plant design life was 25 years." He added, "Today marks a safe and dignified end to the generation of electricity at Oldbury."

Sprague told Reuters that certain control room staff at the unit had requested not to be the one to press the shutdown button. He added, "Some of the workers got quite emotional; they have worked here for 40 years."

UK energy minister Charles Hendry said, "Oldbury has been producing low carbon power for four decades now, making a significant contribution to meeting the UK's electricity demand." However, he noted, "Plans for a new nuclear power station adjacent to the current site are an encouraging sign that Oldbury will play a role in our energy future too."

Horizon Nuclear Power - a 50-50 joint venture between RWE and EOn - plans to submit a planning application for a new nuclear power plant at Oldbury around 2014. According to the company, "Given the right market conditions, and subject to a final investment decision, preliminary works could begin in 2016, followed by main construction from 2019." Horizon is expected to announce soon which of the two available reactor designs - Areva's EPR or Westinghouse's AP1000 - it would like to build.

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News