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Saturday, 20 September 2014

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Celebrating 50 years of safe nuclear power

THE UK’s first commercial nuclear reprocessing plant is celebrating a landmark birthday.

CEMAGNOXPAIR
Father and son: James Millington, current head of operations at Magnox Reprocessing, and his father David Millington, former head of engineering

By Andrew Clarke

Still going strong after 50 years of safe operations, Sellafield’s Magnox Reprocessing Plant opened its doors the same year the Great Train robbers went on trial, and the first episode of Match of the Day hit the first portable televisions.

Magnox has lasted for twice the length of time it was designed to, and is still reprocessing fuel and helping to keep lights on around the UK, which Sellafield Ltd says is testament to the skills of the engineers who built the facility.

To celebrate the anniversary, 50 former staff members were invited back to see how it has changed over the years.

One of the group, John Hall, was the night shift manager the night the first fuel rods were put into the plant.

He said: “The Magnox reprocessing plant really has proved to be the backbone of the UK’s nuclear industry, and it’s doing important work today as it has always done.

“I remember that first night when it had been turned on, we went on the night shift not knowing what to expect.

“I mean, we sort of knew it was going to work because we were professional and we trusted the theory, but it was still something of a leap of faith to see exactly how it would work and what would happen.

“It was a nervous first night and something I will never forget.”

Mark Jackson, the current head of the Magnox Operating Unit, said: “The longevity of the plant, and its safety record, are a real success for not only the nuclear industry, but industry as a whole.

“Of course from time to time we face challenges – you’d expect to with a plant this old – but we have a skilled and talented workforce, many of whom have worked in this plant for their entire careers, and whatever comes up, we overcome it and move forward.”

The plant takes fuel from Magnox reactors and recycles it, dissolving the uranium bar so that plutonium and fission products produced in nuclear reactors can be separated, with the plutonium and uranium able to be reused to make fresh fuel.

More than 52,000 tonnes of fuel have been reprocessed in the plant over the past 50 years. The plant is due to close down in around 2020 – but work to fully decommission it will take decades longer.

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