Sellafield’s Magnox reprocessing plant is heading for a restart by the middle of this month, after being shut down as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

The reprocessing plant, a major part of the Sellafield site, underwent a controlled shutdown in March just ahead of the imposition of the coronavirus lockdown.

The shutdown was put in place to ensure safe operations with vastly reduced staff numbers on site.

But with the coronavirus lockdown restrictions now having eased, on Friday Sellafield’s chief executive Martin Chown confirmed that the Magnox plant was heading for a resumption of operations by the middle of August.

“We took the difficult decision on the 17th March this year to stop the Magnox facility,” Mr Chown said.

“It was the right thing to do at the time.

“I’m delighted to say that now we are preparing to restart Magnox, sometime around the middle of August.”

Mr Chown added that the final decision would be taken in the coming days.

“We have a nuclear safety committee established in early August to go through the final considerations to make sure that everything is ready for a Magnox restart,” he said.

“I’m confident that we’ve done everything that we need to do, and the facility will be ready to restart and everybody can feel safe and confident in returning to a Magnox restart sometime around mid August.”

Mr Chown hailed the restarting of the Magnox reprocessing facility as a “significant milestone” for the Sellafield site.

“[There is] lots of work still to be done to get us there, but nonetheless a significant milestone for everybody at Sellafield,” he said.

A Sellafield spokesman said in March that the controlled shutdown of the Magnox site was a necessary step to take on safety grounds.

“We have a critical mission so our response must ensure the safety and security of the public, our workforce and protection of the environment at all times,” the spokesman said.

“The Government’s evolving response means we must now scale back some operations to make best use of available people.

“This allow us to keep a focus on delivering high hazard risk reduction activities.

“As a proactive measure, to retain the reprocessing stream in a sustainable state for the future, we are moving to a controlled shutdown of the Magnox reprocessing plant.

“This approach will enable the best opportunity for an effective re-start when circumstances permit.”

Sellafield’s workforce has been gradually returning to the site.

About half of the site’s 8,000-strong total workforce is expected to be back on site by September.