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Hunterston B nuclear plant shut down after four decades



A nuclear power plant is being permanently shut down, almost 46 years after it started generating electricity.

The last operating unit, Reactor 4, at Hunterston B in North Ayrshire is coming offline for the final time at noon on Friday. The core of its reactor is said to have cracks to bricks.

The company first spotted cracks in two graphite bricks in the reactor in 2014 and by 2018, a total of 350 bricks had been affected.

The two reactors cores are made up of 3,000 bricks, which form vertical channels for nuclear fuel and the control rods to slide in and out. It was feared that the structural integrity of the core would prevent from shutting down in an emergency due to a rare seismic event with too many cracks in the core.

The cracks in the graphite bricks had shortened the life of the power station, as it was planned to operate until 2023.

EDF Energy, which owns the site, will begin a three-year process of defuelling before handing it over to the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority.

The workforce of 480 people will be reduced by 25% during the defuelling process, with 125 employees being redeployed to other sites or retiring.

Bosses at Hunterston B in North Ayrshire said it had produced enough energy to power every home in Scotland for nearly 31 years since it first came on line.

Station director Paul Forrest said the contribution the plant had made could “not be underestimated” – with the facility providing “stable, well paid jobs” for thousands of people in the area as well as producing almost 300 terawatt hours (TWh) of “zero-carbon electricity”.

The plant was originally scheduled to generate electricity for 25 years, but Forrest said investment in the site meant the lifespan could be extended.

Environmental campaigners, however, said the final shutdown of Hunterston B – which started producing electricity 45 years and 11 months ago – was “inevitable”.

Lang Banks, the director of WWF Scotland, said the plant had become “increasing unreliable”, arguing that growth in renewable energy means nuclear power is no longer required.

“Thankfully Scotland has massively grown its renewable power-generating capacity, which means we’ll no longer need the electricity from this increasingly unreliable nuclear power plant.

“As the expensive and hazardous job of cleaning up the radioactive legacy Hunterston leaves in its wake now begins, Scotland must press on with plans to harness more clean, renewable energy.”

EDF said every member of staff who had said they wanted to continue working at Hunterston B had secured a role to help with the defuelling – with some staff opting to move to other EDF sites and others deciding to retire.

Hunterston B cost £143m to build, with work on the plant starting 55 years ago in 1967.

GMB Scotland secretary Louise Gilmour added: “The story of the station and its workforce should be celebrated, but Hunterston’s decommission is also a lament over the Scottish Government’s attitude towards nuclear.

“This is a viable low-carbon industry that can help create and sustain the domestic energy production and employment opportunities we need to play our part in confronting the climate crisis.

“This shouldn’t be the beginning of the end for Scotland’s nuclear story – we are still going to need secure electricity supply on the days when the wind doesn’t blow.”

The Scottish Government has long opposed building more nuclear power plans in Scotland as an alternative zero carbon source of fuel, which could result in a reliance on importing fuel from other sources.

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “Hunterston B, its operators and in particular the workforces who have staffed the plant for more than 40 years, have played an important role in supporting Scotland’s energy requirements.

“We do however remain clear in our opposition to the building of new nuclear power plants in Scotland under current technologies.

“Significant growth in renewables, storage, hydrogen and carbon capture provide the best pathway to net zero by 2045, and will deliver the decarbonisation we need to see across industry, heat and transport.”

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