hunterston b power station

Scottish nuclear plant Hunterston B shuts down after 46 years in operation

Image credit: reuters

Electricity generation at one of the UK’s most productive nuclear power stations, Hunterston B, in North Ayrshire, is ending after almost 46 years.

The station, which cost around £143m to build, first came online in 1976 and is located six miles south of Largs on Scotland’s west coast. The French-state owned EDF Energy, which runs the plant, announced last summer that defueling the station would begin no later than today as the first step in the nuclear decommissioning process.

In 2012, EDF estimated that the plant could technically and economically operate until 2023, but it hastened its closure by a year with the defueling announcement.

It has faced a series of technical faults over its lifespan, with the first incident occurring in 1977, just 18 months after it first started generating.

In that incident it was reported that seawater had entered the reactor through a modification of the secondary cooling system which was designed to only use fresh water to cool parts of the reactor.

In February 1997, there was concern that contaminated carbon dioxide gas from the plant had entered three road tankers and then entered the food chain via soft drinks and beers. This forced Carlsberg-Tetley to withdraw all its gas cylinders in Scotland as a result of finding contamination in one.

A few cracks in its graphite core were detected in 2014, deterioration that had been expected as the plant aged.

Its two reactors were also shut down from 2018 to 2019 because of safety concerns. One reactor resumed power generation from August to December 2019 and the two reactors were restarted in August and September 2020, respectively.

Station Director, Paul Forrest, said: “The contribution Hunterston B power station has made to this country cannot be underestimated. As well as providing stable, well paid employment for thousands of people in the North Ayrshire area, it has produced almost 300TWh of zero-carbon electricity, enough to power every home in Scotland for 31 years.

“It was originally thought Hunterston B would run for 25 years but investment in the plant and the people who work here mean we’ve been able to safely extend that to 46 years.

“This is an incredible achievement and everyone here is proud of what the station has accomplished. We will pause to reflect the end of generation but we are looking forward to the future. We don’t just switch off the power station, close the gates and walk away. It will take time to defuel and decommission the site and we will continue to need skilled people to do this.”

EDF has been consulting with staff about their futures for the past two years. The majority of staff indicated they would like to continue working at Hunterston B. Every member of staff who said they wanted to stay managed to secure a role in the ongoing defueling process which will see all the nuclear fuel being removed from the reactors and safely transported by rail to Sellafield for storage.

Both reactors will now undergo a statutory outage to make sure they are ready for defueling.

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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