The closure, planned for March 2002, is being made on economic rather than safety grounds, said British Nuclear Fuels, because the plant could not return the investment in maintenance and fuel production needed to keep it running for 10 more years.
Peter Wright, the plant's manager, added: "With the current electricity price we have been unable to satisfy ourselves that the return over that period would justify the multi-million-pound investment." BNFL said it would have cost between pounds 70m and pounds 100m to equip the plant to run until 2012, compared with only pounds 18m when it was reviewed in 1992 for its present running.
The move might mark the beginning of closures of the remaining seven first-generation Magnox plants, almost all built in the 1960s, over the next few years. But a BNFL spokesman said the differences in design would mean the economic returns would vary between stations. The safety case is reviewed every 10 years of operation.
Any move to Magnox closures could be hastened by a reported dispute between BNFL and the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate (NII), which oversees safety at such plants.
The New Scientist magazine says today that the fuel reprocessing plant at Sellafield in Cumbria has a serious backlog of highly radioactive liquid waste in tanks for storage.
The NII has told BNFL to clear the backlog, but the company is so far behind schedule in processing fuel that it may fail. Then it would have to halt or slow the reprocessing of spent fuel from reactors - which could force earlier closure of Magnox plants. BNFL said it could not make further comments. Bradwell began generating electricity commercially in 1962. The closure annoucement was made yesterday to the 350 staff. The station generates 242 megawatts of electricity, enough for about three towns, although it is now closed for maintenance. It is expected to start operation again in a few months.
Between 200 and 250 staff will stay on at the plant after its closure to work on the first stages of decommissioning, in which the nuclear fuel will be removed from the two reactors. That will take about four years before complete dismantling of the site begins, a process that may take decades.
Bradwell contains two first-generation Magnox reactors, the earliest design built in the UK. This type of reactor uses uranium oxide fuel encased in tubes of magnesium alloy, giving rise to the "Magnox" name. There have been concerns that the older-style reactors could become unsafe with age.
BNFL said it was confident it could have won a licence to continue operating Bradwell for 10 more years. "We have always said it would be an economic decision which ultimate-ly led to Bradwell's closure," Mr Wright said.
Operating Magnox plants and first year of commercial generation
Calder Hall 1956
(to close 2002)
Dungeness A 1965
Hinkley Point A 1965
Sizewell A 1966
Wylfa, Anglesey 1971Reuse content