August 27, 1956: Calder Hall nuclear power station is connected to the grid. It was part of the Sellafield reprocessing site near to Seascale on the coast of the Irish Sea in Cumbria, England. Windscale and this first-to-the-grid-reactor are both undergoing decommissioning and dismantling at the present time. It was first owned and operated by the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority and after 1971 by British Nuclear Fuels Ltd. Since 2005, it has been owned by the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority and operated by Sellafield Ltd. Calder Hall was officially opened by Queen Elizabeth II on October 17, 1956 and was the world’s first power station to generate electricity on an industrial scale.
The plant was both a commercial and military facility. Building began in 1953 and included four Magnox reactors which were each capable of generating 60 MWe of power. This was reduced to 50 MWe in 1973. The four cooling towers were built between 1950 and 1956 and were used to cool water from the station. They were each 290 feet tall and stood for fifty years creating a visible landmark as seen from Seascale. When the power plant closed, there was debate over whether or not to preserve the towers, but it proved to be cost ineffective. They were brought down by controlled implosions on September 29, 2007 and the next twelve weeks were spent romoving the asbestos from the rubble.
Nuclear power or energy includes fission, decay, and fusion but today, fission is the only method capable of generating electricity in quantities worthwhile. Excluding nuclear power contributed by naval reactors, nuclear energy supplies about 5.7% of the world’s power and 13% of the world electricity. In 2013, the IAEA reported there were 437 operational nuclear power reactors in 31 countries. Not all of them producing electricity. There are approximately another 140 naval vessels using nuclear propulsion powered by about 180 reactors. The hope for nuclear fusion power has remained strong, but it is unlikely that fusion will be commercially successful before 2050.
Three famous nuclear plant disasters have taken place. In 1979 the Three Mile Island plant in the US failed. In 1986, the USSR had the Chernobyl disaster. In 2011, following an earthquake/tsunami, the Fukushima Daiichi disaster in Japan caught the world’s attention. These disasters have been widely studied. However, there are more deaths from coal, petroleum, natural gas, and hydropower (per unit of energy generated) due to both air pollution and energy accidents. The US has the greatest amount of nuclear energy produced from the 104 operational reactors within her borders. France is second both in capacity and the number of operational reactors. Japan is third in capacity, but Russia is third in number of reactors with 33 operating. The UK has 16 reactors still operating.
For 50 years, nuclear power stations have produced three products which only a lunatic could want: bomb-explosive plutonium, lethal radioactive waste and electricity so dear it has to be heavily subsidised. They leave to future generations the task, and most of the cost, of making safe sites that have been polluted half-way to eternity. – James Buchan
provide the electricity that our growing economy needs without increasing emissions. This is truly an environmentally responsible source of energy. – Michael Burgess
No one in the United States has become seriously ill or has died because of any kind of accident at a civilian nuclear power plant. – Joe Barton
The idea that the growing demand for energy worldwide can be met with energy from nuclear power is nonsense. – Sigmar Gabriel
Also on this day: Powerful Industry – In 1859, the modern day oil industry starts.
War is Hell – In 1896, the shortest war in history was fought.
Kǒng Qiū – In 551 BC, Confucius is born.
Sculptor – In 1498, Michelangelo was commissioned to create the Pieta.