THE first package of radioactive rubbish will be placed into a specially built store in the Severn Vale this year.
It will then lie there mothballed, and hopefully undisturbed, for around half a century while future generations become the guardians of the former Berkeley Nuclear Power Station.
From a workforce of around 1,500 in its heyday, to an eventual permanent staff of perhaps only 15, the once mighty electricity generating and laboratory site is well on the way to becoming a green field again.
Even now the regional nuclear energy legacy continues to divide and polarise opinion, just as it has always done.
Since the days when anti-nuclear protesters hijacked and stopped a freight train carrying radioactive waste away from Berkeley, the site has come a long way since it shut down in 1989.
Its director during the ongoing decommissioning is Steve McNally from Magnox, the management and operations contractor responsible for 10 UK nuclear sites owned by the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority.
Mr McNally said significant challenges had been overcome at Berkeley, which was the first commercial nuclear reactor in the UK to begin decommissioning.
“We faced some unique problems and have had to be innovative in our thinking. But we are certainly on the home stretch now,” he said.
Mr McNally said: “With the completion of the interim storage facility we can start to see what the site will look like when it enters care and maintenance.
“We plan to put the first package of waste into the store in the summer – that will be a huge achievement for the site.”
The waste will be sealed in cast iron containers that will weigh more than 20 tonnes when full and have walls six inches thick.
They’ll be stacked in a large reinforced concrete box or vault inside the storage building which itself is almost as long as a football pitch.
The intermediate level waste will then remain in the store for around 50 years – or until a national geological deep disposal facility is built.
Nigel Monckton, also from Magnox, said: “We have considered a wide range of safety issues in both the design of the store and the safety case, and all our operations are overseen by independent regulators – the Office for Nuclear Regulation and the Environment Agency.”
But Green Party member of Stroud District Council Simon Pickering is not wholly convinced. After a presentation by Magnox to the council’s environment committee, its chairman Mr Pickering said: “It was confirmed intermediate level nuclear waste will be stored at Berkeley for the next 50 to 60 years. Members had a number of concerns which staff from Magnox sought to allay.”
Outside the chamber Mr Pickering said he believed the storage was just another of the “hidden, ongoing expenses” of the nuclear legacy.
“In effect our grandchildren, great-grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren will still be paying for part of our electricity bills from when Berkeley was operating,” he said.
Fellow councillor Liz Ashton, whose home is only a mile as the crow flies from Magnox, is however more reassured.
A member of the Berkeley Site Stakeholder Group, Ms Ashton said she’d found the Magnox presentation “extremely informative and reassuring”.
People in Berkeley would be sad when the power station finally closed, she said.
“It provided huge numbers of jobs and considerably increased prosperity in the town,” she said.
“Magnox has been a very good neighbour to Berkeley and to this day supports the community with generous grants, for example to the local library.”
High-level nuclear waste was removed to Sellafield some time ago which meant only the intermediate level waste had still to be dealt with at Berkeley.
“This material is very low in radioactivity but still requires careful storage to protect local communities,” Ms Ashton said.
Construction began at Berkeley in 1957 and the station began producing enough energy to serve an urban area the size of Bristol in 1962.
After beginning decommissioning it has continued to lead the way as the first: to be fuel free; to decommission its ponds; to reduce its site licence area; and to enter safestore.
It is expected to enter care and maintenance around 2021 and for the final, conventional demolition of its sealed, passive reactors to happen in 2074.