The disused Magnox generator, situated on the banks of the River Severn in Gloucestershire, closed in 1989. It was the world’s first commercial power station and its laboratories and many of its buildings have already been dismantled. Work emptying its vast concrete vaults of the nuclear waste Berkeley generated is only now able to safely begin. But it will not be safe for humans to go inside its reactor cores until 2074.
For the past 50 years parts of the coastline of the west of England have been dominated by nuclear power stations. The 1960s saw the construction of Hinkley A and Hinkley B in Somerset, with both Oldbury and Berkeley built on the banks of the River Severn in the 1950s. Only Hinkley B is still in use but the nuclear waste the stations generated has remained in place. It takes hundreds of years to decompose and has to be stored underground.
It will cost an estimated £1.2bn to fully decommission Berkeley. About 200 people are currently working on the site under strict security. Work emptying waste products from the concrete vaults, eight metres (26ft) underground, is a complicated process. They contain used graphite from the fuel elements in the nuclear generating process, material from the cooling ponds and from the laboratories. The removal is expected to take five or six years to complete.