Some things have changed greatly since the receipt and storage section of the plant opened in 1988, when Yazz and the plastic population were celebrating a number one hit with “the only way is up”, fuel for your car cost just 34p per litre and Liverpool FC were champions of England.
But, in West Cumbria, some things haven’t changed much at all. Back then, as today, a big debate was taking place about new nuclear missions — with the site’s unions leading the campaign for Sellafield to be a key part of the UK’s energy future.
While the focus of the debate today is on plutonium reuse, new power generation and what to do with the waste stored at Sellafield, back in August 1988 with the workforce and local community were celebrating the opening of the first part of Thorp; The Receipt and Storage facility.
Work had been going on in the background to gain national support for Thorp and would continue into the early 90’s. Employees and trade union officials had taken to the road with the ‘Trust Us’ campaign, travelling around and spreading the word about Thorp and gaining support.
Thorp, or the Thermal Oxide Reprocessing Plant, to give it its full title, cost £2.8bn to build and commission and was at the time, the largest single project ever completed in the UK.
Although the head end of the plant where the fuel is sheared and the chemical separation facility where the spent fuel is separated in to three streams; the reusable Uranium, Plutonium and the Highly Active waste, weren’t commissioned at this time, Thorp was in receipt of its customers fuel and the order books were brimming with business from 34 customers in nine different countries amounting to £9 billion of business.
The first receipt of fuel took place in August 1988, with a 110 tonne Excellox flask which contained around three tonnes of irradiated Light water Reactor (LWR ) fuel being hoisted into the plant to record the start of active operations in Thorp Receipt and Storage – and so history was made.
Since then more than 8000 tonnes of fuel have been dealt with in the Receipt and Storage facility.
Alan Moses, Thorp Receipt and Storage manufacturing manager, Sellafield Ltd explains; “The employees that we have working in Receipt and Storage are a highly skilled group of people with an abundance of expertise.
“Many of the faces that you see on the plant have been there since day one, the knowledge and experience that they have is invaluable; they know the place inside out.
“When Thorp stops reprocessing in 2018, as set out in the Nuclear Decommisisoning Authorities (NDA) Oxide fuel strategy, it won’t just be a case of flicking a switch and walking away. There is still a lot of work that will need to be done.
“Preparation work is currently ongoing to put is in the best position to receive our UK customers AGR fuel in order for the fleet of reactors to keep producing electricity – We are a key element in keeping the lights on in Britain.
“The Receipt and Storage element of the Thorp plant will remain operational until 2085, we will continue to fulfil our customer’s needs, there is still a lot to do but we have the workforce with which we can do it.”
Last year Thorp celebrated reprocessing its 7,000 te of spent nuclear fuel, this signified the completion of the initial base load contract.
Speaking on behalf of the Sellafield Workers Campaign, Steve Nicholson said: “It doesn’t seem that long ago that the ‘trust-us’ nuclear workers Thorp campaign was out and about rallying for support.
“We may be 25 years on but the Sellafield Workers’ Campaign is still out there lobbying. We are in regular meetings with influential people including representatives of number 10 discussing nuclear topics.
“We will be at the party political conferences once again this year, promoting the industry in West Cumbria and making clear our core aim; to achieve the ongoing development of the nuclear industry and finding a long term solution for the UK’s higher level-wastes promoting new nuclear build as a source of low carbon energy and to support the re-use of plutonium.”