Towers blown up at world's oldest nuclear plant

LONDON (Reuters) - Fifty years of British industrial history were reduced to rubble within a couple of minutes on Saturday.

Four 88-metre (288 feet) high cooling towers at Calder Hall, the world’s oldest industrial scale nuclear power station, were blown up with 192 kgs (420 pounds) of explosive as part of the plant’s decommissioning.

Calder Hall is part of the Sellafield nuclear site. The station’s decommissioning is due to be completed by 2117.

“Sellafield provided a number of uniquely complex challenges that all had to be overcome in order to deliver this project safely,” project superintendent Jack Williamson said in a statement.

“There are over 20,000 tonnes of rubble to be ground up,” said a spokesman for Sellafield Limited, which runs Calder Hall for NDA. “The steel will be recycled while the concrete will be ground up.”

Sellafield, once known as Windscale, is a collection of nuclear facilities -- including Calder Hall -- dating back to the 1940s, with its core operation at the Thorp plant.

The country gets about a fifth of its power from nuclear energy but is committed to closing all but one of its ageing nuclear power plants over the next 20 years.

Originally scheduled for closure in 2006, Calder Hall’s shutdown was brought forward and the power station ceased generation in March 2003.

Last year, the state-owned Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) raised the estimated cost of decommissioning the country’s nuclear power plants to 72.3 billion pounds.

In 1957 a fire destroyed the core of a plutonium-producing reactor at the Windscale complex to send clouds of radioactivity into the atmosphere.

Scientists are still trying to work out how to dismantle the chimney-top filter that trapped the radioactive smoke and stopped a nuclear disaster.