BRADWELL Power Station has been at the centre of the Dengie community for more than 50 years.

Providing jobs to thousands of residents across the district, it has been a vital, if controversial employer.

So what does the future hold for the site as it makes the final journey towards decommissioning?

After donning a hard hat, safety glasses, high-visibility vest and a device to detect radiation, I was taken on a tour of the site.

As the power station heads towards the end of decommissioning you wouldn’t be blamed for thinking the site would be quiet.

But during my visit last Wednesday, the power station was a hive of activity as work continued to prepare the site for the 80 year care and maintenance process.

The power station stopped generating electricity in March 2002, after running for 40 years.

Gazette:

  • The power station in 2003

Site operator Magnox originally said the plant would be completely decommissioned by 2015, but this was then re-evaluated to 2019.

However this target has been lowered to the end of next year — a year ahead of schedule.

The theme of my trip centred on how Bradwell was a “lead and learn” site which was setting the standards for other plants being decommissioned in future.

Scott Raish, closure director, described Bradwell’s decommissioning as the “first of a kind”.

Gazette:

  • Flashback  - construction in 1959

On site today the biggest difference you will notice to the power station’s heyday are the two aluminium clad reactors.

The move is the biggest transformation to the appearance of the station since it was constructed in the 1950s.

The two main reactor buildings have been shrouded in the cladding with more than 28,000 individual fittings used.

More than 900 people were on site during the cladding, with the project sparking an employment boost in the area.

Gazette:

  • The cladded reactors 

I was shown the ponds complex — used to temporarily store and cool used nuclear fuel — which Magnox completed four years of work to decontaminate last year.

Gazette:

  • Demolition of the ponds area took place last week

Work has already started to clear this part of the site with a cladded shell to be put up over remaining buildings.

I was shown the advanced drying system and the fuel element debris dissolution plant during the visit.

The issue of the power station releasing fuel element debris (FED), which contains broken down material left over from nuclear reactors, into the River Blackwater and estuary has proved controversial.

The waste is dissolved using a nitric acid solution, and then abated to significantly reduce radiation in order to be compliant with Environmental permits, before being released into the estuary.

Equally controversial has been the decision to store intermediate level waste, from Sizewell, in Suffolk and Dungeness, in Kent, at Bradwell’s custom-built storage facility.

Typically consisting of sludge, sand, gravel and metal, the waste is transported by train and road to the site.

The waste will later be moved from the site to government geological disposal facility.

Oli Pascoe, project lead, said: “Until a facility is ready we have to look after them. There was an opportunity to make use of the empty space within this facility.

“It prevents the need for these facilities to be built [at Sizewell and Dungeness] which benefits the tax payer and the company.”

Campaign groups including Bradwell Against New Nuclear and residents have been divided over the future of the power station.

They fear for safety and security on the site as it enters 80 years of care and maintenance.

Gazette:

  • How the site will look during the care and maintenance phase

Mr Raish said security plans for the site were being worked on and would be communicated to the public as soon as possible.

He added: “Security systems will absolutely be in play to help protect, detect and mitigate.”

And Mr Raish isn’t one to shy away from the questions from both those for and against nuclear power.

He said: “Everyone in the community has an opinion. We have got some who are very supportive — they have got opinions and they want information and we have some that are slightly different.

Gazette:

  • Scott Raish on the site

“There is a fairly vocal group — they want to express their views and have people listen. They are trying to do what they believe is the right thing for the UK.”

Mr Raish said it was of “paramount importance” for the company to be engaged with residents.

He said: “People living in the community have done a hell of a lot of work [at the power station] and I am incredibly proud.

“We have to have these relationships – it is about supporting the villages and supporting the charities. Our workers live in this community by and large.”

The next stage will see Magnox work with employees on life after decomissioning.

Mr Raish said: “We will be getting people off to the next part of their life — some will go on to have a future with Magnox but many people will be done at the end of Bradwell by their choice.”

Bradwell in numbers:

* More than 980 people were on site at the peak of decommissioning

* More than ten million man hours have been worked since 2010

* In excess of 4,000 tonnes of asbestos were removed

* 46 ponds tanks were deplanted and disposed of

* In excess of 24,000 tonnes of waste processed in the last five years

* In excess of 19,000 tonnes of waste recycled in the last five years