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Last Updated: Friday, 22 December 2006, 13:43 GMT
Nuclear reactors set for shutdown
Dungeness A nuclear power station site (from British Nuclear Group)
The power station site sits right on the shingle foreland at Dungeness
For more than 40 years one of the UK's first generation of nuclear power stations has had an ominous presence on the Kent coast.

While members of the anti-nuclear lobby have spoken of getting "bad vibes" from Dungeness A, many residents who live in its shadow have praised its impact on the local economy.

But now the plant's two reactors are due to be shut down on New Year's Eve.

A timetable of de-fuelling, demolition and site clearance will then swing into action, but decommissioning a nuclear power station is a lengthy process.

It can take at least 70 years for remnants of radioactive material to degrade to a safe level, although suggested new working methods mean the 91-hectare (0.91-sq-km) site could be fully cleared by the early 2030s.

Perimeter protests

Construction began on Dungeness A in 1960, with electricity generation following five years later.

The reactor vessels and other buildings are surrounded by an expanse of shingle beach on the southern tip of the Romney Marsh area of Kent.

Typically for any development concerning nuclear power, it has had an equal share of supporters and detractors over its 41-year lifetime.

Louisa Whenday
Everyone is so used to seeing it, they'd miss it
Louisa Whenday, Dungeness Residents' Association
Site director Nick Gore, who is overseeing the winding down programme, said: "We have never had any significant safety event that's either harmed any member of staff or affected the community in any negative way.

"To be able to generate electricity for 40 years in a nuclear power station without causing any harm to people or the environment is actually a fantastic achievement."

But nuclear protesters, like Friends of the Earth campaigner Barry Botley, have made their voices heard outside the perimeter fences for decades.

"I just get a feeling when I look at it, I feel bad vibes from it, I don't like being too close to it," Mr Botley said.

The power station has now become a recognised part of the Dungeness landscape.

Louisa Whenday, secretary of the Dungeness Residents' Association, said: "To be honest, everyone is so used to seeing it, they'd miss it.

"We recently had a survey on what people would like done with the site of A once it's cleared and de-licensed, and the largest number of people said a new power station."

Radioactive material

Local people and businesses will be consulted by the landowner, the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA), on new developments at the site.

But nothing major is likely to happen until 2021 at the earliest, by which time all the buildings except the reactor containment vessels will have been removed.

A spokesman for British Nuclear Group (BNG), which runs Dungeness A, said: "Quite a large part of the site will be freed up.

"The footprint of the two reactor buildings is relatively small compared to the rest of the site... and you can work around that."

Construction work on Dungeness A
The cost of decommissioning the plant, opened in 1965, is 1.2bn
He said the vast majority of radioactive material - more than 95% - would be removed by 2009.

But some remains in the reactors themselves, and therefore the final site clearance and closure is some way off.

It is currently scheduled for 2111, but advances in decommissioning techniques mean it could happen within 25 years.

Any remaining radioactivity has historically required at least 70 years to degenerate to a level considered safe enough for workers to enter and demolish the reactors.

The NDA said the government had accepted in theory that robotic methods could be used, but a decision will not be made until 2007 on whether the Dungeness A decommissioning time frame can be reduced from 100 years to 25.

The New Year's Eve closure involves the press of a button, with each reactor being shut down several hours apart.

The plant was originally intended to generate power for 25 years, but that was ultimately extended by more than half.

Its nuclear neighbour, British Energy-owned Dungeness B, which opened in 1983, also recently had its lifetime extended from 2008 to 2018.

In July this year, the government announced it was in favour of the UK having a new generation of nuclear power stations, in order to secure future energy supplies and cut carbon emissions.

People remember Dungeness as it prepares to close

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