End of an era: Sizewell A switches off

For 40 years, 10 hectares of the beautiful Suffolk heritage coast has been occupied by the brooding mass of the Sizewell A nuclear power station - seen by some as a concrete monstrosity, but also credited with saving the neighbouring town of Leiston from industrial decline.

For 40 years, 10 hectares of the beautiful Suffolk heritage coast has been occupied by the brooding mass of the Sizewell A nuclear power station - seen by some as a concrete monstrosity, but also credited with saving the neighbouring town of Leiston from industrial decline.

It has had its opponents, but today was all about the workers, past and present, as the controlled shut down of the plant's two reactors signalled the end of an era.

The conclusion of electricity generation at one of Britain's oldest nuclear power stations proved an emotional occasion for employees, who packed into the Sizewell social club in Leiston to witness the historic shut down operation relayed to them on a big screen.

The pervading atmosphere was that of sadness, but also a sense of celebration by what had been achieved at the site, which exceeded its original projected lifetime by 15 years.

Workers will stay at Sizewell A for the foreseeable future to carry out the long and drawn out operation to fully decommission the site.

Operations manager Tom Pattinson said: “It's like going to your grandmother's funeral. You know she had to go and it's a sad day, but it's also the celebration of a life.

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“I'm a very positive character. I'm not dwelling on it and I am focusing forward and trying to instil the same in the people who work for us.

“It's the dawn of a new era and the start of a new phase.”

On a New Year's Eve that will live strong in the memory of the 450-strong workforce, Reactor 1 was shut down at 11am followed by Reactor II four hours later. The decision to end production at Sizewell A was taken by the government earlier this year.

The station, which was commissioned in 1966, generates 423 megawatts of electricity compared with the 1,175 MW produced by its biggest neighbour Sizewell B - Britain's first pressurised water reactor power plant, which is set to continue operating for at least another 10 years.

Activity and the number of jobs at Sizewell A will increase during the next five years as the process of decommissioning the site takes place.

The spent nuclear fuel will be sent to Sellafield in Cumbria over the next two years, but under current government plans it will be more than 100 years before all the Sizewell A buildings are declared safe to demolish.

However, the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, which now owns the site, is seeking permission to complete the process within 25-35 years.

Ken Powers, director of Magnox Electric's southern division, which runs the site, said: “You get choked up because these people have dedicated their lives to this job. It's a very proud day, but it's also a very sad day.

“Some of these guys who look tough on the outside will shed some tears on the quiet. They are not losing their jobs, but all of a sudden they are on a different career path.”

Former site manager Chris Marchese added: “It's a milestone for many people. We've got at least three or four people who were apprentices on the site and are still working there.”

Mr Marchese also highlighted the importance of a strong relationship between Sizewell A and the surrounding area.

“Leiston, especially, has always been a really good supporter. Sizewell is the main employer in the area and we've always had nothing short of outstanding support.”

However, relations between Sizewell A and the local community have sometimes been strained, especially as a result of incidents in which emergency sirens have sounded and information has been late in reaching residents. However, in recent years communication has improved.

The Shut Down Sizewell Campaign has also been an arch critic of the site, claiming it was a hazard to local people and a possible terrorist target. In the long-term, a majority of Sizewell residents want to see the site returned to its former greenfield status.