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UK's oldest nuclear plant closes

A full 44 years after it opened, Magnox's Wylfa nuclear reactor has been shut down. It's on the island of Anglesey off the Welsh coast, on a site a different company hopes to build a new reactor in the 2020s.

Five years after its originally planned shutdown date, Magnox said Wendesday it was shutting down Wylfa, the last operating Magnox-design reactor. Built on the coast of a bay on the island of Anglesey off the northwest coast of Wales, the reactor took 10 years to build and opened in 1971.

According to the company, "Wylfa was the most technically advanced nuclear power station in the UK" at the time of its construction, and the world's highest-output reactor, generating 1,000 MW at its peak.

Magnox Ltd. is a nuclear decommissioning "site license company" (SLC) under contract to the UK's Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, a government body set up specifically to deal with the UK's nuclear legacy under the Energy Act 2004. The company, which is currently responsible for decommissioning ten Magnox nuclear reactors in Britain, is the successor company to Magnox Electric, which was created in 1996 to take over management and operation of nearly all Magnox-type reactors from their previous owners.

With Wylfa off the grid, Britain is down to 15 operating nuclear reactors - all of them operated by EDF Energy, a subsidiary of Electricité de France SA (EDF), a French state-owned firm. Nuclear power generated about 19 percent of its electricity supply from nuclear power in 2014. Most of the remaining reactors are due to be retired by 2023.

A new nuclear beginning?

This isn't to say that nuclear power is on its way out in Britain. Unlike Germany, which has decided to

force energy companies to shut down all nuclear power plants

still operating in the country by 2023 and will allow no new ones to be built, the UK government plans to provide licenses for several companies to build a new generation of nuclear power plants.

Current plans foresee the first of new-generation UK nuclear plants going into operation by 2025. About 16 GWe of new nuclear capacity are intended to be operational by 2030.

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All three of the major reactor projects now in planning in UK have investment participation by reactor vendors. One of these is GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy (GEH), a Japanese and American technology company that combines nuclear technologies from two major technology conglomerates, Japan's Hitachi and US-based GE (General Electric).

A Hitachi subsidiary named Horizon Nuclear Power has proposed building two Advanced Boiling Water Reactors (ABWRs) generating some 2,700 MW at the same site on Anglesey where Magnox is now shutting down Wylfa. The new reactor project is called Wylfa Newydd - Welsh language words that translate as "New Lookout." The company hopes to produce power on the site "within the first half of the 2020s", according to its website.

The new ABWR reactors would be "Generation III+" reactors. This newer-generation reactor technology allows increased power generation using a smaller containment unit, reducing the physical size of the reactor buildings. Many of the components of the new reactors are modular, and would be built off-site in dedicated factories and transported to the site for assemby, thereby "shortening work periods and raising the level of quality assurance," according to Horizon's website.

However, there is - as everywhere new nuclear plants are proposed - also an anti-nuclear lobby group opposing the new plants, called "Pobol Atal Wylfa-B" (in Welsh) or "People Against Wylfa-B."

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