The Magnox plant has played a crucial role in UK energy generation for more than 50 years. On July 18 it officially stopped operations, marking the end of the plant’s operational history that first began in 1964. It is now entering a new era of clean up and decommissioning.

Over its more than half decade in operation, it received and reprocessed nearly 55,000 tonnes of spent (or used) nuclear fuel from power stations across the country, and from further afield including Italy and Japan. That allowed the UK’s 11 Magnox power stations to keep low carbon electricity flowing to homes and businesses in England, Scotland, and Wales.

In June, staff at the plant safely reprocessed the final box of spent fuel from the UK’s fast reactor programme being stored in the plant’s ponds. The UK’s fast reactor, at Dounreay, was built during the 1950s when there was a worldwide shortage of uranium for electricity generation. It became the world’s first fast reactor to provide electricity to a national grid before shutting down in 1977.

Fast reactors came to an end in the UK in the 1980s, but the programme left behind a legacy of spent fuel with a unique chemical composition. This remained at Dounreay, on the north coast of Scotland, for 35 years until the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority and nuclear regulators agreed it could be brought to Sellafield for storage and reprocessing.

Speaking in June about the plant’s last achievement, Martin Chown, Sellafield Ltd’s chief executive, said: “Throughout its history, the Magnox Reprocessing Plant has

delivered on behalf of the UK.

“The current workforce has carried on this proud tradition by achieving another significant milestone in its final weeks of operations.

“It’s a significant achievement and another demonstration of us delivering our purpose to create a clean and safe environment for future generations.”

Reprocessing the final box of Dounreay fuel being held at the Magnox plant marks the completion of a 10-year programme. It was important to reprocess the fuel to minimise the amount requiring future dry storage. The programme was a collaborative effort across the NDA Group, involving teams at Dounreay, Sellafield Ltd and Nuclear Transport Solutions.

Reprocessing Planner Kimberley Norman has been on site for 24 years and 22 of them have been in Magnox. She said: "It's a very fast-paced place to work, but in the best possible way. You need to be enthusiastic and driven; there is never a dull moment - you are constantly on the go as it's such an old plant and there is always something that the team needs to respond to.

"When I think of the plant I think of the laughter. Although it is a serious place to work, it is also very friendly and light-hearted. I genuinely enjoy coming to work because of all the relationships I have built. I have lifelong friends and feel very lucky to have been part of the reprocessing story.

"I left for a short while in 2021 for 8 weeks and came straight back as there is no other place like it. It's been the best place to work, it's like a community.

"I feel quite nostalgic about ending reprocessing operations. It feels like the end of an era. But I have no desire to leave the plant just yet. I will transition into a POCO planning team until about 2025, so there's plenty still to do."

Sue Long works in operations support as the liquid effluent controller (LEC) and COSHH co-ordinator (Control of Substances Hazardous to Health) and is also training for a new role as chemical co-ordinator.

“I’ve worked on site now for just over 36 years, the last 14 and a half in Magnox. My role is to look after the chemicals we use in the processes as well as the redundant ones. I also look after the liquid effluents produced by reprocessing and ensure they meet the conditions for acceptance of the downstream plants,” she said.

“Repro is a like one big family: we work hard, play hard, and every day throws new challenges. Working here is never dull.

“In 2011, I did the coast to coast with 10 colleagues on our push bikes over three days and raised money for charity.

“Another good memory is in 2014 when we had a celebration for 50 years of Magnox. We had two fun days for employees and their families - I took photos to record the events. We had bouncy castles for the kids and mechanical bulls for the adults. There was a stall to throw wet sponges at management to raise money for charity, which ended up as throwing buckets of water over their heads.

“I’m a bit sad that I won’t be working with all the same people in the future, but everything comes to an end and I’m proud to have been part of it. My role as LEC and COSHH coordinator may continue for a while, but it hasn’t yet been decided how long for. If I move to another plant, then I’d hope to do something similar if possible.”

Declan Watson has been working in Magnox (and on site) on day operations for less than a year. He said: "Working in Magnox has helped me learn so much about site and its processes as the role is so varied. On a day-to-day basis you'll find our team reassurance monitoring, building containment tents, transporting and loading UO3 drums, processing alpha contaminated material packages, data entry tasks, carrying out Legionella flushing, and a plethora of other activities.

"It has been a relatively steep learning curve at times considering my previous job as an aquarist, but I have been able to progress through my role thanks to the dedication and expertise of my team. Each of them from top to bottom have been excellent teachers and are wonderful people.

"My colleagues at Magnox are focused, professional, but also kind-hearted and open. There's an understanding that the work we do matters and makes a difference for future generations.

"For my colleagues who have been here for a considerable time, this milestone is a great accomplishment after decades of hard work and something to be tremendously proud of. But this isn't the end for me and my co-workers. There is still work that needs to be done as we head into post operational clean out.

"My role will adapt and evolve as the need for different skills to be deployed increases. There will be more opportunities for workers like me to contribute, with more hands-on work as we look to progress the plant into an end state."

Declan was keen to thank people in his team for their support and guidance, saying, "they have turned something that was initially daunting into a work life that I enjoy, can make a difference in, and look forward to coming to everyday”.