Letter sent to the Daily Mail:
Your short history of British nuclear power accompanying your extensive coverage of the Hinkley Point sudden vote face postponement (Mail, 29 July) wrongly described the Calder Hal plant at Sellafield ( then called Windscale) as "the world's first full-scale nuclear power station."
It was indeed opened by the young Queen Elizabeth on 17 October 1956, but it was never a commercial nuclear plant
In fact it was clearly stated at the time of the plant’s opening, in a remarkable little book entitled Calder Hall: The Story of Britain’s First Atomic Power Station, written by Kenneth Jay, and published in October 1956 by the Government’s Atomic Energy Research Establishment at Harwell to mark Calder’s commissioning. Mr Jay wrote:
“Major plants built for military purposes such as Calder Hall are being used as prototypes for civil plants . . . the plant has been designed as a dual-purpose plant to produce plutonium for military purposes as well as electric power . . . it would be wrong to pretend that the civil programme has not benefitted from, and is not to some extent dependent upon, the military programme."
Interestingly, the first – nominally commercial - reactor at Hinkley, the Magnox ‘A’ plant, was operated for military production purposes too.
The first public hint came with a public announcement on 17 June 1958 by the Ministry of Defence, notably not the Ministry of Fuel and Power that oversaw the civilian nuclear programe - on: “the production of plutonium suitable for weapons in the new [nuclear ] power stations programme as an insurance against future defence needs…” in the Hinkley reactor. .
A week later in the UK Parliament, the Conservative Cabinet minister Paymaster General, Reginald Maudling told MPs: “At the request of the Government, the Central Electricity Generating Board has agreed to a small modification in the design of Hinkley Point and of the next two stations in its programme so as to enable plutonium suitable for military purposes to be extracted should the need arise.
The Government made this request in order to provide the country, at comparatively small cost, with a most valuable insurance against possible future defence requirements. The cost of providing such insurance by any other means would be extremely heavy.”
Hansard 24 June 1958 columns 246-8).
With the current confusion over Hinkley’s latest promised reactor, the murky military history of the site should not be forgotten.