Job for life - decommissioning Oldbury nuclear power station
By The Bristol Post | Tuesday, May 15, 2012, 05:00
MIKE Heaton has a job for life.
Oldbury Nuclear Power Station
As the new site director at the recently shut-down Oldbury nuclear power station, he will be responsible for decommissioning the plant.
Although his career won't see the job finished.
It will take until at least 2097, maybe even 2103, before the atomic site near Thornbury is declared safe.
Mike, a graduate of Manchester University, joined the nuclear industry in 1991 as a management trainee at Sellafield in Cumbria.
He moved to Oldbury in 2000, filling roles such as head of health, physics and chemistry, outage manager, operations manager and plant manager.
He takes over the role left by Phil Sprague.
Now, with Oldbury having stopped generating at the end of February, he takes on the task of overseeing the first stages of the site's long decommissioning programme.
But despite electricity production no longer being part of the business, there is still plenty to do for the 400-plus staff who remain on site.
That figure is due to drop by about 40-50 this year – mostly staff retiring – and when the job of defuelling the two reactors is complete in around mid-2015, there will still be about 200 at the plant.
Mike, who lives in Thornbury and has two daughters at The Castle School in the town, said: "There's an awful lot of work still taking place and people are still happy and motivated. Safe operation of the site has to go on. For 44 years, people have had a clear focus on generation. But standards we expected when generating are the same for defuelling."
Once a site has finished operating and the spent fuel cooled down, it can gradually be removed and taken to Sellafield for reprocessing.
The rate of removal depends on the workload at Sellafield but it is likely that the average of one flask taken away each week when operating will go up to two or three.
Continually governed by the nuclear industry regulators, Oldbury will also only be able to cut the workforce once it is considered safe to do so.
Other vital work has already been completed, including the removal of hazardous gases such as carbon dioxide, which was used to cool the reactors. In the staged process of decommissioning, the purpose of the team now is to reach the so-called care and maintenance state in about 2027.
That will involve leaving reactors to cool, demolishing all buildings apart from the reactor block and ensuring the reactors are left in a safe state requiring minimum supervision until final site clearance in an estimated 2097-2103
Mike said: "The plant has to be kept safe and well maintained and remain a great place to work.
"We see the station as a family. Different generations of families have worked here, as well as husbands and wives. People have even met here and got married.
"We have had long discussions with the trade unions about staffing and I think we've done a good job there.
"People have been preparing for the shutdown since about 2008 and although we are no longer generating, the work coming up will be more varied than when the site was operating, with lots of new roles.
"We also want to remain a good neighbour and help the community when we can."