A KEY milestone has been reached in the process of decommissioning Hunterston B nuclear power station.

The plant stopped generating energy in early 2022, and is now entering the final stage of its lifespan.

Earlier this month the first of two reactors at the station was successfully defuelled in what was described as a "safe and efficient" process which provides "value for money for the UK taxpayer".

Reactor 3, as it is known, was defuelled in 16 months, with work due to start shortly on the station’s second reactor.

Reactor 4 at Hunterston B was shut down for the last time on January 7, 2022, ending production at the site after nearly 47 years.

Energy firm EDF, which manages the plant, says that the aim is now to have the second reactor defueled and all spent fuel sent to Sellafield by mid-2025, prior to transfer of site ownership to the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) in 2026.

The NDA’s subsidiary, Magnox, is accountable for the long-term decommissioning of the country's advanced gas-cooled reactors (AGRs), and EDF says it is working closely with them on plans for the seamless transfer of Hunterston B in a timely manner.

Hunterston B’s station director, Joe Struthers, said: “Since the station stopped generating in January 2022 the team has been completely focused on doing this job safely and efficiently, providing value for money for the UK taxpayer.

“I am delighted with the dedication shown. While defueling is similar to the refuelling we carried out here for 46 years, the team at Hunterston B should be proud of the way they have adapted to our new mission, finding a whole new rhythm of working.”

EDF’s nuclear decommissioning director, Paul Morton, said Hunterston B is "setting the standard" for other AGRs entering this same stage of their lifespan.

Alongside Hunterston B, the defuelling process has also begun at the Hinkley Point B plant in Somerset and Dungeness B in Kent.

Mr Morton said: “EDF has invested more than £7 billion in the UK nuclear fleet since acquisition in 2009. That investment has helped secure life extensions for these sites and maximise nuclear's contribution to energy security.

“Now, in defueling, Hunterston B is setting the standard for the rest of the fleet, and demonstrating the nuclear industry can deliver, working closely with key partners like Sellafield, who are so crucial to the success of the defueling programme.

“Defueling the first of these reactors on time and on budget shows EDF’s commitment to delivering on this contract, ensuring this site is ready for transfer to Magnox in 2026.”

The UK's AGR stations are currently forecast to stop generating in 2028, though EDF say they will continue to review lifetimes to ensure its four remaining generating stations can continue to support the UK’s energy security for as long as it is safe and commercially viaDle to do so.

Over the last 50 years, the seven AGR power stations across the UK have generated more than 1,800TWh of zero carbon electricity, enough to power every UK home for more than 16 years.

The carbon avoided by using nuclear instead of pas stations is equal to nine years of UK car emissions.