Ever wanted to visit a nuclear power station? Thanks to EDF now you can, in late 2012 they opened up Hunterston B (an AGR plant built in 1976, generating 890mw) to visitors, so now you can see for real how nuclear power is produced. The informative visitors centre is open daily and certainly worth a visit if your in the area, however the real highlight is getting to tour the site (which you must arrange at least 14 days in advance).
We visited last month (February 2013), arranging our visit for a Sunday morning. Arriving at Hunterson B we parked up and made our way to the visitors centre where our guides were waiting for us, from here our ID’s were verified, paperwork completed and we were presented with hard hats (so we could be easily identified as visitors while on site). We headed off across the car park to the security gate where after checking our ID’s again and passing the detector check we were handed our security passes.
Our first stop was the Water Treatment Plant where seawater is pumped in and processed, from there we walked across the site past administration offices to the Reactor building. The first thing perhaps we noticed was just how big it is, at 26 storeys tall it’s certainly a massive structure. As we were walking across the site our guide pointed out a number of upgrades (for example the new nitrogen plant) that are currently taking place as a result of the life of the plant being extended.
Passing through more security, our guide explains to us the history of the site as we make our way pass the dosimeter station (where the workers submit their dosimeters at the end of their shifts) and take the life up to the viewing gallery about the reactor. Wow. yes Wow. We find ourselves looking down onto onto the two reactors, one of was shut-down for maintenance work, the other producing around 500mw’s of power in near silence. Our guide pointed out all the equipment and described the processes that are used for maintenance and refuelling of the reactors. The viewing gallery itself has a example fuel assembly for visitors to see up close, as well as some very detailed engineering diagrams of the reactor. I’d happily of spent the rest of the weekend here just looking at this marvel of engineering, however as our next stop was the control room we reluctantly left the reactor viewing gallery and continued on with the tour.
Taking the lift down a few floors we arrive at the control room which we access from a viewing gallery looking down on the men and machines controlling the plant. Our guide explains how the room is arranged and what the banks of equipment are monitoring. After a good bye wave from the plants operators we make our exit and head to the Turbine hall.
On a cold winters day the Turbine hall is certainly the place to be, it’s certainly warm in there even from the heights of the viewing gallery. It’s worth taking a second to stop and think of the electricity being generated in this room and how many households across Scotland it’s providing for. What amazed me is how small the cables are (there are samples on the viewing gallery), I’d somehow expected them to be much bigger.
So that’s pretty much the end of our tour, as we make our way back across the site, dropping off our badges at security and returning out hard hats to the visitors centre. The visitors centre itself is well set out with information on the plant and nuclear science, and a few interactive exhibits suitable for all the family.
Tours take around an hour and a half, plus time in the visitors centre after the tour, although our was somewhat longer as despite there only been a couple of us we did ask rather a lot of questions which our very knowledgeable guide was more than happy to answer. I got a lot more than I expected from this tour, it’s clear that EDF have put a lot of effort and money into the visitors centre and the tour, and have managed to produce something which is both interesting and informative whatever your knowledge and interest in nuclear power.