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65. Chapelcross, Annan, Dumfriesshire. (NY 216 696)

While Chapelcross has never been involved in the assembly of nuclear weapons it has, throughout its life, played a key role in the British nuclear weapons programme. In the 1950s the UK decided to build up a large arsenal of nuclear bombs and missile warheads. The first batches of weapons grade plutonium in the 1950s had been produced at Windscale (now renamed Sellafield). However this facility was destroyed in Britain's worst nuclear accident in 1958. Two nuclear plants were constructed to provide the bulk of the plutonium required for Britain's bombs. The first was at Calder Hall, within Windscale/Sellafield. The second was at Chapelcross and became operational in February 1959. For many years Chapelcross was one of the main sites where plutonium was produced for atomic and hydrogen bombs. The Trident nuclear weapons which are at Faslane[74] today almost certainly contain plutonium from Chapelcross.

Because of its military role, the reprocessing of spent fuel from Chapelcross was kept outside of international regulation. However in 1998 the government announced that: "All re-processing from defence reactors at Chapelcross will in future be conducted under EURATOM safeguards and made liable to inspection by the IAEA". This signalled an end to military plutonium production.

However this did not end Chapelcross's role in bomb making. Modern nuclear weapons contain small quantities of tritium. Tritium is a radioactive material that plays a key role in the thermonuclear process of a hydrogen bomb as it is used to boost the yield of atomic bombs. It is used on British Trident warheads. Tritium is a radioactive material with a short half-life of 12 years. Because it decays so quickly it has to be replaced. The tritium in British nuclear weapons is replaced after 7 or 8 years. So the military demand a constant supply of tritium - and in Britain's case this has come from Chapelcross. Tritium has been produced in the reactors of the BNFL power station and has been processed in the adjacent Chapelcross Processing Plant which is operated by the MoD.

5,000 tonnes of Depleted Uranium are also stored at Chapelcross. This was part of a massive military stockpile of this material which has been controversially used in weapons. In 1998 Britain announced that the material at Chapelcross would no longer be considered as military material and would be placed under EURATOM and IAEA safeguards.

On 19th December 2003, a RAF Hercules C130 plane breached the no-fly zone around Chapelcross. John Large an independent nuclear consultatnt stated that the plant was not designed with aircraft crashes in mind. According to the Ministry of Defence the no-fly zones over three other nuclear plants had been breached five times in the past three years. One breach was at the Torness nuclear power station in East Lothian, one at Dungeness in Kent and three at Berkeley in Gloucestershire. After the September 11th attacks in the United States, the UK Government doubled the restricted area for aircraft around nuclear installations to a radius of two nautical miles (2.3 miles) to reduce the risk of planes crashing into reactors and radioactive waste stores.

Chapelcross is about to be decommissioned. The decommissioning process will begin in 2005 when Chapelcross is transferred to the government's new Nuclear Decommissioning Authority in April. In its last year of operation the MoD are continuing to use Chapelcross to produce tritium for weapons, to boost their tritium reserves before production ends. They then plan to use those reserves to sustain Trident in the years ahead.

The closure of the nuclear facility, which ceased production in June 2004, means the loss of more than 400 jobs. But a new wood-burning electricity power station has been proposed for the site. Costing more than £30m, the new power station, burning wood from coppiced, fast-growing, willow trees, will create hundreds of construction jobs and about 70 full-time posts when operational.

 

 

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