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Explosive charges leveled four giant cooling towers at the world's first commercial nuclear power station Saturday, as engineers began the planned decommissioning of Calder Hall, a 62-building site on Britain's west coast.
Four 289-foot towers crumbled to the ground just after 9 a.m., spewing plumes of dust over the Irish Sea to "oohs" and "ahs" from onlookers.
Calder Hall, officially opened by Queen Elizabeth II in 1956, produced weapons-grade plutonium while also feeding energy into Britain's national grid.
Although smaller research reactors had been used previously to generate energy, Calder Hall was the first plant to generate commercial quantities of electricity. The Shippingport Atomic Power Station, in Pennsylvania, was the first such facility built in the United States. It went into operation in 1957.
Power generation at Calder Hall stopped in March 2003, when the final reactor there was shut down.
By that time the station's 50-year-old towers, which cooled water used by the plant, had started to degrade and needed to be demolished, site manager Paul Brennan said.
Brennan said the demolition took three years of planning, and Sellafield Ltd., which manages the site, said it would take 12 weeks to clear the rubble.
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