ONE of Somerset’s biggest employers celebrates 40 years of low carbon energy production today (Friday, February 5) – just as a major maintenance programme gets into full swing.

Hinkley Point B, near Bridgwater, was the first advanced gas-cooled reactor in the country to begin commercially generating electricity to the National Grid on February 5, 1976.

During its 40 years of operation, Hinkley Point B has generated enough low carbon electricity to power around 60 million homes.

Its two reactors still produce enough electricity for approximately one and a half million properties each year.

By generating electricity from nuclear power instead of fossil fuels, Hinkley Point B has avoided the production of around 187 million tonnes of carbon dioxide and equivalent greenhouse gases (CO2e) - the equivalent of taking all passenger cars off UK roads for just under two and a half years.

To mark its milestone birthday every employee will be presented with a photobook charting the station’s history and focusing on the people who have helped to make the station so special.

A reception for past Hinkley Point B station directors and staff who were employed by the industry in 1976 will be held at the station on Friday and a commemorative cake has been made for the occasion.

Station director Peter Evans said: “I am extremely proud of everyone who contributes to Team Hinkley and ensures the continued safe operation of our power station.

“Hinkley Point B really is 40 years young – in 2014 we produced our highest output for ten years, we have an excellent nuclear and environment safety performance record and have strong links with the local community.

“Age is no barrier to the performance of the station and we will continue to invest in our staff and the station to ensure we provide a reliable and safe source of low carbon electricity for many years to come.”

Hinkley Point B employs around 535 full-time staff and more than 220 full-time contract partners.

However, a thousand extra workers are joining the workforce over the coming weeks as part of a maintenance programme known as an outage which takes place every three years.

The programme of works has been carefully planned over the last two years and brings a welcome economic boost to the local economy.

One of the nuclear reactors has already been taken out of service to enable inspections to take place inside the reactor. New equipment will also be installed at the plant.

The additional workers will carry out 12,000 separate pieces of work.

The biggest projects include replacing two large gas circulators which help cool the reactor, as well as replacing electrical transformers used to support the transmission of low carbon electricity.

The outage has been planned in advance with the National Grid to ensure that there is no impact on the national electricity supply.

Hinkley Point B’s other reactor is due to continue operating normally throughout the eight week outage period.

Mr Evans added: “This inspection and investment programme is just one part of our much wider commitment to ensuring the continued safe production of low carbon electricity.

"It’s also good news for the local economy as the extra workers bring additional money into local shops, taxis, restaurants, B& Bs and hotels.”

The project is overseen by outage manager Mike Davies, who said: “Taking the reactor out of service means we can inspect it and carry out maintenance which we wouldn’t normally be able to do.

"Inspections will take place inside the reactor as well as in its boilers and the graphite core.

"We’ll be working closely with our contractors and nuclear engineering specialists from across the country to get this work done on time.”

Hinkley Point B is scheduled to continue operating until 2023 although it is subject to ongoing review of its safety case by the nuclear safety regulator.