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EDF opens first UK visitor centre

Visitors are once again being encouraged to visit EDF Energy's UK nuclear power stations with the opening of the first of a new generation of visitor centres at the Hunterston B plant, according to the World Nuclear News.

At the end of the 1990s, the UK's civil nuclear sector boasted a wealth of visitor centres catering to the needs of anyone interested in finding out more about nuclear power. BNFL's public visitor centre at the Sellafield nuclear site opened in 1988 and was a top regional tourist attraction. As the 20th century came to a close the UK nuclear plant operator of the time, British Energy, decided to phase out its visitor centres to focus its efforts on electronic communications. Dwindling visitor numbers saw the eventual closure of the Sellafield centre and its transformation into a conference centre in the late 2000s.

Fast forward a dozen years or so, and EDF Energy now owns and operates most of the UK's nuclear power plants. And as it prepares for the construction of a new generation of nuclear reactors, the company has decided that it's time to reintroduce visitor centres, with plans to open a series of centres at seven UK nuclear generation sites this year.

The first new visitor centre to open its doors, Hunterston B in Scotland, offers guided tours of the operating site, as well as an introduction to the nuclear industry by using hands-on displays and interactive aids. The centre is expected to attract around 3500 visitors per year, mostly through organized tours for schools and educational groups although members of the public will also be able to attend by appointment.

According to EDF Energy chief executive Vincent de Rivaz, the company has long recognised the importance of openness and transparency in its nuclear and retail business. "I am delighted that Hunterston B will be the first of seven new visitor centres at all our plants in the UK. They will be an important part of our commitment to increase our engagement with the public," he said.

EDF Energy is planning to build new reactors at Hinkley Point and Sizewell in England. The company operates two nuclear plants in Scotland, but the devolved Scottish government does not support new nuclear. Attending the opening of the Hunterston B centre, Scottish minister for energy, enterprise and tourism Fergus Ewing welcomed EDF Energy’s commitment to openness and transparency. "While the Scottish government has a clear policy position against new nuclear build, we recognize that EDF Energy is a valued local employer and supports the community in which it operates," he said.

However, Hunterston B is not the only operating nuclear power station in the UK with an operating visitor centre. Wylfa's visitor centre has remained open to the general public since 1992, although public tours of UK nuclear power plants were halted following the US terrorist attacks of September 2001. Wylfa unit 1 is the last operating Magnox plant, and is scheduled for closure in September 2014.

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