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Out for 47

How technology changed when Calder Hall was operational

As we’ve seen, the technology behind the Calder Hall plant really was ground-breaking, delivering the world’s first commercial nuclear power station. That the plant operated successfully for 47 years is a testament to both the teams of scientists and engineers who developed the technology, and those who operated it for more than two generations.

You only need to look at other technology to see how impressive a feat this is. Take the humble motorcar, for example.

In 1956, the new kid on the block was the Austin A35. This feat of engineering was an improved version of the A30, and was so named as it offered 35 horse power, enabling it to get from 0-60 in a shade over thirty seconds, offering a top speed of an impressive 71 mph.

More than 280,000 A35s were produced during its twelve year lifetime. The car was succeeded by the Austin 1100, Allegro and Maestro, and eventually the Rover 200 and 25. The Austin brand itself lasted until 1987 when it was replaced by Rover. The Rover name managed another 18 years, until two years after Calder Hall’s closure, with its infamous 2005 demise.

One thing is for sure, those early cars were very different in style, performance, safety, and features from those we had in the early years of the new millennium, and as a result, other than for a select few enthusiasts, the A35 is unlikely to be the car of choice. In fact, in the UK since the 1990s, we’ve tended to keep our cars for an average of three years before replacing them. So in just the last thirteen years of Calder Hall’s life, most people will have seen four new cars.

The 1950s saw homes with more appliances than ever before, and this increased the demand for affordable electricity. As Sellafield’s role expanded from supporting the war effort to harnessing the power of the atom, so did the range of products with a thirst for electricity at home, in the office and at hospitals across the country.

But look around the late 1950s home, and you’ll realise just how different it is to the ones we’re familiar with now. Whilst some of the products might have the same names, the reality is they looked very different and were much more primitive. Feature rich, they were not.

As with the car, it is unlikely that you’d see a washing machine, toaster, or even a telephone from the 1950s in use today.

In fact, in the case of the latter, technology has moved on, such that in 1956, if you wanted to make a phone call, you needed to contact the operator to do so. From 1958 you could make direct dial calls (but not to free-phone or international numbers). With direct dialling came dialling codes. In the earliest days these numbers were mnemonics related to the town where the telephone exchange was based, but over time the system expanded and both telephone numbers and dialling codes got more complex.

As a result of increasing demand, telephone numbers changed across parts of the United Kingdom, with 1958, 1968, across the mid-1980s, 1991, 1995, being the most significant. There are no areas that now have three digit phone numbers, and only Brampton, near Carlisle in Cumbria, has four digit local numbers. Telephone handsets from the early days of Calder Hall’s life would no longer work on the network, thanks to the change from pulse to tone dialling. Instead we just have those memories of a simpler time. And reproduction ‘Bakelite’ phones.

So when you look at how far technology has moved on in other sectors, you begin to appreciate just how remarkable Calder Hall’s 47 years of operations really were.