March 1959: Japan's first nuclear power station

With the UK now heavily reliant on Japanese firm Hitachi to keep its nuclear ambitions on track, The Engineer’s 1959 article on Japan’s first nuclear power station, is a poignant reminder of both the UK’s diminished expertise in this area, and the impact of the 2011 Fukushima crisis.

The article - which can be read in detail here - reports on negotiations between the Japan Atomic power  company and  the UK’s General Electric Company (GEC) for the supply of a 140MW Magnox power station Tokai Mura, 65 miles North-East of Tokyo.

‘The station which will be designed for a net electrical output of 150MW will derive its power from a single gas-cooled, graphite moderated reactor’ ’

The Engineer reported that though similar in design to reactors that were being built for the Scottish Hunterston power station, the preliminary design for the Tokai plant had paid special attention to its ability to “withstand earthquake conditions”  including a shut-down procedure designed to work even if the reactors was tilted at 45°.

The article also singled out particular structural innovations such as the use of a cylindrical steel work structure to surround the reactor core, and “earthquake restraints” that ‘will be provided between the biological shield and a cylindrical lip welded to the top of the pressure vessel’

‘The Tokai Mura station is expected to take about four years to build and to be in operation by mid-1963’ wrote The Engineer. In the event, it began operating in 1966 and continued until March 1998.

In a striking reversal, whilst Japan is now turning its back on nuclear energy, through it’s alliance with GE (no relation to the UK’s now defunct GEC)  it is now planning on building UK reactors at the “Horizon” sites in North Wales and Gloucestershire.