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Decommissioning engineers have looked inside Scotland’s first nuclear reactor for the first time since it was built almost half a century ago.

A remotely-operated video camera and radiation measurement probe was inserted inside the Dounreay Materials Test Reactor to explore its condition.

It travelled through pipework to the reactor vessel that was used by scientists in the 1950s and 60s to test how different materials performed in a radiation field.

Information obtained from the survey, including radiation readings, is now being studied by experts preparing for the final stages of reactor demolition.

Steve Beckitt, who is leading the UKAEA decommissioning team, said: “What we were looking at was the history of nuclear energy in the UK.”

He added: “Dismantling a nuclear reactor requires very careful planning and risk assessment. Being able to actually look inside the reactor and take detailed measurements of radioactivity means we can plan for its demolition with a higher degree of confidence and safety.”

DMTR went critical in May 1958 and was used by scientists and engineers to obtain valuable physics data to support the fast reactor experiment at Dounreay.

The 25 MW test reactor was shut down in May 1969 and its uranium fuel and heavy water coolant removed by 1971. It was placed in a state of care and maintenance until 1998, when a decommissioning team began to prepare for the second stage of decommissioning – the removal of the redundant equipment from the containment building.

This work was completed recently and staff are now preparing for the third and final phase of decommissioning – the complete dismantling of the reactor block at a cost in the region of £10 million. This is programmed for completion in 2015 but the timescale is under review as part of the acceleration of the Dounreay Site Restoration Plan.

Dounreay was Britain’s centre of fast reactor research and development from 1955 until 1994. Approximately 180 facilities were built on a 140-acre site.