Decommissioning work at Sellafield has passed a major milestone with the defuelling of the site's Calder Hall.

It means the world’s first full-scale nuclear power station is empty of fuel for the first time since the 1950s.

It also means the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority’s Magnox Operating Programme is a step closer to completion.

When it was opened by the Queen in 1956, Calder Hall's operation was hailed as the dawn of the atomic age and made Britain a world leader in the civil nuclear industry.

Workington became the first town in the world to receive heat, light, and power from atomic energy.

Its Magnox design was the template for Britain’s first generation of nuclear power stations and the technology was exported around the world.

It stopped generating power in 2003 and defuelling began in 2011.

Stuart Latham, head of remediation for Sellafield Ltd, said: “This is a truly iconic moment. Calder Hall was the birthplace of the civil nuclear industry. It inspired the world and put our site at the forefront of the atomic age.

“Completing the defuelling programme is an important moment for Sellafield. The defuelling team have completed the task safely and professionally and have a made a huge contribution to our mission.”

A total of 38,953 spent fuel rods had to be carefully retrieved from the station’s four reactors.

The same machines that were used to load fuel into the reactors during its operational life were used to pull it out.

The fuel was transferred in shielded flasks to Sellafield’s Fuel Handling Plant.

After being cooled in a storage pond, its casings are removed and the rod taken to Sellafield’s Magnox Reprocessing Plant to be reprocessed.

This extracts the reusable uranium and plutonium from the fuel.

Calder Hall’s reactor buildings will now be placed into a state known as ‘care and maintenance’ and then fully decommissioned and demolished.

A portion of the site has already been earmarked for a new nuclear building.

Land clearance for the project is scheduled to begin soon.