AFTER 44 years, the world’s oldest operating nuclear plant shut down today.

At 11am, all 450 employees at Oldbury Power Station gathered in the canteen to watch the last working reactor being turned off on screens, more than three years after the plant was originally due to close.

The momentous event was the occasion for site director Phil Sprague to look back on the station’s production history.

"Today marks a safe and dignified end to the generation of electricity at Oldbury," he said. "We have generated safe, carbon free electricity for 44 years which is a remarkable achievement when you consider that the original plant design life was just 25 years. Oldbury has been a terrific success story for the UK nuclear industry."

He added: "Continued generation is largely down to the excellence of the staff that have operated the plant for those 44 years. This fantastic record is one that all staff both past and present, can rightly be proud."

To date, the site has generated over 137.5 TWh of electricity, enough to power one million homes for over 20 years.

Oldbury was initially due to shut down in 2008. Since then, the plant has generated an additional 7.4TWhrs of electricity, worth an estimated £350 million to the taxpayer and saved around 3.5 million tonnes of carbon from being released into the atmosphere.

Brian Burnett, head of programmes for the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, thanked the power station’s owners Magnox and its staff for their outstanding work over the past four decades.

"Oldbury has a long and proud history of safely generating electricity," he said. "Our thanks go to the Magnox workforce, who have been extremely committed to maximising the plant’s generating life, ensuring it was able to safely continue past its original planned closure date."

In November 2011, Oldbury was among only 54 organisations to be awarded the British Safety Council’s Sword of Honour.

The nuclear station will move through a transition period into defueling of the reactors before decommissioning begins. The process should take up to two years. The 450-strong staff will also be reduced by 100 after in a year’s time.

It was also a day to be remembered for anti-nuclear campaigners in the area.

Reg Illingworth, of Shepperdine Against Nuclear Energy, who had been fighting to close down Olbury Power Station for many years, said: "I’m happy to see Oldbury - the oldest civil nuclear power station- is closing finally. It’s long overdue, both for Oldbury and for all nuclear facilities around the world. Nuclear power is too costly on many levels ; it’s dangerous, dirty and expensive and it’s time the UK government acknowledged this."