Main Page | See live article | Alphabetical index


Magnox is an obsolete type of nuclear power reactor that was also designed to produce plutonium for nuclear weapons. In all 26 were built in the UK where the design originated. In addition one was exported to Japan and one to Italy.

At the end of 2003 eight remain in operation, all of them in the UK, and all are planned to closed by 2010. Only the first eight built in the UK were actually used to produce weapons-grade plutonium, and even then only in their early years of operation.

Magnox is also the name of the alloy of magnesium oxide and aluminium used for the fuel cladding in Magnox reactors, and which gave them their name. This material had the advantage of a low neutron capture cross-section, but it had two big disadvantages:

Magnox fuel incorporated cooling fins to provide maximum heat transfer despite the low operating temperatures, making it expensive to produce. While the use of uranium metal rather than oxide made reprocessing more straightforward and therefore cheaper, the need to reprocess a short time after removal from the reactor meant that the gamma hazard was severe and the most expensive remote handling facilities were required.

The term magnox is also sometimes loosely used to refer to:

The accepted term for all of these first-generation carbon dioxide cooled graphite moderated reactors, including the Magnox and UNGG, is GCR for Gas cooled reactor.

The Magnox was replaced in the British power station program by the Advanced gas-cooled reactor or AGR, which was derived from it. A key feature of the AGR was the replacement of magnox cladding to allow higher temperatures and greater thermal efficiency. Stainless steel cladding was adopted after many other alloys had been tried and rejected, and the extra neutron losses caused by the stainless steel were blamed for the AGR being relatively unsuccessful economically when compared to the older Magnox design.

General description

The Magnox reactors were carbon dioxide cooled, graphite moderated reactors using natural (unenriched) uranium metal as fuel and magnox alloy as fuel cladding. Early reactors had steel pressure vessels, later units were of reinforced concrete.

On-load refuelling was an essential part of the design, both to enable low-burnup spent fuel to be diverted for military purposes and to maximise power station availability by eliminating refueling downtime.

List of Magnox reactors in the UK