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Caithness News Bulletins April 2005

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27 April 05
Longest Serving Employee Retires From UKAEA
Hugh reminded me about how we first met in the early fifties.  The venue was the Porter's Lodge, at the entrance to Sandside estate, the starting point in Reay for the bus service to Thurso, which each morning and evening also acted as the school bus for those of us attending Miller Academy, then a secondary school.  Hugh would have walked up from his parents’ house on the estate and I, with others, would have arrived from the 'west', the colloquialism for Sutherland. Conversation on the journey to Thurso would have been typical teenage talk. Almost certainly we would not have given a second glance to the barren, rather forlorn aerodrome with its mix of grey, dull buildings and black nissen huts, set amidst the farmland of Dounreay. Hugh was not to know then how he was to become inextricably linked to this place. But, for the moment, that was in the future....

When Hugh Ross retires from UKAEA, Dounreay, 28 April 2005, he will have spent just four months short of forty-nine years on site, its longest serving employee.  It is a proud record, and one of which his late parents would have been equally proud.

Hugh grew up in Reay, where he received his primary education. His father was gamekeeper on Sandside estate. His mother’s ancestors can be traced back to having worked in the early 1900s on Lower Dounreay farm, the site of the future fast reactor project.

As a pupil at Miller Academy, Hugh was interested in science but was not sure which career he should follow to pursue this interest.  However, the announcement that a fast breeder reactor was to be built at Dounreay was to provide a much different career opportunity. “My earliest recollection was the excitement locally at the prospects of many jobs and the career opportunities that would be available,” said Hugh. “When the advert for the 1956 intake of apprentices appeared, I applied, but I had certain misgivings.”  This was because, at that time, apprenticeships had to commence when they were sixteen, there was no flexibility like today, so the young Hugh had to make up his mind, should he pursue an academic or a practical career. “What really made up my mind was the promise of further education in tandem with the practical training,” said Hugh. “UKAEA was ahead of the game in this respect, and this is how a number of their apprentices later went on to university, and subsequently had very successful careers in various fields, both at Dounreay and elsewhere.”

Hugh studied for his ONC and HNC, both in electrical engineering, in the newly opened Thurso Technical College. The HNC was achieved through studies arranged at the then Robert Gordon’s Technical College, Aberdeen, with whom Thurso had an affiliation arrangement. Another aspect of their training that, according to Hugh, underlined UKAEA’s progressive thinking in respect of their welfare was physical training education. “Johnny Duffus was a tradesman on site, but was previously a physical instructor in the army,” he said. “He regularly took us for runs round the roads on site and, once he thought we were fit enough, out to Reay and back.”

On enquiring about his career path following completion of his apprenticeship in 1961, Hugh made a surprising admission. “I was now a qualified electrician but, as events unfolded, I was never to work on the tools,” said Hugh. “I was appointed to the site’s design office as their first electrical draughtsman, and remained there for twenty-three years ending up as senior draughtsman. It was a very interesting period given the developments which were taking place all over the site.”  As part of his initial training he also spent a short time in the electrical design office in Risley, then the northern headquarters of UKAEA. “This was an exciting time to be involved in design work,” said Hugh. “Facilities were being planned and designed, and it was necessary to ensure adequate electrical distribution systems were in place to meet their demands.”  Hugh said he has long admired the foresight of those who designed the electrical distribution system at Dounreay in the fifties. “That system has served the site well for almost fifty years, and it is only now that modifications are required, due to changed demands brought about by decommissioning.”

Hugh married Margaret Manson, a native of Halkirk, in 1967, They live in Thurso, and have a grown-up family of one girl and two boys, all living and working locally.

In 1984 he transferred to the Central Electrical and Instrument Services section. There he was responsible for the management of staff providing both electrical and instrumentation services, including the site’s high and low voltage electrical distribution sytems.

His next progression was in 1993 when he took on the role of senior authorised person-electrical. This position is basically an electrical safety role, as Hugh explained: “It is essential that all safety rules are adhered to, work is carried out to the current regulations, and those carrying out the work are suitably trained to do so. It is our responsibility to ensure everyone complies with the regulations.”  In 1995 Hugh along with his SAP(E) role, and a number of other UKAEA employees were transferred to Procord, a facility management company, when UKAEA decided to out-source their non-core activities.

Following the incident in 1998, when a digger disturbed a high-voltage cable in the fuel cycle area, UKAEA was criticised by the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate (NII) for out-sourcing roles vital to managing the integrity of the site. The upshot was the post was transferred to a UKAEA employee, with Hugh returning to the service of UKAEA in 2001 as depute-SAP(E).  “The cable incident was a very traumatic experience for everyone concerned,” said Hugh. “I will long remember that evening when I received the call from site to be told by the duty-officer that all power supplies to the fuel cycle area had been lost”.

As he takes his leave of the site, what are his memories, who are the individuals he will remember? “The first person who comes to mind is Bill Sutherland, the apprentice instructor,” said Hugh. “He instilled in us at an early age the need to take great pride in our work to  do it correctly.”  Hugh also paid tribute to the many colleagues he has worked with in different roles over the years.  “It is sometimes forgotten that when the announcement was made in 1954 that a nuclear plant was to be built at Dounreay we really faced an unknown quantity. However, the area has benefited enormously since then, and, this is all due to the efforts of the many people who have worked on the site over the years.”

Hugh ended where we came in.  “My abiding memory is the opportunity the site gave to me, and to many other young people,” said Hugh. “Little did I think when I got on my bike to cycle to my first job, all these years ago, that I was embarking on a lifetime career, all within my native county.”