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20 September 05
The UK Atomic Energy Authority has given evidence to the Scottish Affairs Committee of MPs to assist its inquiry into aspects of decommissioning the former experimental fast reactor establishment at Dounreay.  The committee is exploring the long-term employment prospects for staff involved in decommissioning the site and the long-term strategy for managing the radioactive wastes that arise from decommissioning. It is also examining future energy sources in Scotland.

In its written submission, UKAEA underlines its commitment to continued close working with organisations such as Caithness and Sutherland Enterprise, North Highland College UHI and Highland Council to identify opportunities for sustainable economic development.  In the short-term, this involves working together to maximise the economic benefits to the area from a decommissioning programme which accounts for one in five jobs locally and contributes an estimated £80 million to the local economy annually.

Establishing the reputation of Caithness and north Sutherland as an international centre for decommissioning skills and expertise can aid firms to identify new business opportunities at home and abroad as more of the early generation of nuclear technology reaches the end of its life and requires decommissioning.

The submission outlines the main radioactive waste streams at Dounreay and the current practices of storage or disposal. Nationally, an independent committee has been appointed by Government to review the options for the long-term management of those wastes for which no disposal route currently exists.

While’s UKAEA’s primary role today is to clean up and restore sites formerly used to research and develop nuclear fission, the submission to the committee highlights UKAEA’s continuing role in the international research and development of nuclear fusion. This work is carried out at Culham in England.

UKAEA Dounreay director Norman Harrison headed a UKAEA delegation that gave oral evidence to the committee.

He said: “I welcome the interest being shown by the committee in our work to decommission and clean-up the site at Dounreay. UKAEA has more experience of nuclear decommissioning than any other organisation in western Europe, and we believe our safety record today is second to none.

“Decommissioning is about safely characterising and segregating the different radioactive wastes, and getting them into a form that makes them safe for long-term storage or disposal. That creates significant employment and business opportunities in the short-term, and we are committed to working with the economic development agencies to take maximum advantage of these.”

Dounreay was Britain’s centre of fast reactor research and development from 1955 until 1994. Three nuclear reactors, fuel reprocessing and other associated nuclear facilities were built and operated on a 140-acre site. The site is now being decommissioned at an estimated total cost in the region of £2.7 billion. The decommissioning programme is prioritised towards reducing and eliminating the greatest hazards first.

Decommissioning Dounreay is worth approximately £80 million a year to the economy of the Highlands in general and Caithness and north Sutherland in particular through nett salaries, pensions, contracts and sub-contracts. One in five jobs in Caithness and north Sutherland depend on decommissioning. Across Scotland, it accounts for 2,930 jobs.

UKAEA’s submission to the Scottish Affairs Committee a Pdf file

“Skills, Enterprise and Opportunity – Dounreay’s Decommissioning Legacy” - A Pdf file