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Caithness News Bulletins October 2003

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Highland Councillors have strongly hinted that they will oppose a proposal to use the Nigg oil fabrication yard to dismantle some of the Royal Navyís laid-up nuclear-powered submarines and store the reactor compartments at the Vulcan Naval Reactor Test Establishment site at Dounreay. However, they are to await the outcome of forthcoming consultation meetings before confirming their response. The consultations will involve community briefings in East Ross and Caithness as well as a national forum being staged at Lancaster University.

Members of the Planning Development Europe and Tourism Committee were advised today (Wednesday) that a consortium called DML proposed to use Devonport Dockyard, Plymouth, as the principal site for decommissioning with a back-up facility at Nigg. DML are one of five nuclear industry companies bidding for the Ministry of Defence contract to decommission the nationís redundant nuclear submarines and store the reactor compartments.

They noted that DML had got off to a bad start in the consultation process by failing to name the Vulcan site as the preferred site for storage in their submission which was published on Monday of last week. The location had been confirmed by Government Minister for Defence Procurement, Lord Bach, in response to a question from Caithness Sutherland and East Ross MP, John Thurso.

Convener Councillor Alison Magee said: "The MOD has promised to be open and transparent and to consult fully on the five separate proposals for decommissioning the nuclear submarines. We must take part in this process to glean as much relevant information as possible and then reach a considered position. We now have two sites of potential operation and both must be fully involved in the process."

The Convener said she would want to know if the Vulcan site was earmarked solely for the reactor compartments removed from the submarines dismantled at Nigg or for all the countryís reactor compartments.

The local councillor for Nigg, Richard Durham, agreed with the cautious "wait and see" response. "We all have our opinions on this kind of decommissioning, but we really must give the matter the most thorough examination."

 In a report to the Committee, Mike Greaves, Head of Economy and Regeneration, reminded members that the well established policy of the Council was to oppose the importation of nuclear waste into Highland.

The Council would seek from DML further clarification of their proposals and the economic, safety and environmental implications. They would also contact Lancaster University, who have been charged with the facilitation of the consultation exercise by the Ministry of Defence, to discuss the format of the public meetings to be held in Highland; the form of representation to be involved in the national consultation; and the need for Scottish representation on the project steering group.

He advised members that the indeterminate employment benefits arising from the decommissioning at Nigg did not appear to stand comparison at this stage with the likely negative economic impacts.

He said: "The perceptions of many local people, not to say visitors such as passengers on the 30 or so cruise ships calling into the Cromarty Firth each year and potential inward investors will not be advanced by the commencement of such basic nuclear decommissioning activity at Nigg. It would likely send conflicting signals to the core strategy which the Council has been following in recent years which aims to capitalise on the exceptional environmental qualities of the Highlands."