Select Committee on Scottish Affairs Second Report

1  Introduction

1. On 15 and 16 November 2004 the Scottish Affairs Committee visited the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA) site at Dounreay. We undertook the visit as one of a series of informal briefing meetings we hold regularly in Scotland to consider various matters of interest and concern. In this particular instance, we wished to ascertain how the UKAEA management and the Doureay workforce were meeting the challenge of decommissioning the site.

2. At the time we undertook the visit, we did not intend our on-site discussions to develop into a full-scale inquiry. However, whilst at Dounreay, we identified three issues of fundamental concern and, at our next formal meeting at the House of Commons, we agreed that we should undertake an inquiry to examine these issues.

3. A press release was issued on 7 December announcing the inquiry. The Committee would be investigating: (i) the future job prospects for people currently employed at the Dounreay plant when it is finally decommissioned; (ii) the long-term strategy for the management of radioactive waste, in particular, intermediate-level waste; and (iii) how can the shortfall in energy output be met once nuclear power no longer provides Scotland's energy needs?

4. The Committee held four sessions of oral evidence at Westminster, taking evidence from the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA), from the Scottish Renewables Forum (including representatives from Scottish Coal, from Wavegen and from ScottishPower), from Professor James Lovelock and from Scottish and Southern Energy.

5. Due to the uncertainty about the date of the General Election, the Committee took the conscious decision to conclude its inquiry by the time the House rose for the Easter Adjournment 2005. Had it been a Parliamentary Session which we knew would end in the autumn, we would have wished to round off the inquiry by holding a few more evidence sessions with, for example, the Scottish Executive, the Department of Trade and Industry and the Nuclear Decommissioning Agency.

6. In addition to the oral evidence sessions, the Committee undertook two informal visits: to Dounreay, which precipitated the inquiry, and then, in February 2005 to Illinois and California in the United States. In Chicago the Committee met or visited representatives from the Economic Development Department of Zion (a small city to the north of Chicago which, because of the recent closure of a nuclear power plant in the city, was experiencing problems similar to those which could be faced by Thurso), Exelon Nuclear, to discuss, in particular, spent fuel and decommissioning strategy, the Chicago Green Technology Centre (the Mayor's showcase for sustainable architecture and alternative energy sources). The Committee also met officials from the United States Department of Energy, the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity and the City of Chicago Department of Energy.

7. In Sacramento the Committee visited the California Energy Commission, to discuss California State policies and practices in the decommissioning of facilities and renewable energy programs and the Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD) including a visit to the Rancho Seco nuclear facility to discuss experiences in decommissioning this facility. The Committee also met with local representatives of other organisations specialising in renewable energy technologies, for example, the Northern California Power Agency, Navigant Consulting, Theroux Environmental and Beckley Singleton. Finally, in San Francisco we met with the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission.

8. The Committee wishes to place on record its appreciation to all those who gave their time in meeting the Committee during its inquiry. The Committee also thanks those officials at UKAEA for their assistance and at the British Consulates General in Chicago and in San Francisco for organising the visits on the Committee's behalf and for providing helpful background briefing and advice.

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Prepared 23 March 2005