Select Committee on Scottish Affairs Second Report

4  The future for Dounreay's workers

55. UKAEA Dounreay was not solely a power station, but was also an active research facility, including the Dounreay Fast Reactor (DFR), closed in 1977, the Prototype Fast Reactor, shutdown in 1994, and Supernoah, used to study sodium-water reactions, closed in 1995. In 2000 the Dounreay site restoration plan envisaged a 60 year project; in 2004, however, it was announced that decommissioning would be completed by 2036.

56. Therefore, whereas just 5 years ago, every worker at Dounreay could be confident of employment for the rest of their working lives, the youngest workers could now face the possibility of being out of work by the time they are in their late 40s.

57. As Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE), a Scottish Executive Non-Departmental Public Body (NDPB), said in their written submission:

"The Dounreay nuclear establishment has been a major part of the economy of the far north for the last 50 years and currently provides direct employment (between UKAEA and site based contractors) for over 2000 people. Recent estimates from UKAEA indicates that one in five jobs in Caithness and North Sutherland depends on decommissioning Dounreay and across Scotland it accounts for approximately 2930 jobs."[32]

58. When asked about other forms of employment in the area, UKAEA's response was:

"There is a manufacturing company, Norfrost, who are based in one of the smaller satellite towns away from Thurso…..they manufacture refrigeration units, and they employ of the order of 350 people. There is a specialist battery factory based in Thurso which employs of the order of 200 people; there is a call centre managed by British Telecom, once again of the order of 100 people. Beyond that we have a number of engineering contract firms which are not exclusively but heavily reliant upon Dounreay, and give it a tremendous service, actually. We are talking I think of low hundreds in terms of employment……The rest of employment is dispersed in agricultural and small business units…… it is perhaps worthwhile pointing out the adjacent nuclear facility at Vulcan, which is the Royal Navy's reactor test establishment to support its submarine fleet, which is quite a significant employer, and the nearest thing there is to Dounreay-type of employment."[33]

59. Highlands and Islands Enterprise is responsible for social and economic development in northern Scotland. It operates a network of local enterprise companies, including Caithness and Sutherland Enterprise (CASE). It is the lead body in terms of responding to the socio-economic challenges brought about by clean-up and site closure. In 2001, the then Energy Minister, Brian Wilson MP, and the then Scottish Executive Enterprise Minister, Wendy Alexander MSP, announced a task force under the auspices of CASE to address the socio-economic consequences of site closure.

60. From 1 April 2005, UKAEA will become a contractor to the new Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA), an NDPB being set up by Department of Trade and Industry. The NDA will take strategic responsibility for the clean-up of 20 civil nuclear sites in the UK (Dounreay being the second largest). The NDA will have a duty to consider the socio-economic consequences of the clean-up programme. The contract between NDA and UKAEA will include reference to socio-economic issues. Subsequent contracts will be opened up to competition.

61. There are still some 30 years before Dounreay is finally decommissioned, so there is the possibility of other employment coming into the area or a new role being found for the site. For example, we were pleased to note that the famous DFR sphere would be retained after decommissioning, and possibly used as a science exhibition centre.[34] It was also suggested when we were in Sacramento that Dounreay could become, in effect, "a biomass centre of excellence". But although there is no need to panic, there is no need for complacency either.

62. If they have not already done so, we would suggest that the UKAEA, CASE, HIE etc might usefully make contact with the Bureau of Workforce Development at the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, who have reacted with compassion and efficiency when tackling some of the not dissimilar problems experienced by redundant workers and their families in Zion City with the closure of that city's major source of employment..

63. We consider that UKAEA, in conjunction with its partners, is doing all it can to assist its loyal and skilled Dounreay workforce who are facing an unsure future. We consider also that the Government should stand ready to listen to any proposals put forward by UKAEA or the NDA etc to ensure that the workforce are given all possible support. In addition, Dounreay contributes approximately £80 million into the Highlands through salaries, pensions, contracts and sub-contracts. Caithness and the rest of the Highland Region must be assisted also to overcome the problems which could ensue in a few years' time.

32   See written submission from Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE), HC 259 Vol II Back

33   Q 6. Back

34   Q 21. Back

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