Select Committee on Scottish Affairs Written Evidence


Memorandum submitted to the Committee by Julian Walford BSc (Eng), MBA, MIEE


  I was born in 1950, qualified as an electrical engineer in 1972, and have undertaken a number of engineering and management roles with UKAEA since joining full-time in 1975. I am currently Head of Finance and Contracts at Dounreay. I have lived in Caithness on and off since 1955, and my father worked at Dounreay from its inception then, until his retirement in 1990. I have two sons, both graduate engineers born in Caithness, but now working in the South of England. My wife works also at Dounreay.

  I am relatively well acquainted with the way in which Dounreay funding flows to employees, contractors, other payees and (through inter-site trading)—with the rest of the UKAEA.

  These are my personal views, not those of my employer.


  I wish to offer brief evidence on three subjects:

    —  developing a local world-class nuclear decommissioning capability;

    —  seeking work for the Caithness and Highland economy; and

    —  wind and marine energy development.


  At present there is a significant emphasis on establishing a decommissioning capability in Caithness. This includes investment in test and research facilities. While undoubtedly this is helpful in meeting Dounreay's needs, it is not at all clear how this translates to an enduring capability based in Caithness. The very economic factors that demand a local capability make such difficult to export. Further, the current nuclear licence structure, whereby UKAEA must employ the key engineers who devise requirements, and manage the work, represent a barrier to those same people servicing other sites.


  There is a significant drive currently to ensure that the local economy captures an increasing share of the Dounreay decommissioning expenditure. In general one observes locally based businesses developing their manufacturing and service capability, and therefore being better able to capture this funding stream either directly, or indirectly (NDA Tier-2 and 3 contractors). Firms are increasingly establishing local bases, facilitated by the Forss Business Park. The NDA moving there can only help.

  There is a question however about how much work the Site Licensee Company (SLC) does in-house, and how much is sub-contracted, and whilst the NDA has addressed the issue (make or buy decisions), it isn't clear whether they see a large SLC as a good thing or not.

  There is an argument that a diverse range of firms meeting Dounreay needs is a good way forward, ideally each serving both Dounreay and increasingly other work-streams from the local base in due course. Such a business model demands that the SLC does the minimum in-house, and reduces with time.

  The NDA model demands the SLC be owned by a bidding organisation (which could be a consortium and that consortium could include UKAEA or BNFL). This is based on US precedent, and a key approach in the US is to seek from bidders both the decommissioning performance required and an approach to developing the neighbouring economy. Such an approach has a place in Caithness, and one could envisage bidders (particularly private-sector bidders) offering to invest in their business in this locality, to good advantage. The key to any such enterprises is synergy with the natural capabilities of the local market including the skills available.

  The local enterprise agency does not seem to have analysed the requirements or at least there is little published. There may be merit in further work here.



  Wind development is continuing in Caithness and Sutherland. This is controversial as the developments are generally being proposed close to habitation (and the shore) where the electrical infrastructure is available. Personally I support development both onshore and offshore, but sited sensitively. There are vast near-barren inland wastes with no population, but it needs a commitment to provide the grid interconnections from the 275 kV line which exists for Dounreay, and runs up Strath Halladale, and upgrade it to double circuit 400 kV providing over 5 GW capacity. Furthermore, decent sized installations should be built—perhaps a 1,000 windmill array using 5 MW units. This is feasible—there is plenty of land.

  Apart from the construction benefit, the ongoing service requirement would assist in supporting the economy. Some quantification of this would be useful.

  Many objections have been made to wind development on the basis of the cost of replacement power when the wind is not blowing. I have yet to see proper studies undertaken of the cost of integrated solutions involving the existing hydro-electric dams. For example the Loch Shin hydro facility appears to have a very high storage capacity, and equipped with additional generating capacity it could use the existing reservoir purely to back-up Caithness and Sutherland wind farms for the limited periods when not generating.


  My understanding of the state of development, is that wave energy is some considerable way off economic feasibility.

  In contrast tidal energy is closer to break-even. The challenge is to manufacture and install devices and one expects unit prices to fall with manufacturing development, and operating experience. Unlike wind energy where continental firms now have the bulk of the market, UK universities seem ahead, including the nearest—Robert Gordon in Aberdeen.

  Caithness and Orkney are in a zone where there are massive tidal resources, (caused by the interaction of the North Sea and Atlantic basin tidal resonances) which are entirely predictable (if not steady) and can be matched with others elsewhere around the UK coast to provide a constant generation capability over the grid.

  Again electricity grid interconnections are an issue.

  Clearly there is an opportunity here to establish Caithness manufacturing and testing of these devices. This has synergy with the existing manufacturing that supports Dounreay, though the scale is much increased. Perhaps the decommissioning test facilities could also be used.

  It should be noted that facilities at Wester and Castletown have manufactured oil pipe stringers and domestic white goods (freezers, etc). Low wage costs, low land and housing costs make manufacturing feasible.

  Could the Dounreay Tier-1 bidders contribute here?


  The renewables energy programme has synergies with the ongoing requirements at Dounreay, and the capabilities of the locality. There are opportunities to manage the development of both to maintain the local economy.

11 January 2005

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