Select Committee on Scottish Affairs Written Evidence


Memorandum submitted to the Committee by Alan J Scott MIMechE, CEng


  My name is Alan Scott and I currently work as an engineer for an international company providing nuclear decommissioning services at Dounreay. I have been a resident in Caithness since moving up from Central Scotland following graduation and first joined the UKAEA at Dounreay 20 years ago. I would like to express my own opinions with respect to the above issue and hope that you may consider my thoughts as part of the inquiry. Being completely unfamiliar with Parliamentary Committee protocol, and particularly the requirement for written evidence, I am unsure of the relevance (if any) of my thoughts. Being deeply concerned about the future social and economic wellbeing of Caithness and Sutherland following the decommissioning of Dounreay, however, I feel compelled to submit this short note for your consideration.

  Focusing on one of the strands of the inquiry:

      (i)  (specifically for the Caithness region)—The future job prospects for people currently employed at Dounreay following completion of decommissioning.


  The decommissioning of Dounreay represents a unique, interesting challenge for the current workforce, and indeed makes efficient use of the skills and expertise which have been developed since the 1950's. Unfortunately the exportation of these skills such that "we can decommission the rest of the world once we've finished Dounreay" is the message being preached by both local and visiting senior politicians and also by some of the current management. This view is sadly misleading and without substance.

  If you were to look around the world to see who actually completes the decommissioning of nuclear facilities, you will find that the vast majority of the work is completed using nationals of the country involved, and usually by people who operated the plant. In this respect Dounreay is no different from the rest of the world. Whereas there is undoubtedly a future international market for the transfer of knowledge gained through the completion of nuclear decommissioning at Dounreay, this market is limited largely to engineering and scientific professionals.

  Although Dounreay will continue to support some form of work from now until 2036, the amount of work will rapidly drop off during this time. This shortage of work will at best only be partially compensated by emergent work in the national and international nuclear decommissioning market. What we require urgently is an alternative source of work for the skilled workforce whose available work will decline rapidly from this point onwards and will terminate on the completion of decommissioning at Dounreay.


  As an alternative and totally viable solution to the problem, I believe that we should focus on what the county has to offer and then try to fit that in with what the country requires. In terms of the former I refer to Caithness, and in terms of the latter I refer primarily to Scotland but also to the UK. Hence my simple "needs analysis" exercise:


  1.  An energy policy which goes beyond the "end of noses" limit currently adopted and looks forward several decades at least.

  2.  A balanced energy policy which adequately addresses predicted future energy requirements, whilst recognising current fears for the global environment.

  3.  An energy policy, which at the very least will permit Scotland to keep pace with other industrialised nations, and at best will enable us to take the lead.

  4.  To retain a pool of suitable qualified and skilled resources based in Scotland who are able to respond to the challenge of ensuring that the countries present and future energy requirements are fully satisfied.


  1.  A readily available supply of engineers, scientists and technicians currently supporting work at Dounreay with an excellent level and proven range of skills.

  2.  A fully established and serviced industrial site in the form of Dounreay.

  3.  A community highly tolerant of innovation and uniquely pro-nuclear.

  4.  Excellent further education establishments (UHI-North Highland College etc).

  5.  Access to an abundant supply of renewable energy resources (wind, waves, solar).

  Unfortunately and uniquely, Caithness depends on one source of employment to sustain the current levels of population and socio-economic wellbeing ie Dounreay. Whilst the ideal solution would be to diversify such that all the eggs were no longer in the one basket, I believe that the only solution is to create a replacement industrial hub in the county which will also serve the country in the long term. In the same way that Caithness, in the form of Dounreay, was chosen in the late 1950s as the R&D centre for what at that time was the energy source of the future, so it can be utilised in a similar way to service our current short and long term energy requirements.

  We surely cannot ignore recent attention focussed on the requirement to invest in energy sources for the future, and specifically reliable sources which can provide stable base load capacity. This base load is required irrespective of whether the wind is blowing, or whether we remain on friendly terms with other countries who we are growing increasingly reliant on for supplies of oil and gas. We cannot also ignore recent statements from Professor James Lovelock, much respected guru of the green movement, who warned that nuclear energy is the only way to avert environmental catastrophe.

  Whilst we bury our heads in the sand and generate political reasons for not dealing with the issues of nuclear waste and nuclear power, largely under the guise of technical reasons, other countries forge ahead. Without going into detail on the significant programmes of investment in the development of nuclear power around the world, examples of what Finland, South Africa, France and the USA are doing are of worthy of note. It is also interesting to note that, at a time when interest in nuclear power is being rekindled globally, the UK remains unique in as much as it is the only country amongst the industrialised world which does not have a national nuclear laboratory, nor indeed a national organisation set up to develop energy sources for the future.

  It is indeed ironic that the type of reactor attracting international interest as a future generation of reactor design is the fast reactor ie the type of technology which Dounreay led in world in, developed by Scottish engineers and scientists, prior to the programme being terminated in 1994. Since then the French, Japanese, and Chinese have taken the lead in developments of the fast reactor.

  So, if I may return to Scotland's needs, Caithness's attributes and put them into the context of the current decommissioning plan for Dounreay, my proposed solution to prevent the decommissioning of the County is:

  That a national centre be set up in Caithness, whose remit will be the development of safe and secure energy sources for the future. The centre would complete research and development in both nuclear and renewable technologies with respect to security of energy supply and the Kyoto targets for reducing carbon emissions. It would provide a unique opportunity to investigate a balanced approach to energy supply with nuclear and non-nuclear technologies working together. In order to maintain a supply of personnel fully conversant with the engineering and operational requirements of nuclear reactors, and to develop a nuclear reactor system which will serve the needs of the country in the future, the centre would be used to site a fully operational reactor. The centre would also support work being done globally at present with respect to the future use of hydrogen as a fuel, such a centre would also be used to investigate how hydrogen could be both generated, transported and utilised in the future as a safe and "clean" fuel in Scotland.

  I believe that such a development, situated either adjacent to, or on the existing serviced site at Dounreay would offer a unique chance to salvage something from the decommissioning of the site, and the only chance to stave off the mass depopulation of the area. Such a centre could be developed in parallel with, but separately from, the current operation to decommission the site.

  Such a development would have potential to establish our country at the forefront of future energy supply technology and for us to be recognised as a forward looking nation. It may even help us recover Scotland's proud reputation for excellence in the field of engineering and scientific achievements. Whilst other countries around the world actively invest in energy technologies for the future, we appear to sit back inactively and contemplate at length the impact of impending energy shortages, and global warming. An energy development centre in Caithness offers a unique chance to invest in the skills developed in the Highlands at Dounreay, such that the country's future energy supplies can provide a stable base for sustained economic growth.

  I apologise for the lack of brevity in this note, and hope that you find the content of some relevance in your inquiry. What is of no benefit to anyone is the experience of a second wave of Highland Clearances in Caithness and Sutherland, which will surely follow the completion of decommissioning at Dounreay, should work on an alternative major source of employment not be initiated as a matter of urgency.

17 January 2005

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