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Plea to bring new nuclear to Caithness as Rolls-Royce urged to look north by MP Jamie Stone


By Gordon Calder

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Caithness should be considered as a site for a small modular reactor, similar to the one pictured, according to leading figures in the far north.
Caithness should be considered as a site for a small modular reactor, similar to the one pictured, according to leading figures in the far north.

Caithness should be considered as a site for a new type of nuclear reactor, according to local political, trade union and enterprise representatives.

Far north MP Jamie Stone wants Rolls-Royce, which has a long association with the Vulcan nuclear submarine site near Dounreay, to include the county as a possible location for a small modular reactor (SMR).

The company is developing a new technology to deliver affordable, low carbon, nuclear power. The new reactor would be around one-tenth of the size of a conventional one and is said to be more economic to produce and easier to build.

The design is believed to have benefited from experience gained from manufacturing and operating pressurised water reactors tested over the years at Vulcan.

Mr Stone, the Liberal Democrat MP for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross, said: "I call on Rolls Royce to consider Caithness as a potential site and will say so when I get an opportunity in the Commons. It would be great if the company could carry out this work in Caithness.

"We have the skills, we have suitable sites, we have transport links, and most importantly we have a local population that is familiar with the nuclear industry and would welcome such an initiative by Rolls-Royce."

MP Jamie Stone vowed to bring up the call in the House of Commons.
MP Jamie Stone vowed to bring up the call in the House of Commons.

Davie Alexander, the vice-chairman of the Dounreay Stakeholder Group and chairman of the Thurso and Wick Trades Union Council, would also like to see the county included as a possible location for a small modular reactor.

He said: "It would be nice to think that our area would, at least, be considered for siting such a project.

"There was disappointment a few months ago when a bid to site one of the new generation of fusion reactors [in Caithness] was not shortlisted as a potential site.

"The bid that was put together highlighted the many benefits that the area could bring to such a project. The skills and infrastructure that exist in the area could also be considered for the SMR development.

"With the rundown of the Dounreay and Vulcan sites, all potential opportunities should and will be considered by the relevant agencies active within the community."

But Mr Alexander acknowledged the logistics and political views could be "a major stumbling block to such a development".

Eann Sinclair, Caithness and Sutherland area manager for Highlands and Islands Enterprise, also thinks the small modular reactors could be located here.

"The SMRs have got to be on the table for us," he said. "If there is any place in the country with more skills then I don't know where it is. I really hope we would be considered. Although there are wider political questions to be answered, this could be an economic opportunity for the area and we would want to be part of it."

HIE's Eann Sinclair believes the area has all the right skills.
HIE's Eann Sinclair believes the area has all the right skills.

Their comments were made after the Rolls-Royce Group announced that the Qatar Investment Authority (QIA) is to invest £85 million in Rolls-Royce SMR Limited and will join BNF Resources UK Ltd and Exelon Generation Ltd as shareholders in the company, taking a 10 per cent share of the equity.

Warren East, the chief executive of the Rolls-Royce Group, said: "We have successfully raised the capital we need to establish Rolls-Royce SMR and it is encouraging to confirm that the business is now set up to succeed."

The new venture has secured £490 million through commercial equity and UK Research and Innovation grant funding.

The company previously stated that it hopes to complete its first reactor in the early 2030s and build up to 10 by 2035. The SMRs are said to have a power capacity of 470 megawatts, which it is claimed could power up to one million homes.

The development of small modular reactors is a core part of the UK government’s 10-point plan for a green industrial revolution.

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