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Could Caithness host new nuclear power station?

By Scott Maclennan

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A series of small nuclear reactors across the UK is in the planning.
A series of small nuclear reactors across the UK is in the planning.

The prospect of a return of nuclear power generation to Caithness has been welcomed with open arms by a far north councillor.

Scottish Secretary Alister Jack confirmed this week that he has asked the UK energy minister to plan for a new nuclear site north of the border as part of a UK-wide strategy.

Dounreay had been touted as among the possible locations for a small modular reactor, a series of 10 power stations that Rolls-Royce was planning to build by 2035.

Struan Mackie, the Thurso and Northwest Caithness councillor who is also chairman of the Dounreay Stakeholder Group, said a change of Scottish Government in 2026 could mean finally having “a grown-up conversation” about nuclear power.

The SNP and Greens oppose nuclear power and have blocked any new stations in Scotland, something Cllr Mackie sees as the “views of a select few in the central belt [who] are trumping the lived experience of thousands in the far north.”

The two parties were infuriated when Mr Jack said: “On the small nuclear reactors, I have asked the energy minister to plan for one in Scotland. I believe that in 2026 we'll see a unionist regime again in Holyrood and they will move forward with that."

First Minister John Swinney said: “This is utterly and completely incompatible with good inter-governmental working and is illustrative of the damaging behaviour, the menacing behaviour, of the secretary of state for Scotland.”

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But Mr Mackie, a Conservative councillor, insists evidence on the ground shows communities in the area would be open to the idea of a new reactor.

He said: “I have no doubt that Caithness and north Sutherland would want to be the first community in line seeking to engage with the UK government on the deployment of new nuclear generation and highlighting the immense public support for new nuclear in the region.

"The current restrictions imposed by the Scottish Government have little to no local support and have left our nuclear community 'out in the cold' when opportunities have come forward to site the next generation of new nuclear.

Councillor Struan Mackie.
Councillor Struan Mackie.

"The views of a select few in the central belt are trumping the lived experience of thousands in the far north who helped shape the modern nuclear industry.

“The Dounreay and Vulcan sites have hosted a wide array of nuclear technologies over the decades and I know that our world-class supply chain and our highly skilled workforce would embrace the opportunity to play their role again.”

Cllr Mackie feels that many people who support new nuclear power generation have been ignored due to official SNP policy when they would be open to at least having the far north in consideration.

He said: “The fact of the matter is that anybody who lives and works in the far north knows how important this industry is and I think there have been very loud voices that have maybe clouded the judgement of folk down in Edinburgh that there is no demand to keep nuclear on the table.

“I know, my constituents know, the supply chain knows what nuclear means, we are a community that is very embracing of energy generation that we feel is suitable and I think that people are listening to folk on the ground who are living and breathing it rather than the small minority of people who are going down to Holyrood to ‘represent us.’”

He added: “We may get a new government in Holyrood in 2026 so for the first time in decades there is a chance that we can have a grown-up conversation about what is required in Scotland, but also what is wanted by the communities that host energy generation.”

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