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NDA announcement 'will present a number of opportunities' for Dounreay workforce

By Gordon Calder

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Assurances have been given about the Dounreay decommissioning programme. Picture: DSRL / NDA
Assurances have been given about the Dounreay decommissioning programme. Picture: DSRL / NDA

STAFF at Dounreay and the Caithness economy could benefit when the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) takes over operations at the site early next year, Highland councillor Struan Mackie has said.

Councillor Mackie, chairman of the Dounreay Stakeholder Group, was speaking after last Friday's confirmation that the agency is to replace the Cavendish Dounreay Partnership – a consortium of Cavendish Nuclear, Jacobs and Amentum – as the parent body from March 2021.

Councillor Mackie has been given assurances about the decommissioning programme and has stressed the importance of the local supply chain and the need for it not to be "turned on and off like a tap".

"I believe this announcement will present a number of opportunities for the workforce and for Caithness and north Sutherland," he said. "The skills and expertise gained from the Dounreay programme are widely recognised to be some of the best in the nuclear decommissioning industry and have been seen to be versatile.

"During Covid-19, many Dounreay staff members have been carrying out their roles remotely and could support not only the Dounreay mission but other decommissioning programmes from across the UK.

"Although continued diversification of the area is important, we have a nuclear workforce that would dearly like to see further opportunities within the sector. I believe that this may be easier to realise with a Dounreay site operated by the NDA and I look forward to engaging with the senior NDA leadership in exploring how the far north can support its UK-wide mission to clean up nuclear sites."

Councillor Mackie, who represents Thurso and Northwest Caithness on Highland Council, acknowledged there has been speculation about the parent body at the Dounreay site and said it is of "vital importance" staff and the supply chain are given "a degree of certainty about the direction of travel for the UK's most northerly nuclear site".

He added: "The focus now turns to the transition period and long-term commitments in the area. There are significant expectations that the NDA will take on many of the commitments made by the Cavendish Dounreay Partnership."

Trudy Morris, chief executive of Caithness Chamber of Commerce, said: "This decision marks a significant shift away from the parent body structure that has been in place over the past decade. It will take some time to fully adjust to the new management structure and to understand the longer-term plans for the site and the implications of these for the north Highlands."

But she added: "Our most immediate concern is for the local supply chain, which is facing unprecedented challenges as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. A clear and immediate plan of how the NDA intends to continue engagement with the Dounreay supply chain, and a forward plan of work over the coming years, will give local businesses the certainty and stability they need at this difficult time.

"Looking forward, the organisations involved in the parent body have been strongly engaged in the area and made significant commitments to the long-term future of the nuclear industry in the north Highlands. Once the immediate details of transfer of ownership have been dealt with, we look forward to engaging with the NDA on its plans for the future of the region."

The decommissioning authority has said the supply chain and the private sector remain essential to its plans.

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