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Overwhelming support for nuclear fusion plant idea, says Dounreay Stakeholder Group chairman


By Alan Hendry

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A conceptual illustration of the STEP fusion power plant. It would offer a virtually limitless source of clean electricity by copying the processes that power the sun.
A conceptual illustration of the STEP fusion power plant. It would offer a virtually limitless source of clean electricity by copying the processes that power the sun.

There is "overwhelming support" for the idea of the world's first nuclear fusion power station coming to Caithness, according to the chairman of Dounreay Stakeholder Group.

Highland councillor Struan Mackie says the community already has a unique relationship with the industry he believes a compelling case can be made for Dounreay to host the pioneering development.

He highlighted the area’s "world-class workforce" and the strength of the supply chain as key factors.

Dounreay is one of two sites in Scotland preparing applications to construct a multi-billion-pound prototype reactor offering a virtually limitless source of clean electricity by copying the processes that power the sun. It would be known as STEP, the Spherical Tokamak for Energy Production.

The application is being taken forward by Caithness and North Sutherland Regeneration Partnership.

"Over the last number of weeks Dounreay Stakeholder Group members have been canvassed on the UK Atomic Energy Authority’s fusion proposals and it is clear that there is overwhelming support for the Caithness and North Sutherland Regeneration Partnership submission to the UK government," Councillor Mackie said.

"Although our primary role as a site stakeholder group is to scrutinise the decommissioning mission at Dounreay and MoD Vulcan, we have very clear guidance to explore and assess socio-economic matters across the Dounreay travel-to-work area which covers the county of Caithness and much of north Sutherland.

"The potential to create hundreds of highly skilled and sustainable jobs in the region has obvious parallels with the Dounreay atomic energy research establishment. Our community has a unique relationship with the industry and it is no surprise to see the outpouring of support from local people within the nuclear community.

"When you add this to the area’s world-class workforce and truly unique supply chain, we have a very compelling case to establish the fusion plant on the Dounreay site.

"We therefore enthusiastically support the submission to the UKAEA and will endeavour to support Caithness and North Sutherland Regeneration Partnership and other public organisations in their efforts to bring the fusion programme to Caithness."

Dounreay Stakeholder Group chairman Struan Mackie says he is not surprised to see an outpouring of support from within the nuclear community locally.
Dounreay Stakeholder Group chairman Struan Mackie says he is not surprised to see an outpouring of support from within the nuclear community locally.

The Dounreay application is set to be considered by Highland councillors on March 25. The other Scottish location expressing interest in the project is Chapelcross in Dumfries and Galloway, which is also in the process of decommissioning.

The bids were made after the UK government invited communities across the country at the beginning of December to put forward proposals to become the home of STEP.

As previously reported, Trudy Morris, chief executive of Caithness Chamber of Commerce, has said the project would represent "a major investment in the region's economy".

She said: "If Caithness and North Sutherland Regeneration Partnership were to be successful in its bid for the region to host the prototype STEP reactor, this would undoubtedly be good news for the community and the local economy.

"The north Highlands has a long history of supporting nuclear energy research and development, and to be at the forefront of developing one of the cleanest forms of energy would be a welcome continuation of that tradition."

Davie Alexander, chairman of Thurso and Wick Trades Union Council, said his organisation was fully supportive.

“I think it’s a really good opportunity for us. Whether it will be successful, only time will tell," he said.

“It’s going to take a lot of years to come to fruition but you’ve got to be in it at the start to try and get some traction on it. Certainly I would be very surprised if there was a negative slant on this from the community."

A poll on the John O'Groat Journal and Caithness Courier website has shown strong backing for the nuclear fusion plant.


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