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Preparations begin on Vulcan site clean-up

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The Vulcan site (at top of picture).
The Vulcan site (at top of picture).

The starting gun has been fired on preparations to level the Ministry of Defence base at Vulcan.

Firms are being invited to tender for the work to decontaminate and dismantle the reactor complex which played a key role in support of the UK’s nuclear submarine programme for 50 years.

The 10-year contract is intended to leave behind a "brownfield" site with the MoD giving up its lease of the ground.

Business and community leaders in Caithness are keen to flag up the opportunities for local companies and are pressing the MoD to offer a community benefit package.

The plug was pulled on Vulcan’s pressurised water reactor in 2015 and six months ago the MoD concluded it had no future need for the site.

Work is not scheduled to begin until all the fuel from the site has been removed and shipped to the Sellafield reprocessing plant in Cumbria.

Details of the clean-up contract were given by Commodore Mark Prince, head of the UK’s naval nuclear propulsion team, at Wednesday evening’s meeting of Dounreay Stakeholder Group (DSG).

He said: “We’ll be moving forward on a commercial, competitive tendering basis.

“The decommissioning of the site is due to start on 2023 and will run until the late 2020s/early 2030s with the programme of work to be fully aligned with the work going on at Dounreay.”

We’d want to ensure that opportunities for the local supply chain are maximised.

The contract was advertised in the UK Defence Journal on Tuesday and a "market engagement event" is to be held at the start of May.

Trudy Morris, chief executive of Caithness Chamber of Commerce, said it would encourage companies in the far north to be involved in the clean-up.

She said: “We’d want to ensure that opportunities for the local supply chain are maximised. We’d be keen that happens and that the specialist skills we have in the area are used and that there are opportunities for young people and apprentices.”

Ms Morris said the chamber would also want the contract to include socio-economic benefits for the area though Commodore Prince made clear that is outwith the MoD’s remit.

Tor Justad, chairman of Highland Against Nuclear Transport, feared local companies could lose out to international conglomerates like BAE Systems and Rolls-Royce.

Commodore Prince said the competition is open to companies of all sizes, provided they meet the contract requirements, including security protocols.

If it awarded a turnkey contract, he said there would be opportunities for local firms to win work on a subcontract basis.

Newly appointed DSG chairman Struan Mackie said: “We should put out a call to action to companies in the far north that have been involved in decommissioning not just Dounreay but other nuclear reactors in the UK and throughout the world.

“We have world-leading skills and want these companies to be part of this.”

After Vulcan is decommissioned, the site would be returned by the MoD to the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority.

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