Skills built up in Britain’s most successful nuclear decommissioning project can power Scotland’s new era in electricity from the sea, industrialists in Aberdeen heard today.
Almost 2000 workers are dismantling the experimental fast reactor site at Dounreay on the north coast of Scotland, just a few miles from the Pentland Firth where plans are taking shape for the world’s biggest underwater power station.
The engineering, scientific and technical skills being used to decommission the site will become redundant over the next decade or so as more of Dounreay is flattened.
Their release is expected to occur in the same timeframe as the development of the Pentland Firth as Scotland’s biggest power station.
Speaking before today’s event in Aberdeen, Simon Middlemas, managing director of Dounreay Site Restoration Ltd, said: “We can plan the release of these skills to match the growth of the tidal energy industry, giving us a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to develop the north Highlands as a global centre of expertise in energy for a new generation.
“Dounreay established Caithness as a global player in nuclear energy in the 20th century. Now, the skills being deployed to decommission it can go on to establish Caithness as a global player in renewable energy in the 21st century.
“As one internationally-important development comes to the end of its life, the seeds are being sown for the next.
“The skills needed to close down one – engineering, environmental science, maintenance, operations and so on – are exactly the same as those needed to build the next.
“We can allow those skills to migrate out of Scotland as we get nearer the finish of Dounreay – or we can work to keep them in the Highlands and start a new industry with the potential to make Scotland a world player again in new ways to generate electricity. It would be a tragedy if we miss this opportunity.”
DSRL is working very closely with Highlands and Islands Enterprise and other agencies involved in a regeneration partnership set up to develop new jobs to replace those lost at Dounreay.
Bad weather prevented Simon Middlemas reaching Aberdeen to deliver his presentation to members of the Energy Industries Council, which represents more than 600 suppliers to the energy sector in the UK.
His place was filled by Eann Sinclair, programme manager of the Caithness and North Sutherland Regeneration Partnership, who had been due to share the platform with Simon.
He said economic opportunities in the north will be significant over the next ten years. Work continues to diversify the area’s economy away from its reliance upon nuclear decommissioning with progress across a range of sectors, particularly the emerging wave and tidal energy industry in the Pentland Firth.
"The recent announcement of potential job losses at Dounreay is a sharp reminder of the scale of challenge our economy faces," he said.
"But opportunities in renewable energy are particularly attractive to our area, and we are now seeing global interest in wave, tidal and offshore wind energy around our coasts.
"We have established a range companies with world-class reputations for delivering innovative and cost-effective solutions in the often demanding nuclear environment.
"We have a working population in the north with significant levels of transferrable skills, and we have a reputation for low levels of staff turnover – an ideal combination as we market the area’s companies within the renewables sector.
"The regeneration partnership of the main public sector agencies is committed to delivering a programme that will deliver new employment opportunities – we project that by 2020 almost 2000 employment opportunities can be created."
Dounreay employs hundreds of engineering and scientific graduates. DSRL alone, which accounts for about half the workforce, employs 324 people trained to HND level and higher. Seventy per cent of its engineers are aged 45 and under.