Dounreay’s clean-up and closure contractor today sets out how it will leave in place a cultural legacy of Britain’s 20th century experiment with fast breeder nuclear reactors when the site itself has been flattened.
An 80-page heritage strategy identifies various aspects that can be kept for future generations.
Some of the buildings, including the sphere, still contain major nuclear and chemical hazards and will be retained in the short term. But the strategy rules out their preservation once the hazards have been removed and the buildings have no useful purpose.
The strategy, which took two years to develop, is a new approach for nuclear sites in the UK. It is the first time a strategy has been developed to preserve for posterity aspects of an entire site.
“There is much to celebrate and to study – from its inception to the decommissioned site – in the fields of history, science and social geography,” says Malcolm Cooper, chief inspector of Historic Scotland, in a foreword.
“It seems entirely fitting to us that the spirit of innovation that underpinned the development of the reactors at Dounreay remains at the site, both in terms of the current decommissioning programme and in particular in terms of developing new approaches to deciding how best to celebrate and commemorate such a key site.”
Large parts of the site, including the sphere, are contaminated with radioactivity and the site itself is likely to remain out of bounds to the public for almost 300 years after it has been decommissioned.
Dounreay Site Restoration Ltd, the contractor closing down the site on behalf of the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, consulted the public while drawing up the strategy.
A total of 38 individuals and organisations submitted views on how to ensure future generations can interpret the scientific, economic and industrial significance of Dounreay.
DSRL will work with an advisory panel drawn from Historic Scotland, the Royal Commission on the Ancient & Historical Monuments of Scotland, National Museums Scotland and Caithness Horizons, a registered museum in Thurso, to identify and preserve aspects of the site.
These include uncontaminated items of technology, historical records and photographs, and recorded interviews with workers past and present to capture their memories.
Other ideas that will be explored with heritage organisations include an international conference on nuclear heritage, a national exhibition dedicated to Dounreay, an academic study of the site’s significance and a lasting memorial where the site once stood.
“It’s important we decommission this site in a way that preserves its historical significance for future generations,” said DSRL managing director Simon Middlemas.
“There are artefacts and records here of immense technical and cultural value and we will work with the community and heritage experts to look after these for the future.
“These include the detailed records of the all the 300-plus properties still at the site as well as more than 160 that have been demolished already, including some that date from the wartime aerodrome and before.
“Many of the remaining properties, including the sphere, continue to perforrm important roles in the containment of nuclear hazards until we can complete their decommissioning. But many are rotten with radioactivity and, despite extensive soul-searching and consultation, we’ve not been able to identify any practical proposal for their retention.
“This strategy will allow us to get on and keep those things worthy of preservation and clear away the rest."
DSRL expects to take until 2032 to complete the clean-out and demolition of the remaining facilities.
The sphere is likely to be one of the last facilities to be removed, with its deconstruction expected to take 9-12 months to complete. DSRL will look at ways to recycle as much of the 1600 tonnes of steel as possible, with the remainder sent for disposal as low-level radioactive waste.