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New life for Dounreay?: Council backs move to bring prototype fusion plant to Caithness

Dounreay, which is currently being decommissioned,  could become home to a pioneering new plant creating clean power after it was included in 15 sites for further invesigation. Picture Sandy McCook.
Dounreay, which is currently being decommissioned, could become home to a pioneering new plant creating clean power after it was included in 15 sites for further invesigation. Picture Sandy McCook.

Highland Council has backed a bid for a prototype fusion power plant to be sited in Caithness which could create hundreds of jobs for the area and provide “transformational” opportunities.

The UK Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA) is holding a competition to host the Spherical Tokamak for Energy Production (STEP) programme which aims to demonstrate the commercial viability of fusion in producing clean energy.

The programme is backed by £222 million funding from the UK Government to produce a concept design by 2024.

Bids have to be made by March 31 and councillors have agreed to support the Caithness and North Sutherland Partnership, which wants the project sited at the Dounreay nuclear complex.

It is currently being decommissioned but success would bring new life to the site and an influx of jobs just as the current project is winding down.

A report to the council by Malcolm Macleod, executive chief officer for infrastructure and development, said the project will have a significant operational life, with an estimate of hundreds of jobs in the latter stages of planning and design, thousands in construction and a few hundred in operations.

He said: “The opportunity fits with the timing of the anticipated reduction of jobs from the decommissioning of Dounreay.”

Mr Macleod said fusion technology would be one of the world’s cleanest and lowest carbon forms of energy.

The project could be a major boost to the north economy and could lead to significant supply chain, innovation and educational opportunities for generations to come.

And councillor Struan Mackie said the opportunity to inject hundreds of millions of pounds into the area and create hundreds of highly skilled jobs could be “truly transformational”.

“We have the skills, we have the experience, we have a world leading supply chain and we also have a generation of young people desperate to stay in the far North.”

Council leader Margaret Davidson said: “We are seeing here opportunity which can bring with it hope.

“It can really change the whole tenor of Caithness as it looks to the future.”

But Councillor Kirsteen Currie said there were unknowns regarding the environment and safety.

“It’s important that we bring economic prosperity and investigate every opportunity to do so.

“But at this moment there are too many questions and unknowns for me to support devoting council time and resources to this experiment.”

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