Hopes of saving hundreds of jobs in Caithness have been boosted by news of Rolls-Royce’s new Small Modular Reactor (SMR) contract.
The Royal Navy’s HMS Vulcan site currently houses a shore test facility, Pressurised Water Reactor 2 (PWR2), but the site is due to be decommissioned, alongside Dounreay, by 2033.
The Dounreay site would employ just a handful of people at that point, leaving uncertainty over the 1,200 employees there – including more than 200 at Vulcan.
But last week’s news that Rolls-Royce had won the UK Government contract for up to 15 SMRs across licensed sites could bring more work to the Vulcan site, according to Peter Faccenda of the Caithness and North Sutherland Regeneration Partnership.
Mr Faccenda, the group’s programme manager, told yesterday’s Highland Council economy and infrastructure meeting that the loss of Dounreay was a massive challenge, due to the loss of 2,000 highly-paid jobs and an £80m hit to the local economy.
The prospects for Vulcan’s workforce would be radically brighter if the Royal Navy decided to deploy PWR3 – the next generation of nuclear submarine test reactor – at the Caithness site.
A local councillor also suggested Rolls-Royce could take advantage of the highly-skilled workers at Vulcan, even if the Navy do not put their reactor there.
Struan Mackie said: “Rolls-Royce winning the SMR competition gives an opportunity for the Vulcan workforce to service that programme, even if PWR3 doesn’t come here.
“They are trained on very similar technology, and could leave Caithness if we don’t produce something that allows them to stay.”
The Royal Navy did not comment directly on the suggestions but did confirm regular dialogue.
An MoD spokesman said: “Through correspondence and attendance at local meetings, we continue to maintain a regular dialogue with the Dounreay Stakeholder Group and have actively sought their suggestions for the future of the Vulcan site.
“Development of the options for the site are ongoing; we are undertaking the costing appraisal aspect to help inform and mature options.”