Independent from 06.06.1998

Era ends as Dounreay closes

By Charles Arthur and Colin Brown

A NUCLEAR era finally came to an end yesterday. The Govermnent announced that Dounreay, the first station to generate electricity from nuclear power, will carry out no more active work and will be decommissioned.

The announcement sparked intense political infighting both between and within the parties, with Labour MPs from coalfield constituencies planning to argue for more pits to be reviewed as an alternative energy source.

But for the 1,400 workers at the plant, and the people in nearby Thurso who depend on it, the impact is minimal. lt will take until 2095 to dismantle the plant safely, and doing that will provide employment for hundreds of people for decades.

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The dome fo Dounreay's Fast Reactor

Yesterday's announcement by Donald Dewar, Secretary of State for Scodand, was hailed as a victory by anti-nuclear groups and seen by Labour MPs as a desperate attempt to staunch the haemorrhage of support to the Scottish National Party, which has led a vocal campaign for Dounreay's closure.

Alex Sahnond, leader of the SNP which is threatening to avertake Labour in the elections for the Scottish Parliament, poured scom on the Government's U-turns over the site, which the ministers recently described as being one of the safest in the world. John Redwood, Tory spokesman on trade and industry, criticised the Govemment's stand as a "shambles".

Ministers denied the timing was connected with the disclosure earlier this week that up to 170kg of weapons-grade uranium - enough to make 12 atomicbombs-was unaccunted for from the 1960s.

Instead John McKeown, direct of the UK Atomie Energy Authority, insisted that he, recommended the clos in March.

But Labour backbenchers saw it as an attem to halt the rise of the SNP. "People are saying it's the only y to stop us sinking further against the SNP," said one Labour MP.

Anti-nuclear campaigners said the decision vindicated their years of campaigning against the safety of the plant, located on the north coast of Scotland. But Downing Street said the decision was based on economic grounds. Mr Dewar emphasised that the announcement will not affeet jobs in the area for at least a generation.
Even after the reprocessing of fuäl is complete, in the next few years, the decommissioning of all the buildings on site some of which are highly radioactive internally - will take another 100 years.
The Dounreay project was started in 1953, aiming to develop British expertise making commercial nuclear reactors. It relied on a technology called the "fast-breeder reactor", wich generated its own fuel.

But problems were found with   cooling system, which relied  on liquid sodium, and the expent meant the fast-breeder reactor was never economic.
The Tory government announced the end of the fastbreeder programme in 1988. The reactor was shut down in 1993. Reprocessing carried on until 1996 when the last commercial shipment arrived from Australia. That reprocessing ,will be completed in 2006.

Lorraine Mann, of the presure   group Scotland Against b;uclear Dumping, said: "The decommissioning will be a long and  hazardous exercise. The truth about what was done there  must come out. There have been all sorts of stories including ones that lead was nailed to walls of some buildings to stop radioactivity getting out."

Bearbeitet am:24.06.1998 /ad

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