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Counting the rising costs of Scotland’s nuclear testing facility

Alan Laird, 12 May 23

HOW magnanimous of Andrew Bowie, Westminster’s Nuclear Minister, not to “impose nuclear power on Scotland” (The National, May 4), although he’s a bit late with that assurance. But never mind democracy, let’s look at the cost.

Dounreay was commissioned as a test facility in 1955 on our north coast – in other words, “let’s put it waaaay up there in case something goes wrong”.

The initial research reactor “went critical” – a not very reassuring term for “started working” – in 1958.

The Dounreay Fast Reactor started up in 1959 and shut down in 1977 after 15 years of operation. Its maximum output of 14MW was negligible.

A Fast-Breeder Reactor, now an abandoned technology, began supplying 250MW from 1975 till 1995, enough for about 48,000 homes. Its cooling was by liquid sodium – 1500 tons of the stuff – which explodes instantly in contact with air. Cool.

Then there is the military site, HMS Vulcan, for development and testing the reactors of nuclear-powered submarines. From 1963 to 2015, five generations of small reactors have been tested here, routinely run at greater than operational stress to find out any faults before installation in the subs. How reassuring. As with MoD sites on the Clyde, full disclosure of breaches of health and safety are not disclosed. The site is due for decommissioning next year. Estimates of the costs are not available.

In 1998, following safety and pollution concerns, Norway, Sweden and the Irish Republic demanded the immediate closure of the site. PM Tony Blair was advised it would take £1 billion and 100 years to complete the work. By 2006, 25 years and £2.7bn was the estimate, then in 2007 it was 17 years and £2.6bn. In 2019 contracts worth £400m were awarded to continue the clean-up, with a new estimate of £4.3bn and 60 years. I guess no-one actually knows.

The site also took in foreign spent nuclear fuel for reprocessing. Unsurprisingly, many foreign customers refused to take their nuclear waste back. It’s mostly still there, along with Dounreay’s own.

The expected date of the return of the site to brownfield use is 2330. Yes, that’s more than 300 years from now. Uncountable billions of pounds and nearly 400 years of an unusable bit of Scotland is an astounding price to pay for powering 48,000 homes.

The arguments for nuclear power put forward by the industry and their UK Government lackeys are contradictory, disingenuous and downright dishonest.

Dounreay’s installation is a mere toy compared to Hunterston (both reactors now decommissioned) and Torness (the nuclear regulator thinks it should close by 2024). First estimates for decommissioning these sites is £132 billion and 120 years. I wonder when that estimate will be revised upward?

Just as a footnote, all of the UK’s uranium has to be imported. Much of it from Russia. The real reason the UK Government wants to continue with this outrageous waste of money is for the steady supply of enriched uranium for making atomic bombs. That’s worth it to them at any cost.


May 14, 2023 - Posted by | business and costs, UK

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