and discovered that local feeling is strong — and mixed. Above: Dounreay
Arriving in the quietly busy town of Thurso on the morning the UK Atomic Energy Authority‘s plans for a large nuclear fuel reprocessing plant in the area went before a local planning inquiry, it wasn‘t difficult to find people who supported them.
All but a few shops had A4-size green posters in the windows, with ‘Support Dounreay‘ in the middle and one of 30-odd names — Caithness Chamber ofCommerce, Local Dentists, Women‘s Institute — handwritten in black marker on top.
The people I spoke to seemed to agree. ‘l‘vc got two small boys. and if they don‘t build the new plant. I don‘t know what will happen to them. Dounreay is their future,‘ said the woman who owned the off-licence. ‘We need it. Dounreay has brought prosperity to this town,‘ said the butcher. ‘I work at Dounreay. and ifl thought it was unsafe. I wouldn‘t bring my children up here.‘ said an engineer at the plant.
Their views must make an encouraging background to the inquiry for the UKAEA and their co-applicants British Nuclear Fuels Limted, who plan to build the plant just eight miles away at the Dounreay nuclear power development complex, Thurso‘s neighbour for the past 30 years. But no effort is going to be spared in putting their case. The UKAEA gathered the media together in the Royal Hotel on Thurso‘s main street to put the industry‘s point ofview and introduced us to the information managers who would help to put it across in the inquiry and in the press. Already clutching neat information
4'li‘helfist 18 April— I May
packages. we were invited to make use of the services set up to keep the inquiry team ticking. Just across the car park from Thurso Town Hall. where the inquiry is being held. a press team. complete with computerised data base — all published information speedily retrievable. was happy to assist. The inquiry was going to cost them ‘seven figures‘.
Meanwhile. the objectors were just upstairs. The Campaign Against Dounreay Expansion. an umbrella for environmental and other groups. most of them from Orkney and Shetland. have set up an exhibition in the hotel ‘Nuclear Power— The Dangerous Legacy.‘ The owner of the Royal. an active supporter of the new plant rents them the space for £200 a week. CADE raise money through jumble sales, dances and donations. ‘Last week a worrian in England sent us £50ll.‘ said CADE secretary Francis McKie. ‘We stagger from one windfall to another.’ You can‘t pay for lawyers and expert witnesses on that kind of cash flow.
Inside the Town Hall. CADE are joined at the objectors‘ table by representatives and lawyers of the Orkney. Shetland and Western Isles Councils. Opposite and behind them sit the applicants. their supporters.
their witnesses and stacks of files and
paper. ‘Do you think we could have a bit more space‘?‘ asked Brian Gill. lawyer for the islands‘ councils.
Up on the stage. the Chief Reporter for Scotland. Mr Alexander Bell dealt briskly. and the inquiry began — first up a witness from the Department of Energy to
nouunm’s NUCLEAR r
‘clarify Government policy.‘ Dry stuff. The hall was full. but few people had come in just to watch. Policemen around the Town Hall and a few people talking to microphones or gazing into cameras aside. Thurso seemed to be having a pretty ordinary day. ‘No. l won‘t be going to the inquiry.‘ said one man. ‘lt‘s no more exciting than when royalty come here.‘
The AEA and BNFL want to build a £200 million European Demonstration Fast Reactor Fuel Reprocessing Plant. EDRP for short. on 20 acres next to the present nuclear complex at Dounreay.
EDRP would reprocess 60—80 tonnes ofspent fast reactor nuclear fuel a year. extracting uranium and plutonium for re-use in fast reactor power stations which five European countries have agreed to cooperate in building. Ifapprovcd. the plant would begin operating in the mid—1990s.
‘we should decide’
The AEA says fast reactors are the cheap efficient future ofnuclear power. They make vastly more effective use ofnuclear fuel by supplementing uranium. the basic fuel in the present thermal reactors. with plutonium. This depends however on recovering plutonium from spent fuel for re-use. hence the need for a reprocessing plant to service them.
The first fast reactor in the programme will probably be built in France or Germany. Siling EDRP at Dounreay is a bid for the remaining stage in the cycle.
as It 18 now reprocessing.
Thurso people bristle a bit at objection to this ‘from outside.‘ 'What are the Orcadians complaining about? We don’t
complain about their oil. and halfthe
people at Dounreay are from
Orkney anyway.’ says the owner ofa .
high street newsagent. ‘We‘re the
ones affected by it.‘ says the butcher. ,
‘We should decide.‘ The recent phone-in on television. which had 71 percent ofScotland against EDRP and 29 per cent for. ‘was completely inaccurate.‘ ‘We tried to get through. and so did our friends. and we couldn‘t.‘
But. the plant will have a direct effect on other areas of Scotland. The spent nuclear fuel will be shipped to a UK port in 9(l-tonne steel flasks. and will travel to Dounreay by rail. Uranium will leave the site by road or rail in 200- litrc drums. and the plutonium will be flown out from Dounreay‘s airfield. The AEA say they have techniques and safety checks to do this without risk.
The Highland Regional Council. who support EDRP. nevertheless expressed concern about ‘the chance of a mishap. where ﬂasks are unloaded in a busy port and depend on a rail link which crosses a public road. goes through the built-up area ofa town and thereafter travels a relatively long journey north over a remote railway line. subject often to a fairly severe weather regime.‘ Transport for nuclear material could yet prove to be the anti lobby‘s strongest card (see Priority issue. page 1). Scrabster close to Dounreay. and lnvergordon, Alness
l l I