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Restoring the environment of Dounreay is set to become a gateway for young people in the Highlands and Islands to a career in one of Britain's newest and biggest businesses - the decommissioning of nuclear sites.

A wide range of engineering, scientific and administrative skills is needed to decommission Dounreay and other sites in the UK and abroad after they have reached the end of their operational lifetimes.

According to site director Peter Welsh, Dounreay is uniquely placed for school-leavers in the north of Scotland who want to enter such careers in their own community.

"The site restoration plan published by the UK Atomic Energy Authority has put Dounreay at the forefront of decommissioning, not only in this country but worldwide as well, and can be the gateway to a career in engineering, science and administration in an industry valued in tens of billions of pounds in the UK alone," he said.

"To young people in the Highlands and Islands thinking about leaving school, I would advise them not to view Dounreay as a facility in terminal decline but a plant that is at the cutting edge of an industry that can only grow as more nuclear facilities in this country and overseas reach the end of their natural lives."

Mr Welsh was addressing almost 50 students from fourth, fifth and sixth years of secondary schools in Caithness and north Sutherland who are visiting Dounreay this week to learn more about career opportunities at the site.

He added: "For young people interested in engineering, science or administration, the decommissioning of nuclear sites is in many ways potentially just as exciting a career opportunity as the advent of nuclear power and fast reactors was for young people in the Highlands and Islands in the 1950s.

"UKAEA was one of the first organisations anywhere in the world to focus on the management of large-scale decommissioning projects. We are doing this through partnerships with a wide range of local, national and multi-national companies, enabling them to build up experience and  expertise at Dounreay that will be in demand increasingly elsewhere in the UK and worldwide. The marketplace for these skills is enormous and that is why Dounreay can be the gateway to the world not only to the companies but the young people these companies will need to recruit in order to thrive in this new business.

"In the UK, these opportunities are poised to develop further when a single public-sector organisation, the Liabilities Management Authority, takes over the responsibility for all UKAEA and BNFL sites, and provides strategic co-ordination of decommissioning opportunities across the UK."

About Dounreay
Dounreay was the UK centre for fast reactor research and development from 1955 until 1994. It is now being decommissioned, which is expected to take 50-60 years to complete and cost in the region of 4 billion. The Dounreay Site Restoration Plan can be viewed at www.ukaea.org.uk

Since 1998, the UKAEA workforce at Dounreay has risen from 817 to 1158. Of the new recruits, 52 were graduates, of whom 13 came from Caithness and Sutherland. During 2002/03, UKAEA intends recruiting an additional 100 staff. In addition to UKAEA personnel at Dounreay, there are approximately 1000 contractors on site at any one time.

Annual expenditure by UKAEA at Dounreay has risen from less than 100m in 1998 to approximately 140/150 million, of which approximately 80 million is spent on contracts. The direct benefit to the economy of Caithness and Sutherland is estimated to be 61 million per annum.