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Known as D1202, the site's fuel fabrication plant was the first "active" facility to commence operation at Dounreay in January 1957. Tomorrow, work will start to clean out and decommission the plant.
The plant manufactured some 10,000 fuel elements using a series of precision mechanical processes to turn billets of uranium metal and aluminium into fuel elements of the highest quality. The elements were used to fuel research reactors in Britain and abroad that tested how different materials perform when exposed to radiation. They also produced isotopes for industrial and medical uses.
Site director Norman Harrison said: "The workforce of D1202 can be very proud of the quality of their workmanship over the years and the contribution they have made to scientific, industrial and medical research, not just in the UK but around the world.
'Their international reputation for quality and professionalism is one we aim to mirror in how we go about decommissioning the site.'
John Gibson, manager of D1202, said: 'I know there is sadness among the staff about the end of fuel fabrication and the loss of skills they have built up over the years. But equally there is optimism about the future in decommissioning and the opportunity to re-establish their reputation as world-leaders.'
D1202 opened in January 1957 to manufacture fuel for the Dounreay Materials Test Reactor and its sister reactors at the UKAEA site at Harwell, Oxfordshire. This design of research reactor was exported to other countries, and the fuel for them was also manufactured in D1202.
The uranium billets used to manufacture fuel at Dounreay came from the adjoining uranium recovery plant. Further work is planned to recover other uranium held at the site and return it to reactor operators as billets.
Decommissioning of D1202 is expected to take until 2008 to complete at an estimated cost of £3 million.
The Dounreay Site Restoration Plan was published by UKAEA in October 2000 and describes approximately 1500 projects required to decommission and restore the environment of the site at a cost in the region of £4 billion.
UKAEA is spending £140-150 million a year to decommission Dounreay, of which approximately £100 million a year is let in contracts. Decommissioning Dounreay is worth an estimated £80 million a year to the economy of the Highlands in general and Caithness and north Sutherland in particular.