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A  conference  in  Inverness  today  heard  how the growth of new skills in nuclear  decommissioning  at  Dounreay can become an important asset in the sustainable development of the Highland economy
Many  of  the  skills  being developed in and around Dounreay in support of Britain's  most complex nuclear site restoration project to date will be in growing demand as more former nuclear facilities are decommissioned, giving the Highland economy a leading edge, according to the site's director.

Mr Peter Welsh, who is also a board member of the Sector Skills Development Agency,  was  addressing  the  Highland  forum  of  Sector  Skills Alliance Scotland.  He  outlined  how  discussions  are  taking  place to enable the demand for decommissioning  skills  in  the  UK  to  become  part  of a strategy for a proposed   sector  skills  council  currently  representing  the  polymers, petrochemicals  and  offshore  industries  under  the banner of Cogent. The industries  all  operate in highly-regulated environments, and share common features in safety engineering, safety case writing, processes, maintenance and contracting approaches.

The  emergence  of employer-led strategies co-ordinated by a skills council was  an opportunity for the sector to work in partnership to deliver Modern Apprenticeships,  vocational  qualifications,  improvements  in soft skills among  school-leavers  and  attract  a  greater  proportion of graduates to careers in engineering and technology services.

"Dounreay is at the forefront of an emerging nuclear decommissioning sector currently  valued at some 48 billion in the UK alone, and as it expands so will the demand for these skills", said Mr Welsh.

"From  UKAEA's  perspective,  we  want to be the leader in this field. As a highly  skilled  operator  utilising  highly skilled contractors, we are in pole  position  to  secure  the  opportunity for the UK sector to exploit a global decommissioning market worth hundreds of billions of pounds.  "But  we  will  only be able to exploit the opportunities to the full if we develop  the  skills  we  need. The development of an integrated network of sector  skills councils can provide a powerful voice in areas of policy and strategy,  and  it is an opportunity for those industries in this sector to meet  head  on the skills challenges that it faces in the years ahead if it is  achieve  its  full  growth potential. The prime position of Dounreay in this  sector,  and  the  skills  base  we  are  developing, is also a major opportunity for the sustainable development of the Highlands."

The Dounreay Site Restoration Plan involves some 1500 activities required to decommission the site over the next 50-60 years at a cost in the region of 4 billion. Published in October 2000, it can be viewed at www.ukaea.org.uk

UKAEA is currently spending 140-150 million a year on decommissioning Dounreay. This is worth approximately 75 million a year to the economy of the Highlands alone.