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UK Energy Minister Brian Wilson today saw for himself how the clean-up of Dounreay is bringing real benefits to the economy of the area.  Mr Wilson officially opened a liquid metal test facility developed at Janetstown near Thurso at a cost of 2.6 million.

The site belongs to a local company, JGC Engineering and Technical Services, that is playing a key role in the decommissioning of Dounreay's two fast breeder reactors. The company believes the facility has the potential to become a leading research and development test centre in support of decommissioning at Dounreay and elsewhere.

The new facility at Janetstown is currently proving the techniques that will be needed to clean liquid sodium metal from the coolant circuits of the Prototype Fast Reactor before they can be safely cut up and disposed of. Alstec, another contractor in the 15 million Alkali Metal Residue Recovery Alliance set up by the UK Atomic Energy Authority, is operating the test rig.

The decision to choose JGC's facility near Thurso for the test rig created 60 jobs locally in manufacturing and construction, and a further 20 in operations over the next four years.  During his visit, Mr Wilson learned that the international decommissioning company Framatome ANP, which is also involved in contracts to decommission the fast reactors at Dounreay, is to undertake a transfer of robotic skills to JGC.

Among those he met at Janetstown today was JGC design engineer John Campbell (27), who is about to start a secondment with Framatome ANP.  Over the next 10 years, up to 20 JGC tooling engineers, ROV pilots, supervisors and managers will learn skills from the French-based company that can be used in decommissioning at Dounreay as well as exported internationally.

It also emerged that a three-year degree scholarship in mechanical engineering has been agreed between Framatome ANP and the University of the Highlands and Islands Millennium Institute through the North Highland College. The scholarship includes not only financial support for students but also the opportunity to work on Framatome ANP decommissioning projects at Dounreay and off-site at Janetstown.

Mr Wilson heard how UKAEA's delivery of the site restoration plan is seeding other developments locally, such as plans to transform the former US Navy shore station at Forss as a science and technology park.  A dozen finance staff will relocate later this year from Dounreay to Naver House, a former UKAEA hostel in Thurso that has been redeveloped by a local entrepreneur as a hi-tech business complex.

Mr Wilson said: "The environmental restoration of Dounreay is a major opportunity to deliver real and lasting benefits to business and the community, and the developments I saw and heard about today are excellent examples of what can be achieved.  "I'm particularly pleased that Highlands and Islands Enterprise has established a decommissioning strategy task force, and that it is taking forward a number of practical initiatives. These include a partnership between UKAEA, its contractors and the public agencies to create a collective recruitment system through which all job vacancies at the site will be promoted."

Mr Bob Mathews, UKAEA's head of decommissioning at Dounreay, said: "Decommissioning the reactors at Dounreay is not just about restoring our environment - it is also about building up the skills and capacity of companies to compete in a rapidly growing market for nuclear decommissioning services. It is particularly pleasing therefore to see opportunities being created locally with the potential for sustainable development in the longer term."

JGC contracts director Tim O'Brien said: "We are delighted that the work we are doing in support of the Dounreay Site Restoration Plan has been recognised by the Minister. We were pleased to describe to him the further substantial investment in new decommissioning-related facilities we hope to attract to Janetstown, and so establish it as a centre of excellence in this field."

Caithness and Sutherland Enterprise contributed 245,000 towards the redevelopment of the industrial site at Janetstown by JGC.  Chief executive Carroll Buxton said: "The HIE Network recognise the importance of ensuring that local businesses maximise the opportunities arising from the site restoration plan and are delighted to have been able to assist JGC Engineering and Technical Services to establish the Janetstown site.  "This has not only enabled them to develop the test facility but will also offer opportunities to other businesses wishing to become involved in the decommissioning process. This work is particularly important as it involves the transfer of skills from Framatome ANP to JGC which will significantly strengthen the local skills base and offer further opportunities to market those skills elsewhere in the future."