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Caithness.org News Bulletins -  November 2002

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The decommissioning of the Dounreay nuclear plant is to be highlighted to Orkney companies as a multi billion pound business opportunity.  Orkney Enterprise is keen to ensure that businesses in the islands are fully aware of the huge potential for them to benefit from the decommissioning process.  Some 4.3 billion will be spent in Caithness during the 50-year project and, with a nation-wide shortage of skills in some sectors, companies on the other side of the Pentland Firth could be ideally placed to offer expertise.

Ken Grant, chief executive of the Kirkwall-based development agency, said: "We believe the decommissioning process could bring a wealth of opportunities for businesses in Orkney.  "We want to make sure that companies across the county are aware of the full potential and just how they might profit from the work that will be generated at Dounreay.  "Many businesses are finding that there is no shortage of work within Orkney itself at the moment but it could well be to their advantage to look at the longer term opportunities that will become available on the other side of the Firth."

Director of strategic projects and head of the of the Decommissioning Task Force at Caithness and Sutherland Enterprise (CASE) is Neil Money. He is to be invited to Orkney to highlight ways business in the islands could get involved. The move follows the first joint meeting between the boards of Orkney Enterprise and CASE.

Mr Money said: "Many businesses might assume that the decommissioning process will require knowledge of nuclear technology and of how to deal with radioactive materials.  "However, what will actually be required are civil engineering and construction industry skills, because a number of extremely large buildings are going to be needed at the Dounreay site."  The first of these will eventually provide storage for conditioned waste from the plant.

Mr Money continued: "It is vital that companies in the Highlands and Islands realise that there is going to be a huge demand for building and engineering skills at Dounreay. If not, this work will not simply go to businesses in the Central Belt or England, it could well be taken up by firms from France or Germany."

Orkney Enterprise chairman Brian Kynoch said the recent visit to the CASE area had been a valuable fact finding exercise.  It had provided directors and senior officials from the agency with the chance to see how high-tech companies had been encouraged to base their operations in the far north of Scotland, Mr Kynoch said.

They visited the AGM Batteries plant in Thurso, where more than 100 skilled staff are involved in producing lithium-ion power cells for use in specialist markets.

AGM is a collaboration between two Japanese businesses and AEA Technology, a multi national that developed close links with Caithness when it was involved at the Dounreay plant.  Mr Kynoch said: "It was really interesting to see how a high-tech business can operate successfully in a remote area far from traditional industrial centres.  "AGM demonstrates that higher transport costs are not a major factor when you are producing a high-value product. It encouraged us to think that similar businesses could be attracted to set up in Orkney as well."

During the visit, the two boards also discussed a range of issues of mutual concern. The CASE board will now be invited to make a return trip to Orkney next year.  Mr Grant added that the chance to exchange ideas and expertise had included the opportunity to examine the success of a CASE initiative called Recruit Sutherland.

"This is a way to help small businesses overcome the difficulties involved in taking on an often vital extra member of staff," he explained. "It is something we will now examine to see if it could work in Orkney as well."