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Caithness News Bulletins October 2003

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Highland Councillors have voted to oppose “in totality” plans to dismantle the Royal Navy’s laid-up nuclear powered submarines at Nigg, East Ross, and store the nuclear reactor compartments at the Vulcan Naval Reactor Test Establishment site at Dounreay, Caithness.

They did so after hearing that the process was flawed because standard Cabinet Office guidelines on public consultation had been ignored as there was no consultation document to refer to.

They also expressed their concern that the MoD was relying too heavily on the private sector to find a solution to the management of the radioactive wastes from the redundant  submarines instead of providing clear guidance on the specification for the process of breaking up the hulks and storing the reactors and the criteria for preferred locations.

Councillor Bill Fulton, the Council’s spokesman on waste management, said the Council should send a clear message to the MoD that it was totally opposed to the dismantling and storage of redundant nuclear submarines within the Council’s area.  The council also confirmed its total opposition to the importation and storage of nuclear waste within the Highlands.

He was seconded by Councillor Richard Durham, Chairman of the Council’s Land and Environment Select Committee, who recently attended the first of two weekend stakeholder forums at Lancaster University to discuss and identify the conditions under which proposals for the management of radioactive wastes from nuclear submarines might be publicly acceptable.

Caithness Councillors Bill Mowat and Graeme Smith moved an amendment that the Council complete the consultation process before reaching a policy stance at its meeting on 18 December.

Councillor Fulton’s motion won by 34 votes to 12.

Councillor Durham, who will attend a second stakeholders’ forum at the end of November,  said the unanimous finding of the first meeting was that the MoD had not followed the proper process of consultation and that the process needed to be halted and re-run in accordance with the Cabinet Office guidelines.

He added: “It is considered that the private sector are by default being allowed to drive policy creation and that the MoD have passed responsibility for policy creation to contractors, with the corollary that safety considerations may not always be paramount in decision making.”

The Forum members have asked for changes in the composition of the ‘Expert Board’ which will give evidence and be questioned at the next Stakeholder weekend at the end of November.   Lancaster University have been asked to chair the session, an independent specialist technical adviser is to be brought into the meeting, the MoD are to be requested to produce a senior policy adviser, and representatives from the Scottish Executive are to be invited.  

These changes, he said, would considerably supplement the presence of the MoD project manager and the four private contractors, and enable the Forum group to better interrogate the current procedures and specific proposals.

The Council will discuss the matter further at its next meeting on 18 December, prior to  lodging formal observations by the deadline of 24 December.


Highland Councillors have strongly hinted that they will oppose a proposal to use the Nigg oil fabrication yard to dismantle some of the Royal Navy’s laid-up nuclear-powered submarines and store the reactor compartments at the Vulcan Naval Reactor Test Establishment site at Dounreay. However, they are to await the outcome of forthcoming consultation meetings before confirming their response.  The consultations will involve community briefings in East Ross and Caithness as well as a national forum being staged at Lancaster University.

Members of the Planning Development Europe and Tourism Committee were advised today (Wednesday) that a consortium called DML proposed to use Devonport Dockyard, Plymouth, as the principal site for decommissioning with a back-up facility at Nigg.  DML are one of five nuclear industry companies bidding for the Ministry of Defence contract to decommission the nation’s redundant nuclear submarines and store the reactor compartments.

They noted that DML had got off to a bad start in the consultation process by failing to name the Vulcan site as the preferred site for storage in their submission which was published on Monday of last week.  The location had been confirmed by Government Minister for Defence Procurement, Lord Bach, in response to a question from Caithness Sutherland and East Ross MP, John Thurso.

Convener Councillor Alison Magee said: “The MOD has promised to be open and transparent and to consult fully on the five separate proposals for decommissioning the nuclear submarines.  We must take part in this process to glean as much relevant information as possible and then reach a considered position. We now have two sites of potential operation and both must be fully involved in the process.”

The Convener said she would want to know if the Vulcan site was earmarked solely for the reactor compartments removed from the submarines dismantled at Nigg or for  all the country’s reactor compartments.

The local councillor for Nigg, Richard Durham, agreed with the cautious “wait and see” response. “We all have our opinions on this kind of decommissioning, but we really must give the matter the most thorough examination.”

In a report to the Committee, Mike Greaves, Head of Economy and Regeneration, reminded members that the well established policy of the Council was to oppose the importation of nuclear waste into Highland.

The Council would seek from DML further clarification of their proposals and the  economic, safety and environmental implications. They would also contact Lancaster University, who have been charged with the facilitation of the consultation exercise by the Ministry of Defence, to discuss the format of the public meetings to be held in Highland; the form of representation to be involved in the national Stakeholder Forum; and the need for Scottish representation on the project steering Committee.

He advised members that the indeterminate employment benefits arising from the decommissioning at Nigg did not appear to stand comparison at this stage with the likely negative economic impacts.

He said: “The perceptions of many local people, not to say visitors such as passengers on the 30 or so cruise ships calling into the Cromarty Firth each year and potential inward investors will not be advanced by the commencement of such basic nuclear decommissioning activity at Nigg.  It would likely send conflicting signals to the core strategy which the Council has been following in recent years which aims to capitalise on the exceptional environmental qualities of the Highlands.”