By Diain | local guides | February 22, 2012

When the time came for the UK Atomic Energy Authority to build an experimental nuclear reactor, they had a number of options as far as location was concerned. As it turned out, the site of a WWII airfield called HMS Tern (II) was the best fit. This airstrip was the furthest from London on mainland UK in an area called Dounreay. The airstrip had been in care and maintenance for six years before construction began on the first reactor, Dounreay Materials Test Reactor (DMTR). This was soon followed by the more famous Dounreay Fast Reactor (DFR, the iconic dome). DMTR was shut down in 1969 and DFR was taken off-line in 1977 but not before it was replaced by the more modern Prototype Fast Reactor (PFR) in 1975. PFR was finally shut down in 1994 after the UK government decided not to pursue further R&D in fast reactor technology.

Built directly next door to the UKAEA site was HMS Vulcan (since renamed to Vulcan Navel Reactor Test Establishment) where the MoD built the Dounreay Submarine Prototype (DSMP) to test the first Rolls-Royce designed submarine Nuclear Steam Raising Plant (NSRP), when testing finished on this reactor, the nuclear material was replaced with electrical heaters and the plant acted as a Loss of Coolant Accident (LOCA) test rig. When Rolls-Royce designed PWR2 (The second submarine NSRP) the Shore Test Facility was built housing this.

So we have a reasonably large site, with 5 prototype reactors (4 shut down, one still operating). This was a fantastic thing for the local community at first. A massive influx of educated people and skilled labour into the area meant the schools performed very well, there was very well paid work to keep the locals employed and the place was booming. Now both sites are winding down their operations, there will soon be a distinct lack of employment in the area. This isn’t a massive problem for the skilled workers on the sites as they could find employment elsewhere. But what if they don’t want to leave the area, and what about all the shops and services kept afloat by the spending of the Dounreay workers?

Well the site lisence company is doing it’s bit, trying to ensure that when the site is finally shut down there will be plenty of small businesses in the area to offer employment to the community. Sensibly, they believe that this won’t be by replacing Dounreay with a site of similar size which would just delay the problem to when this second site shuts. The solution is to help the creation of many smaller business so the community is protected if one or two fail. I hope it works.

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