Nuclear energy sector
The nuclear energy sector has been important to the local economy since the early 60's when Dounreay, in neighbouring Caithness, began producing energy. Its presence has undoubtedly slowed population decline and provided a wider range of local job opportunities in north Sutherland as well as in Caithness.
The UK Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA) is the agency responsible for managing the Dounreay site and employs around half of the workers based there. Since 1994 UKAEA switched from production to decommissioning, and fusion research.
UKAEA has produced a Dounreay Site Restoration Plan (DSRP) after consulting with the community and local and national agencies. Decommissioning and restoration will take some 50 to 60 years, with most of the work in the first 25 years.
This work will be worth a total of around £4bn to the local economy over the total DSRP lifetime.
Decommissioning will create a range of business and employment opportunities locally and a task force has been set up by HIE to maximise the benefits of the process.
UKAEA directly recruited around 150 staff during 2001/02 and a similar amount are likely to have been recruited by consultants and sub-contractors.
Short and medium term opportunities are likely to continue at the site and particularly in:
- Environmental management and restoration;
- Health and safety;
- Civil engineering; and
- Other industries associated with decommissioning.
Labour and skills shortages have been identified as the main threat to the DSRP being delivered, so there are good opportunities for employment of skilled tradesmen for this major project.