The SNP in Caithness has long had a difficult relationship with the Dounreay complex, a series of sites run by various companies and government departments catering for different developments but all with nuclear technology at their heart. Whilst the party is firmly anti-nuclear, and many individual members share this view, there has never been any escaping the fact that Dounreay was the largest employer in the county and job security and career advancement whilst staying in your local area could override concerns either emotional or moral. Always seen as unique in Scotland anyway, Caithneseian members trod a fine line between wanting the removal of the facility and respecting the security it provided.
Then came the news of its shutdown and the reality that the following economic impact would have on the county dawned. The shut down was of course welcomed but not the loss of jobs, people and knowledge that would ensue. It didn’t take long however to realise that generally such issues would be a long way off as it became clear that it would take a further 30-40 years after the closure before work would actually dry up as the site was made safe. Work began to remove the decades of stored nuclear waste that had so long been buried beneath and a national outcry arose as people objected to this hazardous material being flown over them with pleas for this to stop and continue to store it rather than risk an accident or attack, whilst up here we welcomed the fact it would no longer be a danger to us.
The removal often provided a comedic spectacle locally. I have written about it before but when suddenly there were armed police at the end of the road, police vehicle upon police vehicle travelling in convoy up the A9 before congregating in a local carpark, the advance notice of a series of obscure unclassified road closures around the airport and the sight of the waste itself being transported the 20 odd miles to Wick in a series of armoured vehicles with sirens and lights flashing, everybody knew what was happening. And then the plane would arrive. Heard long before you could see it, it came in past the house cutting off the TV and so low that you could swear you could see in the windows before departing later the same day. The first visit sparked yet another mystery- why, if it was heading to America, was it heading south before the truth emerged of the smokescreen created around the flight. It was quite emotive watching the energy of the past flying over the energy of the future as it passed the newly opened SSE Beatrice Windfarm.
Recently we have been at the forefront of the news again when word broke over the proposal to site a new fusion reactor plant to replace the decommissioned ones. Modern day clean energy, the term fusion is often mixed up with the nuclear fission which led to a funny encounter that a visiting MSP had with a broadly spoken Wicker who couldn’t understand why she kept talking about the fishin’! The generalised local viewpoint is that it should be sited here mainly for the employment aspect but there is more acceptance because it is not traditional nuclear energy. The first of its kind in the world, competition is fierce to be the winning bid for the lcoation and to have it here when Dounreay was the first of its kind would just show how much technology has moved on. Many though are against it whether from just not understanding the different terms, being against any form of experimental energy or because Dounreay is forever tainted with its nuclear past and will forever be the nuclear plant.
Whatever the outcome, the decision will not be Scotland’s. A reserved matter, the decision is in the hands of the Tories and proves once again why we should have control over our own decisions. For the far north to have a spaceport, a prototype clean energy reactor and the hundreds of wind turbines providing power to the whole of the country may be some payback for the injustice that Westminster presides over, expecting us to pay the highest tariffs in the country for the energy that is literally made in plain sight and could, at long last, end this inequality.