Highland campaign group 'deeply sceptical' over Dounreay nuclear fusion bid
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A Highland campaign group has voiced scepticism over the idea of Caithness hosting the world's first nuclear fusion power station – and called for the hundreds of millions of pounds that would be spent on research and design to be diverted to renewables instead.
Highlands Against Nuclear Transport (HANT) claims nuclear fusion experiments have "never succeeded in producing any electricity” and that there is no safe way to dispose of the radioactive waste that would be generated.
Dounreay is one of two sites in Scotland preparing applications to construct a multi-billion-pound prototype reactor offering a virtually limitless source of clean electricity by copying the processes that power the sun.
It would be known as STEP, the Spherical Tokamak for Energy Production. The UK is seeking to be the first country in the world to commercialise fusion energy technology, with £222 million allocated to begin the STEP design work.
The prospect of a nuclear fusion power plant in Caithness has been welcomed enthusiastically by local councillors as well as business and trade union groups.
However, HANT considers nuclear fusion to be a "pie-in-the-sky proposal".
The group's chairman, Tor Justad, said: “Nuclear fusion proposals and experiments have been going on for 70 years and they have never succeeded in producing any electricity at all.
“HANT is deeply sceptical about the use of £222 million being offered for a research and design stage. We do not believe this is a useful way of spending money which could be better spent on renewable development and attracting more renewables to Caithness, creating jobs sooner and at less cost than nuclear fusion.
“Nuclear fusion does produce nuclear waste, which is often not made clear in any proposals, so it would add to the mounting 5.3 million tonnes of waste already existing in the UK. And we have no safe way of disposing of that waste."
Strathpeffer-based Mr Justad, a co-opted public member of Dounreay Stakeholder Group (DSG), added: “Just as significantly it also produces weapons-grade plutonium-239 which can be used in nuclear weapons, so it could add to proliferation of nuclear weapons.
“And it has no natural fuel supply, which is tritium, and is more demanding to build and operate than conventional nuclear power stations.
“It’s basically often described as the energy source of the future – and always will be. In other words, it has never succeeded in producing any electricity.”
The STEP application is being taken forward by Caithness and North Sutherland Regeneration Partnership and is due to be considered by Highland councillors tomorrow.
The DSG chairman, Highland councillor Struan Mackie, has said there is "overwhelming support" for the concept. He says that the community already has a unique relationship with the nuclear industry and that a compelling case can be made for Dounreay to host the pioneering development.
Trudy Morris, chief executive of Caithness Chamber of Commerce, has also welcomed the idea, saying it would represent "a major investment in the region's economy".
The county's eight Highland councillors have collectively given their backing, describing it as a natural successor to the existing Dounreay site that would create spin-off benefits for "a whole new generation".
Thurso and Wick Trades Union Council has similarly offered support. The group's chairman, Davie Alexander, said recently: “We’ve got a good pool of skills both in Dounreay and across the supply chain that can support projects like this.
“I’d be very surprised if the community didn’t get behind this because it’s the type of thing that we are looking for."
In an online poll hosted on the John O'Groat Journal website, 89 per cent of respondents said they were behind the nuclear fusion development, while 11 per cent said they would not welcome it.