The Dounreay nuclear plant in northern Scotland will witness the end of an era tomorrow when the majority of UKAEA staff shift to the private sector.

Since 1955, the experimental fast reactor and reprocessing site has been managed within the public sector UKAEA.

The UK government’s current privatisation drive resulted in the formation of the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) in 2005, which runs competition processes for nuclear site management and introduces new layers of management.

From tomorrow, the majority of the over 1000 UKAEA staff will be employed by site license company Dounreay Site Restoration Ltd. (DSRL), a subsidiary of the new UKAEA Ltd.

UKAEA Ltd will consist of 29 staff located at the nearby Forss business park, 9 UKAEA Ltd staff at Dounreay, and 24 UKAEA staff who remain in the public sector.

The senior management of DSRL will consist of staff seconded from UKAEA Ltd and business partners AMEC and CH2M Hill.

Once DSRL has been established, the NDA will invite competitive bids for its ownership. What actual changes this makes to day-to-day running of the site reamins to be seen.

In the 1990s, heavy use of contractors at Dounreay was encouraged by the UK government. But the upshot was a very critical safety audit by regulators in 1998, which called for UKAEA to take back control of site work. Progress in responding to that audit was made and formed an ongoing process.

The current changes aim to form a more consistent approach with the majority of staff being employed by DSRL, unlike the previous 1990s set-up where many different contractors appeared to be operating independently.

The staff changeover comes at a time when the site has reported progress in all three areas where funds from the NDA are targeted at major hazard reduction.

At the Dounreay Fast Reactor, the first trial batches of hazardous liquid metal from the primary circuit have been destroyed during the active commissioning phase of a chemical treatment plant. Subject to regulatory consent to begin full operation, it is expected to take two years to complete the destruction of the sodium-potassium.

At the Prototype Fast Reactor, all 1500t of hazardous liquid sodium has now been drained from the reactor circuits.

In the Fuel Cycle Area, an intermediate-level waste cementation plant has been repaired following an accident. Test runs have started in preparation to resume full production of cemented drums. A second plant is planned to accelerate the reduction of this major hazard.

The site has also submitted a plant to the NDA to bring forward the date pencilled in for completion of decommissioning from 2032 to 2025.

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