The UK Ministry of Defence has invited firms to tender for work to decontaminate and dismantle the Vulcan Naval Reactor Test Establishment (NRTE) – formerly HMS Vulcan – which houses prototype nuclear propulsion plants of the type operated by the Royal Navy.

The ten-year contract is intended to leave behind a ‘brown field’ site with the MoD giving up its lease. The site is adjacent to the Dounreay nuclear power complex on the north Caithness coast in Scotland, but is operated separately.

Construction began at NRTE in 1957 with the first reactor began operation in 1965. Vulcan’s last pressurised water reactor was closed down in 2015, and in 2019, the MoD concluded it no longer needed the site. Rolls-Royce operates Vulcan on behalf of the MoD, employing some 260 staff.

Work is not scheduled to start until all the fuel from the site has been shipped to the Sellafield reprocessing plant in Cumbria. The defuelling of the test reactor is set to continue until 2022.

"Decommissioning of the site is due to start in 2023 and will run until the late 2020s/early 2030s with the programme of work to be fully aligned with the work going on at Dounreay,” Commodore Mark Prince, head of the UK’s naval nuclear propulsion team told a meeting of the Dounreay Stakeholder Group (DSG).

Trudy Morris, CEO of Caithness Chamber of Commerce, said it would encourage companies in the far north to be involved in the cleanup. “We’d want to ensure that opportunities for the local supply chain are maximised,” she said.

After Vulcan is decommissioned, the site will be returned by the MoD to the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority.