Visit the Dounreay Nuclear Power Station, which was the world’s first reactor to provide power for public use, between Scrabster and Armadale. You can’t miss seeing it if you pass that way.
The Dounreay site was opened in 1955 to develop fast reactors. Three reactors were built on the site, the Dounreay Fast Reactor (DFR), Prototype Fast Reactor (PFR) and the Dounreay Materials Test Reactor (DMTR). All three are now closed.
The remains of the 16th century Dounreay Castle, once home to the Mackay Lords of Reay, lies within the nuclear plant. A small farming settlement lies 1¼ miles (2 km) to the southeast at Upper Dounreay.
Dounreay Nuclear Power Development Establishment’ was established in 1955 primarily to pursue the UK Government policy of developing fast breeder reactor (FBR) technology. The site was operated by the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA) or Dounreay Nuclear Power Development Establishment and the Ministry of Defence Vulcan Naval Reactor Test Establishment, and the site is best known for its five nuclear reactors, three owned and operated by the UKAEA and two by the Ministry of Defence. Three nuclear reactors were built there by the UKAEA, two of them FBRs plus a thermal research reactor used to test materials for the program, and also fabrication and reprocessing facilities for the materials test rigs and for fuel for the FBRs.
The core programme of work on the site now comprises the decommissioning of the PFR and DFR and the reprocessing of the PFR fuel. The site is 135 acres and approximately 1,200 people work at Dounreay. The nuclear power establishment was built on the site of a World War II airfield, called HMS Tern (II).
Delivering the safe clean-up and demolition of the UK’s former centre of fast reactor research on behalf of the Nuclear Decomissioning Authority; within a few years, much of the experimental nuclear site at Dounreay will disappear from the landscape.
Many of the facilities that have dominated the skyline of Scotland’s north coast for the past 50 years will be razed to the ground. Decommissioning of the Dounreay nuclear power plant in Caithness is creating a cluster of high-tech engineering firms in Thurso and Wick.
It is expected to result in a Scotland national heritage strategy that will leave in place a legacy for future generations to interpret Dounreay’s significance in the industrial history of the last century.
It’s the first time in the UK that a heritage strategy has been developed for an entire nuclear site. The WW II control tower has been converted to the visitor centre for Dounreay Nuclear Power station. Control tower has now been demolished under the Nuclear Power Station decommissioning programme.
The land acquired by the Ministry of Works for the UK Atomic Energy Authority in the mid-1950s included a disused air traffic control tower overlooking the proposed nuclear site. The building had been used during the war when Dounreay was a Royal Navy aerodrome providing air protection to the fleet at Scapa Flow.
During the early construction of Dounreay, the control tower served as the construction site office. Once the site was complete, a small part of the building was retained to serve the landing strip and the rest of the building converted to a visitor centre. The air traffic control function ceased in the late 1980s with the closure of the landing strip.
Following talks, it was agreed that UKAEA would support the council to redevelop the town hall as a new visitor attraction and community facility, to be known as Caithness Horizons, which would include an area to tell the story of Dounreay. Dounreay decided to keep open its decaying visitor centre beside the site until the new facility in Thurso was ready.
“One of the recommendations was ‘an open and transparent decision on the future of the fast reactor sphere’. Discussions with Historic Scotland around the same time lead us to believe we needed a heritage strategy for the site as a whole. The heritage of the site is a lot broader and deeper than simply one building and it’s important we debate and explore all aspects as part of this exercise.”
All the redundant buildings at Dounreay are due to be demolished by 2025, with more than 100 structures flattened already.
The only buildings needed after 2025 will be those required to look after an estimated 15,000m3 of intermediate-level radioactive waste from decommissioning and to exclude the public from tracts of land where radioactive contamination will be left undisturbed.
In its operational heyday, Dounreay was symbolic of the white heat of technology, the cutting edge of British expertise and renowned worldwide as being a leader in its field. Exhibitions like this help to remind people of the Dounreay phenomenon and assure Dounreay of its place in history.
Take a virtual tour of Dounreay nuclear fusion reactor technology
Complete Current information available at: Dounreay Site Restoration Limited (DSRL)
Dounreay Nuclear Power Plant
Dounreay By Reay, Thurso northern Caithness, Dounreay