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Dounreay's iconic dome is too dangerous to preserve

The iconic sphere at the Dounreay nuclear reactor site will be removed by 2032 as part of plans to “flatten” the site, the site management company confirmed this week.

Dounreay Site Restoration Limited’s (DSRL) plans to tear down the 41m diameter sphere in the face of significant lobbying from heritage organisations were revealed in NCE last year (12 November 2009).

The plans have now been made public in an 80-page “heritage strategy” that identifies various aspects that can be kept for future generations.

Dounreay Site Restoration Limited’s (DSRL) managing director Simon Middlemas explained the sphere has to be demolished.

“Many of the remaining properties, including the sphere, continue to perform important roles in the containment of nuclear hazards until we can complete their decommissioning.

“But many are rotten with radioactivity and, despite extensive soul-searching and consultation, we’ve not been able to identify any practical proposal for their retention,” he said.

“Despite extensive soul searhing, we’ve not been able to identify any practical proposal for their retention”

Simon Middlemas

The sphere was built to contain the original Dounreay Fast Breeder Reactor, which operated between 1959 and 1977.

It will be among the last of the buildings to be decommissioned on the site, due to particular difficulties in removing NaK coolant (NCE 4 February).

Final demolition is expected to take nine to 12 months.

Heritage groups were keen for the sphere to be retained or even used as a visitor centre, but the report, compiled by Atkins Heritage, DSRL and Historic Scotland concluded that it could not been cleaned up.

“Metal shells will never be 100% clear of radioactive contamination as engrained in metal surfaces, thus a hazard remains,” says the report.

Parts of the site will be retained for a proposed museum, however, including the reactor’s bakelite control room.

A £150M spending cap imposed on Dounreay will mean the final decommissioning will not be complete until as late as 2039, 14 years later than anticipated, and the site will remain ‘out of bounds’ for a further 300 years due to low-level decontamination.

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