'Cape Canaveral' for Caithness

DOUNREAY on the north coast of Scotland could become Britain's first space centre. Managers at the nuclear plant are negotiating with European aeronautics companies to establish 'a mini-Cape Canaveral in Caithness', and work on the multi-million pound scheme could begin next year, writes John Arlidge.

Nick Parsons, a spokesman for AEA Technology, the Government agency which runs the fast-breeder reactor complex, said that proximity to the North Pole, where many communications satellites orbit, made Dounreay 'an ideal rocket-launching location'. A feasibility study is due to begin next month.

'We are very excited even though it is early days,' Mr Parsons said. 'As well as being near to the North Pole, there is nothing but water and ice between us here on the shores of the Pentland Firth and the Pole, so there would be no problem launching rockets with 'fall away' stages.' He added: 'We think we could provide a base for the European Space Agency . . . but we will only go ahead if we can make money.'

Dounreay is to close next March with the loss of 250 jobs. Supporters of the plan say it would boost the local economy and confirm Scotland's position as a centre for high- technology industry.

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