The Scottish National Party is resolutely opposed to the establishment of new nuclear power stations in Scotland. We do not believe that we need them and that they pose unacceptable risks to the environment.
Scotland has been blessed twice over in the energy stakes – we have North Sea oil which would have made us an energy independent state in the 20th century and we have huge potential for renewables which can make us an energy independent and green country in the present century. We still have a substantial reservoir of oil and there is still time for that to be put to use to provide for Scotland’s future, but only if we can get an independent government that does not repeat the actions of previous governments in wasting this natural resource. We only have to look across the North Sea to see what could have been done. Norway’s oil fund will ensure that it enjoys the benefit of the income from its oil wealth for generations to come.
The arguments in favour of nuclear power swirl around the concepts of energy security and diminishing oil and gas reserves. In Scotland we produce six times more gas than we use. The SNP has published our own energy review which shows clearly how we could provide all the energy we need without nuclear power, through wind, wave, tidal, geo thermal, carbon capture coal technology and even solar power.
A dash for new nuclear stations will mean unacceptable risks to the environment and the people of Scotland. In October, we saw a slump in the value of British Energy when it was revealed that there was a crack in the core of Hunterston B. That was only the latest in a long line of problems with nuclear power.
Those who argue for new nuclear stations have failed to answer the one fundamental question. What is to be done with the waste? There is already a substantial amount of waste in the UK and the bill for disposing of it by the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority has risen from an initial estimate of £40 billion to at least £70 billion and may be as high as £90 billion.
It is not even clear how much waste there is to be disposed of since records from the past can be very sketchy. Consider the case of the now decommissioned station at Dounreay where waste was simply thrown into a shaft for decades. No one now knows what is in it; dealing with it will cost a fortune. The government set up the Committee for Radioactive Waste Management (Corwm) to come up with a solution to the problem but even it has said that it will be decades before there is a depository even if the government follow their recommendation for deep geological disposal. The idea that communities will volunteer to have a dump seems laughable, and does not address the problems of future waste and whether a community can bind successors for generations since much of this stuff will take thousands of years to decay to the extent that it becomes harmless.
The argument that nuclear stations are low carbon is questionable, especially given the process of obtaining uranium. Even if that is so, however, it does not address the fact that we are merely substituting one environmental problem with another (waste).
Ultimately there is also a question of morality. We are busy threatening other nations who are attempting to get nuclear power since we do not trust them to deal with it. What authority do we have to do that when we ourselves are considering a mass extension of nuclear power?
Scotland neither needs nor wants new nuclear power stations.
Mike Weir is the SNP’s energy spokesman and MP for Angus.