Assault on Scottish nuclear policy

10 February 2009

A war of words has erupted in the UK as national politicians speak out against the anti-nuclear policies of the devolved administration in Scotland.


UK energy minister Mike O'Brien spoke of the benefits of nuclear power at two Scottish locations today: Torness nuclear power station and the Powering Scotland conference in Glasgow. O'Brien told the union-organised conference: "Nuclear power has been a vital and low-carbon part of the UK's energy mix for the past five decades... Each power station brings up to 9000 jobs, including off-site corporate jobs, and jobs in the engineering and construction supply chains... This nuclear investment, and these thousands of jobs, so valuable in the current economic climate, will go to England, Wales and Northern Ireland."


  "Should Scotland
  really be turning
  up its nose at
  high-skilled, well
  paid jobs?"

   Mike O'Brien,
   UK energy minister
O'Brien was joined onstage by Bill Coley, CEO of British Energy, which has its headquarters in Scotland and owns the two nuclear power plants in the nation, Torness and Hunterston B.


Governing arrangements in the UK mean that matters of national importance are debated and decided in London for the country as a whole, while certain powers are devolved to regional parliaments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Planning authority is among these and the ruling Scottish National Party (SNP) has vowed never to grant planning permission to a new nuclear power plant.


SNP leader Alex Salmond contends that a combination of wind power with carbon capture and storage will more than replace the 35% of electricity that currently comes from Hunterston B and Torness when they close in 2016 and 2023 respectively.


O'Brien rounded on Salmond: "The Scottish Executive's position means Scotland won't benefit from the jobs or the billions of pounds of investment that each nuclear power station brings to an area... Should Scotland really be turning up its nose at high-skilled, well paid jobs? I want to stand up for jobs in the nuclear industry for Scotland, even if Alex Salmond is failing to do that."


Also today, a letter in The Scotsman newspaper by John Robertson, chair of the all party parliamentary group on nuclear energy and MP for Glasgow North West, asserts that "the SNP's dogma on nuclear is seriously jeopardising Scotland's future." Robertson went on to call for energy planning powers to be taken back from the Scottish administration to be decided at the UK level.


Another Scottish commentator was Lord O'Neill, chair of the UK Nuclear Industry Association, who today said the most recent opinion polls carried out on behalf of the NIA showed "an increasing number of Scottish people believe that the road to greater energy security in Scotland includes an increase in nuclear power."


The debate looks set to continue: the UK's minsiter for Scotland, Jim Murphy is due to speak at the PIME 2009 conference for communicators in the nuclear industry on 16 February in Edinburgh. Murphy is expected to strongly support nuclear power and criticise Salmond's policies.


The nuclear debate in Scotland surged late last year on a report from the Scottish Council for Development and Industry which said nuclear energy should be considered for use in the long-term, ie. after Salmond's party loses power. Last week the Swedish government abandoned a position which made new nuclear developments impossible. It is now calling for existing reactors to be replaced at the ends of their lives.