Scots committee non-committal on nuclear

03 February 2009

A Scottish parliamentary committee reviewing the country's long-term infrastructure planning has stopped short of recommending the retention of nuclear power.

Scottish Parliament, Edinburgh (C)2005 SCOTTISH PARLIAMENTARY CORPORATE BODY)
The Scottish Parliament (Image: Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body)
Reports claiming that the Economy, Energy and Tourism Committee had narrowly voted in favour of nuclear power were not borne out by the committee's report on the Scottish Government's National Planning Framework 2 (NPF2), published 3 February. Nevertheless, the committee noted its support, in principle, for "the need to ensure adequate baseload/load-following plant in Scotland and that such plant should be as efficient as possible with minimal emissions of carbon dioxide and other harmful gases."

Scotland is home to two operating nuclear power plants, Hunterston B and Torness, scheduled for closure in 2016 and 2023 respectively. The devolved Scottish parliament, led by the Scottish National Party (SNP), remains formally opposed to the construction of any new nuclear power plants, preferring to rely on large-scale growth in renewables and the prospect of carbon capture and storage to supply its energy requirements while meeting its carbon emissions targets. However, concern is growing amongst some in the region that excluding nuclear from its long-term energy plans is short-sighted.

NPF2 sets out the proposed development and use of Scotland's land resource through to 2030, including a number of energy projects designated as "National Developments" which are seen as essential for the country's plans. The committee gave its full approval to only one of three National Developments in the energy sector: a series of reinforcements to the electricity grid. Regarding the other two - a new power station and transhipment hub at Hunterston and other new non-nuclear baseload capacity at existing power station sites - the committee recommended the removal of "any technology-specific references" from the document.

The committee report includes a lengthy comment on NPF2 submitted by CBI Scotland, in which the industry lobbying organisation makes a strong plea for the Scottish government not to close the door on nuclear power. "The Scottish government is right to highlight the potential of renewables, but is wrong to rule out new low-carbon nuclear energy capacity in Scotland in the future," it said. While acknowledging the position of the current Scottish government on nuclear power, the organisation also recognised the "transient nature of political administrations," and called for potential sites for new nuclear power generation to be identified and provided for within the finalised NPF2 "should a future administration wish to alter policy."

The Economy, Energy and Tourism Committee is also tasked with an inquiry to determine Scotland's energy future. The committee is currently taking oral evidence for its enquiry and expects to produce its final report later this year.