Douglas Chapman, Scottish National Party MP for Dunfermline and West Fife. IF ever a UK Government white paper highlighted the Union divide, it’s the recent energy proposals launched this past week. At first glance, the new energy white paper seems an eminently sensible and vital step forward in our responsibility to the environment and our planet’s future – a massive overhaul of our energy systems to ensure low to zero-carbon power sources are the main focus as we aim to meet our climate targets by 2030 and 2050, or 2045 in the case of Scotland. Increasing renewable energy capacity from a variety of environmentally friendly sources and a transition from fossil fuels, switching to greener boilers and energy efficiency upgrades in our homes and buildings, increasing electric vehicle infrastructure, hydrogen production, carbon capture and storage – the list reads like a veritable green wish list in many ways. However, with this current incarnation in government, there is always a “but”. It’s Johnson’s emphasis on the centrality of nuclear power as a source of greener power, alongside offshore and onshore wind and solar that is a marked difference between Westminster and Holyrood. Alongside its publication, the UK Government announced that they are in discussions with French power giant EDF to build a new £20 billion nuclear power plant at Sizewell, in Suffolk. They also plan to support the development of small modular reactors which are factory-built rather than involving heavy construction, as well as research and development into more advanced nuclear technologies. Hey presto, lots of new green jobs and lots of net-zero options. What’s not to like? I understand the argument that we need to look at all renewable and low-carbon sources of energy as we wave goodbye to fossil fuels and face our climate responsibility head-on. But the Scottish Government and the Scottish electorate are on a very different page when it comes to anything nuclear related. We already carry a heavy burden as the home of the UK’s domestic nuclear defence base, with getting rid of Trident from Scottish soil one of the main cornerstones of SNP policy once we have achieved independence. Nuclear power is regarded as of far less value to the consumer than other renewables, with eye-watering sums pledged by Johnson to support the plant at Sizewell, which will come from the public purse. It’s also by far the slowest route for renewables in terms of results, so not the best option when we’re faced with a climate emergency of terrifying and urgent proportions. And there’s the thorny issue of toxic waste and decommissioning, with Dounreay, near Thurso, a no-go site for the next 313 years – yes, three hundred and thirteen years – according to the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, not to mention reactors at Hunterston being shut down due to cracks appearing in the graphite core. Interestingly, it’s not just the Scots who are concerned with nuclear power. At the UK wide Citizens’ Assembly on Climate Change that took place this year, members were far less supportive of nuclear options as part of a green energy mix, with 46% strongly disagreeing that nuclear should be part of net-zero planning. People living close to the power stations and new sites also have their reservations as well as environmentalists who fear of damage to local nature ecosystems. But Scotland is unique in this dysfunctional family of nations as we have a plethora of renewable options other than nuclear. Are we willing to accept the possibility of small modular reactors (SMR) popping up on our land even if its spun as an opportunity to create new work and boost manufacture to Scotland by Tory nuclear enthusiasts? Johnson et al have already sunk a lot of money into this SMR development and obviously eye this as a big money-making future market with pretty decent returns for investors and shareholders – ie, not citizens. Does any of this sound even a wee bit familiar? And will we have any say in Johnson’s nuclear development plans given that energy is a reserved matter? Holyrood is in charge of grant of consent and planning permission but the law-breaking Internal Market Bill being forced through Westminster by the Tories will drive a coach and horses through our democratic devolved powers as Johnson takes back control of the constituent nations of the UK as well as from Europe. THIS is where the danger lies for Scotland. The emasculation of our devolved parliament will have many negative knock-on effects for a nation that has prided itself on diverging from nuclear into far cleaner and safer carbon-free energy. We have an embarrassment of riches when it comes to natural resources; as a country that has hit the jackpot twice in this regard, once with oil, now with wind and water, we’re as aware of our responsibility to the natural world as we are to less-than-scrupulous opportunists rubbing their hands at the thought of all the money they can make from it. Once bitten, twice shy.
The National 20th Dec 2020 read more »