On paper at least, Scotland is more anti nuclear than against it - but it will be a reality here for at least the next decade.
Hunterston B in Ayrshire – a nuclear power plant which started producing electricity in 1976 – despite being due to shut down last year it is still going strong. So strong in fact that the lifetime has been extended not just once, but twice.
EDF has confirmed it plans to now run the plant until 2023 – Hunterston A incidentally shut down in 1990.
Nuclear has been described as a “clean” fuel and its supporters see it as part of the move towards a low carbon economy, even though uranium is still a fossil fuel
The Scottish Government’s position on nuclear power – backed up by a parliament vote in 2008 – is a strict no on new nuclear, but there is room for manoeuvre. From a UK perspective the position is slightly different, Lib Dem Energy Secretary Ed Davey has not ruled out new nuclear, but has made it clear there should be no public subsidy – the plants can only go ahead if the company behind it are willing to front all the costs themselves.
But the possibility of nuclear power until at least 2023 – the other Scottish plant at Torness in East Lothian is also due to switch off then – is still a major cause of concern for many environmentalists.
Green MSP Patrick Harvie said: “Scotland doesn’t need to sweat its nuclear assets to keep the lights on. This extension shows how light touch regulation is failing us and the Scottish Government shouldn’t just wave it through.” and WWF Scotland director Richard Dixon said: “This 40-year old nuclear station will be creating yet more radioactive waste which could be easily avoided through growth in renewables and greater energy efficiency. We simply don’t need nuclear power to keep the lights on.”
Speaking to Holyrood’s Annual Review this year, Energy Minister Fergus Ewing said: “If the case can be made for safe extension of our two existing nuclear power stations, provided a safety case is
made, then we would not object to the extension of the lives of our two nuclear power stations.”
But Labour’s Shadow Energy Minister in Westminster Tom Greatrex said the developments showed how much the nuclear strategy north of the border was “mired in confusion”: “In a separate Scotland,” he said “without new nuclear we would become reliant on importing nuclear-generated energy from a foreign country on a commercial basis, rather than as part of a unified energy market as at present. Scotland and the rest of Britain mutually benefit from the sharing of energy resources, risks and rewards. There is no sense in changing that.”