by Hazel Lewry
In recent months much has been said and written about the Scotland Bill, AKA Calman-lite. It gives little but presumes to take much. There are two aspects to this subversive legislation that should truly create cause for alarm. One is the presumption of ‘UK Law’ and the other is the ‘resumption’ of planning permission.
Two fists in one glove. Planning permission opens a plethora of issues that appear not to have been fully considered when the original devolution agreement was settled upon more than a decade ago, however it was settled. The first and most obvious being refusal of the new Scottish government to accede to requests for new nuclear power stations.
The press and media came out for and against, the nation was mildly or not so mildly divided and yet another formal policy was born in Scotland. Nuclear free – SNP. Only time will tell if it will be maintained, though it is certain that Scotland herself does not need new nuclear power plants.
One thing was obvious in the reaction to this, the mandarins in Whitehall had now realized their error on the planning permission issue and would rectify it at the first opportunity. Ditto the Megrahi affair and Scots Law, irrespective of guarantees written into the 1707 treaty.
For almost every aspect of a Scotland Bill power claw-back there is a corresponding incident post devolution. Each claw-back is overtly designed to teach us Scots to ‘know our place’. The saddest aspect of the whole claw-back affair is that many of these amendments are being proposed by Scottish politicians who seemingly don’t prioritize the needs of Scotland over the interests of their parties.
The planing permission aspect is important, vitally so in fact, and it’s all about nuclear. However it’s also all about smoke and mirrors.
What seems to have been forgotten, or is deliberately being overlooked, is not where to put the new reactors, assuming they funds can be raise to build them. The sites have already been decided with the possible exception of two in Wales which may now have a question mark hanging over them, with the Welsh Assembly largely following the Scots nuclear stance.
The proposed new reactor sites are
• Bradwell in Essex
• Sellafield in Cumbria
• Heysham in Lancashire
• Hinkley Point in Somerset
• Oldbury in Gloucestershire
• Sizewell in Suffolk
• Wylfa in North Wales
Only two of these are completely new sites. None are in Scotland. So why the worry about new nuclear plants in Scotland, we’re obviously not scheduled to be getting any.
The planning permission grab apparently isn’t about putting new nuclear generation facilities in Scotland, although Westminster would probably much prefer to keep us focused on that aspect.
Logically why would any nation spend £4.8 bn per facility – according to EON’s Wolf Bernotat in a report to the UK Government – for perhaps three new facilities of the most advanced design in the world, only then to risk the ties to the nation where the plants have been built dissolve and fade like the last spring snow. Especially when that stated price is before cost overruns and inflation.
With dissolution of the Union being a foremost planning concern in aspects relating to Scotland, at least on a what-if basis for decisions made in London, why ‘give’ us these reactors just to be forced to pay for the electricity produced in ten or twenty years time? Better by far to build new reactors in England where they will always serve English needs. This stance fully explains the proposed sites above.
But what about the waste?
Where to put all that mid and high level radioactive waste that’s built up over the last half century and more?
The plans at UK level appear on hold until Westminster gets planning permission back from Holyrood. This is possibly because in 2007 the UK government committee on radioactive waste management recommended the use of a deep geological repository policy. Scotland is the ideal location for these sites. Then the SNP were elected in 2007 on a no nuclear platform.
No planning permission is now available in Scotland for these repositories. New nuclear plants are now under a government policy hold until a long term storage solution is determined.
With the theft of planning permission by London from Edinburgh, Westminster has the power to achieve a permanent solution to its longest term, and possibly most pressing, environmental problem. It can also release the Scottish policy hold against building new nuclear plants.
Once planning permission is ‘resumed’ by Westminster, then if the troublesome Scots eventually go their own way, they get to keep the UK’s biggest environmental problem, vast quantities of radioactive waste. And if the Scots don’t, well the problem is still safely far out of the way of London.
For the South East of England it’s a rather elegant solution to a very complex problem indeed. Scotland’s majestic beauty becomes England’s forgotten midden.
At a minimum Scotland requires guarantees from England that no nuclear waste sites or generating facilities will be opened in Scotland without the permission of the Scottish people. Either we’ll get these undertakings and the planning permission demand will fade, or we won’t and it won’t. But one thing is for sure, Westminster’s designs on Scotland have a half-life as long as plutonium, and are potentially as devastating.