UK’s “nuclear obsession” undermining Scotland’s green economy

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by a Newsnet reporter

Amid news that the ground-breaking Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) scheme planned for Longannet power station may not go ahead due to lack of UK government funding, the SNP has strongly criticised the UK government’s ‘obsession’ with nuclear energy.

UK Energy Secretary Chris Huhne is expected to use the publication of a report on the Fukishima nuclear incident to boost the UK’s investment in nuclear power.

The report, carried out by Dr Mike Weightman HM Chief Inspector of Nuclear Installations, was commissioned after the nuclear meltdown and explosions at the Japanese power plant.  The immediate cause of the meltdown was a catastrophic failure of the plant’s coolant system in the wake of the massive earthquake and tsunami which struck Japan on March 11 this year.

In initial findings published in May, Dr Weightman ruled out the need for the UK to curtail the operation of nuclear power stations in light of the situation in Japan.  Dr Weightman said that the chances of a similar earthquake and tsunami in the UK were “not credible”.

However environmentalists believe the inquiry was rushed through and fear that ministers are backing off from a commitment to green issues.  Greenpeace has said that the UK government had not even waited for the final report before signalling the go-ahead for a new generation of nuclear power plants this summer.

Greenpeace has applied for a judicial review over the Government’s decision to approve new nuclear reactors.  Spokesperson for the campaign group, Louise Hutchins said: “The rushed timetable set for this final report looks like a dangerous attempt by the Government to cut corners and silence voices of concern.

“That’s why we are taking the Government to court – to make them wait for the evidence, properly consult and to think again about new nuclear power.”

Increased UK government investment in nuclear energy means that other projects will suffer.  The UK Dept of Energy had promised to commit £1 bn to a revolutionary project which would have seen carbon emissions from the Longannet power station in Fife buried under the North Sea.  The project would have made Scotland the world leader in carbon capture technology and contributed substantially to the Scottish government’s ambitious carbon reduction targets.  

This ambition is not shared by the Conservative party.  At the Conservative party conference earlier this week, Chancellor George Osborne said that he wanted the UK to cut its carbon emissions “no slower but also no faster than our fellow countries in Europe”.

Scottish Power, Shell and the National Grid announced this week that they would be unable to proceed with the Longannet project unless more government funds were made available.  Although both sides insist that talks are on-going, it is believed that the UK government will shortly announce that the project has been cancelled. 

A Conservative MP with experience in the energy sector told the Guardian newspaper earlier this week that he expected the Longannet deal to collapse within weeks.  The MP blamed the previous Labour government, whom he said had delayed awarding the contract until there was only one bidder remaining, putting the government in an impossible negotiating position.  

Mike Weir MP, SNP Westminster Energy Spokesman, said that the present UK government’s nuclear obsession was undermining Scotland’s moves towards a green economy.

Mr Weir said: “Chris Huhne has moved from opposing nuclear power in opposition to championing it in government, pursuing every opportunity to push for new nuclear power stations.

“Most other nations are re-evaluating nuclear and energy companies are pulling back. SSE have pulled out of the Sellafield project and RWE are reportedly considering pulling out of nuclear altogether, yet Chris Huhne seems determined to push ahead with unwanted new nuclear.

“Worse still this nuclear obsession is undermining moves towards a greener economy.  At the same time as promoting nuclear it looks as if he will pull the rug from under the Longannet CCS project.  This is insanity on a grand scale and exposes the hollowness of the coalition’s claim to be ‘the greenest government ever’.

“This demonstrates the urgent need for Scotland to get the full powers of independence to allow us to build the new green economy and renewable energy, rather than be locked into a backward looking nuclear cul de sac pursued by the UK government.”

The Fukushima meltdown caused over 100,000 people to be evacuated from their homes. Many thousands still have no idea when they will be allowed to return.

Yesterday the Japanese government began health checks on 360,000 children affected by the radioactive fallout produced by Fukushima amid worries that radiation from the crippled nuclear plant had exposed them to the risk of thyroid abnormalities. The children will require medical checks throughout their lifetimes.

It has also been revealed that a sewage treatment facility in Saitama, more than 150 miles southwest of Fukushima, has reported alarmingly high levels of radioactive caesium in sewage. Normally the treated sewage is sold on to fertiliser and cement companies, however the radioactive sewage has no takers and must be stored on site. None of the staff at the sewage plant have experience or training in dealing with radioactive waste.