Is there a role for nuclear power in a sustainable future Scotland?

Video from the Edinburgh RIC assembly held online on 25th November 2020

The following points were made in the discussion.

DR, who is a cancer survivor had received radioactive medical treatment, asked where the material needed for medical applications would come from.

A said that he lived near Hunterston. The nuclear power station there provided good quality jobs. CND Ayrshire had argued that decommissioning a nuclear power station could provide jobs for many years. Also, the skills of nuclear power workers would be valuable in other arenas.

P said we have been lulled into a false sense of security, with the SNP government saying that nuclear power doesn’t have a future. However, quite a few people have been coming up with argument that nuclear power may be needed to cut back on our carbon footprint. This includes the influential George Monbiot.

The Rolls Royce mini-reactors are based on nuclear submarine technology. There would be vast sums of money involved in building new nuclear generators. You could get a lot more with your money if it was spent on sustainable energy,

said that he had been involved in the Scottish Greens’ energy policy. The main criticism of wave, wind and solar power is the intermittent nature of the energy supply, therefore either fossil or nuclear power is needed to supplement this. When Germany closed down its nuclear power stations there was a big increase in the use of fossil fuels.

Lynn replied that nuclear power cannot be easily turned on and off. It is usually wind turbines that are turned off to cut down on energy supply.

Torness has had to have unscheduled shutdowns due to seaweed and shellfish.

Germany was more dependent on nuclear power than Scotland.

Caroline Lucas has addressed the issue of the fickleness of wave, wind and solar energy.

On the jobs issue, R noted that Scotland is ahead of many other countries in nuclear power station jobs could be created in this sector. A lot has been learned over the initially very bad handling of Dounreay’s decommissioning.

Lynn noted that nuclear plant for medical applications produced lower level, non-weapons grade radioactive material, although there is still a problem with handling the waste.

R said that decommissioning typically takes two decades. Sellafield may take 100 years. There is no profit to be made from decommissioning. So, this remains a major public safety issue.

On the intermittent nature of power supply, nuclear power stations had been shut down this summer in France, because of the high summer temperatures. Radiation gets released whenever there are shutdowns,

W said that he had worked on the building of Torness as an electrician for SSB and Scottish Power. When it was being opened the workers were invited to the public information office and told since they were presumed to be supportive, they weren’t going to be given the propaganda for the wider public.

Every country that had nuclear weapons has a civilian nuclear power industry. The US government clearly sees the link, in its attempt, to prevent `Iran developing nuclear energy.

The high costs are obvious, when the French state nuclear power company has indicated it is withdrawing from the planned Hinckley Point power station.

J said that she lived across the Forth in Fife.  There had been radioactive poisoning in Dalgetty Bay since the 1970s. The source of this was apparently the luminous paint used on aircraft dials during the Second World War. The fact that even this relatively small source provided a danger was worrying, when considering larger radioactivity producing projects.

A asked what proportion of Scotland’s power was supplied by hydro-electricity. Pumped storage schemes, such as Cruachan, seem to be able to get round the problem of satisfying peak demand.

Lynn replied that hydro-electricity power is expensive to provide and there is a lot of construction work involved, with a damaging effect on the environment.

L said that the planned nuclear power station, Sizewell C, is located next to a major bird reserve. Locals are torn between the revenue the bird reserves provide for the local tourist industry, and the high quality jobs that a nuclear power station can provide.

However, there is also a great potential for the use of geothermal (gt) nergy, which is not an intermittent source of energy. Tesco has reduced its heating costs by up to 40% where it has used gt energy,

W said that the present government is not even throwing its weight behind nuclear power,

DR argued that CND and Friends of the Earth have been  arguing for the issuing of iodine tablets to greater numbers. In Scotland they are only given to people within 4km of a nuclear power station. In France it is 20km.

R said that the handing out of iodine pills to large numbers of people in Switzerland has made people more aware of the dangers involved in nuclear power stations.

S argued that we have to place far more emphasis on reducing energy consumption. This is also necessary to tackle climate change.

Lynn replied that it is now possible to build housing without any need for heating . New building regulations are required. However, this is linked to the issue of affordable housing.

P said that the latest thinking on building design no longer concentrated just on insulation to keep the heat in, but also on the need for ventilation. Good for Climate and Covid.

The Scottish government is considering changing building regulations in 5 years time. Local authorities could be doing that now.

DS said that the issue was political will, directed by whichever pressure group is the strongest. At the moment the energy companies are the strongest pressure group. They demand houses with 4 bedrooms, and 2 cars-in-the-garage, built on agricultural land.

The existing building stock is important. 80% will still be here in 2015. Reducing winter cold would cut the annual excess winter deaths.

Much of the work providing better insulated and ventilated houses is labour intensive. Income taxes would flow back into the Scottish economy. 

We need communal planning.

pointed out that any new mini-nuclear reactors would also need decommissioned. They still haven’t successfully decommissioned the two old nuclear submarines in Fife, upon which the mini-nuclear power station technology is based. There would be hundreds of these reactors across Scotland.

DS said that there isn’t the necessary scientific or inspection skills in Scotland to go ahead with a whole generation of mini-reactors. Noted that civilian use of nuclear energy subsidies the weapons programme.  

It would be far better to spend the money on reducing energy use. At present 30% of people in Scotland are enduring fuel poverty.

Lynn  thanked everybody for contribution to a good discussion.

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