FEARS have been raised that Scotland will be forced to import fossil fuels if a new generation of nuclear generators are not deployed – further hiking already high energy bills for householders.
The concerns comes as electricity generation from the Hunterston B nuclear plant in North Ayrshire, one of only two facilities remaining in Scotland, is switched off today after almost 46 years.
Nuclear industry leaders have warned that unless the SNP Government reconsiders its opposition to the energy, Scotland will be left “reliant on burning imported fossil fuels” to meet energy demands and put net zero pledges at risk.
The Nuclear Industry Association has pointed to figures that more than 1.3 billion cubic metres of natural gas would be required to replace the electricity output of Hunterston B.
The organisation has also claimed that Hunterston has provided savings on consumer bills during the current energy crisis, which was seen costs soar for households.
Since September 2021, Hunterston has saved consumers £360 million compared to market electricity prices, worth £152 for every Scottish household. In just two weeks over Christmas, the station saved billpayers £28 million, worth £12 for every household, according to analysis by industry leaders.
It is feared that energy bills could soar by another 50 per cent in the spring as the UK faces a “national crisis” over rising wholesale oil and gas prices, while renewable generation has stalled due to the lowest Scottish wind speeds of this century.
In its latest energy strategy, published in 2017, the Scottish Government said it still held “opposition to new nuclear stations under current technologies”.
The UK Government is hoping to bring forward small modular reactors to contribute to the energy mix, with the 2017 Scottish Government strategy stating SNP ministers will “assess new technologies and low carbon energy solutions, and will continue to do so based on their safety case, value for consumers, and their contribution to Scotland’s low carbon economy and energy future”.
Under Boris Johnson’s plans, small nuclear reactors could play an important role in the UK-wide energy mix alongside large nuclear, as a flexible and cheaper way to provide low carbon power.
Since coming online in 1976, Hunterston B has produced enough zero-carbon electricity to power every home in Scotland for almost 31 years – with EDF, who run the plant, claiming the carbon avoided by the facility is the equivalent of taking every car off Scotland’s roads for 19 years.
But concerns persist over the safety of nuclear power and the environmental impact of disposing of harmful waste.
Reactor 4 at the EDF-run site will be shut down by station director Paul Forrest at midday today, 45 years, and 11 months after the station started producing electricity.
Mr Forrest, said: “The contribution Hunterston B power station has made to this country cannot be underestimated.
“As well as providing stable, well paid employment for thousands of people in the North Ayrshire area, it has produced almost 300TWh of zero carbon electricity, enough to power every home in Scotland for 31 years.
“It was originally thought Hunterston B would run for 25 years but investment in the plant and the people who work here mean we’ve been able to safely extend that to 46 years.”
The station will require around three years to defuel, while the site will need to be decommissioned. Every member of staff who wants to continue working at Hunterston B has secured a defueling role.
Defueling is when all the nuclear fuel is removed from the reactors and transported by rail to Sellafield for storage. The station’s other unit, Reactor 3, was taken offline in November 2021, while Scotland’s only remaining nuclear power station, Torness in East Lothian, is set to be switched off in 2028, two years earlier than anticipated due to safety concerns.
The Scottish Government has set a legal target to become net zero by 2045 – ending its contribution to the climate crisis.
Ministers are hoping to scale up renewable energy as part of the transition away oil and gas – but pressures on the electricity grid will increase as more technology is plugged in.
The Scottish Government has stressed that a mixture of renewable energy, including tidal, marine and wind – along with the development of a hydrogen industry – will be adequate to meet Scotland’s future demands.
But concerns have been raised over the reliability of wind power, even when scaled up under the SNP’s plans.
A report published by the Scottish Government last month showed that “compared to the first three quarter of 2020, generation is down 22.3 per cent” due to weather conditions.
It added: “This follows continued mild weather over the year, with wind generation down 37.1% in 2021 Q3 compared to 2020 Q3, and hydro generation down 45.6%.”
Some 98.6% of electricity used came from renewable sources in 2020.
Last month, Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar said that nuclear power should form part of Scotland’s future energy use.
The Scottish Conservatives have urged the SNP to rethink their opposition to nuclear power and bring forward a blueprint of how Scotland will meet its future energy needs.
The party’s net zero, energy and transport spokesperson, Liam Kerr, said: “Everyone recognises the need to transition to net zero, but this must be done in a sensible way, rather than being completely opposed to nuclear power like the SNP are.
“They have yet to outline how our future energy needs will be met in the absence of nuclear power.
“This is a government which has turned its back on the oil and gas industry and is doing the same with nuclear energy. That jeopardises tens of thousands of jobs and puts vital energy supplies at serious risk.”
But environmental campaigners have welcomed a strategy focused on clean renewable energy.
WWF Scotland director, Lang Banks said: “The repeated failure to solve the problem of hundreds of cracks in the graphite bricks surrounding the reactor core means the closure of Hunterson B was inevitable.
“Thankfully Scotland has massively grown its renewable power generating capacity which means we’ll no longer need the electricity from this increasingly unreliable nuclear power plant.
“As the expensive and hazardous job of cleaning up the radioactive legacy Hunterston leaves in its wake now begins, Scotland must press on with plans to harness more clean, renewable energy.”
A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “Hunterston B, its operators and in particular the workforces who have staffed the plant for more than 40 years, have played an important role in supporting Scotland’s energy requirements.
“We do however remain clear in our opposition to the building of new nuclear power plants in Scotland under current technologies.
“Significant growth in renewables, storage, hydrogen and carbon capture provide the best pathway to net zero by 2045, and will deliver the decarbonisation we need to see across industry, heat and transport.”