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Chamber and committees

Meeting of the Parliament [Draft]

Meeting date: Wednesday, February 21, 2024


Nuclear Energy

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Annabelle Ewing)

The final item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S6M-11662, in the name of Douglas Lumsden, on the declaration to triple nuclear energy, launched at the 28th United Nations climate change conference of the parties—COP28. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament recognises the Declaration to Triple Nuclear Energy, which was signed by a number of countries at the COP28; understands that the declaration notes the key role of nuclear energy for achieving global net zero targets by 2050; further understands that the declaration recognises the importance of the application of nuclear science and technology to continue contributing to the monitoring of climate change and the tackling of its impacts, and emphasises the work of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in this regard; notes from the declaration that nuclear energy is already the second-largest source of clean dispatchable baseload power, with benefits for energy security; further notes from the declaration that new nuclear technologies have a small land footprint and can be located where they are needed, such as within a large energy intensive industrial zone, with additional flexibilities that support decarbonisation across the power sector, including hard-to-abate industries; understands that analysis from the International Energy Agency (IAE) shows nuclear energy more than doubling from 2020 to 2050 in global net zero emissions by 2050 scenarios, and shows that decreasing nuclear power would make reaching net zero more difficult and more costly; further understands that analysis from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change shows nuclear energy approximately tripling its global installed electrical capacity from 2020 to 2050 in the average 1.5°C scenario; notes that the declaration was signed by 22 countries, namely the UK, the USA, Canada, France, the Netherlands, Sweden, Finland, Poland, Ukraine, Czechia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Moldova, Mongolia, Morocco, Ghana, Japan, the Republic of Korea and the United Arab Emirates; welcomes the ongoing work and discussions that are taking place on this, including in the North East Scotland region, and notes the view that Scotland should fully consider this option going forwards.


Douglas Lumsden (North East Scotland) (Con)

I thank the members who signed my motion to allow us to debate the topic tonight. The purpose of the debate is simple: to bring Scotland into line with the majority of countries in Europe and the rest of the western world in recognising that nuclear power is a key component of modern, zero-carbon and sustainable energy provision.

At present, Scotland’s anti-science Scottish National Party Government has shut the door to considering that green, sustainable and reliable form of energy. We are losing out to our European and Scandinavian partners, and we are at risk of becoming overreliant on fossil fuels to supply our base energy levels. Quite simply, we are falling behind the rest of the world in an area in which we have the skills and the potential to be leaders.

Why is that? It is because the SNP so-called green Government refuses to accept the science behind the technology and, instead, listens to anti-science rhetoric on a vital component of the green energy jigsaw.

At COP28, the declaration to triple nuclear energy was signed by many countries that see and understand the potential of nuclear to provide clean sustainable energy as part of the move to net zero. The declaration understands

“the importance of the applications of nuclear science and technology”

to continue contributing

“to monitoring climate change and tackling its impacts”.

It emphasises

“the work of the International Atomic Energy Agency”

and recognises

“that nuclear ... is already the second-largest source of clean ... baseload power”.

The International Energy Agency has said that nuclear energy will more than double before 2050. In addition, the agency recognises that, by increasing nuclear, we will reach our net zero targets more quickly, and doing so will be less costly.

The declaration was signed by 22 countries, and it demonstrates international recognition of the importance of nuclear as part of the picture in our journey towards net zero.

The provision of nuclear power gives us the non-weather-dependent grid stability and security that we need across the United Kingdom, which is essential as we go forward. Is that not right?

Douglas Lumsden

Mr Whitfield is absolutely spot on: nuclear is part of the energy mix that is required to provide the energy security that we need. Indeed, many countries feel that the picture is incomplete without nuclear and that the jigsaw will have a gaping hole if nuclear is not included as a key part of providing for our energy needs in a carbon-free world.

Craig Hoy (South Scotland) (Con)

Does Douglas Lumsden share my concern that, in a debate on a matter that is as important as our energy future and security, not one single member of the Green Party is willing to come to the chamber to debate it?

Mr Hoy makes a very good point. I was expecting to see some Green members in the chamber, but obviously they do not want to make an argument against nuclear.

Fergus Ewing (Inverness and Nairn) (SNP)

A rational approach should be taken to energy policy, because it is too serious a matter for us to do anything else. However, are there not at least three risks with nuclear? First, the costs for Hinkley Point C, Olkiluoto 3 in Finland and a third EDF plant have massively overrun. Secondly, the decommissioning costs are unquantifiable, as we have seen at Dounreay. Indeed, the costs for that site are still with us today, and it is still providing employment, I suppose. Thirdly—although I hesitate to say this—we need to consider, looking at what happened with Nord Stream, that nuclear power stations are particularly prone to terrorist attack in the future.

Douglas Lumsden

With regard to energy security, it is much better that the provision be built in this country. Yes, the costs for Hinkley Point have increased, but so has the cost of all our energy, including wind—the costs have shifted considerably in the contracts for difference allocation round 6 process.

In the short time that I have left, I will address some of those points further and set out the case for nuclear in relation to energy security, green credentials and economic viability. The war in Ukraine has revealed an overreliance on Russian oil and gas in many European states. Countries without a base load of nuclear power, such as Germany, have found themselves in economic hardship as a result of the fact that they do not produce enough power domestically, and they have even turned to coal. We must ensure that we, in Scotland, do not fall into the same trap and that we provide energy domestically rather than importing it from other countries.

Although nobody could deny that we have good wind generation in Scotland, it is weather dependent and does not provide the base load that is required for our communities day to day. At present, onshore wind provides 10.8 per cent of our UK energy mix, whereas nuclear provides 14.7 per cent. Wind is unreliable and provision depends on the ability to transport the energy from the turbines to where it is needed. In order to ensure grid stability and security, we require a form of energy that can supply a reliable base load 24/7, which nuclear does. It complements renewable generation, but it is required to supply that base load in the system.

By utilising nuclear energy, we were able to cut gas imports by 9 billion cubic metres in 2022, thereby reducing our exposure to international gas markets. Nuclear makes sense for energy security and is the only answer to ensuring that we can meet our base-load requirements in a non-carbon way. Nuclear is a green form of energy. According to the UN, it has the lowest life cycle of carbon intensity, the lowest land use and impact on ecosystems, and the lowest mineral and metal use. In addition, it is the only form of energy that is required to track, manage and make safe its own waste, and it does so very successfully and safely. As I should have mentioned, the price of that is built into the initial cost.

Nuclear energy is heavily regulated, has extremely high safety standards and is well respected in the energy sector. To go against that is simply hyperbole, made up by the Green wine-bar elites who prefer to use pseudoscience, rather than the real science, to back up their claims.

Torness nuclear power station has the capacity to power 2.2 million homes from one tenth of a square mile of land; that is rather different from the capacity of our onshore and offshore wind farms. Soon, however, Torness, like Hunterston before it, will be turned off, and with it will go the future of many of our young workers, who have not had the opportunity to work in the nuclear industry—unless, of course, they up sticks and move down south, where the Government does not have a blinkered view of the world.

That brings me to something that I remember from the nuclear industry reception that my colleague Liam Kerr hosted a couple of months back. A young apprentice—I cannot remember his name—gave an inspirational speech on his career with EDF, but he was looking to move away from Scotland to continue his career. The highly skilled and bright workforce of the future is being lost to Scotland.

Nuclear energy is produced where it is needed, rather than in our precious rural countryside. On Friday, I will attend a meeting of a local community council that is very worried about the impact on the local community of the pylons and substations that are built to transport the energy from wind farms to where it is needed in the central belt.

Will the member accept that power that is generated by nuclear also has to be transmitted?

Douglas Lumsden

Absolutely, but the minister misses the point—the energy is produced near where it is needed, which means that there is less distribution, and fewer pylons are needed, across the country.

The impact of pylons on our scenery in Scotland should not be underestimated, and communities are rightly concerned about their impact on tourism and, therefore, on economic development, as well as about the disruption to ecosystems during their construction.

Finally, I will address the economic case for nuclear energy in Scotland. Wind energy has many hidden costs, such as the cost of the transportation of energy and decommissioning costs for turbines. Those costs are included up front in the construction of nuclear power stations. Nuclear does not have to be the most expensive option when it is done properly and at scale.

In Scotland, the nuclear sector provides 3,664 jobs and £400 million in gross value added, and—significantly—almost 25 per cent of the sector’s direct employment is in the most deprived 10 per cent of local authorities. Nuclear has a key role to play in Scotland’s energy future. To ignore it and use false arguments against it is anti-scientific. The Government, which apparently has superior green credentials, is badly letting down the people of Scotland by not investing in a vital technology that could provide clean, green and sustainable energy for years to come. The position that the Government has taken is badly letting down our communities. It is anti-science, based on false claims, founded on fear and completely nonsensical. It lets down our energy industry and our communities, and it badly affects our standing with our neighbours.

I call on the Government to join countries such as the USA, Canada, France, the Netherlands, Sweden, Finland, Poland, Ukraine, Czechia, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania and many others in welcoming nuclear as part of the energy mix and as an essential piece of the jigsaw in reaching net zero.


Jackie Dunbar (Aberdeen Donside) (SNP)

I refer members to my entry in the register of members’ interests, as I am a former councillor in Aberdeen City Council. As it is traditional to do so, I congratulate Douglas Lumsden on bringing the debate to the chamber.

His timing in lodging the motion ties in with what has happened not just in Dubai, on the global stage of COP28, but in our old stomping ground of Aberdeen City Council. On the same day that COP28 came to a close, Aberdeen City Council was due to discuss a petition calling for it to join Nuclear Free Local Authorities, whose members aim to

“tackle, in practical ways and within their powers, the problems caused by civil and military nuclear hazards.”

I understand from my former council colleagues that the petitioners, when they finally spoke to councillors earlier this month, gave a very impressive presentation, in which they spoke of how renewable energy generation is cheaper and does not leave future generations having to deal with the nuclear waste that is left behind.

During a cost of living crisis that has been driven, in part, by high energy prices, it is particularly important that we consider how much it costs to generate energy, especially if there is a risk that those costs will be passed on to consumers.

Will the member take an intervention?

Jackie Dunbar

No male Opposition member took an intervention from any of the females on the SNP side of the chamber yesterday, so I will not give way to any male MSPs tonight. If we cannot intervene on the gentlemen, I will not take an intervention from the member.

I understand that, as things stand, nuclear costs £92.50 per megawatt hour, whereas offshore wind costs £37.65 per megawatt hour. The major driver of that higher price is the up-front costs of constructing the power stations. That ties into the Scottish Government’s position, whereby it supports extending the operating lifespan of Torness, provided that strict environmental and safety criteria continue to be met, but it does not support the building of new nuclear fission power stations in Scotland with current technologies.

That cost remains high—too high, I believe—despite significant investment by the UK Government. Meanwhile, greener renewable technologies are not getting anywhere near the same level of financial support. An example is pumped storage hydro, which the minister has spoken of previously. It is able to plug gaps in the intermittent supply that can result from other forms of renewable generation.

Douglas Lumsden and I, along with Audrey Nicoll, who is also in the chamber, have the great privilege of representing Aberdeen, which is—I will keep saying this—the future net zero capital of the world. Alongside our hugely skilled workforce, which I maintain is our biggest asset, we also have, across and around Scotland, an abundance of renewable energy sources.

The motion that we are discussing states that nuclear technologies

“can be located where they are needed”.

Before I finish, I pose an open question. In a Scotland that has as much potential to generate wind, wave, tidal and hydro energy as we have, where exactly do Conservative members think should be fully considered for hosting new nuclear plants in the future?

Will the member take an intervention?

I know that the motion mentions industrial zones—

The member is concluding her remarks.

—but I want to hear place names, and which parts of Scotland—[Interruption.]

I will take an intervention from Mr Hoy, because he is chuntering from the sidelines, as usual.

Briefly, Mr Hoy.

The member asked for a location and a place name. I say Torness, near Dunbar, in East Lothian.

Jackie Dunbar

In case the member did not realise what I meant, I was referring to places where new plants would be built, because Mr Lumsden seems to have decided that they should be near the places that they are going to serve.

There might be a role for nuclear in Scotland at some point in the future but, at present, the cost of new power stations runs into billions of pounds, they take years to construct, and they look set to cost about three times as much per unit as can be achieved from renewables sources. I firmly believe that, as we look to tomorrow, our focus should remain on clean, green and cheap renewable energy.

I call Graham Simpson, who joins us remotely.


Graham Simpson (Central Scotland) (Con)

It has been interesting to listen to the debate so far, and I congratulate my colleague Douglas Lumsden on bringing it to the chamber.

Jackie Dunbar asked where new nuclear provision should be sited. Well, it cannot currently be sited anywhere, because the SNP is blocking it under the planning rules. If she wants to remove those planning restrictions, she might see applications coming forward.

Douglas Lumsden is absolutely right to highlight that the main point of all this is energy security. I would have thought that members on all sides of the chamber—by the way, I share Douglas Lumsden’s disappointment that there are no Green members taking part in the debate—would recognise the need for Scotland and the rest of the UK to be energy secure, in particular in the light of the conflict in Ukraine. Surely we do not want to be held to ransom for our energy by despots such as Vladimir Putin.

We need a mix of energy. We need wind farms, and there is a role for hydro, too. However, we have to accept that the wind does not blow all the time and that there is a need to cover that base load, which is why nuclear has a role. I was delighted when the UK Government announced that it would be setting up Great British Nuclear to herald the introduction of small modular reactors. I can tell members, if they do not know already, that those reactors do not have to be built on site; they can be built in factories and then transferred to their ultimate locations. That is a great development—it is good for the economy, for jobs and for skills.

The UK Government has an ambition—I wish that the Scottish Government would get on board with this—to have a quarter of our energy provided by nuclear by 2050. I would like Scotland to be part of that.

What does nuclear provide? It provides the energy security that I spoke about. Countries that phase out nuclear—Germany is a good example—become critically dependent on natural gas generation to guarantee security of supply. Nuclear provides grid stability and security and provides a non-weather-dependent 24/7 base load. It also provides green energy—it is as green as renewables. According to the UN, nuclear has the lowest life cycle carbon intensity, the lowest land use and impact on ecosystems, and the lowest mineral and metal use. One would have thought that Green Party members would welcome that.

Of course, there is an economic case for nuclear, too. Douglas Lumsden spoke about skills. We both attended the meeting in Parliament where, as he mentioned, we heard a powerful presentation from a young apprentice, who might well have to leave Scotland if we end up with no nuclear industry here. That would be a crying shame.

Scotland needs nuclear, and I thank Douglas Lumsden once again for securing the debate.


Martin Whitfield (South Scotland) (Lab)

It is a pleasure to contribute to the debate, which allows me to talk about Torness in East Lothian, in South Scotland. I thank Douglas Lumsden for bringing the debate to the chamber when we are entering a period in which debates about nuclear energy have to take place. Those debates are taking place across the United Kingdom, but unfortunately, in Scotland, we seem to have a Government that has closed its eyes to the future. That is important, because Torness is the last remaining nuclear power station in Scotland. To answer Jackie Dunbar’s question, the obvious site for a new nuclear plant is where the Torness B nuclear reactor was designed to be, which is right next door to Torness, so that the very same generation hall can be used for on-going electricity production.

It has been announced—it is in the public domain—that 2028 could be the last year of generation for Torness. As we have heard, that would mean that Scotland would lose all its production capacity for maintaining the stability of the grid.

Will the member give way on that point?

I am more than happy to give way.

Paul Sweeney

I thank my friend for giving way on that important point. He raised the issue of capital costs. One of the huge capital costs of building a nuclear power station is the turbine hall, which already exists at Torness and can continue operating for many decades to come. Adding on some new modular reactors to that turbine hall would massively reduce the capital costs of a new nuclear station, would it not?

Martin Whitfield

I am grateful for that intervention, and my friend is right. It is worth taking a moment to discuss that aspect, because we frequently hear about the high cost of nuclear power generation, but it is the only form of energy production for which the consequences at the end of the life of the power station are taken into account.

On 19 February, the Scottish Government published a paper on the challenges that are faced in offshore wind decommissioning. However, the Government is unable to tell us the period in which it will conclude its analysis and decide what it is going to do at the end of the generation period, in particular with regard to wind turbine blades, which are an intricate engineering marvel but are not easily recyclable or repurposed. That production charge for the wind turbine is not included in wind energy costs.

I am sure that Martin Whitfield will be aware of the onshore wind sector deal, which includes a blade remanufacturing site. That means that the ability to recycle the blades is imminent.

Martin Whitfield

I have spoken to a number of onshore turbine manufacturers, and I know that a significant number of primary schools already have beautiful rain shelters for their bicycles made from former turbine blades.

I recognise that that is a challenge, and I hope that the Government does too, because it puts to bed the argument that nuclear power is so expensive. It is expensive because it takes into account the whole life cycle—and beyond—of the production of green technology.

In the short time that I have left—I will not press you for more, Presiding Officer—I note that, last year, Torness generated 8TWh of low-carbon electricity. We can bandy around figures, as we do quite a lot in debates, but I also want to talk about the nearly 700 people who work at Torness. That includes not only the apprentices whom we have heard about, who are so skilled—

Will the member take an intervention?

If it is short, Mr Hoy.

A very brief intervention, Mr Hoy.

Craig Hoy

Thank you. Mr Whitfield may be coming to this point. He, too, will have met Matthew French, the talented employee at Torness power station who was named apprentice of the year, and who told us when he came to the Parliament that he wants to continue working in nuclear and in Scotland. It would be deeply regrettable if we were to lose talent like that from Scotland, would it not?

Martin Whitfield

Yes. I am grateful for that intervention. That is not just an issue for Matthew—there are all the families who rely on the income from those jobs, the more than 8,000 people who, during a shutdown, come to ensure the safety of the nuclear power station site, and all the small and medium-sized businesses that rely on that income, with more than £10 million coming into East Lothian alone.

The fact remains that for the Scottish Government to take a simple ideological stance against an energy source that will be needed to maintain the grid and to ensure our security is short-sighted and wrong. I say that with the greatest respect. We need to readdress that point, and the Government, rather than hearing us shout “U-turn!”, will find support from us on that. We need to support the nuclear power industry as we go forward, in particular for the apprentices, the employees and the families, and for East Lothian, Scotland and the UK.


Liam Kerr (North East Scotland) (Con)

I am pleased that Douglas Lumsden has brought the debate to the chamber, and I am pleased in particular to see that the Minister for Energy and the Environment will be responding, because I am confident, from my previous dealings with her, that she will take a more thoughtful approach than her predecessors did.

Almost exactly two years ago, I spoke in a debate on nuclear and dealt with all the Government’s objections at that time, some of which we have heard again today. One such objection was the economic argument; I have tried to help Jackie Dunbar with her misunderstanding of that today. At the time of that debate, the price of power from Hunterston B—until it was retired—and from Torness was about £45 per megawatt hour. Meanwhile, data suggests the average price of 16 operational wind contracts for difference in Scotland is £82 per megawatt hour. I am pleased to inform Jackie Dunbar that the current offshore wind strike price is actually £73 per megawatt hour, rather than the figure that she offered, which is way out of date.

On the build cost, the Scottish Government at that time kept referring to Hinkley. However, while the smaller, cheaper SMR is, in any event, the preferred model that we would use in Scotland, the actual construction and operating cost of Hinkley Point accounts for only £30.50 per megawatt hour of the strike price of £92.50 per megawatt hour; the other two thirds relate to the cost of borrowing money. Interestingly, the National Audit Office said that the UK Government’s regulated asset base model might reduce the cost of Hinkley by 40 per cent.

Furthermore, with wind, decommissioning costs are not included, unlike with nuclear, and constraint payments to compensate wind-farm operators for curtailing their generation when supply exceeds demand cost £380 million in 2022—that is roughly £11 per megawatt hour.

The Government has, historically, pointed to nuclear being high risk in terms of safety, but—touch wood—there have been no major nuclear safety incidents in the UK industry in its nearly 50 years of operation. Anyone who has done their homework knows that all current operating stations have extraordinary levels of built-in redundancy, while being subject to one of the most robust regulatory regimes in the world.

The minister’s predecessors were also worried about waste, but they seemed to be unaware that the nuclear industry is the only one to track, manage, make safe and—crucially—pay for its own waste. Indeed, I recall that EDF and the UK Government set aside £14.8 billion to decommission existing power stations and dispose of waste from them. In any event, the amount of waste that is produced by nuclear is very small. Almost all the radioactivity is found in a tiny fraction of the waste, known as high-level waste, which is robustly dealt with.

The final point is about what we do if we do not have nuclear in Scotland.

Does the member recognise that the evolution of modern fourth-generation and fifth-generation nuclear reactor designs means that they actually consume nuclear waste as energy, thus creating a closed waste loop?

Liam Kerr

Absolutely—Paul Sweeney makes a fantastic point.

I move on to what we do if we do not embrace that technology and do not move forward with nuclear. To pick up on Martin Whitfield’s well-made intervention, wind turbines tend to operate for about 25 to 40 per cent of the time, as against nuclear, which operates for just over 90 per cent of the time. Without nuclear power, when wind turbines are not operating or solar is not producing, the grid would have to use sources such as gas.

The point about energy security has been raised several times, and it is notable that nuclear cut our gas imports by 9 billion cubic metres in 2022. That is key. In 2022, I put to the then Minister for Just Transition, Employment and Fair Work the following point:

“According to the Climate Change Committee’s report ‘Net Zero—The UK’s contribution to stopping global warming’, to hit net zero, the United Kingdom will need four times more clean power by 2050. It further says that 38 per cent of that needs to be ‘firm power’”

—in other words, base load. I asked the minister:

“From what source will Scotland get that 38 per cent of firm electricity generation?”—[Official Report, 1 June 2022; c 6-7.]

Of course, he never answered the question. Nobody can answer it, and no one has done so since.

I am, therefore, looking forward to listening to the minister respond to that point, because I am confident that, in closing, she will eschew the approach of her predecessors. I am confident that she will not make false comparisons or question the safety of the technology and the waste issue, and that, above all, she will answer the question: if base load is not to be generated in Scotland by nuclear, from where will the Government generate it? The facts that I have set out do not mean that we should not build wind farms—they mean that we should not try to move forward with wind alone.

We should follow the advice of expert modelling organisations such as the Climate Change Committee, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, the UN, the International Energy Agency, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Imperial College London and the Energy Systems Catapult, and build both nuclear and wind—and everything else—in Scotland in order to build a strong, secure, resilient net zero economy.


Fergus Ewing (Inverness and Nairn) (SNP)

I had the privilege of being the energy minister for five years, from 2011 to 2016. That allowed me to meet and learn from experts in Scotland and the UK, some of whom Mr Kerr just mentioned.

It struck me that, to have a functioning electricity system, you need to have a variety of different provisions of electricity, because each has pluses and minuses. There is a difference between electricity and most goods and services. I happen to like Mars bars, Maseratis and Mâcon Rouge wine, but I could live without them. If there was a shortage in the supermarket or the car showroom, it would not matter one jot. With electricity, however, you need to generate enough to keep the lights on and the factories going. If you do not do that, you have a very serious problem—as Germany has discovered, with much of its industry having had to shut down.

The maxim that applies best when it comes to electricity supply is that of Winston Churchill, who said that the solution is

“variety and variety alone.”

The question is, what is that variety? I am agnostic on future new nuclear power. When I was minister, the Government modulated its position to support the continued operation of Torness and Hunterston, which was welcome.

I am agnostic now, because the technology has driven forward, but so has the technology of advanced gas turbines, which has improved massively in the past 20 years. I am no expert in any of that, I have to say, but I think that base load and backup will be an essential feature of an electricity grid system; it cannot be entirely stochastic.

The risks of wind power are less pronounced than some argue, because of the way in which the electricity system is operated, as I learned when I visited National Grid in Warwick some years ago. It is more reliable, because one can predict within 24 hours where the wind is going to blow.

Floating offshore wind—as Fred Olsen told me over breakfast in Orkney—is advantageous for Scotland, because our waters are deeper and fixed platforms are more expensive. Floating platforms allow us the opportunity to station the wind farms where the wind is blowing in a different direction and therefore make more money and generate more electricity. However, perhaps that is a red herring.

Douglas Lumsden asked a fair question: if not from nuclear, from where do we get the base load and backup? On that, I think that advanced gas turbines should be considered, because they have improved so massively, can be built very quickly and the technology is established and clear. I am not quite sure that the technology has been fully developed in respect of some of the smaller nuclear power stations; it may have been, it may not.

Does Fergus Ewing think that the Government’s partners, the Green Party, would support him in advocating new gas turbine production?

Fergus Ewing

If I said that rain was wet, the Green Party would not support me. They are not here, which is a bit disappointing, but hey ho—I will leave that to one side.

There is far too much partisanship in these debates, which will not get us very far. Rationality alone is what is required. We need to look at things with an open mind and recognise that technologies have increased massively. The problems of the past will not be the problems of the future.

Are we going to have too many wind farms and too much generating capacity from wind? There is a risk around that, and the profitability and economic benefits of wind are nowhere near matching those of oil and gas. I am afraid that that is a fact, no matter how successful wind power becomes.

We should listen to the experts. In this debate about electricity supply, can we not have less heat and more light?


Craig Hoy (South Scotland) (Con)

I thank Douglas Lumsden for bringing forward this timely debate. It is timely because, when it comes to energy, we in Scotland are at an inflection point—indeed, it is perhaps more accurately described as a tipping point. Minister, are we about to tip forwards—to maintain and renew our nuclear future—or backwards into what could be an intensely vulnerable position in our energy security?

If the answer is yes to the latter, the SNP Government must reconsider its approach to Scotland’s nuclear future, because nuclear is a critical part of the journey to net zero. That is why it is regrettable not to see Green members this evening, because they talk about net zero but neglect the fact that, in very many countries, nuclear will be a fundamental part of that journey. The declaration to triple nuclear energy, which was signed at the COP28 summit, underlines the vital role of nuclear in achieving global net zero targets by 2050. Regardless of what we do here, therefore, other countries’ nuclear capacity will help us on that journey. As John Kerry said at COP, the target simply cannot be met without it. There is, in effect, no net zero without nuclear.

In my region, EDF Energy has signalled its ambition—at this stage, it is no more than that—to extend the life of the Torness power station; indeed, it says that it plans to extend the life of four nuclear power stations in the UK, potentially, and increase investment in its nuclear fleet. Scotland will lose out on that unless it reconsiders its position now. It will make the decision whether to extend the lifespan of those stations that have advanced gas-cooled reactors.

It is important to make the distinction that the Scottish Government is very supportive of extending the life of the existing plant at Torness.

Craig Hoy

Precisely—and I welcome the minister’s saying that. However, if in principle the Government would like to see it extended, why not renew it? If the SNP and the Greens are really committed to net zero, they will have to tease out that question.

The four stations are Torness, Heysham 1 and 2 and Hartlepool, and a decision will be taken by the end of the year. The minister has pre-empted me, though, and it is good to hear that she welcomes the idea of an extension. Nevertheless, it will require regulatory approval. The fundamental question here in Scotland is whether we want nuclear to be part of our journey to energy security. In the words of Fergus Ewing, are the Government’s mind, eyes and ears completely closed to the benefits that nuclear brings?

I will summarise those benefits. Torness opened in 1988, and EDF Energy confirms that it is still one of its most productive nuclear power stations. Despite what the nuclear doomsayers claim, it generates clean, safe power. Since it opened, Torness has produced nearly 280TWh of zero carbon electricity. Let me put that into context: that is enough electricity to power every home in Scotland for 28 years and losing it will be a critical loss to our energy capacity and security.

As Martin Whitfield has said, Torness provides many stable, high-skilled and high-paid jobs. Its pioneering apprenticeship programme, which delivers for the local community and the local economy, will be lost, and those skills, in turn, will be lost to the Scottish economy. It also remains one of East Lothian’s largest employers, with 500 staff and 250 contractors; its salary bill totals £40 million per year—and much more than that through supply chain-related jobs. I hate to say it—and it is not a partisan point—but all of that is at risk because of what is now an illogical, dogmatic and, frankly, environmentally and economically illiterate approach to nuclear energy in this country.

As Douglas Lumsden has made clear, the Scottish Conservative Party supports a nuclear future for Scotland. Extending the lifespan of the existing stations will help cut gas imports and carbon and relieve winter pressures on our grid. That would be the short-term prize; the longer-term prize would be for Scotland to follow the rest of the UK, France and the many other European nations whose virtues the SNP regularly extols and look forward to a new fleet of nuclear stations here in Scotland. Frankly, the policy that the SNP is adopting at the moment beggars belief, and Scotland will pay a heavy price if Scottish ministers do not think again on Scotland’s nuclear future. It is a fundamental part of our net zero ambition.


The Minister for Energy and the Environment (Gillian Martin)

Despite all the accusations of our being dogmatic and ideological, the Scottish Government’s position is, as everyone knows, that we do not support the building of new nuclear power stations in Scotland under current technologies. Our main objection is that it is expensive, creates toxic waste and, we believe, is not needed for our future net zero energy system.

However, I want to talk about Torness, which has been mentioned by a number of members and in which, obviously, Martin Whitfield and Craig Hoy have an interest.

Will the member give way?

Gillian Martin

I will do so once I have finished my point.

We recognise the contribution that Torness and other nuclear generation plants have made, historically, to Scotland’s people and economy. It was important for me to mention to Mr Hoy that we are supportive of the operating lifespan of Torness, Scotland’s last remaining nuclear power station, being extended, if strict environmental and safety criteria continue to be met.

Liam Kerr

The minister said that the main issue that the Scottish Government has is with the cost and the waste, but the points about the cost and the waste have been comprehensively debunked throughout the debate. How can the minister sustain the Government’s objection on the basis of cost and waste?

Gillian Martin

Mr Kerr might think that he has debunked the cost issue. I beg to differ, and I will come on to that later in my speech. Jackie Dunbar was quite right to point out the difference with regard to terawatt-hour cost and so on, but there is also the cost of building such facilities in the first place, which I will come on to.

Historically, nuclear power has undoubtedly played an important role in electricity generation in Scotland. At the moment, however, it accounts for only 16 per cent of the total amount of electricity generated in Scotland. Meanwhile, electricity generated from renewables accounts for about 71 per cent of the total. Those figures are for the same period—that is, from last year. When it comes to consumption, the equivalent of 113 per cent of Scotland’s gross electricity consumption is generated by renewables.

The reduction in the amount of electricity generated by nuclear power plants in Scotland will be compensated for, to a great degree, by the vast expansion of renewables and flexible technologies. I thank Fergus Ewing for making the point that we are in a fast-moving technological situation. We have existing and emerging technologies, particularly in wave and tidal, but also in battery storage. In addition, we have existing technologies that have not had the support that nuclear energy has had, such as pumped hydro storage. [Interruption.] I am not giving way to members—there are some points that I want to make.

I come back to Liam Kerr’s point. We cannot ignore England’s current experience of the nuclear developments that are taking place there. The new nuclear power stations that are being built in England will take many more years than was predicted, and it will be decades before they become operational. Those projects are pushing up energy bills even before they come online.

I want to mention the contract for difference for Hinkley Point C, which was agreed in 2013 and is for 35 years. As Jackie Dunbar said, that contract provides for a strike price of £92.50 per megawatt hour. That is far higher than the strike prices set for offshore and onshore wind in the sixth allocation round, which were £73 and £64 respectively.

Will the minister take an intervention?

Gillian Martin

No—I will carry on.

I also want to mention the fact that, whereas nuclear energy has had a great deal of support from the UK Government, other existing technologies that incur high capital expenditure costs, such as pumped hydro storage, have not benefited from the same scale of direct investment by the UK Government.

Douglas Lumsden

Does the minister accept that the UK’s largest pumped storage station, which is in Wales, can produce only the same amount of electricity as Torness does in 7.5 hours? Does she not recognise that that is completely inadequate?

Gillian Martin

My point was about the fact that a great deal of investment has been put into nuclear energy—it is almost as though the nuclear sector has been propped up while other sectors have, in effect, been ignored. Given Scotland’s geography, we have a major geographical advantage when it comes to pumped hydro storage. Indeed, Graham Simpson recognised its value in his speech.

As for the nuclear gamble that the UK Government is taking, members should not just take my word for that; the International Energy Agency published research suggesting that new nuclear power in the UK would be more expensive than in any other country. However, the UK Government continued to commit significant sums of public money to it.

Hinkley Point C was due to be completed by 2025, at a cost of £23.5 billion—that is what was said at the time. With inflation taken into account, EDF Energy estimated last month that the project might not be completed until 2031, at a cost of up to £46.5 billion. I thank Fergus Ewing for pointing that out.

Will the member give way?

Gillian Martin

I have taken as many interventions as I think that I can manage.

Despite those delays and cost overruns—and indeed the price per megawatt hour—the UK Government continues to stake taxpayer money on its nuclear gamble.

Many times in Douglas Lumsden’s speech and in other speeches by members, we were described as being anti-science. Are all the other countries that have decided not to go down the nuclear route anti-science, too? Are Austria, Denmark, Ireland, Italy, Estonia, Latvia, Luxembourg, Malta and Portugal anti-science?

Will the minister take an intervention?

Gillian Martin

No, I have taken as many interventions as I think that I can manage.

Liam Kerr mentioned small modular reactors—[Interruption.] I will battle on through the constant barrage of chuntering, Presiding Officer. Last week, the UK Parliament’s Environmental Audit Committee said that the Government’s approach to SMRs “lacks clarity” and that they are unlikely to play a role in decarbonising the grid by 2035. SMRs are innovative—I am not blind and deaf to innovations in any sphere that can decarbonise the grid and give us a more secure energy future—but they use the same method of electricity generation as traditional nuclear fission and leave the same type of radioactive waste.

I was struck by what Liam Kerr said about £15 billion being set aside to deal with nuclear waste. What else could be done with £15 billion? Could we invest it in pumped hydro storage? Could we invest it in moving battery storage to where it needs to be? One thing that I have noticed since taking this job and from going on many visits is that battery storage is really coming on in how it deals with the intermittent nature of wind.

Will the minister give way?

Gillian Martin

I have already said that I am coming to an end.

We know that Scotland needs to deliver cleaner and greener energy, but new nuclear is not the answer. We are energy rich—[Interruption.]

Members, let the minister respond.

Gillian Martin

As has been pointed out many times by many members, we will have more electricity than we can use domestically—we are almost in that space already. Instead of wasting money on the wrong solutions, we will continue to support clean, green technologies that support energy security and a just transition to net zero, as well as fund the innovations that will be able to store that electricity.

I thank Douglas Lumsden for bringing the debate to the chamber, but we will just have to disagree on this. I can see that Liam Kerr thought that I was going to make a massive U-turn based on his arguments. However, although we disagree, what we will all agree on is that this is a very fast-moving area of technology. We cannot say never to any technology, but at the moment nuclear is far too expensive and waste is still very much a live issue. For that reason, our position has not changed.

Meeting closed at 18:23.