Dounreay Stakeholder Group chairman says nuclear expansion is 'colossal opportunity'
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Plans for the biggest expansion of nuclear power in Britain for 70 years have been hailed as a "colossal opportunity" by the chairman of Dounreay Stakeholder Group.
Councillor Struan Mackie welcomed the UK government's Civil Nuclear Roadmap, launched this month, saying there is a "sea change" in how the nuclear supply chain operates.
However, he accused the Scottish Government of "leaving Scottish communities out in the cold" through its opposition to new nuclear power stations.
Claire Coutinho, the UK secretary for energy security and net-zero, outlined plans to quadruple nuclear capacity by 2050.
Minister for nuclear Andrew Bowie, the Conservative MP for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine, said the investment will "ensure the UK remains at the forefront of technological developments" while strengthening energy independence, reducing bills and supporting jobs across the country.
Councillor Mackie, who represents Thurso and Northwest Caithness on Highland Council, said it was important to look beyond the Dounreay decommissioning programme. The latest deadline for the site clean-up is 2033.
"For almost 70 years, the far north has viewed itself as a nuclear community, one that has earned its place at the forefront of new technology, innovation and the clean-up of legacy nuclear development," he said.
"The former fast reactor complex, fuel cycle area and ‘shaft and silo’ storage programme are undoubtedly complex and will ensure that Caithness and north Sutherland will continue to be a nuclear community for many years to come – but one eye must look beyond decommissioning and to the future beyond Dounreay, and Vulcan.
"Whilst diversifying our economy is a prudent and necessary endeavour, there are significant opportunities presented by the UK’s nuclear renaissance.
"The British government's Civil Nuclear Roadmap makes clear the colossal opportunity being presented by ‘new nuclear’ across the UK.
"There is a sea change in how the nuclear supply chain operates, with three categories of reactors to be deployed simultaneously – large-scale, small modular reactors and advanced modular reactors – with multiple units driving down costs and offering economies of scale unseen since the commissioning of the advanced gas-cooled reactor fleet in the ’70s and ’80s.
"A focus on our fuel cycle, and ending our reliance on Russia with a domestic programme, is also core to the mission. It's a mission that will also play a role in creating radionuclides that can be used in medicine – a welcome development and sorely needed in the years ahead.
"Whilst both the Conservatives and Labour have reached the logical consensus that net-zero simply cannot be achieved without new nuclear, the Scottish Government is leaving Scottish communities out in the cold and unable to be part of the nuclear renaissance.
"I agree with the minister for nuclear, Andrew Bowie, that the SNP and its coalition partners the Scottish Greens are blocking transformative investment in Scotland based on ideological fallacy and nationalist exceptionalism. It is flawed, short-sighted and will deny our community and workforce a just transition.
"But we know that local voices are far more pragmatic. The SNP-controlled Highland Council still maintains a pro-nuclear local policy position that is unique in Scotland, and local members engage constructively about new development because we know what it could mean locally.
"I hope that those in Holyrood can be persuaded that net-zero is too important and the economic prize is too great to maintain this opposition any longer."
The Civil Nuclear Roadmap sets out an ambition for up to 24 gigawatts of nuclear capacity by 2050, covering up to a quarter of the country’s projected electricity demand.
Mr Bowie said: “The government’s investment will ensure the UK remains at the forefront of technological developments.
“Our plans will give investors the confidence to back new UK projects, with a simpler process for locating new schemes and clear support for private sector companies developing innovative new technologies.
“We will strengthen our energy independence, reduce bills and support jobs across the UK.
“The roadmap will also confirm plans for decommissioning to make sure they remain suitable for new nuclear technologies and protect future generations from bearing the costs.”
Mr Bowie criticised the SNP for "blocking serious investment in Scotland and holding Scotland back as the rest of the world looks to nuclear".
In her foreword to the roadmap document, Ms Coutinho spoke of a "reawakening" of the nuclear industry, adding: "As part of a massive investment in home-produced clean energy, nuclear will offer the reliable, resilient and low-carbon power we need to reach net-zero by 2050, and ensure our energy security, so we’re never dependent on the likes of Putin again."
The plans include exploring building a major new power station and investing in advanced nuclear fuel production.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said: "Nuclear is the perfect antidote to the energy challenges facing Britain – it’s green, cheaper in the long term and will ensure the UK’s energy security for the long term.
"This is the right long-term decision and is the next step in our commitment to nuclear power, which puts us on course to achieve net-zero by 2050 in a measured and sustainable way."
Ms Coutinho said: "Strengthening our energy security means that Britain will never again be held to ransom over energy by tyrants like Vladimir Putin. British nuclear, as one of the most reliable, low-carbon sources of energy around, will provide that security.
"We’re making the biggest investment in domestic nuclear energy in 70 years. Our £300 million plan to produce advanced nuclear fuel in the UK will supply nuclear plants at home and overseas – further weakening the Kremlin’s grip on global energy markets.
"From large gigawatt projects to small modular reactors, the UK’s wider nuclear revival will quadruple our nuclear capacity by 2050 – helping to power Britain from Britain."
A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “The Scottish Government does not support the building of new nuclear fission power stations in Scotland under current technologies. New nuclear power is expensive; will take years, if not decades, to become operational; and has significant environmental concerns.
“Through our draft energy strategy and just transition plan we have set out a clear pathway to deliver on global commitments and capitalise on the enormous opportunities offered by becoming a net-zero economy.”
Dave Doogan MP, the SNP’s net-zero and energy spokesperson, criticised the UK government's "nuclear obsession" which he said would "do nothing to help people battling the Westminster-made cost-of-living crisis".
He said: “It’s abundantly clear that nuclear will cost more, is costing more, and will send bills soaring even further – all while households in Scotland can see clean renewable energy being produced in their own backyards.
"It's clear that only the SNP are willing to stand up for Scotland's interest, and harness the full potential of the green energy gold rush."