Maree Todd says she cannot give her backing to 'high cost and high risk' nuclear power station
Easier access to your trusted, local news. Subscribe to a digital package and support local news publishing.
Caithness, Sutherland and Ross MSP Maree Todd has declared that she cannot support the idea of a mini-reactor being built in her constituency, pointing to the "high cost and high risk" associated with nuclear energy.
Engineering giant Rolls-Royce hopes to build up to 10 small modular reactor (SMR) power stations by 2035 and there have been calls for one to be established in Caithness, which has been described as "one of the most nuclear-sympathetic parts of the UK".
However, Ms Todd said her party, the SNP, has been clear in its opposition to nuclear development and she argued that Scotland must look to "safe, sustainable and cost-effective" renewable sources for its future energy supply.
Ms Todd said: “As an MSP representing a vast and rural Highland constituency, a constituency with the highest fuel poverty rates in the country, I cannot in all conscience support a nuclear fission solution as a cost-effective, safe energy source for our community and I believe the vast majority of the public back my position. We must focus on reliable energy sources that offer value for money and align with our net-zero ambitions.
“While I acknowledge the enthusiasm for nuclear power voiced by some sectors of this constituency, I do not share that enthusiasm. The vast cost of building a new facility coupled with the associated knock-on charges that are then added to our bills make the nuclear option high cost and high risk.
"The SNP has been clear in its opposition to nuclear using current technologies and the electorate backed that position when they voted for us in May last year.
“Scotland’s future energy supply must be safe, sustainable and cost-effective and deliver high-quality jobs. I believe that the renewables plan, as set out in the Scottish Energy Strategy, offers just that.”
Earlier, the Scottish Government had given the clearest indication yet that SMRs would not be acceptable under its current nuclear policy.
A spokesperson said: “The Scottish Government is absolutely clear in our opposition to the building of new traditional nuclear fission energy plants in Scotland under current technologies.
“We believe that significant growth in renewables, storage, hydrogen and carbon capture provides the best pathway to net-zero by 2045, and will deliver the decarbonisation we need to see across industry, heat and transport.
“The transition to net-zero will offer many new opportunities for highly skilled, well-paid jobs across the energy sector for industry experts, apprentices and graduates. Scotland has long been the centre of expertise in energy innovation and this expertise will prove crucial as we work to capture the opportunities the transition to a net-zero economy presents.
“We recognise that planning will be crucial to ensure that economic and social opportunities from the transition are not missed. Our National Just Transition Planning Framework sets out the consistent, ambitious approach we will take to developing transition plans.
"We have committed to delivering our first Just Transition Plan as part of the forthcoming refreshed Scottish Energy Strategy, and will work in partnership with businesses, workers and communities to ensure this provides the certainty needed for investment in our net-zero journey.”
The spokesperson added: "Broadly speaking, small modular reactors use the same energy generating process as traditional large-scale nuclear fission plants. This means that the process still has the same safety and environmental concerns as traditional nuclear power plants."
Jamie Stone, the Liberal Democrat MP for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross, said: "In 2019, Highland councillors, including those representing Caithness, voted overwhelmingly to explore the development of new nuclear power sources in the Highlands.
"For the Scottish Government to block planning consents for a small modular reactor would be an admission that they care not a jot about local opinion in the far north. Sadly, I would expect nothing less from the central belt SNP."
Mr Stone has been in contact with Rolls-Royce about the potential of locating a mini-reactor in Caithness and has maintained there is strong support in the community. He believes SMRs can help achieve domestic energy security and has warned that Scottish Government ministers “cannot continue to bury their heads in the sand” on nuclear power.
Speaking during a debate in Westminster Hall last month, Mr Stone said: “Caithness is one of the most nuclear-sympathetic parts of the United Kingdom, because it is where the Dounreay nuclear reactor was constructed in the 1950s. Even today some 1500 jobs directly and 500 in the supply chain rest on the nuclear industry."
Rolls-Royce SMR has secured £490 million through commercial equity and UK Research and Innovation grant funding.
The company says each power station would have the capacity to generate 470 megawatts of low-carbon energy, equivalent to more than 150 onshore wind turbines.
In October last year it was confirmed that the far north had missed out on the chance to host the world's first nuclear fusion power station.
A bid for the Spherical Tokamak for Energy Production (STEP) prototype power plant was submitted by Caithness and North Sutherland Regeneration Partnership. However, the submission was not among the five shortlisted by the UK Atomic Energy Authority.