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Divided over the nuclear option: How Jamie Stone and Lucy Beattie disagree over new atomic energy for Caithness with the LibDem for, the nationalist against

By Scott Maclennan

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Lucy Beattie and Jamie Stone - the main dividing line is over the issue of nuclear power.
Lucy Beattie and Jamie Stone - the main dividing line is over the issue of nuclear power.

Nuclear energy is the issue that divides the Liberal Democrat Jamie Stone and the SNP’s Lucy Beattie who are the frontrunners in what many people in the Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross seat see as a straight choice.

The general election is less than a week away and in the second part of a series of interviews with Mr Stone and Dr Beattie we see how the issue of new nuclear splits the political atom like no other – so what is the fallout?

The debate about so-called “new nuclear” – usually thought of as Small Modular Reactors – has raised both hopes and fears, particularly in Caithness which has traditionally benefited from atomic energy.

• How personal tragedy unites the frontrunners Jamie Stone and Lucy Beattie for the far north seat and influences their politics

• The candidates for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross say why they should represent the UK’s most northerly mainland constituency

The leading global nuclear body, the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency “supports the safe, secure, and peaceful use of nuclear technologies”.

But the Scottish Government does not. The current constituency MSP Maree Todd is against it and last month First Minister John Swinney said: “The Scottish Government will not support new nuclear power stations in Scotland.”

Jamie Stone getting a briefing from Alex Campbell, the Chief Executive of the Port of Cromarty Firth. Picture: Callum Mackay.
Jamie Stone getting a briefing from Alex Campbell, the Chief Executive of the Port of Cromarty Firth. Picture: Callum Mackay.

Mr Stone could not be clearer, he wants a new modular reactor in Caithness for the high quality jobs it can provide and, because Dounreay is already a licensed nuclear site, it will help balance the UK’s strategic energy mix.

“You have to go back to the 1950s when nuclear first came to Dounreay,” he said. “It meant that people could work at Dounreay and have high quality employment and it not only stopped Highland depopulation, it reversed it and Wick and Thurso grew.

“You could say that it literally helped keep the lights on in the crofting townships at Halladale, Melvich, and Bettyhill, all these places, and having an industry like that underpinned society and a way of life.

“Now at Dounreay we have a very highly skilled workforce, we have a licensed site, and we have a local population who would warmly applaud getting a new small modular nuclear reactor.

“But also this – we are going to need a mix of energy sources, it is going to have to be wind, yes, but what happens when the wind doesn’t blow? It is going to have to be hydro-carbons, but we want to go green so nuclear is going to be really, really important in this mix.

“And are we really going to rely on buying Russian energy again? No, we are going to crack on with nuclear – I stress again, they are highly skilled in Dounreay and I will back this to the hilt.

“At the moment the SNP say they will block all applications for nuclear in Scotland but with a change of government in Scotland, that could change, and I am waiting for that moment.

“I have talked to Rolls Royce and other firms – it is absolutely doable and other countries are doing it, putting small modular reactors about the place and we should do the same.”

Dr Beattie, however, appears to run slightly against the party grain – by insisting that her party is not against all nuclear energy, and suggesting that there is potentially room for the right technology.

“The SNP’s position is for clean energy so that doesn’t necessarily exclude nuclear fusion,” she said. “Since December of last year we have the situation where fusion technology has actually been achieved and that is really, really encouraging.

“Getting back to our area and the people in Caithness, there is a huge potential for research and development up there and that is already happening. The Nuclear Decommissioning Authority is working really well towards that.

“And in fact, as far as I am aware, folks who are based up at Dounreay had utilised their knowledge to help with the work going on at Fukushima after the disaster there and that level of high expertise should be maintained.

“We talk about a ‘just transition’ – if people have these scientific skill sets or technical skill sets or welding or whatever is happening up there, these should not be lost and these jobs should not be lost.

“So when you are looking at the just transition, what is there to fill the gap? If you are looking at clean energy then we do have a vast abundance of natural resources. There is some consternation and discussion about pylons and how this infrastructure carries it.

“And that is being driven at the moment by Ofgem in the wake of the Ukraine war. There are two reasons – the climate agenda but also the agenda to be self-sufficient.”

She sums-up saying that there is “huge potential” through the need for energy self-sufficiency “with storage but also with green hydrogen and that is something that I would really like to see us working on.”

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