16 May, 2023
The Times by Greig Cameron

Most people living in Scotland favour introducing new nuclear power to help in the nation’s journey to net zero, according to a poll.

The research has found that a significant proportion of SNP supporters back the technology despite the party’s longstanding opposition to any nuclear energy. The support includes modular reactors which are seen in some quarters, including Westminster, as having the potential to boost efforts to decarbonise.

Dozens of companies, including Rolls-Royce and one backed by Bill Gates, are developing designs for smaller reactors that can offer different levels of power output while also being built in a central location then transported elsewhere.

Although the energy generation from them has zero emissions critics point out that they will still generate nuclear waste.

The poll, for Britain Remade and carried out by the polling group Opinium, questioned more than 1,000 people in Scotland. Almost 55 per cent indicated they would support new nuclear if it helped the country reach net zero targets; 29 per cent were still against nuclear and the remainder did not express a preference.

Respondents were also asked about their voting intentions or party affiliations. This revealed that 44 per cent of SNP supporters believed nuclear power should be included in Scotland’s energy mix with 39 per cent opposed.

Britain Remade, which describes itself as a pro-growth organisation, is to publish a report this week into how Scotland can help improve energy security and bring down bills by 2030.

The researchers found 84 per cent of Scots expressed concern about the UK’s reliance on importing energy. On oil and gas, 57 per cent were in favour of awarding new North Sea licences and 28 per cent were against.

The Scottish government’s energy strategy consultation proposed an assumption against new oil and gas developments, even though the power to grant them is reserved to Westminster.

Britain Remade suggested that reversing the effective ban on new nuclear power in Scotland could help in the transition away from fossil fuels as well as provide new jobs and investment.

Sam Richards, the founder and campaign director for Britain Remade, said: “The message from our polling is clear. When it comes to safe and reliable nuclear power, the SNP is not just at odds with a majority of Scots, they’re at odds with a huge number of their own supporters.

“With energy bills still painfully high for millions of people, the Scottish government should be doing all they can to generate as much clean domestic energy as possible. By speeding up the delivery of clean energy projects, and dropping the ban on new nuclear, we can end our reliance on expensive foreign gas, households will see cheaper bills and we can create thousands of good quality jobs in Scotland.”

Tom Greatrex, the chief executive of the Nuclear Industry Association, said: “Nuclear has been central in Scotland’s efforts to decarbonise. For 60 years, it has provided good jobs, clean power and energy security for the Scottish people, and it can do the same for the next generation.

“There are nuclear communities in Scotland that want new projects, to bring investment, jobs and opportunities for young people. It is a great shame that no new projects are being built, and nobody will while there’s an ideological anti-nuclear policy.”

The Scottish government said that significant growth in renewables, hydrogen and carbon capture storage provided the best pathway to net zero by 2045, and would deliver a climate-friendly energy system that delivers affordable, resilient and clean energy supplies.

It 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 and will take years, if not decades, to become operational and has significant environmental concerns.

“Decisions on oil and gas exploration and licensing remain reserved to the UK government. 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.”

Liam Kerr, from the Scottish Conservatives, said: “This shows the extent of support for nuclear power as part of a managed and responsible transition to net zero. The SNP, under pressure from their extremist Green coalition partners, have it ruled out but most Scots see it as a common sense and environmentally sound solution.

“The SNP-Green government should drop their blinkered, unscientific opposition and adopt an evidence-based approach to energy policy.”