Saturday, March 12, 2011

Nuclear Power - Yes Please?

One of the things which surprises me most about the environmental campaigners I meet through my work is the tacit understanding that nuclear power may be necessary in order to reduce Scotland's carbon emissions.

It wasn't that long ago that nuclear energy was a hot topic with nobody on the environmental left in favour of building new power stations. In the 70's and 80's no Citreon 2CV was complete without a "Nuclear Power No Thanks" sticker. I get the impression that nobody is particularly comfortable with the idea of new nuclear power plants, but with the Scottish Government wanting to reduce carbon emissions by 40% by 2020 and 35% of our current emissions coming from one coal fired power station (Longannet) its clear that we cannot put more reliance on coal. The current planning application for a coal fired power station at Hunterston relies on carbon capture technology which has not been tested at that scale and may take a long time to get working.

At the same time, pressure to move to electric cars means we will need more power. Solar power is not available overnight and wind power is too erratic. We can't turn on wind turbines like we can a power station when we hit a peak of demand. Wave power may be the answer, but there is currently no technology which can be easily rolled out to produce sufficient energy. So it looks like we are going to need to replace some of our ageing nuclear power stations and build another one to keep up with demand in the short term. This has become the elephant in the room for many environmentalists, but the safety fears have so far been outweighed by the desire to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

As I am writing this Sky TV are showing film of the explosion at the Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan. We don't yet know what this explosion means for Japan or the rest of the world, but it is surely going to colour discussions in Scotland about how we plan to meet our future energy needs.