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Last Updated: Monday, 16 May, 2005, 12:21 GMT 13:21 UK
Scientists switch on power probe
Experts will look at how energy supplies can be secured
Pressure over Scotland's energy needs is hotting up as scientists launch an inquiry into worries about how the country will be supplied in the future.

It is feared Scotland will suffer a potential shortfall in generating capacity as power stations come to the end of their lives.

Half of electricity comes from nuclear stations which will be decommissioned within a decade.

The Royal Society of Edinburgh will conduct the inquiry.

Enough generating capacity exists for Scotland's own current needs, with a surplus being exported to England.

But in March, the Scottish affairs committee at Westminster suggested that a replacement nuclear power station may be needed to prevent blackouts.

The issue is so important, I hope it doesn't become a political football
Professor Maxwell Irvine
Royal Society of Edinburgh

Eco-activists from WWF have argued nuclear is not necessary.

Spokesman Richard Dixon said: "We have a number of renewable technologies coming up.

"Offshore wind, onshore wind, wave power and tidal - each one of them on their own could provide three quarters of the power we currently consume."

Dr Dixon added: "If you look at all of the renewables together, they can provide four times as much energy as Scotland needs."

But Ian Fells, professor of energy conversion at the University of Newcastle, believes green power sources could not replace nuclear fuel.

'Many wind stations'

He said: "Hunterston B is one of the nuclear power stations and it comes to the end of its life in six years time, in 2011. It provides 20% of Scotland's electricity.

"That has to be replaced somehow. The notion that wind farms and wave and tidal stream can do it doesn't bear any kind of scrutiny."

He added: "To replace that power station would need 2,400 large wind turbines."

Head of the energy probe, Professor Maxwell Irvine, said: "I personally believe there is an energy problem.

Wind turbine
Environment groups believe wind energy is part of the solution
"If you want to go for the wind option, it certainly requires very many wind stations. Nobody, as far as I know, has decently discussed the infrastructure implications for that.

"At the moment, we generate energy in big stations near the central belt and distribute it outwards down the grid.

"If we generate it in Lewis, we have to bring it back into the central belt and that requires a huge re-structuring of the grid."

He continued: "There are issues about local elements in the islands, about tourism and eco-tourism - they have to be looked at. On the other hand, the nuclear issue has not been finally resolved."

Prof Maxwell said of his investigation: "We will be looking at the science - that is social sciences, economics, environmental and technical.

World leaders

"The issue is so important, I hope it doesn't become a political football because that would not serve the nation well."

"We will first of all be soliciting evidence shortly for our website.

"We will also be going round the country, talking to communities to find out about local views. We will be visiting installations, talking to the champions of each one of them."

The team will also talk to the Danes and the Germans about their experience of wind power, where they are currently world leaders.

Prof Maxwell added: "We'll want to talk to the Fins about their decision to build a new nuclear plant. We'll try to benefit from knowledge abroad, as well as at home."

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