Page last updated at 00:03 GMT, Tuesday, 9 December 2008

Scotland 'may need nuclear power'

The report looked at energy needs over the coming decades

New nuclear power plants should be considered to ensure energy security for Scotland, a report has suggested.

The findings come in an independent report on the Scottish Government's renewable energy targets.

It found the target of 50% of power from renewables by 2020 could be met but recommended new nuclear should be considered for the longer-term.

The Scottish Government said a new generation of nuclear plants would be "dangerous and "unnecessary".

The report, conducted for the Scottish Council for Development and Industry, found that to hit the 2020 targets would require a five-fold increase in the number of wind farms and highlighted the need for swifter investment.

It is our view that nuclear power should be considered as a potential part of the longer term generation base in Scotland
SCDI renewable energy report
It goes on to say that new nuclear should be considered for the longer-term because of questions about how to replace existing plants with low carbon alternatives after 2020.

The report estimates that onshore wind will provide more than 80% of the increase in renewable electricity.

It also estimates that Scotland needs 10bn of investment in new electricity generation between now and 2020, and predicts a 10% rise in demand for electricity despite attempts to encourage more energy efficiency.

The report says the best mix of electricity would be a balanced combination of renewables and less carbon-intensive fossil fuel sources.

"It is our view that nuclear power should be considered as a potential part of the longer-term generation base in Scotland," said the report.

Existing nuclear and coal-fired station closures between 2020 and 2030 may bring a need for more capacity - or more reliance on imported electricity, the study found.

"If Scottish demand is to continue to be served by Scottish generation, it is highly likely that new base load capacity will be needed and, in addition to the technologies we consider in the forecasts presented in this report, new nuclear generation could represent a viable option at this time," it said.

SCDI chief economist Iain Duff said the study showed Scotland could hit its ambitious renewable targets, but only with "unprecedented" levels of investment in new generation.

"In order to deliver this we need a speedy consents process, with Scotland needing 450MW of new wind - more than twice the size of the country's biggest operational wind farm - every year, as well as speedy improvements to grid connections, such as the critical Beauly to Denny line," he said.

Scotland doesn't need or want new nuclear stations
Richard Dixon
WWF Scotland

"This will allow us to meet demand from Scottish consumers and business and maintain exports to the rest of the UK into the future."

Energy Minister Jim Mather welcomed the report as validating the government's energy strategy and said that the country was already on track to exceed the initial target of 31% of electricity demand from renewables by 2011.

But he added: "We don't need dangerous and unnecessary new nuclear power stations, with soaring decommissioning costs and the unresolved problem of storage of radioactive waste that burdens future generations for thousands of years.

"As our own Council of Economic Advisers acknowledge, Scotland is well placed to become an international leader in alternative energy technologies, offering significant opportunities for growth and a way of moving Scotland to a low carbon economy."

'Nuclear cuckoo'

The Scottish Government is opposed to a new generation of nuclear power stations and can effectively veto it under current planning powers held at Holyrood.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown has called for more nuclear investment and the Department for Business is currently undertaking a "strategic siting assessment process" to identify a list of possible sites for new nuclear projects.

Liberal Democrat energy spokesman Liam McArthur welcomed the report but said he was "disappointed" at the nuclear recommendation.

"This would be the cuckoo in the nest," he said.

"It would draw vital investment away from genuine renewables, while leaving Scotland with a longer and costlier legacy of waste disposal."

Environment campaign group WWF Scotland said the study was based on "pessimistic assumptions".

Director Richard Dixon said: "Scotland doesn't need or want new nuclear stations. Any proposals here would be a huge financial distraction from developing the renewables."

Labour's energy spokesman Lewis Macdonald accused the government of failing to support enough wind energy applications, and also said it was essential that ministers made a quick and positive decision on the Beauly to Denny grid upgrade.

He added: "Beyond 2020, the report is clear that new baseload will be needed, and says that new nuclear should be considered as a potential part of the longer term generation base in Scotland.

"To rule out nuclear as the SNP wish to do is therefore clearly to reduce the chances of Scotland being able to meet its future energy needs."

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