Page last updated at 14:51 GMT, Monday, 16 February 2009

Nuclear future 'key for Scotland'

Nuclear power station
The UK Government wants to see a new generation of nuclear plants

Scotland needs to have a nuclear future to secure energy supplies and jobs, the Scottish secretary has insisted.

At a conference in Edinburgh, Jim Murphy underlined Westminster's intention to promote the expansion of nuclear energy.

The Scottish Government is opposed to building new nuclear plants and can effectively veto them through planning powers held at Holyrood.

But Mr Murphy said nuclear development was key to UK energy policy.

Westminster favours expansion to ensure security of energy supplies in the future and to help the UK meet its CO2 reduction targets.

Mr Murphy criticised the Scottish Government policy as contradicting the best interests of Scottish consumers and being at odds with political consensus across Europe.

It is a source of regret that such common sense thinking is not replicated here by the Scottish Government in Edinburgh
Jim Murphy
Scottish secretary

He told the conference that his father helped build South Africa's first nuclear power station when his family lived in that country in the 1980s.

"That experience shaped my family and my politics," he said.

He added: "Two-thirds of the world's carbon dioxide comes from energy use, so it is clear why achieving a balanced energy mix is essential to a climate change solution.

"It is a source of regret however that such common sense thinking is not replicated here by the Scottish Government in Edinburgh."

By 2025 all but one of Britain's nuclear stations will have ended service and without new nuclear plant Scotland may depend on electricity imported from across the border in peak periods.

Mr Murphy said: "Scottish self-reliance without new nuclear generation is imaginary."

'No appetite'

He said ministers in London had been "convinced" by the evidence for a new generation of power stations, better designed and more efficient than those they replaced.

"In contrast Scotland - or indeed your industry - is yet to hear any convincing energy-based argument against nuclear power generation from the SNP-led Scottish Government," he told the conference.

"While they refuse to permit the construction of new reactors here north of the border, they also refuse to offer any sophisticated argument for why this negative policy is in Scotland's interests," he said.

Mr Murphy said he was happy to work with the Scottish Government on this "important issue".

The fact of the matter is that there is no public acceptance of new Labour's dash for nuclear power in Scotland
Alistair Carmichael MP
Liberal Democrats

His comments came as the Crown Estate gave the go-ahead for companies to explore 10 offshore sites around Scotland with a view to developing wind farms.

But the SNP accused him of trying to "bully" Scottish Labour and Scotland into supporting nuclear energy.

A spokesman for the first minister said: "What a contrast - while Jim Murphy is addressing an audience of spin doctors for the nuclear industry, the first minister is opening the new offices of the latest marine renewables development company to choose Scotland as the base to develop, own and operate large-scale offshore wind farms globally.

"The Scottish secretary talks about 'common sense thinking' - it's a pity he doesn't follow his own advice.

"What could be more common sense than capitalising on Scotland's vast renewable energy potential, as the Scottish Government is doing, instead of Jim Murphy's blind faith in costly, dirty, dangerous and unreliable nuclear power."

He added: "Jim Murphy should recognise there is no appetite in Scotland for new nuclear power stations.

"Indeed there appears little appetite for them among many of his own party colleagues."

The Liberal Democrats also criticised the Scottish secretary's comments.

Alistair Carmichael MP said: "It is well known that the diary of the Secretary of State for Scotland does not suffer from being overfilled but one has to wonder exactly why Jim Murphy is attending a conference of this sort.

"The fact of the matter is that there is no public acceptance of new Labour's dash for nuclear power in Scotland."

'Energy security'

The Conservatives welcomed Mr Murphy's comments but urged the Labour party to unite on the nuclear issue.

Shadow Secretary of State David Mundell said: "I am a long-standing supporter of the conclusion that new nuclear capacity is needed if Scotland is going to meet both its energy needs and its carbon reduction targets.

"However, the single most important thing that Jim Murphy could be doing on this issue is working to unite the Scottish Labour MPs and MSPs behind those who want Scotland to be able to get its share of the UK's upcoming new-build nuclear investment.

"If the 46 Labour MSPs voted as one on this issue and his MP colleagues spoke with one voice, then we'd be a major step on towards that happening."

Lord O'Neil of Clackmannan, chairman of the UK Nuclear Industry Association, claimed figures had shown increasing support for nuclear in Scotland.

He said: "Clearly, an increasing number of Scottish people believe that the road to greater energy security in Scotland includes an increase in the use of nuclear power."

The nuclear industry employs about 9,000 people in Scotland.

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