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Scots nuclear ban row: ‘In danger of returning to the days of power cuts and candles’



It has emerged that according to Nuclear Industry Association data some 315 jobs have been lost over the five years to 2023 in Scotland.

The Scottish Government, while ruled by an SNP-Green co-operation arrangement, has been steadfast in its opposition to nuclear, believing that it is not environmentally sustainable and “isn’t required”.

Now the union has sent out a new message to the new look leadership of the Scottish Government, after one Hunterston B nuclear power workers representative issued a warning about the decline of nuclear and said: “If we are not careful, it will be back to the good old days of power cuts and candles”.

GMB, one of the biggest unions in the energy sector with members across oil, gas, and nuclear, has backed a motion off the back of the warning demanding that Scottish Government reverse its ban on new nuclear.

In 2016 nuclear power stations provided 42.8% of the electricity produced in Scotland.

There were in 2019 two nuclear power stations in Scotland owned by French energy giant EDF that generated electricity: Hunterston B in Ayrshire which started generation in 1976 but shut down for the final time in 2022 after generating electricity for 46 years.

Torness in East Lothian which started up 1988 was proposed to cease operation in 2030 but is due to close in 2028 because of expected cracks found in the graphite bricks which make up the reactor cores.

There are three closed sites in Scotland that have been in the process of being decommissioned – Dounreay in Caithness; Hunterston A in Ayrshire and Chapelcross in Dumfries and Galloway.

The decommissioning of these sites is overseen and funded by the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) which is a non-departmental public body set up under the Energy Act 2004.

GMB say that new nuclear means that thousands of well-paid jobs that come with energy source would mean skills will be based here in Scotland therefore bolstering the tax base to pay for our NHS, social care and other public services.

David Ferguson, who has worked in nuclear power stations for ten years, and is the GMB workplace representative for Hunterston B nuclear station succeeded in getting the union to push ministers to act – after issuing a stern warning about the future of the industry at its UK congress.

He said: “I’ve watched as Hinkley C gets built and Sizewell C gets planned and the stability that brings to those areas as workers transition from station at the end of their life, to new stations.

“We could have been going through that transition in the west of Scotland with a Hunterston C, but sadly, for generations of workers on the west coast that is not to be because the Scottish Government opposes all new nuclear builds.”

The radiation worker who monitors radioactivity said that when Hunterston B was a running station, it employed around 650 people and when it went into defuelling it dropped to 420 and as they plant enters decommissioning it will drop to 240.

“He said: “I watched as a young boy how the great shipbuilding towns of Greenock and Port Glasgow just north of me, lost most of its shipyards and how much of a devastating effect that had on the area. A way of life ingrained in people scratched away. All the skills lost. And working-class people struggling to find a new career. Mining towns across Scotland suffered the same fate before.

“With the end of Hunterston, that is being repeated. A site which for 60 years has provided thousands of jobs to the towns of Largs, West Kilbride, Saltcoats, Ardrossan and Stevenson. The skills here will be lost. Another industry gone and workers looking for new careers. Already, they are heading abroad to places like Abu Dhabi [the capital of the United Arab Emirates].

“I know that people have concerns about nuclear. I did before I started working there coming from construction.

“But there is no one who takes safety more seriously than nuclear workers. Once I started, I quickly realised how safe power stations were compared to building sites.

“I came to learn that people living in Aberdeen receive more radiation per year because of the granite houses they live in than most nuclear workers do.

“With Hunterston A and B providing safe, reliable energy to the grid for 60 years, it has a proven track record for our industry and country. So it’s time for a change in the way the Scottish Government looks at the nuclear industry.

“There could have been a Hunterston C, a Torness B, and a mini reactor at Ardern. It’s time for the Scottish Government to end its opposition to new evolving nuclear technology as part of our energy mix.

“If we are not careful, it will be back to the good old days of power cuts and candles.”

GMB has now made supported his plea and call on ministers to reverse its band on new nuclear.

Louise Gilmour, GMB Scotland secretary, said: “To reduce emissions, governments in Scotland and around the world must be willing to adapt to changing circumstances and take the most effective action possible.

“Failing to seriously consider every possible means of safely reducing emissions is an abdication of responsibility.”

(Image: GMB)

The union said new nuclear would deliver cleaner energy for Scots while helping create and protect skilled, well-paid jobs currently being off-shored along with contracts for renewable infrastructure.

Ms Gilmour said work to review the potential to expand and extend existing nuclear facilities at Hunterston and Torness should begin immediately.

She said: “The pursuit of net zero is a long process that will span decades and generations. We must make the plans and investments now to meet tomorrow’s targets.

“Hunterston and Torness both currently present an opportunity for expansion so that low carbon energy and jobs can continue in Scotland.

“While the Scottish Government continues to block any new nuclear, these opportunities will be missed as will emission targets.”

At the end of March, before Humza Yousaf resigned as First Minister in the wake of the end of the SNP and Greens power-sharing arrangement, the Scottish Government was standing firm over what was described as “ideological opposition” to nuclear energy despite being warned that it risks the potential creation of thousands of new Scots jobs.

They said that nuclear power is “unnecessary in Scotland” as renewables such as wind energy are already providing what they see as “a pathway to net zero”, reinforcing what is an effective ban on the building of new power stations.

More than 20 countries from four continents launched the Declaration to Triple Nuclear Energy at COP28 in December, underscoring what they consider is its key role in achieving global net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

Countries that have endorsed the declaration include the United States, Canada, Finland, France, Japan, Republic of Korea, Morocco, Netherlands, Poland, Sweden, Ukraine, United Arab Emirates, and the United Kingdom.

The Scottish Government was approached for comment.

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