21 Aug 2014

How ‘nuclear-free’ would an independent Scotland really be?

The Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond has privately told the boss of the energy giant EDF not to worry about the future of its two nuclear power stations – Torness and Hunterston B.

That’s despite the SNP’s public commitment to phase out nuclear power, and the claim that a “nuclear-free Scotland” is one of the major environmental reasons for voting Yes in next month’s referendum on independence.

On 18 June, the First Minister appeared to water down his party’s promise, or make it look inconsistent.

Mr Salmond wrote to the EDF Chief Executive Vincent de Rivaz, after holding a meeting with him in May:

Mr Salmond’s letter, obtained by Channel 4 News, said that: “… provided the necessary stringent safety considerations are met, we are not opposed to life extensions for Hunterston B and Torness.”

Letter Alex Salmond to Vincent de Rivaz 180614 by blueskizid

The EDF boss took this as very welcome news.  “I take your confirmation that life extensions would not be opposed in an independent Scotland as a positive message,” he wrote back to Mr Salmond on 9 July, in a letter also obtained by this programme.

Letter Vincent de Rivaz to Alex Salmond 090714 by blueskizid

The statement by Alex Salmond was considered so significant by EDF that it has been communicated to the company’s staff.

The Hunterston B power station on the coast near West Kilbride in Ayrshire was first opened in 1976.  It was due for closure in 2011, but was then given a 12-year extension until 2023.  Torness in East Lothian is a more modern station.  It was due to come to the end of its natural life in the same year.

Read more: Why next week’s Salmond-Darling debate is so important

The Scottish Government’s blueprint for independence, the white paper Scotland’s Future, promises to “phase out existing nuclear capacity over time”.  But the exchange of letters this summer appears to show that rather than close the stations gradually, the Scottish Government would allow them to continue producing nuclear energy well into the late 2020s, and possibly into the 2030s.

Green campaigners in Scotland have criticised Mr Salmond for his “careful phrasing” of the Scottish government position of future nuclear energy plans.  They argue that life extensions for Torness and Hunterston B are unnecessary because Scotland’s is due by 2020 to be self-sufficient in its energy needs purely though renewables such as wind power and hydro-electric power.

Dr Richard Dixon, director of Friends of the Earth Scotland, told Channel 4 News:

“I think this is very disappointing.  Obviously the SNP are very clear about no nuclear reactors in Scotland, but extending the life of the existing stations is something we were hoping they would be much less keen on.  So there’s this language about ‘not objecting to’, but this is basically the go-ahead to flog old reactors for as long as the company wants.  So I think this is very disappointing.

“Obviously every minute that a nuclear reactor is operating, it’s creating more radioactive pollution to the air, and it’s creating more radioactive waste that we don’t know what to do with.  So I would have hoped of the SNP, who are after all pretty pro-renewable, that they would have wanted to close these reactors down pretty swiftly.”

Labour’s spokesman, Iain Gray, whose East Lothian constituency includes the Torness station, said:

“In truth, they don’t really have the courage of their own convictions.  They should say, if they are opposed to nuclear power, that they want to see these stations closed down.  I’m glad that they don’t, because my constituency needs the 500 jobs at Torness. To be honest with you, it could do with the potentially thousands of jobs that new generation nuclear power could provide as well.

“So really we have an SNP Government which has a position which they think is populist and popular, to be anti-nuclear, but the hypocrisy is that they know that they depend on nuclear power to produce half of Scotland’s electricity.”

Patrick Harvie, MSP, leader of the Scottish Green Party, told me: “The Scottish Government are clear that they want to see nuclear phased out, that they don’t see it having a long-term permanent role in Scotland’s energy system,  I think that we should be placing a time limit on that now.  It’s pretty clear that into the 2020s we will not be needing nuclear power in the context of a Scotland generating more 100 per cent of what we consumer from clean, green renewable energy.”

A spokesman for the SNP Government said Mr Salmond’s letter was consistent with what their ministers have always said.  He cited the then SNP Energy Minister Jim Mather, back as 2007, as saying they weren’t against extending existing nuclear power stations until the end of their natural life.

But at that stage, Mr Mather was merely talking about an extension at Hunterston B to 2016.

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22 reader comments

  1. David Foster says:

    It is now becoming clear that Channel 4 news is as biased as the BBC in it’s reporting and fear bombing of the Scottish Independence movement. This is a Referendum not an Election campaign for the SNP but you keep up your consistent sniping at the First Minister of Scotland who was elected with a massive majority (unlike Cameron) by the people o9f Scotland on irrelevant issues. By disrespecting the First Minister you disrespect the people of Scotland.
    Nuclear Weapons are the main target of the people of Scotland. It is only common sense to leave existing Nuclear Power until the end of their lifespan.
    You know this and therefore it is obvious you are a Westminster mouthpiece as are the rest of the UK MSM. I will no longer watch Channel 4 and will actively advise other Scots to do the same. I realise that you receive part of the Licence fee which I am legally obliged to pay but I am not going to pay for Westminster propaganda to be inflicted on me.
    Very sad to see you going down this road.

    1. Philip says:

      One’s man bias is another man’s telling the truth as they see it.

  2. Andy M says:

    Secret letters and hypocrisy. Really?


    Reported over 2 years ago from PUBLISHED PLANS OF THE SCOTTISH GOVERNMENT.

    This is really shabby journalism or, I fear, something worse.

  3. Dan Huil says:

    Nothing new here. Slow day at C4.

  4. John Macmillan says:

    Is this the best you can do to shore up the ermine ts of a failed empire.Get over yourself Michael and deal with the real issues.How are the YewKay going to pay down its massive debt.Answer that one and you get instant respect.

  5. David Stevenson says:

    This isn’t even news, just Crick pursuing his usual anti-Salmond agenda. Join the journalist Brit pack as they spin nothing into a downer story to benefit the Unionists…. It is utter tedium. I sincerely can’t wait for a Yes vote on the 18th of September so that the likes of Michael Crick have no reason to come north of the border to regale us with their prejudices.

    As to the “story”, the essence of it is that the current Scottish Government is ensuring energy security while increasing renewables. End of story. However, that doesn’t suit the media as they go rabid in their efforts to undermine Scottish democracy. Questioning power? That’ll be right! Crawling to power, more like.

  6. Ally McEwen says:

    Just another example in the relentless biased propaganda of the mainstream media.
    Goebbels would be proud.

  7. Jim M says:

    What are you on about Crick this was reported on BBC Scotland over 2 years ago. Lazy journalism, sack your researcher, or even better sack yourself.

  8. just me says:

    so well have a nuclear free scotland but have two nuclear reactors lol since the nuclear weapons are not armed i know what id rather have

    1. Me too says:

      Not nuclear free at all. Trident to be removed but NATO ships and Subs will be allowed to dock in Scottish ports as Salmond follows Norway’s ‘don’t ask, don’t tell policy. It’s in the Scotland Future white paper produced by the SNP Government!

  9. Robert Peffers says:

    What a disgusting and biased propaganda channel C4 has become. No longer fit for the purpose. It will never be accepted after Scottish Independence. I’ve already refused to renew my licence and I’m over 75. It was my unfortunate lot to be visiting by friend and he had your absolute biased and insulting guff on. He too is now decided to lapse his licence. Scotland does not need or want you now. I hope to see reports you have failed and gone burst.

    1. Paul T says:

      C4 doesn’t receive any public funding. How will refusing to pay your licence fee affect them?

  10. mike c says:

    Surely the real point here is the illconsidered presumption that Alex Salmond and the SNP will be the government of an independent Scotland.

    A presumption, by the way, which Salmond and the SNP never seem to object to when it is made.

    Nobody knows what the makeup of an independent Scotland’s first – nevermind subsequent – parliaments would be.

    We may elect a government opposed to nuclear weapons and power. We may not.

    Indeed, who is to say that the SNP will even survive in an independent Scotland.

  11. Michael McCabe says:

    Channel 4 news used to be impartial on most things. but now when reporting on anything to do with the Scottish Referendum you take a Unionist slant to your Reporting. Impartiality has gone. Just like the rest of the Media. You have just lost another Viewer.

  12. Eileen Cowey says:

    Come on, Channel 4 News – you can do better!

  13. Robin says:

    Shockingly poor ‘journalism’. Channel 4 = Tory mouthpiece.

  14. Alex Turnbull says:

    I have to agree with the above comments. Really disgraceful journalism. Partisan, totally misleading and no opportunity given to Alex Salmond or the Scottish Government to set the record straight. Instead a Labour opponent given the airtime to allege hypocrisy. I am so disappointed in Channel 4 news for allowing this to be aired and for apparently joining in with the rest of the London media’s relentless attempts to undermine the Yes campaign. It is such a pity that airing such nonsense calls into question your impartiality as a news organisation. Was it really worth that?

  15. John B says:

    I had, at one time, great respect for John Snow and Michael Crick. They are capable of both bite and balance. I turn my face from this unworthy offering and the treatment of Scotland’s Referendum, which, to my mind diminish the reputation of Channel 4.

  16. Scottish lass says:

    I too used to rate Channel 4 news, john S now etc and am so disappointed they have gone the same route as the BBC. We do not live in a democracy when the media not only fail to give balanced coverage of the referendum but don’t seem to realise (or just don’t care) they are insulting the intelligence of the people of Scotland.

  17. Paul T says:

    Interesting to see that Alex Salmond intends to maintain a GB wide energy market. Somewhat grandiose of him to speak on behalf of the rest of GB, don’t you think? Surely he should be hoping to maintain it, not intending. Perhaps the other countries in GB would have a different opinion. Probably all irrelevant anyway as independence won’t happen. Alex Salmond’s numbers are becoming unravelled with every utterance.

  18. George Sutherland says:

    While I enjoy Channel 4 news and consider it to be by far the best news media programme in the UK, there is always one notable exception, and that is Michael Crick. This latest “exposure” is old news that is made out to be a new sensation story. During the build up of renewable energy supplies it was always obvious that this would be a gradual process and that Scotland could not immediately stop producing electricity from non-renewable sources like nuclear power. We in Scotland have known for some considerable time that the two existing nuclear power stations would be allowed to continue operating provided they were within the operational safety limits. There are no proposals to allow new non-renewable nuclear plants to be built. Simple, so why does Mr Crick seem to be unable to understand this – or is he just interested in “sensational stories”

  19. Brendan says:

    Wow, once again the Yes campaign attack a journalist for doing his job. Anyone reporting that an independent Scotland will be anything other than Utopia must be denounced as a Tory/British/English/Westminster stooge.

    So much for having an open and honest debate on Scotland’s future. These comments are just embarrassing.

Comments are closed.