Select Committee on Scottish Affairs Written Evidence


APPENDIX 10

Memorandum submitted to the Committee by the Nuclear Industry Association

  The Nuclear Industry Association (NIA) welcomes this opportunity to submit evidence to the Committee. This is an important topic that urgently needs to be addressed in the light of the reduction in Scotland's nuclear generating capacity over the next two decades, and the long leadtimes for the construction of replacement capacity.

  The NIA is the trade association and information and representative body for the British civil nuclear industry. It represents 100 companies including the operators of the nuclear power stations, those engaged in decommissioning, waste management, nuclear liabilities management and all aspects of the nuclear fuel cycle, nuclear equipment suppliers, engineering and construction firms, nuclear research organisations, and legal, financial and consultancy companies. Several of our member companies, including British Energy, BNFL and UKAEA, have significant interests in Scotland, and it is the location for a number of large engineering firms, such as Mitsui Babcock and Weir, which are heavily involved in nuclear related activities.

We have divided our evidence under the three headings that will be covered by your enquiry.

How can the shortfall in energy output be met once nuclear power no longer provides Scotland's energy needs?

  On the latest statistics Scotland's two nuclear power stations at Hunterston and Torness supply about half of Scotland's electricity, more than any other source. Hunterston B is scheduled to close in 2011, and Torness in 2023. British Energy has stated that the scope for extending the operating lives of AGR stations is limited. Scotland therefore faces the prospect of needing to replace at least a third of its generating capacity, and probably more as old coal fired stations also reach the end of their lives or are retired on environmental grounds, over the next 18 years.

  There are several ways in which this shortfall could be replaced. First, power could be imported from England, although this would require England to generate the required surplus and there is no evidence that such large scale investment in current market conditions is likely. This option can therefore be discounted. Secondly, more fossil fuel plants—probably gas fired—could be constructed to meet the shortfall. However, fossil fuelled plants emit greenhouse gases. Increased reliance on those sources would be seriously detrimental to the environment and threaten national and international commitments to reduce carbon emissions to mitigate against climate change. Scotland is currently the leader in the UK in producing carbon free electricity and it would be regrettable to reverse this situation. Moreover, Britain will be a net importer of gas from 2006 as North Sea reserves are depleted. Relying on imported supplies from regions such as Russia, the Middle East and North Africa, many of which are politically unstable, poses risks to the security and cost of energy supply. While it is likely that some additional gas fired capacity will be constructed because of the commercial attractions of the technology, it should be as part of a balanced portfolio of generating sources to reduce the environmental, security of supply and cost risks associated with over reliance on a single imported source.

  Alternative options would be to replace the retired nuclear capacity with renewables or to replace it with new nuclear capacity, or a combination of both. Scotland clearly has significant potential for developing renewable sources of energy. As hydro generation has limited further scope for development, the most promising alternative is wind power, given that the timescales would not allow for the development of solar and wave power to a point at which they could produce sufficient electricity to meet the nation's needs. However, replacing Scotland's nuclear capacity with wind power would require more than 4,000 additional onshore wind turbines, which would require sufficient conventional back up generating capacity—probably fossil fuelled—to compensate for the intermittency of wind power. NIA fully supports the development of wind and other renewable energy sources as contributors to the creation of a low carbon energy economy. However, renewables at their current level of technological development cannot realistically replace the reliable, large-scale, carbon free output of the nuclear stations. The widespread development and deployment of clean renewable sources is crucially important, but it makes little sense to pursue policies to develop renewables at the same time as presiding over the loss of nuclear capacity. There will be no net improvement in emissions levels by replacing one carbon free source of electricity with another. Moreover, given the intermittent nature of many renewables such as wind, the back-up capacity required is likely to be fossil fuelled—coal or gas—meaning a probable net increase in emissions.

  Replacing Scotland's current nuclear capacity could be achieved with one modern twin reactor station which could be located on any of the existing four nuclear sites in Scotland. Developments in nuclear technology are producing inherently safer, simpler, more efficient and cheaper reactor designs that produce significantly less waste than existing reactors. If two such stations were built and combined with an increase in the use of renewables Scotland could move rapidly towards generating over 90% of its electricity without the production of greenhouse gases.

Job prospects in the Caithness region following the decommissioning of Dounreay

  Dounreay is by far the major employer in Caithness and if it were to be completely closed following decommissioning the implications for employment in the region would be seriously detrimental. Although full decommissioning is still many years away, even with UKAEA's accelerated decommissioning plans, it is sensible to address the issue of economic regeneration well in advance. NIA is aware that the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA), which will assume ownership of the Dounreay site from April 2005, has a remit to consider economic regeneration, and will no doubt be working closely with the relevant local authorities and Development Agencies to ensure the region's continued economic viability following Dounreay's closure. The only point NIA wishes to stress is that the Dounreay site has full grid connections and the infrastructure for electricity generation, and could continue to be used for that purpose either for a large renewables project or a new generation nuclear facility, for which it would be particularly well-suited as a nuclear licensed site.

The long-term strategy for dealing with radioactive waste, in particular intermediate level waste

  The NIA supports the work currently being undertaken by the Committee on Radioactive Waste Management (CoRWM), and recognises the important need for public confidence in decisions on the management and disposal of the UICs radioactive waste. Arriving at an acceptable long term solution for dealing with radioactive waste is becoming an increasingly urgent problem, particularly as the NDA is about to embark on its extensive programme of decommissioning the historic legacy of public sector nuclear sites Which will create significant additional amounts of waste. The technical basis for the safe treatment and disposal of radioactive waste is well understood, and solutions are being implemented in other countries with political and public support, for example in Sweden and Finland. NIA recognises the political sensitivity surrounding waste management in this country and the strong emotions it arouses, but we would urge CoRWM and the Government not to delay taking decisions. The waste exists and has to be dealt with, no matter what the future might be for new nuclear build in Scotland or elsewhere in the UK.

CONCLUSIONS

  Nuclear energy currently supplies the largest proportion of Scotland's electricity generating capacity, but that capacity will need to be replaced over the next 20 years. In the medium term, renewables are highly unlikely to be able to replace the lost nuclear capacity, and increased reliance on imported gas for electricity generation poses environmental, security of supply and cost risks. Scotland has a long tradition in nuclear energy and many Scottish companies possess valuable skills and capabilities in nuclear technology. The replacement of Scotland's nuclear capacity with new, more advanced reactors would provide long term environmental, economic and energy supply benefits. NIA acknowledges that arriving at an acceptable long term solution to the problem of radioactive waste management is an important step in the public acceptance of new build in Scotland and elsewhere in the UK, however it should not be a pretext for delaying any decisions on replacing Scotland's nuclear capacity. If Scotland is to maintain its position as a low carbon producer of electricity then it must start planning new nuclear capacity now.

January 2005


 
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