WHEN it comes to nuclear energy, Europe is divided. Countries such as France, Poland, and Finland have urged the European Commission to classify it as green energy. But Germany is phasing out its plants, leading the anti-nuclear cause alongside nations including Spain and Denmark.

The UK is seeing a similar division. While the SNP-Green government is opposed to any new nuclear projects, the Tory government in Westminster is pushing ahead with funding massive power stations. It has taken a 50%, £679 million stake in the Sizewell C nuclear power station in Suffolk, and plans to back further projects moving forward.

Here, two experts from either side of the argument make their case on whether nuclear power should form a part of Scotland’s energy future.

Is nuclear green and does it fit with the idea of net zero?

The National:

Dr Paul Dorfman, Associate Fellow, Science Policy Research Unit, Sussex Energy Group, University of Sussex. Chair, Nuclear Consulting Group: The International Energy Agency’s “World Energy Outlook 2022” report concludes: “Renewables are the most important way to reduce CO2 emissions in the electricity sector.”

Meanwhile, since Greenland's glaciers are melting 100 times faster than estimated, coastal nuclear is at increasing risk. As the UK Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology says: “Coastal location of UK nuclear makes rising sea levels and storm surge flooding a future risk.”

And Sir David King, the UK’s former chief scientific adviser and long-standing nuclear supporter, says new nuclear at Sizewell C would be “very difficult to protect from flooding” due to rising seas.

So, UK coastal nuclear is on the front-line of climate, but not in a good way, with the UK Institute of Mechanical Engineers saying nuclear needs considerable investment to try to defend against rising sea levels, even relocation or abandonment.

Professor Wade Allison, Emeritus Professor of Physics, Emeritus Fellow of Keble College, University of Oxford: The survival of human society, our fellow creatures and the environment depends on numbers, not on colours, nor on ideas concocted as a promotional slogan like “net zero”. Seventy years of nuclear power have established it as safer, more reliable, better for the environment and our fellow creatures than any other energy source.

Nuclear uses negligible land, and requires a million times less fuel which is plentiful and well distributed around the world. Uranium, being soluble, is easily mined by leaching and is abundant in the sea. Thorium is even more abundant. The small quantity of fuel produces a small quantity of waste that is largely solid and not released into the environment. It is easily reprocessed and stored.

Nobody has died from nuclear waste – in fact it is used clinically to diagnose and cure cancer. Every family has at least one member whose life has been beneficially extended by nuclear technology. Nothing is greener than nuclear – and it is the only way to zero.

How does nuclear compare with other energy sources on cost, output, etc?

The National: Power has started to flow from East Anglia One, a wind farm off the region's coast. Picture: Rob Howarth.

Dr Dorfman: By 2050 the global power system will be dominated by renewable power from a vastly expanded grid to electrify heating, transport, and industry, with only marginal nuclear. Perhaps because whilst nuclear-levelised cost of electricity is $151 per MWh, renewables come in at just $41 per MWh. All this, because utility-scale renewables can be built on time and to budget.

Former UK investment minister Gerry Grimstone said that North Sea wind power will be more valuable to the UK than the oil and gas industry, meaning there's no-one left to dispute the fact that UK net-zero heavy-lifting will be done by renewable energy.

As Oxford University and UCL research says, renewables are comfortably the cheapest and most effective form of electricity production and CO2 mitigation, with UCL stating: “The current favourable UK Government policy towards nuclear is becoming increasingly difficult to justify.”

Prof Allison: The basic energy content of renewables, calculated with simple student physics, confirms that each is a thousand times weaker than fossil fuels. That is why wind and solar farms have to be so huge, smothering and ruining the surface of the Earth at the expense of flora and fauna. Reservoirs and dams are worse.

The Industrial Revolution rejected sun, wind and water, and powered its engines with fossil fuels. Renewables are weak, vulnerable and notoriously unreliable. Offshore wind is available only 30% of the time at best. It is wrong to pretend that it is cheap when another source, fossil or nuclear, has to be on standby to cover the other 70%.

Nuclear capital costs are high, but stations last for 60-80 years and the fuel is a minor cost. If nuclear is built as backup to renewables, the renewables become redundant. Significantly, nuclear energy is a million times more powerful than even fossil fuel. It will take 30-40 years, but eventually both fossil fuels and renewables will be displaced for all large sources of primary power.

The National:

What steps should Scotland take now to secure future energy supply?

Dr Dorfman: With millions struggling under the cost-of-living and energy crisis, stuffing vast sums of public money into the deep pockets of nuclear corporations just doesn’t make sense. The fact is, in terms of cost, time, and do-ability – it's renewable expansion in all sectors, energy management and efficiency, rapidly advancing storage technologies, grid modernisation, interconnection, and market innovation from supply to service provision that will power Scotland’s net-zero energy transition.

Nuclear isn’t just too slow and expensive to help with our climate and energy crises, it’s also too inflexible to power up and down with the swings of demand. Meanwhile, the variability of wind and solar technology are more easily integrated into evolving flexible electricity grids. The reality is, it’s entirely possible to sustain a reliable electricity system based on renewable energy.

The weight of evidence shows that due to the pace, scale, and economics of the renewable evolution, all nuclear can do is make promises it can’t keep.

Prof Allison: The most important investment is education and public information. It will take 20 years or more for everyone to appreciate the simple science of energy and the extent to which nuclear is harmless, safe, environmental and the best possible legacy we can leave our children and grandchildren.

Investment in large scale primary renewables should cease immediately, but fossil fuels will continue to be needed to support the economy in the transition period. Investment in primary nuclear energy for electricity and large shipping should go hand-in-hand with the secondary production of hydrogen, water purification, high grade industrial heat, low grade heat for domestic heating, heat and LED light for vertical farming. The latter over the next century will displace agriculture leaving the environment to develop freely for the enjoyment of our fellow creatures and our descendants. Food-miles, like mega-watt-miles, should become small.