IS nuclear power the clean, green energy some say it is? Our drive to find green sources of energy to combat climate changes means that it is once more on the debating table.

The Conservative leadership race between Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss has, of course, covered the issue of energy creation. Sunak wants to focus more on oil and gas as a means of preparing Britain for energy shortages in the short term, and for becoming energy independent in the long term. He would take steps to open up more gas production, as well as “scale up offshore wind and nuclear power.”

The use of nuclear power and weapons is a highly divisive subject – some people welcome them, while others (such as those at the Faslane Peace Camp) protest against them. Even without the emotional topic of nuclear weapons, people are divided over the use of nuclear energy. Some consider it to be far too expensive and dangerous.

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Others see it as a good answer to the problem of clean energy, particularly since it is not “reliant on weather conditions (wind/cloud)” in the words of Simon Paulton, a local resident.

Towards the end of last year, Rolls-Royce announced the creation of its small modular reactor business. This is part of the UK Government’s 10-point green energy plan, in which it pledged £210 million in funding if that could be matched by a private investor.

Rolls-Royce plans to use the money to construct up to 16 nuclear sites around the country. These are expected to match the output of up to 150 wind turbines, for example.

The view from the Peace Camp

However, long-term Faslane Peace Camp resident Pat Freeborn wants to remind people that “another nuclear plant would definitely be the subject of protest”, considering that Scotland has many alternate means to create energy.

To the people at the peace camp, creation of more nuclear energy would be an acknowledgement that we have given up; that we have accepted a form of energy that is both dirty and dangerous to use.

Everyone is familiar with the permanent Peace Camp, set up outside the Faslane Naval Base in June 1982. The camp has always protested against the use and storage of nuclear weapons in the area, because of the danger this poses to the surrounding area.

Indeed, the camp, according to Freeborn, is against increased use of nuclear power precisely because of “the fact that the nuclear centrifuges required to refine the uranium for domestic power generation can be used to refine uranium for nuclear weapons.”

The National: The crippled Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power station is seen through a bus window in Okuma, JapanThe crippled Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power station is seen through a bus window in Okuma, Japan

Issues around the safety of nuclear reactors and energy are always at the forefront of people’s minds. This is a huge part of why the world moved away from nuclear power as an energy source in the first place.

As Freeborn says: “The industry promoting nuclear power is always going to insist it is safe but in fact there has been a major incident at a nuclear power plant almost every 20 years – Long Island, Sellafield, Chernobyl and Fukushima.”

The incident at Fukushima, and the aftermath, is recent enough to be on people’s minds as nuclear power returns to the headlines.

The residents at the peace camp point out that the renewed emphasis on nuclear power as a potential means of clean energy comes alongside a contract for 11 new nuclear-powered (four of those being nuclear-armed) submarines. This contract is also held by Rolls-Royce.

This means the stockpile of nuclear weapons we currently have will be increased. The fundamental reason for the peace camp’s existence is to protest against the nuclear weapons that are currently stockpiled on the Clyde, but if we move further into using nuclear as a conventional means of energy production, it seems likely they will expand their protests to these sites as well.

Paulton says the nuclear plants would definitely “produce less immediate air pollution to that of coal or gas.” While there is still a question of what to do with the waste from the plants, overall the amount of waste is far less than that which comes from conventional power plants.

The National: Anti-nuclear protests outside Quaker HouseAnti-nuclear protests outside Quaker House

The downside is, of course, that it is highly toxic, and remains so for millennia.

Greenpeace’s chief scientist Dr Doug Parr said “there’s not even a prototype in prospect anytime soon” for a small reactor. Many people are worried that this focus on nuclear power as the green energy of the future will take money and research away from other forms of renewable energy.

Freeborn sums it up quite succinctly by saying: “If nuclear power was to become more widespread it would mean we had not fully explored greener technologies such as tidal and opted for a dirtier method of electricity generation that includes the possibility of nuclear catastrophe.”