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Nuclear Power

Scottish CND is strongly opposed to the continued use of nuclear power in Scotland.  Since the closure of Hunterston B in 2022, there is only one nuclear power station generating electricity, Torness. We call on the Office of Nuclear Regulation (ONR) to shut it down.  

Nuclear power has deep links with nuclear weapons. The civilian nuclear power industry is the respectable face of nuclear but contributes to the infrastructure, skills and research that keeps the government’s nuclear weapons programme going[i]. Reprocessed fuel from nuclear power stations becomes plutonium, an element used in nuclear weapons. The UK has a huge stockpile of weapons-grade plutonium.  The pursuit of nuclear ‘fusion’, proclaimed as a new clean-energy hope, is shamefully bound up with the nuclear weapons programme of the USA and passionately pursued by scientists gathering evidence for the nuclear weapons they are designing[ii]

The narrative that nuclear power can be a “green” technology, or part of the solution to climate change involves blindness to the deep links between the climate crisis and the arrogant environmental harms of the nuclear age. The substantial contamination of a continent and an ocean caused by nuclear accidents at Chornobyl and Fukushima should be warning enough but even this scale of damage is outweighed by the global harms caused by the testing of nuclear weapons in the 1950s, 60s and 70s. Humans then altered ‘background radiation’ and left a detectable layer of radioactivity around the earth[iii].  It is impossible to know which of the many human cancers since were the direct result. The harm to other species and the carbon put into the atmosphere remain uncounted. Large areas of land around test sites were made uninhabitable by contamination. Nuclear industries have already contributed to climate change and widespread environmental harm and continue to put our planet at risk.

The war in Ukraine shows that nuclear power plants are a target and a terrible liability in conflict, an ever present possibility of disaster, even if not deliberately harmed.

Even setting aside the multiple deadly connections between nuclear power, nuclear weapons, climate change and war fighting, the idea that nuclear energy is ‘clean’ and ‘low carbon’ involves forgetting about the environmental consequences before, during and after generating nuclear power. These include the mining for uranium and other nuclear raw materials, the tons of carbon-intensive specialised concrete in the plant’s construction, the routine periodic addition of radiation to the local environment during nuclear power’s operation and the troubling necessity of storing highly radioactive nuclear waste for generations after the plant has closed down.  None of these issues go away with smaller ‘modular nuclear reactors’. There is no comfort in being near a smaller uranium mine or nuclear reactor or store of highly hazardous nuclear waste rather than a larger one.

Scotland’s only nuclear power station, Torness, is 36 years old, well past its life expectancy, and has developed the known design problem of cracking in the graphite core that encases its fuel rods. The risks include graphite debris falling into the channels used by rods that then impedes its safe operation. Cracking may also make the core more vulnerable in case of earth tremors. The economic interest of its operator, the French company EDF, is to keep the ageing power stations running as long as possible. In the case of Hunterston B, they already persuaded the ONR to raise safety limits to allow the plant to operate with higher levels of cracking than previously regarded as acceptable. Even if the risk is small, why take any risk. The UK is not immune to nuclear accidents. There is a long list, including some that were very serious, albeit not on the scale of Chornobyl. Why take any risk of catastrophe, when there are cleaner, greener and cheaper ways of generating electricity?

[i] Stirling, A., & Johnstone, P. (2018). A Global Picture of Industrial Interdependencies Between Civil and Military Nuclear Infrastructures SPRU Working Paper Series (ISSN 2057-6668). Sussex: Univerity of Sussex.

[ii] Mecklin, J. The Energy Department’s fusion breakthrough: It’s not really about generating electricity.

[iii] Waters, C.N., Syvitski, J.P., Gałuszka, A., Hancock, G.J., Zalasiewicz, J., Cearreta, A., et al. (2015). Can nuclear weapons fallout mark the beginning of the Anthropocene Epoch? Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 71(3), 46-57; Turney, C.S., Palmer, J., Maslin, M.A., Hogg, A., Fogwill, C.J., Southon, J., et al. (2018). Global peak in atmospheric radiocarbon provides a potential definition for the onset of the Anthropocene Epoch in 1965. Scientific Reports, 8(1), 1-10.