THE Church of Scotland has broken its silence on nuclear power by criticising plans for a new generation of reactors.
In a report to the General Assembly, the Kirk's Church and Society Council said further nuclear or fossil-fuel power plants were "not good routes to go down". The body also claimed that successive governments have "failed to deliver" on promoting energy efficiency for both individuals and industry.
Setting out the Church's stance on tackling climate change, the report claimed it would be possible to meet UK energy needs through a combination of cutting use and harnessing wind, tidal and solar sources.
It argues that energy supply must be treated as an "ethical issue" by government and warned that greater investment was urgently required to develop renewable technologies north of the Border. Nuclear energy currently supplies about half of Scotland's electricity.
The group that authored the report included Fred Dinning, a former director of energy policy at ScottishPower who has worked at the Torness and Hunterston nuclear power plants. Other members included a high-ranking former civil servant, a professor of medicine, a senior ethicist and lay members.
Mr Dinning, the convener of the Kirk's energy and environment working group, described the options of new nuclear and fossil-fuel burning plants as "two evils". But he pointed out that nuclear only provided about 7 per cent of Scotland's overall energy requirements.
He said: "The government has allowed the debate to be one of technology and economics. But there are ethical and moral consequences of doing down the nuclear route. Are we happy with one or two multinational companies building nuclear facilities in Scotland that will have to be surrounded by armed guards?"
The Kirk has traditionally been neutral on nuclear energy. A 1994 statement on the environment "recognised differing views within the Church on the role of nuclear power".
However, the new report, which has been endorsed by the Church and Science Council, refuses to back either the burning of coal and gas or new reactors as the best option, saying: "Renewable supplies are the ethical route on which future electricity generation should be based.
"If coupled with large-scale energy saving and efficiency across all sectors of society, it ought to be possible to meet our UK and Scottish electricity needs without needing to build further base-load fossil or nuclear power stations."
However, the committee expressed doubt over whether this would be feasible in the short term due to "government policies and social trends".
The report also calls for the government to give "substantially more priority" to energy-saving schemes - through cost incentives, grants, subsidies and tougher regulation.
Mr Dinning blamed "lack of drive to educate the public and a lack of will to regulate when necessary" in government for the fact little progress had been made on cutting energy usage.
The committee warned that Scotland risked losing its position at the forefront of offshore energy - such as tidal and wave power - "by a failure of government to ensure adequate investment at the right times".
A DTI spokesman said: "The government has clearly demonstrated its commitment to ... renewable energy: 500 million is being invested between 2002 and 2008 in capital grants and research and development for emerging and low-carbon technologies such as wind, biomass, solar, PV wave and tidal.
"In 2002, only 1.5 per cent of the UK's electricity came from renewable sources. It is now 5 per cent."
A Scottish Executive spokeswoman declined to comment.
'SCOTS SHOULD NOT BE NIMBYS'
SCOTS must abandon their "Not In My Back Yard" opposition to schemes such as wind farms if the battle against climate change is to be won, according to the Kirk.
A report to the General Assembly acknowledges that renewable energy projects will potentially have "a profound impact on landscape". It adds: "Arguably to be reminded daily where our energy comes from is a good thing. Everyone should be prepared to accept some personal loss for the sake of the whole."
But the Church of Scotland's energy and environment working group concedes that windfarms are simply not appropriate everywhere. "To put wind turbines on Ben Nevis, a pumped storage hydro scheme on Loch Lomond, or solar panels on John Knox's house would violate other important values."
The report also suggests that all new buildings erected north of the Border should be equipped with solar panels which heat water.