THE Scottish Government's own research has discovered that most people oppose its plans to block new nuclear power stations north of the border.
A survey of 3,000 people, conducted by the Holyrood administration, has found that a clear majority think nuclear energy will be needed in the future to help ensure a secure energy supply. The 53% of people who backed a nuclear future was more than double the 23% who said they opposed a new generation of stations in Scotland.
More people said they preferred renewables to nuclear by a margin of two to one, but the survey also concluded that most Scots are unwilling to see their bills going up in order to pay for it. One report by the House of Lords concluded last year that the average power bill would rise by 80 by 2025 to pay for the "rush" to wind, wave and tidal power.
The findings were seized on by business chiefs last night who claimed it was "extraordinary" that a party committed to independence should risk having to import energy by getting rid of nuclear. But the SNP hit back, insisting that the nation's energy needs in future can be met from the country's plentiful renewable supplies.
As well as a majority of people supporting nuclear as part of the energy mix, the survey found that people considered nuclear to be "more environmentally friendly" than either coal or gas power stations.
The row over nuclear energy has bedeviled the SNP Government since coming to power. Scotland's two stations, at Torness and Hunterston, are due to close within the next 15 years, leaving the country reliant on oil, gas, coal and renewables. The SNP has now claimed that such is the potential of renewable energy, it will aim to source 50% of the country's energy needs from wind, wave and tidal power by 2020.
However, a spokesperson for Enterprise Minister Jim Mather said: "Harnessing our vast potential of wind, water, biomass, wave and tidal, backed up by clean thermal, can meet our energy needs up to 10 times over and create thousands of jobs."
He added: "Even since this survey was conducted, ministers have approved more major renewable energy projects. In all, we have consented to 20 renewable projects in just over 20 months. The risks and soaring costs of decommissioning and the unresolved problem of storage of radioactive waste would burden future generations for thousands of years. Every pound invested in new nuclear power in other parts of the UK is a pound less on developing renewable and clean energy technology."
The 180-page report also showed that, despite warnings about the critical nature of the global warming, the environment is not a high priority for many Scots. Overall, 12% of those surveyed said that environmental issues was "one of the most important issues facing Scotland today". That compared to the 38% who named the credit crunch.
Scottish Labour leader Iain Gray warned the SNP was on the wrong track. "We are very much for renewable energy but most experts believe we should not rule out nuclear as a source of baseload electricity and part of a low-carbon future. The SNP have made a big mistake closing the door at a time when there are concerns about the long term security of supply and depending too much on imported gas.
Iain MacMillan, director CBI Scotland, added: "Our position is that nuclear is likely to be a necessary part of the general mix which includes coal, renewables and gas. The results of this survey should persuade those politicians who are against nuclear on the grounds of public opinion. I think the Scottish Government will have to revisit its policy. This is not only a bad policy for Scotland, I find it extraordinary that a party that favour secession for Scotland from the Union would be happy to put Scotland in the position of potentially having to be a net importer of energy".
But Duncan McLaren, chief executive of Friends of the Earth Scotland, said: "In a climate where the UK government is scaremongering that the lights will go out without new-build nuclear power, it's unsurprising that some in the public would express a view to see it reconsidered. We, however, are heartened that just last week in the Scottish Parliament MSPs confirmed that Scotland should not go down the expensive and dangerous route of building new nuclear power stations."