Climate change: Nuclear power stations like Hunterston B are vital to cutting carbon emissions – Brian Wilson

For a reality check on our energy supply, the “National Grid live status” web-site is a good place to start. It tells you to the minute where our electricity is coming from.

Yesterday was windy so a healthy 29 per cent was generated from that source. Nuclear kicked in at 20 per cent. Ten per cent was coming through interconnectors on a “take what you get” basis – mostly gas with a bit of coal and nuclear thrown in.

One third, on top of that, was coming from UK gas generation. That figure when the wind isn’t blowing rises to 50 per cent. If you took nuclear out the mix, it would be regularly in excess of two-thirds.

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That is a snapshot which illustrates our growing – not diminishing – dependence on fossil fuels and the humbug of “green” rejoicing at the closure of Hunterston. As was inevitable, the replacement for nuclear baseload is not renewables but fossil fuels.

For sanctimonious Greens and their naïve fellow-travellers, that was a price worth paying. Getting rid of nuclear was more important to them than combating climate change. Just as it was in Germany where, to this day, a third of electricity comes from dirty old coal as a consequence of the Green demand to run down nuclear.

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These figures are poignant on the first day in 46 years Hunterston has not been capable of generating electricity. In a society which prioritised the battle against climate change and valued skilled, indigenous employment and security of supply, the construction of Hunterston C would now be well underway.

If that was the case, Scotland really could be a world leader in something. The combination of nuclear power – long-established, safe and respected – with renewable energy put us in pole position, not just to create the ideal zero-carbon mix, but also maintain our status as an exporter of power. Instead, we are now a net importer.

Steam, which would have been used to turn the turbines, is released from reactor 4 at Hunterston B nuclear power plant in North Ayrshire which is being decommissioned (Picture: Jane Barlow/PA Wire)

Over the next 20 years, things will change. Long talked-of technologies may start to deliver. There will be a dawning of awareness that reliance on renewables still requires baseload and storage, which has been largely ignored. But for the foreseeable future, running down nuclear simply means increased reliance on fossil fuels.

Many serious environmentalists woke up to that reality years ago. They may not like nuclear but they fear climate change and ordered their priorities accordingly. There are others who would openly say climate change can wait but let’s get rid of nuclear first. At least there is intellectual honesty to that misguided position.

The hypocrisy lies with those who pretended that there is no trade-off and that somehow, mysteriously, intermittent renewables would replace hated nuclear and the world would be a greener place. The opposite is the truth and if you don’t believe me, keep checking that National Grid web-site.

As Energy Minister 20 years ago, I was proud to help put in place probably the world’s most effective mechanism for encouraging the growth of renewable energy, in which I firmly believe. It wasn’t perfect and certainly did not create the industrial employment which should have been its corollary. But in its own terms, it worked well. But it was always only half the story.

At that time, being “anti-nuclear” was fashionable, with a mission to blur lines between civil and military. I came from an older left generation that remembers the slogan “use nuclear power for peaceful purposes” which much of the world adheres to. Virtue signalling will rob Scotland of a great industry and friend of the environment but the rest of the world is singularly disinterested.

Dozens of countries are building new nuclear power stations. China is planning 150 of them. France gets 46 per cent of its power from nuclear. Meanwhile, we are importing gas, at a price we cannot control, from whoever cares to send it (while at the same time putting the black spot on the North Sea).

I salute what my former constituents in North Ayrshire have given the Scottish economy for the past 46 years. They have done a truly great job for us all.

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