New generation of nuclear reactors would be ‘backwards step’, warn Scottish Greens

The Scottish Greens have warned against a “backwards step” of increased reliance on nuclear power amid reports the UK Government is set to back a new generation of reactors.

Kwasi Kwarteng, the UK business secretary, is understood to be considering providing funding for a fleet of mini-reactors.

The initiative would see Rolls Royce oversee the project to install at least 16 plants, creating up to 40,000 jobs by 2050 across the north of England and the Midlands.

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A consortium led by the engineering firm has secured the £210 million needed to unlock matched funding from taxpayers.

If approved, it would become the first developer of so-called small modular reactors (SMRs) to submit its designs to regulators.

The company has said the technology “solves the conundrum of how to create affordable energy, and more of it, with a lower carbon footprint”. It claims that a single plant is capable of powering one million homes.

Other members of the SMR consortium include the National Nuclear Laboratory and building firm Laing O’Rourke.

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Sizewell nuclear power station in Suffolk. Picture: Oli Scarff/Getty

But Mark Ruskell MSP, the Scottish Greens’ environment and climate spokesman, said the plans demonstrated the need for energy policy to be fully devolved.

He said: “Nuclear power is neither safe nor reliable. The last thing we need is a backwards step towards the nuclear industry, which would cost hundreds of millions of pounds while leaving a toxic legacy for centuries.

"The Scottish Greens in government are doubling Scotland’s onshore wind capacity and developing new opportunities for marine renewables. These are the changes that will make a vital difference.

"The truth is that the anti-climate Tories in Westminster cannot be trusted to do the right thing for the environment.

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"That is why Scotland must have full control over our energy policy, so we can chart a different course and invest in our communities with lasting jobs and industries that have a future."

Greenpeace has also warned SMRs pose similar risks of radioactive releases as larger plants. Its chief scientist, Doug Parr, has said that the government wants to look at new technology to address climate change, it would be better off investing in hydrogen or geothermal power.

According to the Sunday Times, in an energy crisis meeting last Friday, Chancellor Rishi Sunak made clear that he thought nuclear facilities should play a more prominent role in the UK's future energy policy.

A source close to Mr Sunak told the newspaper: "His general view is that we should have been doing this ten years ago, when it was cheaper, but we can't rely on wind and solar power."

The move comes amid claims the UK Government is set to take a stake in the Sizewell C power station in Suffolk alongside French energy company EDF.

Under the move, first reported by The Observer, China General Nuclear's 20 per cent share in the project would be removed completely, which risks heightening tensions following the fallout over the Aukus submarine pact.

EDF believes the project, which is in the planning stages, will eventually supply energy to more than six million homes.

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