UK Government considering new nuclear reactor in Scotland, Alister Jack says

Scottish Secretary Alister Jack announced the plans for a nuclear reactor in Scotland during a committee hearing in Westminster

The UK government is considering building a new nuclear reactor in Scotland despite fierce SNP opposition, it has been revealed.

In a move that sparked a furious reaction from SNP and Green ranks, Scottish Secretary Alister Jack announced he has asked ministers at the Department for Energy and Net Zero (DESNZ) to plan for a nuclear reactor to be built in Scotland as part of a UK-wide programme.

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Both governments have been at loggerheads over the issue in recent years, with politicians in Edinburgh refusing to back plans for a reactor north of the border.

Torness could be considered as the site for a new nuclear reactor in Scotland. Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty ImagesTorness could be considered as the site for a new nuclear reactor in Scotland. Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images
Torness could be considered as the site for a new nuclear reactor in Scotland. Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

Appearing before the Lords constitution committee on Wednesday, Mr Jack was questioned by Labour peer George Foulkes, who said “everyone around Torness” – the location of Scotland’s only nuclear power plant – “is keen to see a new Torness”.

Mr Jack replied: “On the small nuclear reactors, I have asked the energy minister to plan for one in Scotland, because I believe in 2026 we will see a Unionist regime again in Scotland, and they will move forward on this matter.”

The Scotsman understands the move follows discussions between Mr Jack and Andrew Bowie, energy minister at DESNZ. It is believed DESNZ are now developing their plans for new nuclear plants, with small modular reactors deployed by the early 2030s, with one to be based in Scotland.

While this would be blocked by the existing SNP administration, there is a belief in Government that following a change in administration in Scotland, the new reactors would not be opposed.

Scottish Secretary Alister Jack revealed the plans on Wednesday morning.Scottish Secretary Alister Jack revealed the plans on Wednesday morning.
Scottish Secretary Alister Jack revealed the plans on Wednesday morning.

Small modular reactors represent a new generation of nuclear power stations that are used to top up the grid when the wind does not blow, taking advantage of Scotland's wind power. They also help carbon intensive industries like steel making if near a plant or a data centre.

There are believed to be two sites already confirmed in England and Wales, but ministers hope to have as many licences as possible across the UK. If the Scottish Government no longer blocks new nuclear sites, there is nothing stopping already licensed sites in Scotland being part of this process.

In Scotland, these could include Dounreay in Caithness, Hunterston in Ayrshire, and Chapelcross in Dumfries and Galloway. It is understood six companies are in the early stages of procurement to deliver the technology.

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Responsibility for energy is reserved to Westminster, but the Scottish Parliament has control over planning and environmental regulations, and the SNP has repeatedly said it would block any moves to build new nuclear reactors.

However, a UK government source said: “‘This makes sense in terms of Scotland’s energy mix, transition to net zero, investment and jobs. The SNP’s opposition to nuclear power looks increasingly irrational, but their block can be lifted in 2026 and it is absolutely right for the UK Government to plan on that basis.”

Another source added: “It’s called Great British Nuclear for a reason.”

A Survation poll for True North earlier this year found 32 per cent of Scots favour the Scottish Government’s existing policy to block new nuclear plants compared to 38 per cent who oppose it. The SNP claimed Mr Jack was using his final time in office to “undermine and patronise” the Scottish Government.

The Scottish Secretary’s comments came in a hearing where he also suggested policy in Scotland needed more scrutiny, especially at committee level. The Dumfries and Galloway MP told peers the 25th anniversary of devolution was a chance to “review” what did and didn’t work.

Mr Jack said: “Devolution is not a bad thing, where it's failed is bad governance. In the last 17 years we've got poorer health service, failing education standards, diabolic ferry services to the islands and higher drug deaths. These are down to bad governance, not devolution.

“You could look further into the committee structure, because of the knowledge and wisdom of this place. I have often thought a better review of legislation in Scotland could be one of the things we could improve upon. Some sort of grand committee in this house, helping to scrutinise and improve legislation would be a good thing. I am not alone in saying that the committee structure, in scrutinising legislation in Scotland, has clearly been one of the failings.

“We have a UK government supportive of devolution, and an SNP-led Scottish Government that opposes devolution. A nationalist administration whose political interests are not served by devolution succeeding. So of course there has been tension between Scotland’s two governments. But friction is not evidence of devolution failing.”

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Touching on the issue of UK government intervention in Scotland, Mr Jack also suggested SNP ministers had underestimated him.

He said: "They never believed I would do a section 35 on the gender recognition [legislation]. They didn't believe I would take them to court on UNCRC [United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child] and the section 33. It is this idea that they would sail on and I would roll over, and not stand my ground, that was their misjudgement.”

Mr Jack also revealed he intervened in UK legislation that will exonerate sub-postmasters wrongly convicted in the Post Office Horizon scandal so that it did not automatically extend to Scottish victims, following a request from the Lord Advocate.

SNP MP Tommy Sheppard said: "His [Mr Jack’s] comments and the decision to ignore the Scottish Government on building new nuclear reactors in Scotland show exactly how this Westminster government sees Scotland and its people – a nation that should get in line and know its place.

“Scotland doesn't need expensive nuclear power – we already have abundant natural energy resources. “e just need full powers over energy, so Scotland can take full advantage of the green energy gold rush.

“People in Scotland deserve better than ministers at Westminster who insult us, disregard our votes and ignore what we stand for – after crippling our public services and household budgets with Brexit and austerity.”

There was also anger from the Scottish Greens, with energy spokesperson Mark Ruskell saying nuclear energy had “no place in Scotland”.

He said: “There is nothing safe, secure or green about nuclear energy, and many people across Scotland will be dismayed and angry to hear that the Secretary of State is seeking to open a new reactor in Scotland.

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“Aside from the brazen entitlement and the message this sends, it ignores that people in Scotland have long rejected nuclear energy. I hope that all progressive parties will unite in condemning this environment wrecking overreach.

“A new reactor would not only be unsafe, it would be extremely costly and would leave a toxic legacy for centuries. It would also distract from the vital work we need to do to boost clean, green and renewable energy.

“That is why I hope all progressive parties can rule out any return to nuclear power once Torness has been decommissioned.

“The Hinkley point shambles has exposed the UK government’s total inability to deliver nuclear programmes on budget or on time. We would be far better investing in the huge abundance of renewable resources that we already have here in Scotland.”



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