UK Government will not 'impose' new nuclear power stations on Scotland, says minister

New nuclear power stations will not be "imposed" on Scotland, the UK Government has said, as it unveiled a long-awaited energy strategy that includes plans to boost North Sea oil and gas production.

SNP ministers said the "bitterly disappointing" proposals failed to tackle spiralling household bills and the climate emergency.

The new strategy includes plans to increase nuclear, wind, solar and hydrogen, with eight nuclear reactors – the equivalent of one a year – to be delivered by the end of this decade at existing sites down south.

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The Scottish Government opposes new nuclear power plants on environmental, safety and cost grounds.

Torness nuclear power station near Dunbar. Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

SNP Energy Secretary Michael Matheson said it had “no intention of taking forward nuclear developments” and would block such projects using its planning powers.

But UK Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said the nuclear reactors are being planned for England and Wales, insisting there is “huge appetite” for this “particularly in Wales”.

He said: “We have no plans to impose nuclear reactors in Scotland.

“It is a devolved affair, that is up to people in Edinburgh to decide what their nuclear policy is.”

Scotland currently has only one nuclear power station, the Torness plant in East Lothian, after the Hunterston B site in North Ayrshire closed in January.

Mr Kwarteng said UK ministers believe “the only way you can get decarbonised baseloads – continuous power that is decarbonised – is nuclear”.

He added: “I don’t know what the answer is the Scottish Government has to that question, but we are very clear that nuclear power has to be an important part of a decarbonised energy mix in the future.”

UK ministers are aiming to make 95 per cent of electricity low carbon by 2030.

However, a licensing round for new North Sea oil and gas projects is planned for the autumn to cover the “nearer term”.

The UK Government said its plans recognised “the importance of these fuels to the transition and to our energy security”.

It said producing gas in the UK has a lower carbon footprint than importing it from abroad.

Its strategy insists: “There is no contradiction between our commitment to net zero and our commitment to a strong and evolving North Sea industry. Indeed, one depends on the other.”

The document said the autumn licensing round would take into account “the forthcoming climate compatibility checkpoint and the need for energy security”.

It includes measures to facilitate the rapid development of projects, which it said “could take years off the development of the most complex new opportunities”.

Caroline Rance, of Friends of the Earth Scotland, said it was “unbelievably reckless for the UK Government to put its foot down on the accelerator and expand production of the oil and gas”.

She said: “By doubling down on oil and gas they are keeping us locked in an unaffordable and destructive energy system that is only delivering billions in profits for oil companies whilst millions of people are forced to choose between heating and eating.”

Ms Rance also hit out at the “commitment to create a toxic legacy for thousands of years from new nuclear power”.

Mr Matheson said the strategy had “completely failed” to take account of agreements made at the COP26 climate summit.

He said: “We are in the midst of a very real and unsettling energy bills crisis which demands bold, urgent and decisive action from the UK Government.

"They hold many of the powers required to support households – both in the short and long term.

“This crisis comes against the backdrop of the climate emergency, which has not gone away. The most recent reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) make it very clear that business as usual is simply not an option.

“In this context, it is bitterly disappointing that the UK Government’s energy security strategy fails to adequately address either of these pressing issues.”

He said the strategy had been published “without any meaningful engagement” with Scottish ministers, adding: “The Scottish Government’s position is clear that unlimited extraction of fossil fuels is not consistent with our climate obligations and we have consistently called on the UK Government to urgently re-assess all approved oil licenses where drilling has not yet commenced against our climate commitments.

"By refusing to recognise this, whilst demonstrating a failure of leadership to support an acceleration of low carbon heating and home energy efficiency measures, the strategy has completely failed to take into account the agreements made at COP26, advice from its own statutory advisors, and the most recent reports from the IPCC.”

Mr Matheson said new oil and gas fields “do not present a timely solution, and even once operational, the extracted fossil fuels will still be affected by the same global market forces which have contributed to the current energy price crisis”.

The new strategy is published as western countries wrestle with high energy prices and consider how to reduce reliance on Russian oil and gas, amid wider calls to end the fossil fuel era to tackle the climate crisis.

It has a goal to produce up to 50 gigawatts (GW) of offshore wind energy by 2030, which officials said would be more than enough to power every home in the UK.

It also aims to double the ambition of 10GW of low-carbon hydrogen production by 2030.

A new body, Great British Nuclear, will be launched to bolster the UK’s nuclear capacity with the hope of up to 24GW of electricity by 2050 coming from the source of power, 25 per cent of the projected electricity demand.

Mike Thompson, director of analysis at the Climate Change Committee, said the “hugely ambitious” new commitments would see the UK produce more electricity from offshore wind in 2030 than it has produced from gas in any year in history.

He said: “Government, business and industry will need to focus relentlessly on delivery at a scale and pace as yet unseen.”

UK Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said the strategy is “not enough” and was “too little, too late” to help families with rising costs.

He said: “All we’ve got today is a cobbled-together list of things that could and should have been done over the last 10 to 12 years, and it doesn’t even tackle really important things like insulating homes, which could save £400 on everybody’s bill.”

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said it was is a long-term plan focusing on energy supply, “undoing the mistakes of the past and taking the big decisions now”.

He said the government was “already doing a huge amount to help people with the immediate cost of living and of course we are going to do more”.

Deirdre Michie, chief executive of Offshore Energies UK (OEUK), formerly Oil and Gas UK, said: “The UK has enough proven oil and gas reserves to support the UK for at least 15 years, but we need regulatory approval to invest in the platforms, pipelines and other infrastructure needed to access it.

"The announcement of a new licensing round and the proposal to cut the time needed to get those approvals, by the introduction of regulatory accelerators, will help our industry carry on providing the UK with the energy it needs.

“In the longer-term the best way to take control of energy prices, as well as boost energy security, and cut emissions, is to get more of our energy from renewables."

The Scottish Government is due to publish its own energy strategy later this year.

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