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Deidre Brock
MP for Edinburgh North and Leith

From Isotopes to High Hopes


Chapelcross before the water coolers were razed



Hunterston B nuclear power station in Ayrshire will close a couple of years early because it’s cracking up. EDF, who operate it, are hoping to get an extension to the licence in spite of the cracks in the reactor core but that will, surely, be denied.

Dounreay in Caithness will take 339 years to decontaminate after 36 years of producing electricity (that’s not a mistake, by the way, there are 313 years left to go). The waste from the reactors at Dounreay will also be around for quite a while, of course.

In fact it is down at Sellafield in Cumbria now; a place that used to be called Windscale until a fire in one of its reactors burned for three days in 1957 and spread radioactivity across Europe. They sealed the reactor off by turning its bio shield into a sarcophagus - it’s still got tons of fuel in it and it, in turn, is not due to be decommissioned until 2037.

There is also Plutonium-239 in there, with a half-life of more than 24,000 years. If some P-239 had been created in a nuclear reactor at the end of the last ice age it would still be half as radioactive today. Hunterston A closed in 1990 and is scheduled for demolition by 2080. What’s a century among friends?

Chapelcross, near Annan - Scotland’s first nuclear power station - will be just as time consuming. It stopped generating electricity in 2004 and will be dismantled by 2095 if all goes to plan.

Torness by Dunbar is still operating, scheduled to shut down in a decade or so it will be well into the next century before it is gone, and much, much longer before the site is decontaminated. Long, long after they stop producing electricity these nuclear power stations will still be causing us problems.

At a time when we have to focus on climate change and the chaos that it’s bringing; when we’re looking at fossil fuel hydrocarbons and the damage they’re doing; when we are trying to address fuel poverty in this very rich nation there’s an urgent need to find clean sources of energy.

We need those clean sources so we can hand this world on to future generations in a state that will allow them to live decent lives. That has to exclude nuclear power - we’re already leaving the nuclear waste and the hulks of nuclear power stations for them to deal with, we can’t be adding to the burden.

We’ve always found ways to heat and light our houses and ourselves and Scotland has been blessed with massive supplies of natural resources that we’ve exploited down the generations.

We’ve also got a history of using renewables. The most obvious being the massive dams across Scottish glens that generate electricity from hydropower - and a history of research into alternative renewable power sources.

The work of Professor Stephen Salter of Edinburgh University has covered decades; his innovations have informed and driven thinking on renewable solutions since long before that was a priority for so many.

The European Marine Energy Centre (EMEC) in Orkney has been hosting research into ways of generating energy from the sea for years now.

Here in Leith, Nova Innovation has been developing tidal turbines to take steady, predictable energy from the sea. It created the world’s first offshore tidal array in Shetland’s waters four years ago.

16 miles off the coast at Peterhead is the world’s first floating offshore wind farm - Hywind - five massive windmills generating 30 MW of electricity (enough to power about 36,000 homes).

Orbital Marine - an Edinburgh company - developed the world’s most powerful tidal turbine, the O2, and it will be using companies in Motherwell and Cupar to supply the fabrication yard in Dundee. The thing will be tested up at EMEC.

Last year Glasgow University published research into how to use wind power to efficiently extract hydrogen from water - making the storage and transport of the energy far easier so it’s not lost in transmission.

Scotland is forging ahead and looking for new ways to help make the future a better prospect for the coming generations of Scots. The problem with is that much of the research and much of the development has been due to our membership of the EU. EU research funds such as Horizon 2020 have backed the developments and cooperation with other institutions across the EU has allowed Scottish researchers to plough on.

There’s no clarity yet about what will happen after this year and the UK Government doesn’t even seem keen to discuss what might happen.

There’s a chance that this great advantage that Scotland has, this lead in developing technology, will be lost. We’ve got to try to make sure that doesn’t happen.

The future is at stake.

Twitter: @DeidreBrock

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