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The Myths of Scottish Nuclear

nuclear3aToday it was announced that Torness nuclear power station would remain open until 2030. The announcement wasn’t made by the Scottish Government (or even the UK Government) it was made by the French company, EDF. If ever there was a potent sign of the failure of devolution, the futile narrow nature of our putative democracy this was it. This is a massive strategic decision, and, whether you are a supporter of nuclear power or not, it’s telling that we have no control over it.

Good Morning Scotland

The signal event was heralded by BBC Scotland who rushed on an energy expert – Professor Paul Younger from Glasgow University – to tell us about the magnificent safety record at Torness and how renewables were all a terrible failure and how nuclear power was “low-carbon”. The astonishing account was left wholly unchallenged by the ‘interviewer’ who seemed to be lacking even the barest facts to quiz or confront their guest. It’s a media experience that simply wouldn’t happen on Radio 4 – or an equivalent news channel, where the presenters are well-briefed and, at least, inquisitive. Still, as one media fails, another succeeds. The Ferret yesterday reported:

“Over 3,800 nuclear safety events have been reported at 37 civil and military sites across the UK in the last 14 years, according to an official report. The UK government’s Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR) has published a list of all the incidents at nuclear power and weapons plants between 2001 and 2015. They include multiple safety breaches, fires, leaks, spillages, equipment failures and workers being contaminated with radioactivity. Since 2009 the number of incidents reported every year has doubled from under 200 to over 400. But ONR says that this is “consistent with a positive, proactive and developing safety culture” and should be welcomed as “a mature and open reporting culture”. ONR stresses that the vast majority of the events – 3,857 out of a total of 3,866 – were minor and of “very low” safety significance. Eight events were more significant and one – a leak of 83,000 litres of radioactive liquor at Sellafield on 20 April 2005 – was defined as “serious”.  The huge nuclear complex at Sellafield on the Cumbrian coast had by far the highest number of reported incidents – 456. There were also 286 incidents recorded at the Torness nuclear power station in East Lothian and 266 at the Hunterston nuclear power stations in North Ayrshire. The Dounreay nuclear site in Caithness, which is currently being decommissioned, reported 106 safety events. Some 311 “unintended incidents” took place at military sites, with the most – 137 – at Britain’s nuclear bomb factory at Aldermaston in Berkshire. One of the more serious incidents occurred at Aldermaston on 10 October 2010 when corrosion was discovered in structural steelwork. This forced the closure of the top secret A45 facility that makes enriched uranium components for nuclear warheads and fuel for nuclear submarines. The event was rated as level two on the international nuclear event scale. This means that it involved “significant failures in safety provisions, but with no actual consequences.”

So much for that magnificent safety record. None of this is new.

nuclearconBut what about the claim that our renewable energy field is an unmitigated disaster, as repeated by Iain Gray MSP shortly after?

Despite facing unprecedented attacks from Amber Rudd MP, the Scottish renewables industry is a major success story. In fact green energy projects are now the largest generator of electricity in Scotland, according to recent figures (Department of Energy and Climate Change statistics showed almost half (49.7%) of Scotland’s electricity demand came from renewable sources in 2014.) The renewables sector north of the border employs 21,000 people directly and last year produced almost a third (29%) of the UK’s renewable energy. In 2015 Lang Banks, director of WWF Scotland, said: “Given the urgent need to reduce global carbon emissions, we should all celebrate the news that half of Scotland’s power needs are now met by clean renewable sources. “That renewables are now the largest single source of power, ahead of coal, gas and nuclear is a major achievement we should be proud of.” But we’re not.

But what about the idea that this fantastic clean low-carbon nuclear energy is cheaper than that nasty failed renewable stuff? Writing today Richard Dixon explains:

“It’s not hard for EDF to have a life extension because, basically, they just announce it, they don’t actually need anyone’s permission.  So in one sense it is meaningless as more of those fractured reactor bricks, cracked turbines or jellyfish incidents could make it shut any day. EDF have announced the life extension for Torness  and other reactors in the UK today because they are trying to distract attention from their terrible financial results and their repeated failure to make a final decision on whether to build the Hinkley Point reactors in Somerset.  Hinkley was supposed to be cooking your Christmas dinner by 2018.  Now it will be 2025 or later, if it ever gets built.  With its other two reactor projects, in France and Finland, years late and billions over budget, EDF have been putting off making a decision about whether to fully commit to building the £18bn station.  Their unions have been telling them to give up on Hinkley because it would drive the company into bankruptcy.  And the French nuclear regulator has just told them they need to spend eye-watering sums making their existing reactors safer.  They are so far from making the Hinkley decision that it is not even on today’s board meeting agenda.”


tidalWhat about the idea that ‘baseload’ is an obstacle we simply can’t overcome?

Ignored by all on GMS is the most well-known and tested alternative – pump storage hydro – which we already have at Scottish Power’s Cruachan plant and at SSE’s Foyers plant. This is ingenious. When the wind blows it pumps water to the top of the hydro facility, ‘storing’ that energy for when we need it, then releasing it when demand requires. Both Scottish Southern Energy and Scottish Power want to expand their pump hydro provision. This isn’t sci-fi and it isn’t thirty years off, it’s here and now. Added to this take the Mey Gen’s exciting tidal energy project in the Pentland Firth – the world’s largest tidal stream project: “When completed, the project will include up to 269 turbines submerged on the seabed, generating enough energy for 175,000 homes in Scotland. The total first phase (Phase 1) of the project alone (61 turbines / 86MW) is expected to provide enough electricity for 42,000 homes in Scotland. Construction is expected to begin later this year, with the first electricity anticipated to be delivered to the grid by 2016.”

Or how about the world’s first floating offshore wind farm run by Statoil off Peterhead?

The Missing Narrative

But listening to the BBCs expert and the ex-Labour leader you’d be forgiven for thinking it was time to stock up on batteries and candles. What is missing in all this story isn’t just the investment in innovation and research to make genuine clean energy possible but a complete energy descent plan to take us away from growing demand.

Insulation, smart technologies and – more importantly a civic commitment to reducing demand across the board planned strategically and towards which we all take responsibility – with a binding legislation to assure corporate compliance – is the key to transforming our energy futures.

Comments (55)

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  1. greatbighoo says:

    “a complete energy descent plan to take us away from growing demand”.

    Wow, Good Luck With That.

    “with a binding legislation to assure corporate compliance”

    Mm, well, Good Luck With That.

    “a civic commitment to reducing demand across the board planned strategically and towards which we all take responsibility”

    Pffft, Ha Ha, Good Luck With That.

    And that “civic” “committment” “planned strategically” all sounds a bit Socialist and Command and Control to me.

    Good Luck With That.

    Ah, forgive me:

    “But Scotland …”

    “In Scotland we will …”

    The inconvenient reality that is always painted over in these puff pieces is this.

    The entire renewables industry from development to generation to market is dependent on subsidy to add it to the mix of what gets to market.

    The Players know this, and essentially its a racket they take advantage of.

    Just be honest. Don’t talk shit about “complete energy descent plans”.

    Be honest – like the Greens can be.

    Everyone – including people in Scotland – are hooked on cheap energy**.

    For your renewables dream, everyone is going to have to pay more.

    And of course, people in Scotland don’t want to pay more (just like everyone else)

    **Energy prices in the UK are still some of the cheapest in Europe; it’s the rapid increases over the last 10 years or so that have caught everyone out.

    Before you start with the usual “rip off energy companies” garbage.

    1. Paul Codd says:

      Greatbighoo. You didn’t mention the subsidies nuclear gets. Or do you think that the costs of 100,000 years of waste management have been accounted for in the costs we pay? The more reactors, the more Fukushimas we run the risk of (Sellafield for instance, is a bit like Fukushima in slow motion, with cancer clusters and serious leaks being tracked over decades). Are these costs factored in? We already accept that site commissioning and decommissioning costs are subsided by the state. And the entire industry rests on vast amounts of primary research the state continues to pick up the tab for via military and university grants at the expense of other energy research projects.
      You also forgot to mention the 1 Trillion dollars of damages the world energy system passes on to the rest of society from fossil fuel use. These are largely undisputed health costs from particulates, not to mention climate change costs and impacts from extraction and refinement. I would argue that there is no price that can be put on the extinction of species or the loss of vast habitats as commonly follows the fossil fuel industry.
      As a former Energy Engineer for an international mining company I can say with first hand experience that renewables are far more competitive than fossil fuel or nuclear energy once you’re comparing apples with apples. In purely economic terms they are capital intensive to set up, then provide basically “free” energy for 20-30 years. So the cost of renewable energy is basically the cost of finance, which is itself a renewable resource.
      I have been involved with many wind and solar projects which cover their costs in as little as 5-10 years, without subsidies, the rest being pure profit. Granted, that is not based on the Scottish sun! But the wind in Scotland is as good as any in the world. And even the Scottish sun can work out cheaper without subsidies over the life of a well designed project.
      Marine energy is expensive only because there are not many projects of their kind. As Scotland invests it gains expertise and technological know-how which it can export. As the industry changes gears and greater scale is reached this places Scotland in the forefront as Denmark did with wind, to be able to export its competence worldwide. With increased scale, costs come down and marine power will become directly cost competitive.
      Nuclear is a total distraction which wastes the talent and money invested in it. It’s saving grace, the constant base load it provides, is just another way of saying that it is inflexible. It takes weeks to be brought on stream, is not able to vary its output and can take itself offline at any moment unexpectedly due to the obvious safety requirements. Unfortunately this happens all too often, whether due to jellyfish in the cooling water, operator error, technical failure or something else.

      1. Broadbield says:

        …and not just Nuclear getting subsidies: “In the UK, production subsidies of £5.9bn have already benefited major fossil fuel companies operating in the country, most foreign-owned, while £3.7bn is used to subsidise fossil fuel production overseas in countries including Russia, Saudi Arabia and China, the new analysis found.” Guardian, Nov ’15. More than the renewable industry receives.

        And that’s without factoring in the hidden costs of fossil fuels such as pollution, premature deaths due to contaminants in the air, climate change due to greenhouse gas emissions and other environmental impacts etc etc. The costs are all online.

    2. Why exactly are we unable to do anything?

  2. bringiton says:

    As with the “Fiscal Framework Scotland (FFS)” for the Scotland bill,energy decisions taken in Scotland (by England’s government) are almost entirely political and designed to ensure Westminster remains completely in charge of our affairs.
    However,should the current cunning plan to undermine our renewable energy sector succeed and the wheels come off Osborne’s Chinese power stations and fracking proposals then,the whole of the UK will be having to turn the lights off in a few years time.
    By that time the current Tory government will be sitting in their tax havens enjoying the free sunshine (in between the odd hurricane or two).

  3. Crubag says:

    The issue with pumped storage is that we have the wrong sort of mountains – they’re just not high enough. Norway by contrast…

    The Maygen piece also seems to have been lifted from their press release. This IS 2016. If they’re not generating yet, did they manage to get the devices in as planned in 2015? The tidal sector doesn’t have its troubles to seek…but at least it is doing better than wave.

    I can see us relying on nuclear for a good while yet.

    1. Hi ‘Crubag’, I’m not sure if the mountains comment is a joke or not? You are aware that we already have it at Scottish Power’s Cruachan plant and at SSE’s Foyers plant?

      You say the ‘Maygen piece also seems to have been lifted from their press release’. It’s quoted from yes. That’s what inverted commas do. (?)

      1. Crubag says:

        No, it’s quite serious. What makes hydro effective is not the volume of water but the”head”, the drop between the water source and the point of generation. Norway has good head due to the height of its mountains, Scotland does not. In fact, in EU terms, Scotland doesn’t have mountains at all. (2000 metres plus is the definition, from memory)

        On Maygen, like many developers they’ve been guilty of overpromising. The release is out of date – did they get the devices in?

        1. I repeat, you are aware that we already have it at Scottish Power’s Cruachan plant and at SSE’s Foyers plant and that they are exploring expanding this dramatically?

          Quite a revelation about our mountains, but thanks, I’ll memo Glencoe mountain rescue and tell them to stand down.

          1. Crubag says:

            Which are about 400MW and 300MW respectively. Norway has 29GW…

            And I doubt they are expanding capacity massively. The mountain and its reservoir hasn’t gotten any bigger, so at best the turbines could be upgraded.

            I’ve read that 2/3rds of Scottish hydroelectric capacity has already been tapped, with the remaining 1/3 needing some 7,000 small developments to fully exploit. Which would fit with what landowners are putting in.

            On Maygen, according to their Sep 2015 update, they have nothing in the water. They won’t install in the winter and I doubt they’ll get to first power, let alone commercial generation, in 2016

        2. Chris Malcolm says:

          What makes hydro storage effective is the fact that kinetic energy can be converted and stored as potential energy, and then converted back later. As eny schoolboy kno, potential energy in this case is the product of volume and head. Halve the head and you get the same potential energy by doubling the volume. Of course it’s not quite as simple as that. A component of the conversion losses due to inefficiency will be roughly equivalent to some loss of head. I’d be surprised if it was as much as fifty feet, however. So I don’t see where your claim of the supreme importance of head comes from. It’s no more or less important than volume. Unless of course I’ve missed an important detail?

          1. Crubag says:

            Because we can’t build our mountains (or hills, rather) any higher.

        3. Wul says:

          You are talking utter nonsense. Our mountains are too wee? Are they too stupid as well?

          The head AND the flow (volume of water passing through the turbine) both have linear relationship to power output. More water( bigger reservoir) = more power.

          Theoretical Kilowatts* (kW) = HEAD (feet) x FLOW (cubic feet second) / 11.81

          Even a small head of a few meters will store a massive amount of power if the reservoir is big enough. And as has been pointed out; we are already doing pumped storage.

          1. John Craig says:

            you can’t rubbish Crubag’s claims unless you can dramatically expand the reservoir volumes. Existing volumes are probably all that is feasible, even by today’s standards otherwise they would have been exploited from the word go.

          2. 1314 says:


            No he’s talking complete sense. The energy stored depends on gravity, difference in height and mass. We can’t do anything about the first two. More mass means more volume (for the same density) so, unless we start pumping mercury up the brae, double the mass means double the volume which, in turn, means more elevated glens submerged in water.

            The amount of energy stored by lifting 1kg of water through 1000m (Cruachan head 400m) is about 4000 times less than the energy stored in 1kg of oil (yes I know oil is less dense but not so much it radically changes the comparison). Cruachan was built to deal with peaks of supply over the day and can be brought on stream very quickly to deal with sudden changes in demand. The 440 MW capacity tells you the rate at which energy can be supplied but tells you nothing about how long you can keep it going – in fact it’s about 16 hours at maximum capacity.

            So we can’t realistically store anything like enough using hydro schemes. Fortunately there are plenty more methods of storing energy – Batteries, flywheels, hydrogen production, pressurised gas, ground and water heat pumps etc. Also there are now ways of controlling the demand automatically – only switching on freezers/washing machines etc when the demand is low. And ways of using energy previously wasted e.g. heat from cooling towers to heat green houses.

            Maybe BELLA could get somebody who knows a thing or two about energy storage to write an article.

        4. Nae kiddin says:

          Maybe that’s why we always called them hills yet never underestimate them. Sorry that’s all I can contribute but I’m listening and grateful to all those with expert knowledge.

    2. Wul says:

      Crubag said: “What makes hydro effective is not the volume of water but the”head”.

      This make no sense (nonsense).

      To say that the volume of water has no effect of a hydro scheme is wrong. A teaspoonful of water raised to 1000m head will give you very little power. Volume (call it flow or mass) matters a lot. In fact it matters exactly as much as the height.

  4. PeterC says:

    “[The announcement] was made by the French company, EDF. If ever there was a potent sign of the failure of devolution, the futile narrow nature of our putative democracy this was it.”

    If TTIP, CETA and/or TISA make it through the European Parliament we can expect a lot more of this kind of thing – and it we don’t allow it we will be sued for ‘lost profits’.

    1. Crubag says:

      But we should vote “Remain”, in case governing ourselves – and arranging our own trade deals – is worse?

      1. Justin Kenrick says:

        I didn’t know that ‘governing ourselves’ (Scotland) was on the menu for the EU referendum?

        Great to hear it is.

        Or do you mean:

        Vote to ‘Remain in the EU’ so that when England votes to leave, we get to govern ourselves (which may mean staying in or leaving the EU)? – I like your thinking.

        1. Crubag says:

          Where are we more likely to get out of dodgy, back room trade deals? Wherever scrutiny is strongest.

          I’d put that at: Scotland, UK then EU.

    1. Justin Kenrick says:

      Thanks Nana, very nice piece – especially the final sentence:

      “I have the privilege to look at Scottish society and see women playing the most remarkable role in shaping its development. Each female political leader is inspiring in their own right, from their journeys to their destinations. The visibility of women leadership roles is necessary and may conjure up a crack in the glass ceiling. However, it is important to note that simply having women in powerful positions does not mean that gender inequality is banished.”

  5. Blair paterson says:

    They always say that if the sun don’t shine and the wind don’t blow ?but they avoid like the plague any mention of tide because they can’t say the tide never camel in today or may not go out tomorrow tide is the perfect source of energy they can’t say it will spoil any ones view and it driven by tides that never fail they would rather put all our lives at risk with nuclear which they never include the cost of dealing with all the waste it is all about making bombs and of course money they have an l in their god it is spelled GOLD

  6. Wul says:

    Seems to me that Scotland is deliberately being prevented from developing any energy strategy which would make it successful, clean, resilient and secure.

    UK Energy Policy: “Thou shalt be entirely dependant on global corporations who care nothing for your health and environment, worship money, and whose CEO’s are my best pals”

    1. Lisa Smith says:

      Indeed Wul!….the nuclear v renewables situation is just one of a long list of scenarios where the British establishment is terrified of the idea of Scotland re-gaining it’s Indpendence and governing better, for the benefit of the people and environment, than a rUK government would be – they’d have a revolution on their hands then, from the people of England, and an end to their greedy, capitalist status quo ….that’s what they’re really scared of regarding scotland’s Independence.

      1. Anton says:

        Hang on, Lisa. The Scottish Government is not opposed to the life extension of the Torness nuclear facility, subject of course to safety considerations, and has made this view clear and on the written record. Westminster’s position is equally clear, and exactly the same.

        So, given that the Scottish and Westminster views are identical, what is your point? Are you suggesting that in the event of independence the Scottish Government would suddenly change its mind?

      2. greatbighoo says:

        And you wonder why people call you Glazed-Eyed Moonies.

        1. Wul says:

          Greatbigho , you’re making an assumption. (everyone who wants Scottish independence is a slavish follower of the SNP and thinks an independent Scotland would overnight be a magical place of fairness and good)

          My view is that the SNP party leaders would privately be just as keen as the UK Govt. to take money from polluting frackers, foreign nuclear interests and any one else who can make Scotland “the best place to do business in Europe”.
          The point is that, free from Westminster, we have a chance, just a chance mind, to do things differently.

          No blind faith, no zealotry, no swivelling eyes.

          Surely there are ways of meeting our energy needs that don’t involve the long-term poisoning of our environment? If we spent the equivalent cost of say, Trident or the odd Gulf war, or new nuclear power stations, on providing (at cost price) triple glazing & super insulation for UK housing, it would make a big and safe contribution to meeting energy needs. However it would not be “sexy” and would not produce vast profits for a few CEOs.

  7. Wul says:

    Is there something wrong with this site? All other sites I access load in 0-2 seconds. Bella currently taking 25 seconds or more. Has been this way for several days now.

  8. yesindyref2 says:

    “ONR stresses that the vast majority of the events – 3,857 out of a total of 3,866 – were minor and of “very low” safety significance.”

    Yes, after an unofficial visit across the top of an inactive reactor many years ago, when I’d changed out of the boots, I had a reading of 1 something or other on my big toe which was reportable, but no action required.

    Now I have a green big toe, hair dropped out, 3 eyes, fingers that can’t adjhe4lbc8ie3.

    Oh wait, that’s not true.

  9. Derry Vickers says:

    Nuclear is ‘bad’ but it keeps the Scottish lights on when the wind doesn’t blow. No gas powered power stations. Scottish Power, the UK and the Scottish Governments couldn’t agree reasonable terms on the continued network connection for Longannet so it will close later this year. Cruachan and Foyers pumped storage are great for the 1 hour they are brought on for daily peak power – but further sites in Scotland are few. Tidal is a solution, as the key is that their power is highly predicable but the Pentland Firth has been on the go for years. You criticise the French but the Rance Tidal Power Station has been operational since 196; albeit with very small output. Yes there is off shore wind but again that continues to stall and still suffers from no wind no power. Hydrogen Fuel Cells may be answer http://www.itm-power.com/project/wind-hydrogen-development-platform. In the distant future it could nuclear again Hydrogen> Helium and we can all relax with abundance of power.
    But till then what Scotland wants is a portfolio of energy, not just wind, and don’t tell me yet again that ‘it’s all Westminster’s fault’ – where there’s a will there’s’ a way.

  10. C Rober says:

    Now you all know my views on green energy by now , that its not an if but a when.

    However there is one that as far as I know by reports is that tidal is flawed , unless you have a service fleet , a large one at that is always mooted.

    The problem has been noted that weeds are the enemy , however with some more lateral thought this too can be mitigated , ie the fleet mentioned and of course easy access , say self rising turbines and proper real time service plans for swap outs , which of course would be weather permitting.

    Basically you need a big hollow container sized ship that can go over the top and internally lift the turbine out , and put a new one in , running constantly , or several smaller custom vessels. The costs can be mitigated with on land servicing though if well thought out with a smaller fleet. SO you will still be running some form of fossil , unless you have nuke boats.

    But when u consider those involved in the powerstations that are Nuke or Coal , the numbers would equate about the same or less.

    I had seen the reports on the efficency of the back pumping of fresh water , which is if mem serves is a micro generation but on a massive scale mentioned , a somewhat double negative description but an effective one.

    However there is another additional method for using unused energy from renewables , hydrogen capture , and converting gas turbines. While this is somewhat wasteful , the amount of energy used to split water into hydrogen is a concern , but if its 100 percent wasted anyway then why not?

    Just recently there has been some major breakthroughs in ECO energy creation , changing co2 from the atmosphere into usable gases on the cheap , hemp based carbon for graphene batteries negating the need for REM , and of course home based storage of Hydrogen then used via fuel cells is also another option for conversion of unused wind or solar being stored. They all suffer from one problem though , cost , as long as fossil fuels are cheap they will continue to be used , and with nuke we are looking at cheap power then expensive aftercare , where a company can just go belly up and the taxpayer will continue paying the billions in decom.

    We should also be asking if we have open markets , where the EU insisted on the UK selling off its utils , which has been argued as the reason why power cant be renationalised and its selloff , then why is a STATE elecorp not also been privatized , EDF is after all state owned , one of the many EU do as I say but not as I do ironies.

  11. Legerwood says:

    This is a link to an article in the New Scientist about Sellafield. It is one of the most dangerous industrial sites in the world.

    Not too long after this article appeared the BBC did a programme about Sellafield. They kept going on about the unprecedented access they had been given to the site. The overall impression of the programme was essentially that it was all Ok. – or at least not too bad. The BBC in full state broadcaster mode was the impression I took away from the programme.

    I had the feeling that today’s announcement about the extension to the lifespan of the plants has a lot to do with the delay in the new nuclear plants and the gaps in energy provision that will result – unless of course the existing plants remain in use.

    One of the constant criticisms of wind power is that the wind does not blow all the time. But critics using this argument ignore the work that is going on around the world, and in Fife (hydrogen offices), to overcome this. They also ignore the improvements in the technology itself.

  12. Alf Baird says:

    The key thing (for the Scottish economy) is the price of energy. At the moment all energy sourced in Scotland has a very high price. This makes Scotland uncompetitive as a location for industry. It also puts a lot of our people into fuel poverty. Is anyone dealing with the issue of energy prices? No. All the (privatised) energy companies are basically now owned by offshore private equity outfits – who actually depend on high energy prices, irrespective of the source. Just ask Lordy (SSE) Smith.

    1. willie says:

      Fuel poverty in Scotland is an absolute obscenity. And yet it could be resolved through the mechanism of inclining block tariffs whereby the rate for a unit of electricity rises depending as useage goes up. As a concept it is quite simple. Why should the cotter in his small house pay the same for his basic power needs as a king in his castle heating andighting his outdoor swimming pool. Analogous to progressive taxation, inclining block tariffs have been used in other countries in the world. Indeed, at a sub national level I believe the state of California in the USA operates inclining block tariffs, and i also recall that a couple of years ago in Australia, the sub national state parliament for WA was looking at and securing public consultation into the proposal to introduce IBT. Not so something that Westminster would ever introduce and certainly not something our soon to be pretendy most powerful parliament in the world could legislate for. But I digress, just another union dividend as our people die in winter through fuel poverty. A bit like Ireland one hundred fifty years ago where they exported food whilst the people starved. History does indeed repeat itself.

      1. C Rober says:

        If only Scotland had thermal like Iceland has.

        I can see Iceland being a heavy player in the Creation of Hydrogen , untapped hot water used for generation and creation , plus naturally cold for liqufication , major growth industry expected.

        With a country with the population of Greater Glasgow , it can go from bankcrupt to wealthy in a generation , especially after saying no to bailing out its banks.

        nearly 30 percent of the countries electricity is generated in this way , nearly 90 percent of its hot water and heating. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geothermal_power_in_Iceland

  13. willie says:

    Yes, and whilst we’re on the subject of fuel poverty, and cross subsidy pricing, what does the effect of standing charges do to the unit cost of low power useage customers as opposed to high power useage customers. Not a debate I hear being discussed, but if you asked the million or so in fuel poverty I bet many would know. A bit like charging you a fee for going into the petrol station and then for petrol. But hey, don’t laugh, that’s what the gas and electricity companies do.

  14. willie says:

    Or what about an entrance fee to go into the supermarket. A fixed fee even if you are only going in to buy a pint of milk. I mean someone’s got to pay for the cost of the shop and the costs of transporting food to the shop. A daily entrance levy on every household, even if they don’t use the shop daily. That’s the ticket don’t we think. I mean, if someone voluntarily disconnects their electricity ( to use the power industry jargon when they are cut off ) they’re still clicking up the daily standing charge to be paid later when they voluntarily reconnect. Nice one Mr Powetco. Nice one Mr Westminster.

  15. David says:

    Sadly Nicola Sturgeon’s aim to end fuel poverty comes not in the form of job creation to help more people overcome the fact their bills are over 10% of their combined income, but via a state owned competition destroying company to be called Our Power. It aims to cut bills by 10% and 90% of people are expected to switch from the Big 6- it was announced around a week after she accused the UK wind subsidy cuts 365 days early (and £3bn worth to investors in Scotland) to new build only, onshore only, wind turbines of being “anti-business”.

    Sadder still it is predicted that Our Power can only help 200,000 Scots by 2020, so the rest of us are on our own in the freezing cold for decades yet, with “green levies” already at 11% on our bills, expected to rise much higher by 2020 – perhaps making green levies optional to those on low income should be looked at for instant warmth. Not much else is known about Our Power but there’s a business plan effectively scribbled on a napkin available online that somehow managed to net them £3.5m which makes for interesting interpretation. Then again if the Scottish government think something is green they’ll throw money at it to win over leftish bloggers and their sphere of influence, including handing over £1m for a £30 cookbook aimed at helping Scotland’s poor with some debatable ingredients left in, but as that project wound down it’s founder admitted it was never going to work – could’ve saved us 1/10th of the wave energy innovation prize and we’d have Googled our own recipes – who’d have known gluten/grain free could cure certain mental disabilities.

    The unclaimed £10m wave prize suggests a lot, then again it’s only 2 onshore turbine’s worth of subsidy, who’d bother getting out of bed for that in the world of renewables? But let’s hope it’s picked up on before more seabed drilling and turbine infrasound wash up every whale in our oceans, unless of course jellyfish and seaweed are a danger to life for wave power too? I can’t find the link as it was in a surfing magazine’s article but one new type of wave energy project that was located near the shore for easy cheap maintenance sounded great. I used to love the sound of solar too until I looked into the articles that point out that there simply are not enough materials to make all the panels and certainly not in the nick of time to avert climate overload.I still hold out for IBM’s Saharan solar collector’s to power all of Earth from 2% of the desert and provide clean drinking water – something that really would help poor people for a change, will we see reforestation and farming too if it can be irrigated? I hear a ScottishRenewables boss is off to work in Malawi now, let’s hope he and our contacts at IBM in Scotland can take and develop that idea there, and finally make a difference to people’s lives.

    I hope Bella and The Ferret can combine forces for some true journalism and find out from Nicola Sturgeon how many people in Scotland have had their lives ended by nuclear power, locals near power stations and core workers. She was health secretary in 2007 when her local nuclear supply at Hunterston was extended by 5 years then again by 7 years in 2012 so has no doubt been through every statistic to ensure such a move was safe. She boasted during the referendum debate about being a CND member before she was a member of the SNP so surely this would be something she would be determined to find out. With access to our separate NHS records she is able to study any differences in all cancer type rates in these areas, unless they maybe treat their core workers privately? An article on The Ecologist about this issue surrounding Hinckley points out that they were looking previously for the wrong types of cancer and should cover them all, although it’s by Christopher Busby who even greens have apparently been wary of and distance themselves from:


    It may instead be more interesting to see you both pour all your resources into fully investigating and providing a report comparing nuclear vs renewables for safety issues rated against usable electricity generated (since it can’t be apples to apples otherwise, see below), here’s an interesting read on all accidents around wind farms up to December 2015:


    Safety in wind caught my attention in December when it was reported that avoidable deaths at a Scottish wind farm resulted in payouts of just £152,000 – a full £2,000 less that what those men were each worth in subsidies every single year to the wind industry.

    Let’s talk money, you mention the £180m for 5 floaters off Peterhead (perhaps this is the way to go for offshore wind if it saves the whales by reducing seabed drilling and infrasound can be shown not to affect their guidance). Each has a capacity of 6MW, so £180m bought 30MW of 30% (offshore) efficiency, so really 10MW for £180m. Albeit an intermittent 10MW for £180m, and an untimely intermittency at that as we only use electricity for around 8hrs and the efficiency figure is for 24hrs. Down to 3.33MW of realistically usable electricity, still £180m.

    For reference a new gas plant by Manchester provides 880MW of controllable output and cost £1bn. Or we could use some of that “waste” at Sellafield and plop it into MSR where Bill Gates (who plopped $2bn of his own money in energy technology stating current renewables are useless) or his competition, Transatomic will build a 520MW plant for $1.7bn.

    You also claim that 61 turbines (86MW) will provide for 42,000 Scotch homes, a direct lie spawned by the industry you co-promote:

    86MW x 365.25 days x 24 hours x 27.7% efficiency = 208,823,652 kWh
    208,823,652 kWh generated per year / 4,152 kWh average consumption level = 50,295 homes
    (Using Ecotricity’s ASA approved calculation method)

    I’ll give you their 8,000 more homes as a head start, why not. Next though, reality, businesses (those that can afford to stay open by passing the costs onto us that is) use 60% of electricity, homes 40%, so it’s 20,118 homes.

    But that’s for the full year, using every drop, as I’ve pointed out you can third that for our 8 hours required (more on government grade unaffordable storage below) the rest is actual wasted;

    6,705 homes.

    Not much is it, when you consider that’s for 86MW, not lucky old Peterhead’s (still £180m) 30MW.

    But it’s too much for me let’s get real: wind turbine efficiency has a half-life of 10 years, by 2026, (with 2041 promiseded – I won’t go there);

    3,353 homes, not 42,000.

    Using words like ‘equivalent homes’ might help, but it’s not real, not at night, not to Scottish homes, well maybe to the xbox/Bella generation.

    You could’ve won a watch with storage but not so soon, all of Scotland’s best universities operating together as ClimateXChange (http://www.climatexchange.org.uk/reducing-emissions/energy-storage-scotland) just told our government:

    “Developing and improving energy storage technology is an expensive business and the rewards highly uncertain. It would be better for Scotland to focus R&D efforts on system analysis, rather than technology development, but to track international and commercial developments.”

    Pretty disheartening, how do I do one of those link’s to Glasgow University like you did? This’ll do


    I guess not so promising, at least it was just a by product of this guy’s work, his Tedx talk is excellent and can pick us all up again.

    But to rule out hydro storage due to costs has to be the main worry for us and our wee bit hill and and sea cliff, how could we not fantasise about ideas like this, then again if rich old Norway aren’t doing it, and we’re interconnected, surely a sign…


    Safety in hydro even caught my attention whilst looking into a Bermudian company (PNE Wind) who have no wind turbines there (presumably tax dodging banks can’t handle intermittency blackouts, or even afford batteries) but want to build them all over Scotland. They paid $1.8m when they preventably drowned fishermen in New York State, but that sounds like a drop in the ocean to a company who have investigators chasing their finances down (The Wall Street Journal report on their top level bribery also worth sourcing):


    Here’s to a shadeless future of MSR before fusion, but which side of the border near Sellafield will it be on?

  16. Wul says:

    I often hear people say “wind power doesn’t work anyway”. They don’t usually elaborate but I assume they mean no wind=no power.

    I heard an interesting radio item about the potential for sea water “batteries” The idea is that the wind turbines’ energy is used to pump sea water into giant holding tanks or reservoirs up a hill.
    The energy from the wind is thus stored as potential energy, in the water. and can be released, through a turbine, to generate power when the grid demands it.

    A country with Scotland’s innovative skills can surely find an alternative to burning fossils or using deadly radioactivity? We also have a giant fusion reactor in the sky that appears every day.

    The arguments go back and forth. I reckon its only will power and attitude preventing real progress.

    1. Paul Codd says:

      In general I’m not a big fan of pumped hydro, or any large scale hydro. The loss of entire valleys and the impact of massive engineering and construction projects are rarely fully mitigated! Using sea water has more implications, particularly for the sea life close to the intake and outflow zones. However I do recognise the enormous transformative potential of energy storage on the rest of the electrical generation and distribution system. The problem really is that pumped hydro is often the best option among a bunch of traditional energy storage technologies. However there is very interesting work being done all over the world on developing new energy storage solutions such as flow batteries, heat batteries, compressed air batteries, fly wheels and much more. Any new pumped-hydro scheme would have to carefully consider the trajectory of these substitute technologies, any of which could render a huge investment uneconomic before construction was even complete.

      I’m part of an international team of Engineers working on a prototype compressed air technology which radically improves efficiency and cost over previous generations of compressed air battery systems. We’re aiming to be able to make more details public in the next few months but as a teaser we’re expecting final costs to be comparable with pumped-hydro. So if you are interested in supporting clean, cheap, reliable Energy Storage solutions that are easier to site and permit, and quicker to construct than pumped-hydro, let me know so we can keep in touch. pc [at] ecoenergiayagua [dot] com

      1. Wul says:

        Paul, that is really interesting stuff.

        It hadn’t really occurred to me, but basically all you need to do is put the intermittent energy supply (wind) to do some work which you can recover whenever you wish.

        I’m picturing giant “power stations” full of compressed air, compressed springs, giant bricks heated to 1000 C and enormous, heavyweight flywheels spinning at ridiculous speeds. Or enormous “escapement” devices where huge tanks of water are lifted up a mine shaft by wind power and slowly dropped later on, to release power. Clockwork power stations; its like a steam punk’s dream world.

        It could be exciting times.

      2. C Rober says:

        Hope to hear good things Paul , is this like the airpod vehicle in any way? Pressure limits M3 storage solved cheap and safe with new regulators for drop off?

        Graphene from hemp is also looking good for a cleaner alternative to REM , capacitor batteries , hope musk starts looking at that for homepower II or III .

        Overall its a matter of many of little for the future , or no future without nuke.

        I still think there is a future for forced hydro , tech just needs to catch up , like tapered piping to increase pressure and lower the need for higher drop , or using all solar , wind and tidal it to create liquefied hydrogen for gas turbines – or sale for low carbon fuel for older ICE or fuel cells.

        1. Paul Codd says:

          Like the Airpod -yes in that it is based on compressed air energy storage – no, in that it has a number of differences. The vehicle doesn’t compress air, only expand it to make mechanical power. Also it’s storage is limited to what it can conveniently transport. We have a number of patented technologies which enhance the performance of the system. When air is compressed it heats up. We are capturing this heat and storing it separately, then reintroducing the heat when the air is expanded to create a much more efficient energy round trip. As a storage plant doesn’t move like a vehicle we can store vastly more compressed air and do so cheaply in underground tanks or chambers. As the heat is stored separately at ambient pressure, overall energy storage costs are relatively cheap compared to the energy output of the Airpod.

    2. Ian Lowe says:

      “using deadly radioactivity” *sigh*.

      I support the use of renewables – I have implemented solar thermal and solar PV in my home; in both cases, installed by my own fair hand!

      But I cannot, cannot abide this demonisation of nuclear energy as somehow outside of nature and anathema to us…

      *everything* is radioactive to an extent. fossil fuels – yup. sea water – yup. The air we breathe, the food we eat – yup, all of it. Bananas are particularly radioactive. Radioactivity is not some man made bogeyman – It is a fundamental part of our universe and our existence, and refusing to make use of it makes no more sense than refusing to make use of fire or gravity…

      Our planet is warmed by radioactive decay – our volcanism is largely fuelled by thorium.

      The greatest tragedy is that some greens (but notably, not all – Monbiot, Lovelock and Lynas for instance) refuse to embrace the low carbon potential of nuclear… and therefore condemn us to a 450ppm world with 3 degrees or more of AGW. We took a historical wrong turn in nuclear research, and focused on LWRs – because of the weapon construction angle.

      We should be pursuing Thorium reactors such as the LFTR concept now – and urgently. renewables alone will not be enough and time is running out.

      1. willie says:

        It may be trite but if radioactivity is so good, so natural, so omnipresent, as you say it is, then what’s the problem with Fukishima and Chernoby?

        1. Ian Lowe says:

          That’s a very fair question. I have two answers – one is a bit trite, but hopefully you will understand what I am getting at, the other closer to the problem.

          the trite answer – “not much”. more seriously, there’s a reasonably strong evidence base suggesting that the psychological harm caused in the wake of chernobyl by the *fear* of radioactivity has actually killed and ruined the lives of many more people than actual radiation induced symptoms have. Fukushima appears similar, but it’s early days and harder to tell the full impact yet.

          The more sensible answer – what’s wrong in those cases is largely one of scale; in chernobyl an absolutely spectacular amount of material was released in a fire that threw the stuff high and far; I was recording weather at the time on the roof of my school, and we borrowed the science department’s geiger tube to watch for the radiation appearing. Sure enough, a few days later, we started to see a quite noticable uptick – that was still there to some extent even weeks later. Our physics teacher was a good one for using an opportunity like this to explain things, and we had two field trips arranged in short order – we visited Hunterston B, the AGR reactor; and in those pre 9/11 days, were able to be in the reactor hall, above the core on the floor where the fuel, cooling and control channels were marked, with our little geiger counter, comparing it to our chernobyl rainwater results (the readings were slightly lower)… the next trip was to Cruachan, the hollow mountain, pumped hydro mentioned above. Deep inside a mountain with a lot of granite, and Radon.. the radioactivity recorded by our counter was *huge* nearly five times that of Hunterston. It was fascinating, and has made me curious about this ever since. although I do not work in the industry, I do own a geiger counter and often experiment with places and things to see what’s there.

          In a very real sense, the water pooled in the dammed Corrie at Cruachan leeches a small amount of radioactive material from the rocks, which is then carried down through the halls and out the spillway into loch awe… at a miniscule level, pumped hydro spreads radioactivity into the environment!

          Getting back to Scale – chernobyl ( a major industrial accident) and fukushima (a natural disaster with unnatural consequences) differ mainly because of the sheer volume of nuclear particles dispensed into the environment; and the big fear/scare here is because of something called the “LNT” model of risk. “Linear No Threshold” assumes that all radioactivity is harmful, and that there is no safe limit (hence “no threshold”).

          The problem is – this model produces current safety rules for exposure, and causes a considerable amount of fear for those “exposed”. It’s also not supported by the evidence we now have – which is that gamma radiation (which is just non-visible light after all) poses no threat at low levels, and may even have a slightly positive effect (like sunlight), causes harm at slightly higher levels (like sunburn), but that will heal without any long term impact, and then only at a threshold level starts to cause proper long term harm. That threshold is high enough that very, very few people from Fukushima (likely, only the “Fukushima 50”) will experience it. For the rest of the people – the psychological stress of fearing something that in all probability can’t harm them anyway will do much, much more harm in their lives.

          Of course, radioactive particles emitting alpha and beta radiation which are consumed are more of a concern in disasters – the ban on milk and sheep meat in cumbria and throughout Europe after Chernobyl was for that reason; but in both cases, the key risk was from Iodine and Caesium particles emitted – the Iodine because it concentrates in the Thyroid to a dangerous level, the Caesium because it’s very biologically active.

          There’s no getting away from this, and It would be dishonest to try – the particles spread about by Chernobyl and Fukushima will cause negative impacts on health; a number of people will get cancers that they otherwise would not have got as a result of those incidents.

          If we build more nuclear, accidents will inevitably happen that will have similar impacts and although generation IV reactor designs are now inherently fail-safe (learning the lessons of Chernobyl and Fukushima era designs), that risk will still be there to some extent.

          *BUT* my main point is – nothing that we do is risk free, everything has an impact on us and our environment; what we need to do is make level headed, risk assessed decisions – and the current demonisation of nuclear power by parts of the green movement does not do that; it paints a cartoon version of the world, with comedy good guys and villians in a world that is significantly more nuanced and complex than that.

          1. bringiton says:

            The problem with current nuclear reactors is that they produce radioactive isotopes which do NOT exist in nature.
            Some of these elements have half lives of thousands of years and need to be securely stored for much of that time until the radioactivity reduces to a safe level.
            It is the secure storage of waste and site clean up costs which mitigate against nuclear as a cost effective solution to our future energy needs.
            The civil nuclear program was an afterthought of the main military objective and
            the reprocessing/storage of the waste was limited to a few countries in the club in order to deny others access to weapons of mass murder.
            Of course,things have changed dramatically over the years and many countries outside the club now have reprocessing facilities which allow them to produce these weapons.
            We do need energy security and the existing nuclear installations will have to be nursed along until we can replace them with something else but doing so with the same technology is Einstein’s statement about the definition of insanity being continuing to replicate the same mistakes and expecting a different outcome.
            Renewables now represent a credible and cost effective alternative to nuclear but unfortunately do not fit with the current political “thinking” of England’s government.

          2. Ian Lowe says:

            That’s not true though – these radioisotopes *do* exist in nature; there is at least one place on earth where a natural fission reactor has occurred (and for potentially millions of years as well!); the Oklo site in Central Africa.

            You raise the issue of long lived actinides – but there are clear technology approaches available to dealing with those; not storing them, *consuming* them as further fuel. Storage and burial is not only not a good solution – it’s a ludicrous idea in the first place.

            I agree completely on the civil program – it was a fig leaf, a pretence from the true purpose of building bombs… but that’s a political decision, not based on the science or engineering. If you are open to thinking about this, I would suggest reading more about Briant and Weinberg, and the Oak Ridge Labs work on Molten salt reactors.

            Of almost zero military utility, these were rejected in the sixties *because* they produced no plutonium, and therefore could not contribute to the cold war efforts.

            I agree that replace the existing nuclear sites with the same technology would be foolish in the extreme (and this is why I do not believe that Hinkley Point C is a sensible plan for anyone!)… but rejecting all of nuclear technology because of the political decisions of the cold war period is not sensible either.

            As I said in my first post, renewables are a good contribution to the mix, and I support them fully – I have both Solar thermal for water heating and solar PV for electrical generation in my home… but these are simply not viable for industry, nor for large scale consumers like Hospitals and Offices.

            You only have to look at Germany’s big shut down of Nuclear – it has been catastrophic from a climate change perspective, dumping literally billions of Kgs of extra CO2 into the atmosphere because, even in the most renewables friendly country on earth, they just don’t cut it alone – and the shortfall has been made up by burning tonne after tonne of coal.

            Our planet does not have the time left to be mucking about with these toytown schemes any more. the ppm is rising, and the arctic melt is starting. if we do not deploy a new generation of next gen nuclear, then our civilisation is on it’s way out.

      2. Wul says:

        “using deadly radioactivity” *sigh*.

        Only deadly in the sense that if it goes wrong, it kills hundreds of people and poisons the environment for decades.

        1. Ian Lowe says:

          if you want to be so flippant, *electricity* is not safe to use. when it goes wrong, entire buildings burn down and dozens can be killed – and it ‘pollutes’ the environment with EM fields that can interrupt migration of wildlife…

          meanwhile, grounded in reality, every activity worth doing involves some risk. the question is whether the benefits outweigh the risks.

          For Nuclear Power, I believe that they do.

          1. Wul says:

            Ian, so far you have criticised my comments as being irritating “*sigh*” and “flippant”.
            That’s not a good strategy for winning someone over to your point of view.

            I can appreciate your point of view, and you seem to know what you are talking about. However, you can not deny that some nuclear plants have had catastrophic failures which have resulted directly in many deaths and very long term pollution.
            Calling something which has killed many people “deadly” is not being “flippant” it is in fact true. If it makes you feel better, I’d say that fossil fuel production is deadly too.

            As someone whose family home is 30 miles downwind of a nuclear power station and a nuclear missile submarine base, it seems very pertinent to me that energy production should, if possible, avoid methods which can go so spectacularly wrong. The thought of an accident at Hunterston or the Holy Loch worries me.
            If that makes me “flippant”, tiresome and unrealistic in your view, then you need to work on your PR skills if you are to bring people round to your view point.

  17. CMac says:

    This is a pretty confused piece I must say. This decision should be heralded with relief and optimism from Greens. It essentially buys us more time to get renewable options to a competitive state. Pumped Hydro is not a Base-load option and the scale of our existing and future output is too low to be ‘the’ answer. Scotland has about 3GW of interconnection capacity to England rising to about 5GW with the Western link. our peak demand is about 5GW so in theory we could rely on imports when the wind isn’t blowing but it’s not quite as simple as that because large synchronous generators (coal, gas and nuclear) are essential to the operation of the grid for others reasons (voltage control, stability etc) so until these services can confidently be supplied by other means we really do need to keep some big thermal plant on-line and the extension of existing nuclear is by far the cheapest (and greenest) way to do that.

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