September 29, 2008

Sale of British Energy and Nuclear Power

PHILIP Lardner's excellent and well-informed letter (September 26) exposes the lunacy of the UK government allowing the state- owned French company EDF to acquire British Energy plc, and thus effectively gain control of the British nuclear power industry. In fact, our government actively encouraged the takeover by agreeing to sell its own 36per cent minority shareholding in BE. This is an abdication of responsibility and a very short-sighted policy, all for a quick return of a few billion to the Exchequer to reduce the UK's burgeoning national debt.

EDF already has a significant stake in Britain's energy supply industry, mainly in southern England, but buying British Energy will greatly increase its involvement and influence. It now plans to build four new state-of-the-art nuclear power stations, all in England, with perhaps a token "head office" presence in Scotland to save a few jobs in East Kilbride.

This takeover also re-focuses attention on the SNP's stubborn and irrational opposition to nuclear power generation in Scotland. Of course the SNP is right to claim that Scotland is rich in various sources of renewables, and one day we may indeed be selfsufficient in energy. But that day is still a long way off, and well beyond the closure of Hunterston and Torness in a few years. Wave and tidal power will in time be valuable sources of energy, but still need major investment and years of research and development before they are economically viable. In Scotland, hydro power is already proven and is capable of being expanded, probably in smaller power stations, while solar power is for individuals or small communities and will never be a major contributor to energy demands.

Meanwhile, it is already clear that the much-lauded but inefficient wind farms springing up everywhere are ineffective as a regular and major source of energy. They are there only because of the over-generous government subsidies thrown at them. To most of us they are also an abomination in Scotland's magnificent scenery.

It could be 20 or 30 years before the full range of renewables comes on stream to provide 100per cent of Scotland's energy needs, and until then nuclear power must continue to be a major contributor to the supply. This means that at least two new nuclear power stations must be built in Scotland to replace Hunterston and Torness, and it also means that the time has now come for the SNP to change its policy on nuclear power generation.

Iain A D Mann, 7 Kelvin Court, Glasgow.

Originally published by Newsquest Media Group.

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