Scotland could get first new nuclear plant in decades if SNP ousted

The 1950s Dounreay nuclear power site, in the Scottish Highlands, is in the process of being decommissioned
The 1950s Dounreay nuclear power site is in the process of being decommissioned - UNPIXS

Plans are being drawn up to build Scotland’s first new nuclear power station in decades if the SNP is ousted from government at the next Holyrood election.

Although energy policy is reserved to Westminster, SNP ministers have made clear since they took power in 2007 that they would use their planning controls to block the construction of any nuclear plants.

But Alister Jack, the Tory Scottish Secretary, told peers that he had asked the UK Department for Energy Security and Net Zero (DESNZ) to prepare for a nuclear plant to be constructed in Scotland after the 2026 election.

Polls published last week indicate that Labour is on course to be the largest party, and the most likely to form the Scottish Government, following a collapse in support for the SNP.

UK Government insiders said Mr Jack had held talks with Andrew Bowie, a junior energy minister and the Conservative’s West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine MP.

They said DESNZ’s “working assumption” was that one of a new generation of small modular reactors would be sited in Scotland.

Eight UK reactors planned

The UK Government’s energy strategy includes plans for eight new nuclear reactors at existing sites capable of generating about a quarter of the country’s electricity by 2050.

The small reactors are being developed by Rolls-Royce, which has said they could be cheaper to build than conventional plants while still powering about a million homes each.

One of Scotland’s two ageing nuclear power stations, the Hunterston B plant in North Ayrshire, was shut down in January 2022. Torness is due to close in 2028, two years earlier than originally planned.

About 57 per cent of electricity used in Scotland was from renewables in 2021 but some green power, such as onshore wind, is dependent on the weather.

Nuclear power still accounted for 30 per cent of Scotland’s electricity generation that year and only 6.4 per cent of non-electric heat demand was met by renewables in 2020.

UK Government insiders argued Scotland was an ideal site for “at least” one of the small reactors as they could be used to “top up” the country’s energy supply when the wind is not blowing.

But SNP ministers have continued to make clear they would block any planning applications for new nuclear plants. Neil Gray, who was then Scottish energy secretary, stated in December that nuclear power was not safe, not wanted and expensive.

The Nuclear Industry Association (NIA) said Mr Gray had made a series of “factually inaccurate” statements to justify the SNP’s opposition to building more nuclear plants.

Alister Jack, the Secretary of State for Scotland, is anticipating the SNP will be ousted from power in 2026
Alister Jack, the Secretary of State for Scotland, is anticipating the SNP will be ousted from power in 2026 - Jane Barlow/PA

Mr Jack disclosed the plans as he appeared before the Lords constitution committee to give evidence to its inquiry on the governance of the Union.

Lord Foulkes of Cumnock, a Labour member, challenged him: “The Scottish Government have said we don’t want any nuclear power stations in Scotland, yet they’re prepared to take energy electricity generated by nuclear power stations in England.

“Why can’t the United Kingdom Government say we want a nuclear power station in Scotland?” He said this would be welcomed by people living near the existing Torness plant.

Mr Jack said: “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 Holyrood, and they will move forward on this matter.”

Referring to the Holyrood election being less than two years away, he said: “With the timescale of what’s in front of us, I don’t see any point having a great fight [with the SNP] over it.”

An analysis of a poll published last week found Labour is on course to become the government at Holyrood at the 2026 election, with 47 seats compared to the SNP’s 35.

Mr Jack also called for the introduction of a Lords “grand committee” to review Scottish legislation, saying it did not receive enough scrutiny at Holyrood.

The Scottish Secretary, who is expected to become a peer after the general election, said: “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.”

‘Don’t underestimate me’

Mr Jack accused the Scottish Government of underestimating him over issues such as Nicola Sturgeon’s self-ID gender reforms, which he vetoed, and botched plans for a deposit return scheme for single-use drinks containers.

“It is this idea that they would sail on and I would roll over, and not stand my ground, and that was their misjudgment,” he added.

Tommy Sheppard, an SNP MP, said: “Alister Jack doesn’t have long left in office and instead of working to make the lives of the people of Scotland better, he is spending his time undermining and patronising our democratically elected government.

“His 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, we just need full powers over energy so Scotland can take full advantage of the green energy gold rush.”

The Scottish Government has been approached for comment.