The UK nuclear industry has stepped up its lobbying of MSPs in a bid to get the Scottish Parliament to reverse its opposition to the building of new nuclear power stations.
An investigation by The Ferret has revealed that nuclear energy companies and their lobbyists have talked up the industry’s potential benefits to ministers, Tory, Labour and SNP MSPs at six meetings in 2021 and four so far in 2022.
According to the Scottish Parliament’s lobbying register, there were no pro-nuclear lobbying meetings in 2020, three in 2019 and four in 2018. There is only one recorded lobbying meeting by an anti-nuclear group since 2018.
Campaigners accused the nuclear industry of “getting desperate” and “flogging a dead horse” by launching a “propaganda offensive”. Scotland did not need to build any more nuclear stations, they said.
The industry, however, defended its lobbying, arguing that ruling out new nuclear power was “bad science and bad judgement for Scotland”. It urged the Scottish Government to drop its “blanket opposition” to nuclear developments.
In April Boris Johnston’s government at Westminster gave nuclear power a major boost by announcing plans to deliver as many as eight new reactors over the next eight years. But since 2005 successive Scottish governments have opposed building any north of the border.
Now nuclear companies and their backers are putting Scottish politicians under growing pressure to change their minds. At two meetings in May and two in April 2022, they lobbied MSPs in Holyrood on the “opportunities” of nuclear power.
On 24 May the UK Nuclear Industry Association arranged a full day of “engagement with the Scottish Parliament”. This included lunch and a series of pro-nuclear presentations at the upmarket Signet Library hosted by Edinburgh corporate energy lawyers, Castletown Law, as well as an evening reception in the parliament.
For the lunchtime meeting Castletown produced a 16-page brochure entitled ‘The Importance of Nuclear Power to Scotland’. This was aimed at “trying to put right some of the misrepresentations on nuclear power generation”.
One of its authors was Castletown’s principal, Simon Stuttaford, who used to work for the nuclear industry. His co-author and fellow principal was Andrew Renton, who has accused the media of being “indoctrinated” by anti-nuclear lobbying.
“They stopped listening to some extent to the experts,” Renton said in a film made by Castletown. “What is being said publicly about nuclear power generation is largely misinformed comment.”
Castletown Law is a member of the UK Nuclear Industry Association, which also invited MSPs to a “nuclear energy reception” at Holyrood at 6pm on 24 May. Politicians were offered meetings during the day with the association’s chief executive and former Labour energy spokesperson, Tom Greatrex, to “discuss nuclear energy matters in more depth”.
The meetings on 24 May have not yet been recorded in Holyrood’s lobbying register. The nuclear association said it was “in the process” of declaring them.
The register does record two lobbying meetings in April by Stonehaven Campaigns, a London-based communications consultancy working on behalf of the Sizewell C Consortium, an industry group backing a new nuclear power station at Sizewell in Suffolk.
On 20 April Stonehaven’s James English met three Conservative MSPs at Holyrood — Liam Kerr, Brian Whittle and Sue Webber. On 27 April the company’s Angus Boobbyer talked to Conservative MSP, Oliver Mundell, via a video link.
The purpose in both cases was said to be “to discuss the current state of play of Scotland’s nuclear industry and raise the opportunities on offer for the country following the release of the UK Government’s Energy Security Strategy.”
The French nuclear company, EDF Energy, recorded four meetings in 2021 in the lobbying register. On 16 December three company officials talked via video to the Cabinet Secretary, Michael Matheson, on “nuclear’s omission” from the Scottish Government’s Just Transition Commission, which is working on how to fairly reduce Scotland’s climate pollution.
On 8 November 2021 EDF met four Labour MSPs at a “roundtable event on nuclear in Scotland” to make the same point. The meeting took place at Scottish Labour’s headquarters in Glasgow, and included the party leader, Anas Sarwar, as well as Daniel Johnson, Paul Sweeney and Martin Whitfield.
EDF also met two of the Labour MSPs, Sweeney and Whitfield, at Torness nuclear power station in East Lothian on 20 September 2021. On 23 September the company lobbied Conservative MSP, Liam Kerr, on nuclear plans at a video conference.
Caithness Chamber of Commerce has registered two lobbying meetings about nuclear power. On 27 September 2021 it met with the local SNP MSP, Maree Todd, at a hotel in Thurso to raise “concerns regarding SNP/Scottish Government energy policy with regards to nuclear”.
On 18 January 2021 the chamber lobbied the trade minister, Ivan McKee, about the nuclear industry during a video conference. The Dounreay nuclear complex, which is currently being decommissioned, is situated in Caithness.
The one anti-nuclear lobbying meeting on the register took place on 20 January 2022. The environmental campaign group, Greenpeace, talked to the Scottish Greens political advisor, Harry Huyton, via video link “about nuclear power”.
The Greens energy spokesperson, Mark Ruskell MSP, pointed out that there had been a “longstanding consensus” in Scotland against investing in new nuclear plants. “Only those with a vested interest in this industry would advocate investing in these white elephants,” he said.
The former Scottish Labour leader, Richard Leonard MSP, accused the industry of spending heavily on propaganda. “MSPs must resist the latest push for us to reverse parliament’s opposition to nuclear expansion,” he told The Ferret.
According to Glasgow SNP councillor and convener of the nuclear free group of local authorities in Scotland, Feargal Dalton, the nuclear industry was “getting desperate”. The industry was trying to “get its foot in Scotland’s door” before everyone realised that the country could be run on 100 per cent renewables, he warned.
He added: “I am confident that the Scottish Government will stick to its guns, and in a couple of years’ time England and Wales will be wondering why they ever gave nuclear power so much air time.”
The veteran environmental campaigner, Dr Richard Dixon, attacked the nuclear industry for making “false claims” about costs and radioactive waste. “Despite the obvious futility, the nuclear industry continues to flog its dead horse,” he said.
The industry describes nuclear power as “zero carbon” and regards its expansion as vital to combat climate change. But critics say the technology is costly and creates toxic waste – and that renewables and energy efficiency are faster and cheaper solutions to the climate emergency.
The UK Nuclear Industry Association argued that nuclear should be “at the heart” of Scotland “clean energy” future. “Ruling out new nuclear is bad science and bad judgement for Scotland,” said a spokesperson.
“For decades, it has provided good jobs, energy security, and clean power for the Scottish people, and it can do the same for the next generation.”
EDF Energy pointed out that it had two nuclear power stations in Scotland supporting the employment of more than 1,300 people. “They have generated enough zero-carbon electricity to power every home in Scotland for 60 years,” said a company spokesperson.
“It is right that we engage with MSPs who are interested in those sites and talk to them about how our highly-skilled workers might be involved in a just transition as these stations move from generation to decommissioning.”
One of EDF’s nuclear stations at Hunterston in North Ayrshire was closed down in January 2022 because of spreading cracks in its graphite core. The other station at Torness in East Lothian is due to be closed down in 2028, two years earlier than previously planned.
Caithness Chamber of Commerce highlighted its area’s “long history” with the nuclear industry. “We believe that new developments in the nuclear industry, such as small modular reactors, have the potential to play an important role in Scotland’s future clean energy mix,” said chief executive, Trudy Morris.
“If the Scottish Government were to remove its blanket opposition and support new nuclear development within the north highlands, it could not only ensure a clean energy future for Scotland but help to sustain the economic and social fabric of one of the nation’s most remote and rural mainland communities.”
The Scottish Government argued that new nuclear plants could take decades to become operational and would be expensive. “The Scottish Government is absolutely clear in its opposition to the building of new traditional nuclear fission energy plants in Scotland under current technologies,” said a spokesperson.
“We believe that significant growth in renewables, storage, hydrogen and carbon capture provides the best pathway to net zero by 2045, and will deliver the decarbonisation we need to see across industry, heat and transport.”