By Malcolm Mackay on the Think Scotland blogsite
NUCLEAR POWER creates energy by unlocking the power of the supernova, uranium and thorium were formed in one, billions of years ago. Both are found in the granites of northern Scotland and contribute to a background level of radiation we all live with. In fact, we get far more radiation naturally than we have ever done from nuclear power.
New reactor designs are safe, affordable, clean, and use fuel efficiently. In fact, so good that they make their own fuel as they go along, never needing to mine new fuel again. These are called breakeven reactors. There is a British molten salt reactor design that can generate power from plutonium, can make its own fuel and can do so at low pressure. No melt downs, no blow ups, no drama. And the waste decays to background levels in a few hundred years.
Because of this low pressure design the very heavy engineering that only the French and Japanese can now do isn’t needed. They can also be refuelled online which means they can constantly run. What we need is a modest engineering capacity, top brass scientists and engineers, and underused ship and rigyards where these reactors can be built, almost on a production line.
Unlike wind, nuclear power is constant. We are building a power line from Caithness to Moray under the sea now. If we follow Canada, we can build a huge nuclear park at Dounreay that could power all of Scotland easily, much through this new power line. Bruce Power in Ontario produces twice the electricity from a small industrial park than EVERY wind turbine and hydroplant in Scotland today manages.
By routing a Scotland to Norway interconnector through Sullom Voe something exciting is possible. We can generate hydrogen to crack thick cheap oil from Clair ridge into clean fuel. This isn’t adding volume to Scotland’s reserves but adding value and that is so much more important.
Cheap hydrogen can be injected as gas to the grid and Germany is trialling G2G now. This is for us simply to adopt, not invent. Finally hydrogen can make ammonia for fertiliser and to fuel cars. This could be made in the Highlands and power vehicles across Scotland with the only emission being steam.
Reactor components handling molten salt could be made at Fort William, let’s face it Lochaber has used molten salt to smelt aluminium for 80 years now and this expands the sector. Environmental monitoring could be done from Dingwall, fuel management at Dounreay, hydrogen rich ammonia could be made anywhere in the Highlands, Clair ridge upgrading at Sullom Voe and every tourist centre could cater for a new class of tourist, local people with world beating salaries.
We will never run out of uranium and thorium. Using them in molten salt reactors means they will outlast us. Powering all of Scotland for a year means using between five to ten tonnes of thorium. That could be packed inside a Mini, for about the price you’d pay for one. Every other penny we spend on nuclear would go into the Scottish economy. The French went for nuclear in a huge way in the 70s. They had the right idea but they backed the wrong technology.
Getting off fossil fuels isn’t just good for the environment. It’s good for our confidence too. I want our children to grow up to enjoy the countryside, breathe clean air, without mercury emissions from coal poisoning their development. I want us to be free from the idea this country can live by finance and oil and gas alone. Free to be ourselves in the world and uphold our values abroad without fear of offending oil rich regimes. Free for each of us to meet our potential in a high knowledge, energy secure powerhouse here in the north of Scotland.
I believe in our future prosperity led by technological progress and high wages, not just jobs on a spreadsheet. People who oppose new technology are free to do so but it’s no longer acceptable they do this for opposition’s sake or worse because they are unable to come along with us in understanding the possibilities around the corner.
We have spent £400m on a Border’s railway with no business case, £800m on a tram system in Edinburgh no one needed and billions on wind turbines. Scotland without question has the means to support and develop an independent nuclear power sector outside the Westminster model. When Scots made carbon our slave two centuries ago we made ourselves a nicer people that led the world towards abolition of slavery. Thorium has a million times the power of carbon and could replace it completely in our economy. Imagine that, imagine a Scottish northern powerhouse.