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Energy experts call for Scotland to have power to escape nuclear

A leading group of 16 academics and experts has made a powerful plea for Scotland to have much more control over its energy policy to escape Westminster's backing for "bankrupt" nuclear power.

Energy specialists from universities in Aberdeen, St Andrews, Edinburgh, Manchester, Cardiff and London have written a joint letter to the Sunday Herald arguing that Scotland should gain control over "a large portion" of the financial incentives for renewables energy schemes.

They are urging the establishment of a Scottish energy regulator to help renewables by encouraging investment in local electricity grids. They condemn plans for more energy devolution by Labour, LibDem and Tory parties as "feeble".

But they say that the changes they are advocating can be made either under independence or increased devolution. "Scotland needs greater energy powers to escape from English advocacy of economically and politically bankrupt nuclear power and to counteract declining support from the UK government for Scottish priorities for renewable energy," they argue.

Their intervention has been welcomed by the Scottish government. "This is a devastating critique of UK energy policy from leading energy academics which blows a huge hole in the UK government's energy policy," said the energy minister, Fergus Ewing MSP.

The joint letter was coordinated by Dr David Toke, a reader in energy politics at University of Aberdeen. "I feel the need to make this intervention because Scottish low carbon energy priorities are being overlooked by Westminster in favour of policy made for England rather than Scotland," he said. He warned that a future Conservative government could curb spending on Scottish renewables in favour of nuclear power and renewables in England. "This would be bad for the whole of the UK, and of course totally against Scottish priorities," he argued.

But he stressed that the joint letter was not an endorsement of either side in the referendum debate. "The signatories will have varying opinions on a Yes or No vote, but as far as I am concerned the intervention does not necessarily imply support for Yes or No," he said.

Another leading signatory, Professor Peter Strachan from Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen, warned that there was a "very real prospect" of power blackouts in the next year or two. "Scotland generates a massive surplus of electricity - more than one quarter of what it generates - and it exports much of this to England," he said.

But not everyone agrees. Colin McInnes, professor of engineering science at the University of Strathclyde, argued that energy policy should be driven by physics, engineering and economics. "We should remember that due to their long design life, new nuclear plants to the south will be delivering reliable, zero carbon energy out towards the end of the century, while our wind farms will need to be replaced within 25 years," he said.

l Letters: page 34

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