Gazing out to the Firth of Clyde from the picturesque village of Fairlie, it is almost impossible to ignore one of its closest neighbours. Hunterston B power station provides part of the backdrop for the village's beautiful outlook towards the Cumbraes and beyond.

Hunterston B's nuclear reactors have not been operating since last October while repairs to cracked boiler pipes were carried out. Operator British Energy is waiting for consent from industry body the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate (NII) to resume normal service.

The station in North Ayrshire has been generating electricity since 1976 and, together with Torness in East Lothian, usually creates almost half of Scotland's output. The two stations meet about 40% of the country's electricity needs, but both are due to be decommissioned in the next 16 years, Hunterston B in 2011 and Torness in 2023.

During that period, Scotland's electricity usage is expected to soar, with estimates that the population will use 50% more by 2050. On the other hand, 30% of electricity generating capacity from all large plants in the UK will be lost in the next 10 years, leaving a gap in energy provision.

Renewable may be the buzz word of the moment, but academics and industry experts highlight the fact that wind, tidal and wavepower are naturally intermittent sources of power. So the question remains whether new nuclear stations will be on the agenda.

It appears to many that the answer is inevitably yes "I don't think Scotland can look towards a nuclear-free future," says John Large, an independent nuclear engineer.

"I don't welcome nuclear power; it is too risky. But you have to have diversity and can't rely entirely on renewable energy."

In Large's opinion, the risks remain. The headline stories are well known, with concerns about the environmental impact of radioactive waste top of the list.

Stuart Hay, head of policy and research at Friends of the Earth Scotland, believes it is a crucial factor in the debate.

"If the Romans had nuclear waste, we would be digging it up now, wondering what it is," he says. "That is the fundamental problem."

According to some of the foremost experts on the issue, these are problems that should be addressed on an international scale. Already, Finland is testing one solution to the waste problem by burying nuclear waste in facilities hundreds of metres underground in a stable geological formation.

The UK government has also signalled its support for "geological disposal" as the safest method for the public and environment. Research is also under way to find safer and cleaner ways of generating nuclear energy, and only last month it was announced that a new centre at Strathclyde Univer-sity, in partnership with British Energy, would work towards the development of "safe and efficient generation" of nuclear energy.

Professor Jim McDonald, director of the university's Institute for Energy and Environment, says it is time for an end to the polarisation of the nuclear debate. "We haven't really informed the general public about all of the pros and cons of nuclear energy," he says. "It tends to go to the immediate issues associated with high-profile problems like Chernobyl or radioactive materials found on beaches.

"For the sake of the public, we need to decouple the discussions so people understand what nuclear means. I am a great supporter of renewable energy, but there is an issue about security of supply with tidal, wave and wind. If we are going to be dealing with the government's low carbon targets, we need to be making decisions on nuclear investment. We don't have the luxury of a long period of consultation."

The UK government has a target of reducing its carbon dioxide emissions by 60% by 2050. The reality is that nuclear can play a role in achieving that ambition.

In 2005, British Energy issued a report entitled the Torness Life Cycle Study, which examined the CO2 emissions generated by the station's construction, its operation and decommissioning. It estimated that emissions generated in the lifetime of a power station are similar to a wind farm, and substantially less than a coal plant.

A nuclear plant produces five grammes of CO2 per kilowatt hour of electricity generated, compared to 900g/kWh from a coal plant and 400g/kWh from a gas powered station. It has been suggested that new nuclear plants would need to use lower ore uranium which requires more energy to extract but a follow-up study showed emissions would then be 6.85g/kWh.

"We have got to face reality," says Sue Fletcher, a spokeswoman for British Energy. "What we have with nuclear is a tried and tested track record. Waste is a factor but we are talking about very small volumes, not even the size of four double decker buses in Scotland.

"If we were to build new nuclear power stations, there is a different technology which results in a lower volume of waste, about 10% of what we have at the moment, so it is a shrinking problem.

"British Energy is certainly not saying the country needs only nuclear. We are pushing for a mixed energy policy."

The Royal Society of Edinburgh carried out an inquiry into energy issues for Scotland last year. Its report recommended a "new generation of nuclear power stations should remain an option".

Professor Roger Crofts, the secretary of the inquiry committee, says: "What disappoints me is people who dismiss nuclear without thinking about it as an option. With fossil fuels, there is a clear link to climate change. You cannot compare nuclear and wind, and people who do that don't understand the system.

"The fact of the matter is nuclear power can produce base-load electricity which keeps running until you shut it down.

"With wind, it is intermittent and you cannot do anything about that. Even if you try to use a high level of wind for electricity, we would still have to have back-up provided by services that are not intermittent."

The theory is one thing. Gathering support from communities near the proposed sites for new nuclear stations is another. North Ayrshire's residents know more than most, having lived for decades with the Hunterston power station on their doorstep. They are at the heart of the nuclear debate, but many have simply accepted the reality of life next to a nuclear station.

John Lamb, chairman of West Kilbride community council, sits on the Hunterston Site Stakeholder Group, which is comprised of British Energy, local organisations and five community councils.

He says: "It has brought sustained employment to West Kilbride. In that respect, it has been advantageous to the economy of the area.

"It has a good safety record. It has been here for years. We have effectively got used to it."

In Fairlie, sentiments are similar. "Hunterston is a requirement," says Adam Crawford, 52, who runs a picture-framing business in the village. "It has put folk into employment and kept others in jobs. "We have lived with it for years and it has not had any major incidents. We don't have a problem with Hunterston."

Boxing clever: why 81% of us now recycle

Blue, green and brown - the array of bins appearing on Scotland's streets is testament to an increased uptake in recycling.

In 2002, half of the Scottish population participated in some form of recycling, but only one-third of those used kerbside facilities. Four years on and 70% of households can access recycling on their doorsteps, while Scotland has 172 recycling centres and 2554 recycling points.

This investment in infrastructure has reaped benefits for the industry: 81% of people now recycle and two-thirds of those are taking advantage of kerbside facilities.

Nicki Souter, campaign manager of the Scottish Waste Awareness Group, says: "Recycling is incredibly important. It saves energy and reduces the risk of climate change. It also reduces the need for landfill. It effectively helps save earth's natural resources."

Simon and Lynne Inglis, from Newton Mearns, East Renfrewshire, began using kerbside facilities as soon as they were introduced to their street in 2003.

The couple, who have a two-year-old daughter, Amy, admit that before then they were not proactive in recycling and most of their waste tended to go into the household rubbish bin.

Now newspapers, magazines, tins, glass, plastics and even potato peelings are separated and put into their designated boxes, bags or bins.

Mrs Inglis, 33, a secretary, says recycling has become second nature. "It has become automatic because the bins are right outside our back door.

"It is important when you think of the future. We had to have our eyes opened when it came to the ozone layer. Now we can all do our own bit."

For Ms Souter, whose organisation was set up to change the public's attitudes and behaviour towards household waste, there is still room for improvement.

"It is about moving up the waste hierarchy by reusing as well as recycling," she says. "It is also about getting people to optimise the use of the systems we have already got.

"We can provide a greater range of material that could be recycled and focus on areas where we want to decrease contamination or increase participation. That is more intensive intervention."


Supports a mixed energy supply and believes that ruling out any single energy source might risk both the energy supply and thousands of jobs across Scotland. Will set new targets aiming to have 70% of waste recycled by 2020.

Will block plans for new nuclear power stations and invest an extra £98m in expanding renewable generation and £15m on green energy research. The party aspires to achieve a zero-waste Scotland, with waste prevention as the key. Supports the extension of kerbside recycling, including waste batteries and cooking oil for bio-fuels.

conservative Would not oppose plans to replace the current nuclear power stations if the government at Westminster decided to do so. Would tackle the increasing amount of waste sent to landfill by encouraging individuals, businesses and governments to work together to cut annual waste levels.

Lib Dem
The party rejects nuclear power in favour of a "renewable revolution", with major investment in wave and tidal power and a target of renewable energy supplying 100% of Scotland's electricity by 2050. Pledges to reduce waste and increase recycling, with a major push to improve rates in the business sector. Overall recycling target of 70% by 2020.

Will oppose new nuclear power stations and shut down existing stations as soon as possible. Nuclear waste should be stored on site in secure storage. Will give every household kerbside recycling, boost community recycling and re-use projects, and give greater incentives for business and industry to reprocess waste.

Wants no new nuclear power stations, and the phasing out of existing nuclear power plants. Wants to expand provision of recycling bins and implement kerbside collection to every household in Scotland. All suppliers of goods to the public sector would be forced to use biodegradable and recyclable packaging.

Wants no more nuclear power stations and the decommissioning of existing ones. Would set ten-year strategic plans to deliver 100% renewable energy generation. Wants clean coal technology to cover the gap during the switch to renewables. Would give local authorities the resources to provide recycling to the highest continental standards.