The nuclear industry has attacked the First Minister for being "hopelessly ideological and anti-science" after he said he was "not a fan" of the business and that he "never have and never will" support investment in power plants.

John Swinney was responding to calls to lift the ban on nuclear fears grow over hundreds of jobs being lost and skilled workers leaving Scotland for overseas.

But the Nuclear Industry Association trade group has strongly criticised his comments telling the First Minister that he was "setting his face against reality" and that Scotland's nuclear power stations have saved more carbon "by far" than "any other source in the nation's history".

Mr Swinney's remarks were made to MSPs as GMB Scotland made a direct appeal to deputy first minister Kate Forbes after Hunterston B nuclear power workers representative David Ferguson issued a warning to colleagues about the decline of nuclear and the loss of skills.

David Ferguson  (Image: NQ)

He said: "I respect the fact that people have a different opinion from me, but I am not a fan of the nuclear industry and I do not support investment in nuclear power plants. I never have and I never will. The country should focus on creating clean, green, renewable energy resources.

"We have a formidable track record of investment in Scotland and a formidable record of transformation in the generation of electricity in our country. What would help us is reform of the electricity market in the United Kingdom, which might result in people living in the areas that generate the electricity not having to pay exorbitant energy costs, which is the current procedure in the UK energy market."

But the NIA has hit back saying that Scotland’s nuclear industry has been "the most productive green industry in the nation’s history" and a "critical source of jobs and investment for the communities that need them".

(Image: NIA/Grégoire Bernardi)  

Tom Greatrex, chief executive of the Nuclear Industry Association, said: “The First Minister’s views on nuclear are hopelessly ideological and anti-science. United Nations analysis says nuclear is green, with the lowest carbon footprint, land use and ecosystem impact of any electricity technology.

"The facts show that Scotland’s nuclear power stations have saved more carbon by far than any other source in the nation’s history, and still today the industry provides high-quality, skilled jobs to some of the most deprived communities in Scotland.

“Every serious scientist, commentator and country recognises that we need both renewables and nuclear together to hit net zero. That is why the Scottish Government should drop the ban on new nuclear power, and let our nuclear communities have new stations, new investment and new hope. The First Minister will cost Scotland billions in investment and thousands of good jobs for our young people if he instead sets his face against reality.”

According to the NIA, Scotland’s nuclear power stations have generated enough electricity since the first was opened at Chapelcross, Dumfries and Galloway in 1959, "enough to save 400 million tonnes of carbon emissons and power every home in the country for 70 years".

They say Scotland's last remaining nuclear power station, Torness, is the largest, cleanest and most reliable single generator in the nation.

Torness from White Sands.  Credit: Murdoch Ferguson

It estimates the industry sustains 3,700 direct jobs with more than £400 million total added value to the Scottish economy.

The NIA says that at more than £100,000 per worker, they are more than twice as productive as the national average.

And they say the jobs are also concentrated in poorer areas, with 48% of direct jobs in the most deprived 25% of local authorities, and 24.5% in the most deprived 10%.

The Scottish Government, while ruled by an SNP-Green co-operation arrangement, has been steadfast in its opposition to nuclear, believing that it is not environmentally sustainable and "isn't required" while a climate target of reaching net zero by 2045 remains.

Net zero described a state where emissions of greenhouse gases due to human activities, and removals of these are in balance over a given period.

Louise Gilmour, GMB Scotland secretary, said £250m is being paid to Scots firms supplying and supporting the construction of two new reactors at Hinkley Point C in Somerset is a drop in the ocean compared to the economic benefits to the country if the anti-nuclear policy was reversed at Holyrood.

She said: “The First Ministers’ vehement and ideological opposition to nuclear energy past, present and future was sadly not surprising but remains hugely disappointing when circumstances have changed and so much is at stake.

"New nuclear energy not only has the capability to secure our energy supplies and support the drive towards Net Zero but it is difficult to overestimate the economic benefits to Scots workers and communities.

“The construction of Hinkley Point C is creating tens of thousands of skilled, well-paid jobs and apprenticeships and driving more than £7 billion through the local economies.

“The same jobs and economic boost could be enjoyed if new reactors were given the go ahead in Scotland.

“The First Minister remains implacably opposed to creating skilled, well-paid jobs in nuclear energy today while continuing to promise green energy jobs tomorrow.

Louise Gilmour (Image: GMB)

“These notional jobs in renewables have much in common with the Scottish Government’s energy strategy which has been talked about incessantly, been promised many times, but has never actually arrived.

“New nuclear energy is an opportunity to actually deliver a transition of jobs during the change to renewables and it is one that should be seized not spurned.”

In 2016 nuclear power stations provided 42.8% of the electricity produced in Scotland.

There were in 2019 two nuclear power stations in Scotland owned by French energy giant EDF that generated electricity: Hunterston B in Ayrshire which started generation in 1976 but shut down for the final time in 2022 after generating electricity for 46 years.

Torness in East Lothian which started up 1988 was proposed to cease operation in 2030 but is due to close in 2028 because of expected cracks found in the graphite bricks which make up the reactor cores.

There are three closed sites in Scotland that have been in the process of being decommissioned - Dounreay in Caithness; Hunterston A in Ayrshire and Chapelcross in Dumfries and Galloway.

The decommissioning of these sites is overseen and funded by the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) which is a non-departmental public body set up under the Energy Act 2004.

GMB Scotland union organiser Claire Greer has made a plea to Ms Forbes, who is also the economy secretary to end its oppositon to the expansion of new nuclear energy in the wake of the SNP-Green co-operation arrangement ending, hoping the position might have softened.

Ms Greer has invited Ms Forbes to meet nuclear reps at Hunterston B to "better understand the role nuclear can play in meeting net zero aims and achieiving a meaningful just transition.

And she warned her: "Our members in energy have seen contract after contract in wind power go overseas. And with the continued opposition to new nuclear, so are the workers with the skills we need to achieve a just transition with many going to UAE. We are hollowing out our industrial and skills base.

"There can be no just transition without nuclear. Nuclear energy in Scotland means jobs in Scotland.

"Hunterston and Torness are both in a position to be expanded securing low carbon energy jobs. Whilst the Scottish Government continues to block any new nuclear, a ‘just transition’ will continue to be synonymous with redundancies, and opportunities will be missed alongside emission targets.

"The Scottish Government must lift the ban."

In her letter to Ms Forbes, Ms Greer referenced the concerns of Mr Ferguson who has worked in nuclear power stations for ten years who issued a stern warning about the future of the industry to union colleagues.

Claire Greer (left) and  Kate Forbes(Image: NQ)

The radiation worker who monitors radioactivity said that when Hunterston B was a running station, it employed around 650 people and when it went into defuelling it dropped to 420 and as they plant enters decommissioning it will drop to 240.

He said: "I’ve watched as Hinkley C gets built and Sizewell C gets planned and the stability that brings to those areas as workers transition from station at the end of their life, to new stations.

"We could have been going through that transition in the west of Scotland with a Hunterston C, but sadly, for generations of workers on the west coast that is not to be because the Scottish Government opposes all new nuclear builds.

"A site [Hunterston] which for 60 years has provided thousands of jobs to the towns of Largs, West Kilbride, Saltcoats, Ardrossan and Stevenson. The skills here will be lost. Another industry gone and workers looking for new careers. Already, they are heading abroad to places like Abu Dhabi [the capital of the United Arab Emirates].

"With Hunterston A and B providing safe, reliable energy to the grid for 60 years, it has a proven track record for our industry and country. So it’s time for a change in the way the Scottish Government looks at the nuclear industry.

"There could have been a Hunterston C, a Torness B, and a mini reactor at Ardern. It's time for the Scottish Government to end its opposition to new evolving nuclear technology as part of our energy mix.

"If we are not careful, it will be back to the good old days of power cuts and candles."

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “New nuclear power is expensive, will take years to become operational and involves significant environmental concerns.

“Our Energy Strategy and Just Transition Plan will set out how we support nuclear energy workers take advantage of the enormous opportunities offered by Scotland’s transition to a clean and renewable energy supply.

“Driving growth in renewables, hydrogen energy and carbon capture and storage will deliver clean, affordable energy for everyone in Scotland. This will also support green jobs for the future, with independent analysis showing that low carbon and renewable energy could support nearly 80,000 jobs in Scotland by 2050.”