Atom Kraft? Nein Danke, as the stickers said on crumbling 2CVs. My parents drove a VW, but they were dedicated anti-nuclear campaigners who refused to differentiate between civil and military uses of nuclear power. We were doomed either way. I inherited much of their instinctive prejudice against all things nuclear.

But the energy equation has altered with climate change. Many who opposed nuclear power have changed their minds. Even The Guardian’s outspoken environmentalist, George Monbiot, has reconsidered its use in the climate “emergency”.

Atomic fission generates three-quarters of the world’s clean energy. The International Energy Agency, which monitors progress to net zero, says nuclear power will play “a major role” in global decarbonisation.

The Scottish Government disagrees and, like Germany, is busy phasing out nuclear stations in the next few years. This, even though it generates the 20 per cent of so-called “base load” energy that’s needed when the wind doesn’t blow.

It means Scotland will very likely find itself relying on imported nuclear energy from England – a kind of fissile Barnett Formula.

Nein Danke

IT may seem curious that the party seeking independence seems willing to be dependent on UK energy. But the SNP still subscribes to Nein Danke fundamentalism. Nicola Sturgeon wants a nuclear-free Scotland to be part of her legacy.

She insists that Scotland is effectively self-sufficient in renewable energy. Why, she asks, with 50 gigawatts of offshore wind potential, would Scotland want to rebuild nuclear power stations that not only pose a real risk to the population of Scotland but also cost much more per therm than wind energy?

Well, the short answer is that ugly word: baseload. The opponents of nuclear have yet to find a solution to it. The wind power is intermittent – it’s feast or famine – and so far no-one has come up with a sensible way of storing all that wind energy. Indeed, sometimes our wind turbines are turned off because they are generating more energy than we can handle.

Boris Johnson never had any doubts about nuclear power and wants to “go large”.

In harness with renewables, he sees it as the only credible route to net zero. His last act as prime minister was to pony up £700 million of public money to persuade EDF to build Britain’s first new reactor since the 1980s: Sizewell C in Suffolk. The anti-Sizewell campaign against it seems muted so far.

I’m old enough to remember the protests against the building of Torness in East Lothian in 1978, now our only functioning nuclear station. “Benn Is The Menace” said a placard depicting the then-Labour government’s industry secretary Tony Benn, who had authorised the building of the plant. Like Boris, Benn was a nuclear evangelist.

In bed with Boris

TORNESS is already long past its planned lifespan and will pack up its radioactive rods in 2028, if not sooner. Labour have turned full circle. After being nuclear sceptics for much of the last 40 years, they are now firmly in the nuclear lobby with Boris.

The shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves agrees with Liz Truss that nuclear power “plays a really important part in our energy mix”. Its supporters insist that its safety record is much better than any other fuel source. In terms of deaths in the industry, perhaps. Not even the most ardent proletarian romantic would want to bring back the coal mines. But nuclear is not a completely safe fuel source from a societal perspective. Far from it.

In 1986, Nein Dankers felt vindicated by the disaster at Chernobyl in Ukraine. A fire in the plant spread contamination, some of which ended up in Northumbrian sheep. Now fighting has broken out in Ukraine’s other nuclear power station, Zaporizhzhia, raising fears that history may be repeating itself.

An explosion at Europe’s largest nuclear plant would be Chernobyl times 10. It could irradiate thousands of people and leave most of southern Ukraine, and much of the Balkans, uninhabitable for thousands of years.

So, this might seem a rather strange moment to be boosting nuclear. It was never “fail safe” as its originators rashly claimed in the 1950s. There is always a risk from wars, natural disasters like Fukushima, and terrorism.

But international agencies, including the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, seem to think that the occasional radioactive disaster is a price worth paying to reduce carbon emissions.

Some, like Boris Johnson, even suggest that the current energy crisis could be solved by a rapid expansion of nukes.

That is almost certainly untrue since it takes at least a decade to build a nuclear plant, at vast cost. The only new nuclear plant built in Europe this century, Olkiluoto in Finland, has only just started generating electricity after 17 years’ construction.

If we want to lower energy bills, North Sea wind and gas are the best short-term fixes. Above all, we need to renegotiate the ludicrous wholesale price of domestically generated renewable and hydrocarbon power.

Nuclear is an expensive way to generate electricity. Wind is a fraction of the cost per therm.

Chinese cynicism

No private company – except perhaps the Chinese who have their own strategic interests – would take on the £20 billion cost of building a nuclear power station, not without guarantees of the financial returns and not without government looking after the nuclear waste.

Nor is it entirely carbon free since a lot of CO2 is released during the construction of nuclear power stations.

Indeed, nuclear is without doubt the worst way to generate baseload – apart from all the others. Nuclear power is immensely productive. Torness alone can power two million homes. There really is nothing like it for producing a reliable supply of easily accessible carbon emission-free power.

Unless someone like Elon Musk invents mega-batteries, we are stuck with no other non-fossil-fuel source to solve the problem of intermittency. Renewable energy generation slumped last month because of lack of wind just when we needed it. The danger of not using nuclear is that we end up like Germany where Atom Kraft Nein Danke began.

Ex-German Chancellor Angela Merkel refused to go down the nuclear route and instead became reliant on gas piped along Nord Stream 1 from Russia. That didn’t end well.

Pipe dream

LAST week, Putin cut off the gas supply completely, claiming that the pipeline needed “maintenance”. No-one believes that in the Bundestag. It is seen as a crude attempt to bully Germany into persuading the EU to stop backing Zelenskyy’s army.

In desperation, Germany is now reopening coal power stations to meet demand – using what is widely regarded as the most damaging greenhouse gas of all. There are plans in the UK to delay the closure of our remaining coal power stations this winter.

Insulating our drafty buildings is necessary but not sufficient to keep the lights on. Nor is pumped storage a viable solution for Scotland. None of the anti-nuclear groups have offered more than slogans and alarmism. But if we are serious about abolishing fossil fuels the baseload issue must be addressed.

Indeed, the key decisions have already been made globally by governments. No-one wants to end up like Germany. The dash for gas may turn into a dash for nuclear.

It’s possibly the greatest known risk ever taken by humanity.