Whenever there’s debate on energy and climate change, as we are seeing fleetingly in the 2024 election campaign, you can rely on nuclear power fans to flood the zone with claims that it is the answer. It all seems so simple. But it isn’t. Far from it.

Take uranium. It’s not talked about much, but nuclear's raw material is a global commodity – and we don’t have any.

The global market is dominated by Russia which controls around 50% of the supply of raw ore. Mining uranium isn't the only issue. Despite sanctions over the war in Ukraine, Russia continues to supply western nuclear power plants with enriched uranium fuel. According to the Royal United Services Institute, Europe and the US have scrambled to build alternative supply chains for enriched fuel to reduce dependencies on Russia.

It is an intensifying international resource power play. Replacing our vulnerability to international energy shocks and the market volatility of fossil gas, with long term dependencies on uranium ore and nuclear fuel hardly seems the wisest path to take, especially when your land and seas are awash with untapped renewable energy.

Wind power in the HighlandsWind power in the Highlands (Image: free)

A baseload of constant power output from nuclear is not needed to make the electricity system work. Over ten years ago the CEO of National Grid said the concept of baseload was “already outdated.” while casting doubt on the role of large nuclear on a modern green electricity network.

Nuclear creates more problems than it solves because it isn’t very flexible. So when it is really windy or sunny, it's renewables that get turned off. And worse, if there is a problem (and there have been issues in Scotland including cracks in the reactor cores of both Hunterston and Torness) the shut down can last for weeks or months, and other reactors of the same design risk shut down as a precaution. If a wind turbine is attacked or damaged, there's little drama, we just put another one up. The reactors at Fukishima are not back in operation – 13 years on – lest we forget.

Renewables are variable in nature, and predictably so, well in advance. To manage variability of some renewable sources like the wind and sun, more flexible non-nuclear technologies are a much better fit by far.

A renewable based energy system needs flexible response: grid stability 'inertia' and battery systems such as the one at Keith in Moray, grid scale and local scale battery storage which is expanding rapidly, interconnection between regions and neighbours with demand management innovations and local smart energy systems. And of course pumped storage hydro with many new projects underway including SSE's 1500MW Coire Glas in Scotland's Great Glen, traditional hydro and other energy storage mediums.

Add the huge potential for green hydrogen, also under development in Scotland including GreenPower's recently consented Argyll Green Hydrogen Hub in Oban – all technologies that exist and can be expanded quickly.

Nuclear increases more cost than benefit when it comes to the green grid and burdens bill payers with the most expensive energy around, while the need for managing variable renewables, and making the most effective use of them, remains. Even if nuclear could be flexed more – why go down that route when there are quicker, cheaper, cleaner, safer, greener options available?

Nuclear costs more than any other form of power source. Two or three times (and counting), the cost of onshore wind and solar. Hinkley C is estimated at nearly £50bn, originally projected to cost £5.6bn - that is more than just a price tag, that is an astonishing cash black hole.

Its builders, French government company EDF, claimed Hinkley C would be ‘cooking turkeys by Christmas 2017’. An unfortunate turn of phrase, with latest estimates putting its start date as 2029 or 2030. Too slow, too expensive – and the UK government is planning to do it all over again at Sizewell in Suffolk.

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Small nuclear plants will not be cheaper or quicker. According to the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA) small modular reactors (SMRs) are still too costly, too slow and too risky, adding: “Investment in SMRs will take resources away from carbon-free and lower-cost renewable technologies that are available today and can push the transition from fossil fuels forward significantly in the coming 10 years”.

Add security, proliferation of pretty dangerous materials, waste handling – there’s little different to the issues faced by their larger cousins – it’s just that nice wee friendly neighbourhood nuke units sound quite, well, nice, no?

Almost as good as the original nuclear sales pitch: 'too cheap to meter'. With finite capacity for energy bill and tax payers who will (ultimately) pay the price to urgently tackle the climate crisis – new nuclear, large or small, is a waste of time and resources.

It just simply does not make economic, energy security or environmental sense, when there are so many alternatives to get on with, and opportunities for even more green jobs. We have all the technology, resources and know-how we need. Give wave and tidal a tiny fraction of the billions poured into nuclear and I think we would see hugely accelerated development and growth in that particular area too.

Nuclear Power? Still no Thanks

George Baxter is Director of Development at Scottish owned independent renewable energy company GreenPower. George has worked in the Scottish energy sector spanning 30 years, in business, politics and in environmental NGOs