What if we could address Britain and Scotland’s energy security before it became a real problem, with a solution that not only offers cheap and reliable electricity, but also allows for us to meet our emission targets? Renewable energy sources are important yet usually fail two out of three tests all while the hypocrisy of the SNP remains astounding. They wish for Scotland to become a world leader against climate change and a stalwart for renewable energy sources, yet a recent article in the Telegraph shows the volatility of wind power. Despite this, the Scottish Government is currently trying to sell us a green future based on this volatility. We cannot built a sound and prosperous economy on something that is as volatile as wind power where the power output one day exceeds electrical need yet the other barely meets it at all. It is high time for the Scottish Conservatives to rise to the challenge at hand.
A possible solution is Small Modular Reactors (SMRs), that offer a number of different benefits that makes them very attractive to consumers, companies and governments alike. These reactors are, as hinted by the name, smaller (50MW-300MW ) than new conventional reactors (1000MW-1600MW). Current nuclear technology however presents an issue that potentially could kill the nuclear power sector. The pressure vessels required by modern Pressurised Water Reactors (PWRs) are only possible to be manufactured in three factories with the main one being Japanese Steel Works. They are not only able to be transported by ship, but the slightest delay in production can cause major budget overruns for individual projects. A shift towards smaller reactors that can be clustered together in order to provide the same energy output as a single large reactor offers three distinct advantages.
Firstly, modern nuclear power is hampered by a number of factors but two major factors affecting the customers are high capital costs and proneness of budget overruns. A number of reasons exists for this, however, the scale of the projects, combined with a heavy regulatory regime and susceptibly of significant delays in supply chains all play a part. SMRs will, thanks to its smaller design, be able to be produced at a much higher rate (without making any security concessions) and at a much smaller capital cost thus making projects more economically viable for companies and reducing the burden on customers.
Secondly, SMRs offer a power output flexibility that would be able to meet fluctuations in both energy demand and supply. Westinghouse’s concept SMR are capable of changing the output by a staggering 5% per minute, offering a more flexible base-load energy production. A clustered approach where a nuclear power station might have 8-10 SMRs will reduce the negative implications that maintenance on larger units has as maintenance patterns can be created in a way that minimises any shortfalls. Therefore, with clustered SMRs and renewables as a mix we can achieve a flexible energy production that will meet the requirements of the industry and customers, whilst ensuring that we remove carbon-based energy production.
The current stockpile of used nuclear fuel being stored in Scotland is 27,400 cubic meters, an amount that is due to increase tenfold in the future. A number of different solutions to the waste issue has been proposed throughout the world, however one major advantage with the GE Hitachi PRISM reactors is their capability of using plutonium as fuel. It can therefore both deal with one of the most problematic and dangerous waste products whilst creating carbon-free electricity.
The Scottish Conservatives have strongly argued the case against the further expansion of wind turbines but are being perceived as having brought nothing new to the negotiating table. This is an issue that must be addressed on its own terms, but if the First Minister means business with listening to all proposals and considering their merits then the Scottish Conservatives must act. Propose a sustainable mix of nuclear and renewable power sources with a solid, yet flexible, base-load providing small modular nuclear power plants, topped up with wind power (where suitable), hydro and solar. By taking these ambitious steps, the Scottish Conservatives can ensure a positive and lasting legacy – an energy secure Scotland.