A “BIZARRE” decision by Highland Council to call for new nuclear power stations has sparked strong protests from SNP councillors.

“Grave concern” has been expressed after the council agreed to lobby the Scottish Government for new nuclear power stations – even though councillors also agreed to promote renewables as a “strategic improvement priority”.

The decision last week by the Labour/LibDem/Independent coalition followed a lengthy debate on potential membership of the group Nuclear Free Local Authorities (NFLA). Some councillors argued that joining the organisation would show disrespect to the people of Caithness, many of whom have been employed in the nuclear industry either at Dounreay nuclear power station or on the Royal Navy Vulcan submarine nuclear reactor test site.

However, not only did they reject a move to sign up to the group, the council went further, accepting a Tory amendment to call on the Scottish Government “to withdraw the outright rejection of new nuclear plants in Scotland”.

Now the council has been accused of playing “petty games with the energy future of the north” while allowing the Tory minority to dictate a policy seeking to encourage “dangerous” development.

Councillor Kirsteen Currie, SNP member for North, West and Central Sutherland, said: “Whilst I could appreciate that some members felt that they were opposed to the motion to join NFLA, I simply cannot understand why members then chose to support an amendment from the Conservative and Unionist Party which states that the council will actively lobby the Scottish Government to construct and develop new nuclear power stations.

“I’m extremely concerned at the stance Highland Council is now taking on our environment and the peace and safety of our people. The decision made was at the behest of the Conservative and Unionist Party – why, when they enjoy such a small proportion of the vote in the Highlands, are they now dictating policy which seeks to encourage dangerous and un-needed development?”

“Over the past week we’ve been celebrating the new and exciting developments in the north that the renewable industry is providing, against this backdrop this decision is simply astounding.”

She added: “I want to live in a country that’s peaceful, safe and environmentally friendly. The construction of new nuclear is abhorrent and I am baffled that I am now a member of an organisation that will lobby for this. Not in my name.”

Councillor Ron MacWilliam, who suggested joining NFLA, said the coalition’s move was “an act of spectacular cowardice”.

“The Highland council administration voted to approve two meaningless documents – one promoting renewables under a corporate plan, and secondly promoting renewables as one of 22 strategic improvement priorities – then they bizarrely decided to support new nuclear,” he said.

“It was an act of spectacular cowardice as one after the other they lined up for a slice of what they incorrectly perceive to be Caithness public opinion. The reality is that there is no economic, environmental or otherwise, argument for new nuclear in Caithness.

“The administration can’t take renewable energy policy and jobs seriously, hoping instead to misrepresent the ambitions of the SNP for Caithness in return for a pat on the back. I hope the people of Caithness give them short shrift for playing such petty games with the energy future of the north.”

The council said Highland had “the skill, public support and pro-active partnership working to embrace the next generation of energy production such as Small Modular Reactors (SMRs)” and they would “continue to support that aim”.