ANTI-NUCLEAR campaigners have hit out at the UK Government's plan to create a prototype nuclear fusion power plant that is being developed with hopes to sustain moves away from fossil fuels. 

The Scottish Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) has said that this latest effort to extol the virtues of nuclear fusion as a "low carbon" source of energy is to keep the industry "alive" due to the UK being a "nuclear weapon state".

The Spherical Tokamak for Energy Production (Step) is the UK's prototype fusion energy plant and Ardeer in North Ayrshire has been shortlisted alongside four other English locations as a potential site.

Nuclear fusion fuses atoms to release energy which is different to the way current nuclear power plants produce energy through fission, which is the process of splitting atoms.

READ MORE: Scottish site named on list for potential nuclear fusion plant

The final decision on where the Step plant will be is due at the end of 2022 and the UK Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA) is targeting first operations in the early 2040s.

Scottish CND chair Lynn Jamieson said that creating energy through nuclear fusion had been "a dream" of the industry for decades with billions already spent globally on researching the technology.

She said: "I believe the reason these developments are being put through so strongly at the moment is because the whole nuclear industry has to be kept alive due to the UK being a nuclear weapon state.

"They need it at a critical mass of training, technology and people discussing nuclear issues with each other because it’s very important for the nuclear weapons industry that there is a nuclear power industry."

Jamieson highlighted that while nuclear fusion is seen as a cleaner source of energy than fossil fuels, there is currently no real way to dispose of nuclear waste.

She said: "It may be low carbon at the point of generation but not in terms of uranium mining or all the efforts that go into producing these plants and then you have this terrible legacy of waste."

UKAEA has said that fusion has the ability to create four million times more energy for every kilogram of fuel than burning coal, oil or gas.

READ MORE: Pat Kane: Why now is not the time to waste money on ‘clean’ nuclear energy

Dr Ian Fairlie, an independent consultant with experience in radiation and radioactivity dating back until at least the Chernobyl accident in 1986, has written about the waste issues around nuclear fusion with particular reference to the Step reactor.

Dr Fairlie states that - if they are ever introduced - fusion reactors would routinely release radiation into the atmosphere via cooling water for the reactor which would "contaminate all areas downwind and downstream". In addition, were an explosion or fire ever to hit the plant, the radioactivity released would "constitute a nuclear disaster".

Dr Fairlie said: "Fusion reactors would also be subject to most of the major problems associated with fission reactors, including large-scale cooling demands,  high construction and operational costs and lengthy construction times – stretching to decades. The structure, damaged by neutron bombardment, would need to be replaced regularly, resulting in large amounts of radioactive wastes for which there is no current solution in the UK."

Jamieson added: "Globally, there are not a lot of new nuclear power plants getting built these days because a lot of countries realise that this might not be the way to go. Even China, which was building masses of nuclear power stations, had a pause after Fukushima [a Japanese plant that had a massive disaster in 2011 following an earthquake and tsunami], they had a pause for about four years.

"It’s an industry that’s in trouble and has a very powerful lobby group.”

The Scottish Greens are opposed to building any new nuclear power plants and instead want to focus on public and community-owned renewable energy schemes.

They say that nuclear power plants can never be democratically controlled, decentralised delivered or decommissioned without massive government subsidies.

The party has dismissed the idea for a nuclear fusion power plant as "folly" and called on the UK Government to instead focus on renewable energy.

A party spokesperson said: “It is folly to pin our hopes for decarbonising the energy system on technology which is not available yet.

"The UK Government should instead focus on boosting the renewables sector while we still have time to tackle the climate crisis. That is what the Scottish Greens are doing in government in Scotland.”

READ MORE: George Kerevan: Get ready for a rush to nuclear energy as Tories 'go green'

George Freeman, UK minister for science, research and innovation, said: "Fusion energy has the potential to be a truly revolutionary and inexhaustible energy source that can help us reduce our dependence on unreliable fossil fuels and tackle climate change."

North Ayrshire and Arran MP Patricia Gibson said: “I am delighted that Ardeer peninsula, in my North Ayrshire and Arran constituency has, rightly, made the shortlist for development of this futuristic green, clean fusion technology.

“Fusion can transform energy production and deliver thousands of high-tech jobs to an area steeped in the tradition of innovation, engineering and manufacturing.

“With its grid connections and excellent transport links, Ardeer is the perfect location for a development that could transform the lives of everyone in Scotland and beyond.”

A spokesperson for UKAEA said: "There is no link between fusion and nuclear weapons. Fusion has the potential to be a safe and sustainable part of the world’s future energy mix, taking its place alongside other low carbon technologies in the fight against climate change. The Step prototype plant is an important step towards the realisation of commercial fusion."