THEY can melt down, contaminate a country and threaten air and water resources across a continent. They are vulnerable to earthquake, tsunami and war.

Their energy is more expensive per unit than almost any other kind.

Yet, listening to the love-in during Prime Ministers Questions, it’s clear that nuclear energy is back and Johnson and Starmer are hooked on the power of the atom to tackle the escalating energy crisis.

Boris Johnson blamed Labour for cancelling nuclear plants. Starmer counter-claimed that Tory plants had more starts than a dodgy apprentice (in so many words) but then listed nuclear in his own preferred energy mix.

Johnson pounced on this, proclaiming there is “more joy in heaven over one sinner that repents” … no he couldn’t quite remember the whole quote either. But his point was clear. Nuclear is supported by both main Westminster parties and fresh billions will be wasted in a bid to build new plants.

The National: Prime Minister Boris Johnson

Even though no British money has gone into building nuclear power plants for decades.

Even though Hinkley C nuclear power station is a decade late, wildly over-budget and won’t come into service till 2027 – if the British Government finds new investors to “ease out” Chinese state-backed group CGN. Oops.

Even though Sizewell C, if it’s ever built, won’t produce electricity until the 2030s.

Even though the average nuclear plant can take 18 years in planning and construction, against a tenth of that time for renewables.

And even though the unthinkable has happened again – Chernobyl is at risk of meltdown because of a power cut.

Despite all this, Westminster hails nuclear energy as the green salvation of the world as it struggles to make up for decades without an energy policy or a care for this country’s energy security.

It’s the same old story. Any threat to the status quo justifies more investment in the status quo.

But does Scotland need new nuclear? No, we emphatically do not.

The Forth/Tay offshore wind project alone significantly exceeds Scotland’s entire electricity demand and if some of that energy can be converted into use for transport, it could satisfy nearly all of Scotland’s entire energy needs. And supply England. Even when Scotland becomes independent, we will continue to green England with renewable energy at the best price they’ll get anywhere.

With tidal and wave energy, heat pumps, local community grids and district heating for home energy also in the mix, Scotland should be laughing all the way to the Green Bank. But it’s not – because Scotland is caught in Westminster’s nuclear obsession.

Which means no long-term subsidies and contracts for tidal developers and therefore no continuity for turbine manufacture yards and low investor confidence in Scotland’s marine energy resource.

As one expert put it: “If you have a mindset that wants Scotland kept at heel politically, then you will want to see Scotland with nuclear and fossil energy, tied and locked in to UK policy.”

This is madness.

Of course, nuclear has provided Scotland with baseload energy (available at the flick of a switch) which helps offset the intermittency of wind. But so did coal. So did gas. And both are set to become history.

The National: A power plant fires coal from the nearby Garzweiler open-cast mine near Luetzerath, western Germany (Martin Meissner/AP)

No energy solution should be on the starting line-up for our decarbonised future, just because it’s done heavy lifting in the past. Especially when it needed so much discreet help from taxpayers everywhere.

The German Institute for Economic Research examined 674 nuclear power plants built across the world since 1951 and found the average plant made a loss of €4.8 billion.

Naomi Oreskes is professor of the history of science at Harvard University and wrote recently in Scientific American: “The most recent US nuclear power reactors were started in 2013 and are still not finished. That’s the problem with imagined ‘breakthrough’ technologies. The breakthrough can be sudden, but implementation is slow.”

Indeed, after the first American civilian nuclear power plant broke ground in 1954, physicist John von Neumann predicted that, within decades, nuclear power would make energy “free, just like the unmetered air”. It didn’t happen.

READ MORE: Tories consider building new nuclear plant in Scotland – despite Scottish Government opposition

Nuclear construction costs have risen three-fold over the last decade whilst the costs of solar are five times lower and of wind almost three times lower.

What about nuclear fission – according to Oreskes that’s “a technology with a track record of overpromising and underdelivering, which has been just around the corner since 1943”.

What about small modular reactors (SMRs)? Rolls Royce says smaller reactors can be constructed more cheaply, built in a factory, transported in modules and fitted together “like meccano”. Yet so far, the world’s only SMR is in Russia, while Hitachi’s high-profile SMR project at Wylfa Newydd and Toshiba’s at Moorside in Cumbria have both been mothballed, prompting a Nuclear Energy (Financing) Bill to create “a partnership between the public and private sectors” in future nuclear construction. So public cash will be safeguarding private nuclear plants. And Labour is backing the bill to the hilt. Why?

According to Sue Ferns of the Unite union: “Labour’s perceived ambivalence towards nuclear power has been a factor in the recent loss of seats such as Workington, Barrow and Furness, Ynys Môn and Hartlepool. In fact, there are now no nuclear power stations represented by Labour MPs.”

Yip, it is that cynical and devoid of any deep-seated knowledge or belief in renewables and their massive potential.

Neither Johnson nor Starmer championed plans – also announced yesterday – for a new Severn Tidal Barrage. Local councils are working together to get electricity from the second biggest tidal range in the world which, if successfully harnessed, could generate 7% of the UK’s total energy needs. And yet, this is the 15th attempt in the past 200 years. What’s the problem?

According to Councillor Huw Thomas, the leader of Cardiff City Council: “The UK Government has so far not lent its support … due to a perceived requirement for high levels of public investment and concerns over the environmental impact … in the Severn Estuary.”


READ MORE: Nigel Farage slammed after launching Brexit-style campaign for 'referendum on net zero'

Thomas hopes the climate crisis, the Ukraine crisis, the cost-of-living crisis and the energy crisis might nudge the Tories on a bit. But chances are they won’t.

The man behind Brexit has now decided to take back control from climate campaigners, with a campaign for a Net Zero referendum. Nigel Farage’s already had a bumpy ride with Hugh Grant tweeting “go f*** yourself” and Bolton Wanderers cancelling a proposed anti-net zero gig in their stadium.

The National: Coming to Southend - Nigel Farage.

But the tag team of grumpy right wingers is re-assembling fast. Farage’s unelected Britain Means Business group is flanked by Tory MP Steve Baker’s Net Zero Scrutiny Group (NZSG).

Will they control a wobbly Prime Minister’s energy policy as easily as they pulled the strings during Brexit?

Actually, will they have to if Labour is already itching to counter-sign the next blank cheque for “new” nuclear, diverting money from tidal research, community grids, district heating, heat pumps, green hydrogen, demand reduction, better insulation and the basket of low-key, modest measures that actually work.

So, stand by for a Westminster nuclear bidding war that Scottish taxpayers must help finance. Even though the sanest thing would be to walk away from nuclear and invest all our cash and energy in green, renewable technologies instead.

It’s grim – but it’s one more reason Scotland needs independence. To plough a green, nuclear-free furrow.