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We recently marked the fifth anniversary of the Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster in Japan - which remains the world's second worst after Chernobyl. The catastrophe claimed 19,000 lives, following a colossal earthquake and tsunami that triggered the nuclear plant meltdown. Ongoing consequences are extensive including €136 billion in damage, over 10,000 children and families yet to return home, and Japanese taxpayers picking up a bill of €90.8 billion. Radioactivity from the nuclear disaster can still be found in some local freshwater fish and Greenpeace recently discovered over 9 million cubic metres of nuclear waste scattered over 113,000 locations across Fukushima Prefecture.
It comes as no surprise that opinion polls across Japan reveal a growing and increasingly entrenched anti-nuclear sentiment. Although Japan still relies heavily on nuclear power for domestic energy purposes, I am hopeful that diversification of its energy mix will lead to a decrease in its over-reliance on dangerous nuclear energy.
Fukushima underlines why we must retain our opposition to the development of new nuclear power stations in Scotland. The anniversary of Fukushima has prompted people in other EU Member States to take action, including an unprecedented alliance of 30 major cities and districts from Germany, Luxembourg and the Netherlands joining forces to push for the closure of two ageing Belgian nuclear reactors close to their borders.
The construction of two nuclear reactors at Hinkley Point in Somerset, England is unjustifiably costly and a high-risk expense for the taxpayer. The Guardian recently estimated that the UK Government have agreed to pay £92.50 for each unit of electricity (per megawatt hour of electricity generated from the reactors) for 30 years - which is more than double the market price now.
With an impressive abundance of natural resources and opportunities for renewable energy sources, not at least offshore wind, tidal power and wave energy, there is no justification for the UK Government to opt out of a cleaner, safer, more cost effective solution to future energy needs.
Renewable energy is a key component of the SNP Scottish Government's strategic priority to move to a low carbon economy. I am always proud to reflect on Scotland being the success story of non-nuclear energy achievements, avoiding the risk of nuclear disaster and eliminating the problem of dealing with the nuclear waste material.
Provisional figures show renewable sources generated a record 48.9% of Scotland's gross electricity consumption in 2014. Offshore wind is increasingly promising as a source of renewable energy and of vast economic value. In 2014 four significant projects were approved with the potential to create thousands of jobs and save 135 million tonnes of CO2 over their lifetime. Holyrood has committed to almost complete decarbonisation of the road transport sector by 2050, including the existing 269 low carbon buses already operating on Scottish roads since 2010.
A globally competitive renewable energy industry is at the heart of the Scottish Government and SNP's ambition for the future, which stands in stark contrast to the nuclear ambitions of the UK Government. Yet another good reason for encouraging people to re-elect an SNP Government in May. Both Votes SNP!