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Pressurised Water Reactors

Volume 972: debated on Monday 29 October 1979

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asked the Secretary of State for Energy if the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate has concluded its investigation into the safety aspects of the pressurised water reactor; and if he will make a statement.

The Nuclear Installations Inspectorate of the Health and Safety Executive has completed a generic safety review of the PWR system. Any proposal to construct and operate a commercial PWR in this country will be subject to detailed consideration by the inspectorate, which will be carried out in the light of the generic review. The Health and Safety Executive would not grant a licence for a PWR unless it was satisfied that the reactor could be operated safely.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that many of us who support the steady expansion of the British nuclear industry are alarmed at the apparent conversion of his right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to the American pressurised water reactor? Is he aware that those of us who support the British nuclear industry, based on British technology, would campaign against the massive introduction of PWRs into this country? Will he publish the report?

The position on the choice of reactor system is as it was before. We have the further advanced gas-cooled reactors to build, and licensing arrangements for the PWR are still being actively explored and pursued by the parties concerned, mainly the CEGB. Nothing has been finally settled. The hon. Gentleman mentioned the report. If he is referring to the generic safety review, which was a report to his right hon. Friend in July 1977, I understand that a short version has been published. A slightly longer version is available on request from the Health and Safety Executive.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that many hon. Members on this side of the House deplore the Little Englander attitude adopted by those on the Labour side over the AGR? We would welcome a decision by the CEGB to make a series order for PWR reactors.

I note my hon. Friend's view. I think that we have to await the views of the main customer, the CEGB. and also the SSEB. When they come forward with their views it will be possible to make a decision.

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the most important priority is to ensure that the AGRs that have already been ordered are constructed to time and cost, and that all this uncertainty and press speculation about the PWR does not help the AGR? Will he reassure the House that, if any decision is taken to go for PWR, this will be subject to a wide-ranging public inquiry, in which the whole issue of a comparison between AGR and PWR could be brought out, and not simply to a limited planning inquiry?

It is immensely important to get on with the present programme of the advanced gas-cooled reactor. That is one reason why there is a need, after some neglect in the past, to strengthen the nuclear construction industry in this country. As to the future, it is premature to take a view on what the choice of reactor will be. I have explained that nothing has been settled. When a choice is made, and if the CEGB wishes to build a nuclear reactor, there will have to be full consents, licensing and planning inquiries. All that will follow.

But will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that the generic report on the PWR reached me in 1977, that since then we have had the Three Mile Island episode with a PWR, that there are now widespread reports of cracks in the PWR pressure vessels in France—confirming everything that Sir Alan Cottrell said—and that there has been a major leak at Windscale, on which we are still awaiting a full report, in which 20,000 gallons of unconcentrated high toxic waste were released into the ground? Before any major statement is made will the right hon. Gentleman disclose all the documents relating to those three episodes, so that the House and the country can determine whether an accelerated programme is desirable at all, and particularly whether the PWR is safe?

I cannot comment on what the right hon. Gentleman calls the "widespread reports" about matters in France, because those are matters for the French Government. As to the American situation, the Kemeny report to the President is about to appear. When that appears, I am extremely anxious to see that all relevant reports and all discussions and analyses of the Harrisburg incident are set before the House and the public, so that there can be full discussion. I fully recognise the need for that. As for the Windscale leak, the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate is still conducting its inquiry into that matter.

Does the Secretary of State agree that the British public have great confidence in the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate, which is probably more advanced and more definitive in its requirements than any form of nuclear inspectorate in the world? Secondly, will he ensure that in any negotiations for a PWR—if that should be approved and be the wish of the Government—the Government will ensure that there are no restrictions in any licence granted to this country about British production for export, and that if we were to produce PWRs we would be able to go into the export market with them in order to obtain greater work from overseas for our nuclear industry?

The second point is looking rather far ahead and assuming that decisions will be taken which have not yet been settled. However, we have everything to be proud of in regard to safety and the record of the NII. These are standards that have been maintained, and must and will be maintained in future. Of course safety is paramount without a doubt.

With respect to the proposal to build a further nuclear reactor on Severnside, is the Minister aware that last Friday night in my constituency there was a well-attended meeting which expressed wholehearted opposition to this project on environmental and safety grounds? Will he try to ensure that the Government change their nuclear strategy, especially in the light of the abundance of coal in this country?

No proposal has been put to me about building a nuclear power station on this site, so it would not be right for me to comment on the matter.

We were seven minutes on that question. We shall have to take less time on the rest.