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Nuclear Industry

Volume 974: debated on Monday 26 November 1979

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asked the Secretary of State for Energy when he expects to be able to make a statement on the organisation of the nuclear industry and further nuclear orders.

We are reviewing our policy on the nuclear programme and my rt. hon. Friend hopes to make a statement in the course of the next few weeks.

Is my hon. Friend satisfied that the process for storing nuclear waste, known as vitrification, is now sufficiently well proven to enable the nuclear programme to go ahead without undue danger to the public?

I am satisfied that the present proposals and the present plans for storing waste work safely.

Vitrification is nearing the stage of commercial development and we hope that it will be in commercial operation in the late 1980s. In other countries, such as France, it is further advanced. It will be a very considerable advance on ways of storing waste. It will reduce the volume. It will very much reduce the dangers of movement and of leakage. I believe that altogether it will be a very considerable advance.

Does the Minister realise that the very last thing the industry wants is another period of uncertainty brought about by proposals for further reorganition? Will he further realise that what is far more important is to have a steady, orderly, programme that will fill the greatly unused capacity which exists at the present time?

I agree with the hon. Gentleman. There can be many opinions on the ways in which the industry ought to be organised. I do not quite agree with the hon. Gentleman that this is unimportant, but I agree with him to the extent that orders are the most important thing for the industry.

When considering the industry, will the Minister pay special attention to and learn the lessons from Dungeness B? Will he realise that when a nuclear station is started before the plans are completed, this adds to the cost and brings about a deterioration in labour relations?

My hon. Friend is quite right. The history of Dungeness B is a very sorry one indeed and has added considerably to the costs. That is all the more reason why the industry needs reorganisinn.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that in a written answer of last week it was stated that energy policy will be discussed in Dublin? Can the hon. Gentleman tell us whether the discussion will be about nuclear policy? If so, will it be on a matter which has been referred to the House by the Scrutiny Committee but not yet debated?

I have already answered one question. I gather that there has been a good deal of speculation on what might be discussed, but I have no reason to think that nuclear policy will be discussed in Dublin.

When the Minister is considering the future nuclear programme, will he bear in mind that it is not only Dungeness B that has been a disaster? Of the other four AGR stations, two have produced no electricity and the other two are now, if they are running at all, running at much lower than their original design ratings, and will never get back to those ratings.

Yes, but even if we take account of delays in the course of construction, and the fact that stations have operated at below capacity, it is still the opinion of the CEGB that investment in the AGRs has been worth while, and that investment in nuclear industry will provide a cheap and competitive form of electricity.