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Alternative Energy Sources (Research)

Volume 974: debated on Monday 26 November 1979

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asked the Secretary of State for Energy how much was spent in 1978 on research into nuclear energy and how much on research into alternative forms of energy, including solar, wave and wind power.

In the financial year 1978–79 the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority spent £131·9 million net on nuclear energy research and development, of which £l0·8 million net was for research into nuclear fusion and plasma physics. My Department's expenditure on research and development programmes on alternative forms of energy in this period was £2·4 million and this will rise to £6·9 million in 1979–80.

Is there not a huge disparity between the amount we are spending on research into nuclear energy and the amount spent on looking into alternative forms? Is there not a danger of our putting all our eggs into one nuclear basket? Ought not the Government to spend a lot more on research into alternative forms of energy, particularly in view of the doubts about the safety of nuclear reactors?

The differece between the two figures reflects two factors. The first is that the nuclear industry and its research programme have been in existence for 30 years, whereas the other programmes have existed for about six years. Secondly, the figures reflect the state of the art and the advice we have about where the best chance of a breakthrough in getting cheap sources of energy lies. The hon. Gentleman will have seen from my answer that we are planning to increase the amount spent.

I accept the validity of what my hon. Friend said, but will he give a firm inlication that when the commercial development stage of some of these alternative sources of energy is reached the Government will be prepared to back them as appropriate?

My hon. Friend is, of course, right that when these projects get either to the demonstration stage or near to the commercial stage greater sums of money will be called for, and obviously the Government will be willing to examine them. Several projects involving alternative sources of energy have reached the stage of early development, such as the deep bore hole in Hampshire. We are prepared to support projects that have reached that stage.

In the light of the pathetic result from throwing money into the AGR programme, which has given us one and a half power stations in 15 years, is it not time for a redirection of effort with money being spent on alternative sources of energy?

The AGR programme has also given us cheap electricity at a cost that compares with electricity from other sources, particularly coal. It is the CEGB's view that nuclear electricity is fully competitive.

Ought not the Minister to inform the House that he accepts that it would be unwise to scrimp the budget on alternative sources of energy in order to provide a larger budget on nuclear power, bearing in mind that money spent on research into alternative sources will ensure future renewable sources of energy?

Yes, but I have already pointed out that we are planning to increase the budget to a higher figure than that which the hon. Member for Midlothian (Mr. Eadie) supported when he was in Government.