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Nuclear Power Policy

Volume 978: debated on Monday 11 February 1980

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asked the Secretary of State for Energy what proportion of energy used in the United Kingdom was derived from nuclear power at the latest date for which information is available.

Figures published in the latest issue of the Department's statistical bulletin "Energy Trends" show that for the period January to November 1979 nuclear electricity constituted 3·9 per cent. of total inland energy consumption.

Assuming that my hon. Friend's plans for the extension of such an excellent programme come to fruition, what proportion of energy will be derived from nuclear power in the United Kingdom compared with that derived by France and West Germany?

If our plans come to fruition, by 1990 France will have 60 gigawatts of nuclear-generated electricity, Germany will have 40 GWs and the United Kingdom will have only 12·3 GWs. Therefore, our programme will leave us substantially behind other countries.

With regard to the fast breeder programme, did Ministers authorise the recent visit by a Russian delegation to Dounreay?

The Government were consulted before the visit and agreed that it could go ahead. The visit was made as a result of a co-operation agreement that had been signed in 1961 between the Atomic Energy Authority and the Soviet state committee for the utilisation of atomic energy. The scientists involved were not particularly senior. It has been our policy to review prestige visits by senior politicians. The visit of the Soviet Coal Minister was cancelled as a result of that policy. Had the scientists in this case been more senior, their visit would have been cancelled also.

Does my hon. Friend agree that we are more likely to reach our target on time if the Central Electricity Generating Board makes its announcement as quickly as possible? In constituencies such as my own there have been non-radioactive leaks about where the new power stations are to be built. It would help if we knew where we are. We could then discuss the matter seriously, and not be bombarded by all sorts of pressure groups, when we do not know what is happening.

I understand my hon. Friend's opinions and worries. We shall do our best to ensure that uncertainty is removed. Those announcements that can be made will be made as soon as posible.

Is it not a fact that output will be down this year, because Bradwell and Dungeness B nuclear power stations have closed because of cracks in the reactors? Is the Minister aware that there is great concern because inspectors of British nuclear installations are 20 per cent. below strength? Ice further aware that those inspectors are distressed because their jobs will probably be moved to Liverpool? The nuclear station at Chapel Cross does not have a safety inspector. There is great public concern about the safety of these stations.

We are aware that the Nuclear Inspectorate is somewhat below strength. We are also acutely aware of the urgent need to make sure that pay and conditions in the inspectorate are sufficient to attract people of the right calibre. The inspectorate needs to be up to strength so that the programme can go ahead. The Government are giving urgent consideration to the matter.