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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, in the light of recent announcements on nuclear policy, what plans he has to ensure that reactors in the current programme are built to date and to cost.

In the first instance the construction of nuclear power stations to date and to cost is a matter for the NNC and the generating boards. The Government are, of course, concerned that stations should be built as quickly and economically as possible. As my right hon. Friend said in his statement on 18 December 1979, the Government attach importance to the steady build-up of the NNC into a strong and independent design and construction company, fully able to supply nuclear power stations efficiently, at home and abroad.

I thank my hon. Friend for that reply and, as is necessary, declare an interest. However, does he agree that some time has passed since that announcement and that there has been no noticeable action? Will he consider knocking some heads together to produce action?

If my hon. Friend is referring to strengthening the management and appointing a new chairman to the NNC, I agree that that is a matter of great urgency. We intend to make an announcement as soon as possible.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that doubts have been expressed in all parts of the House about the possibility of fulfilling the programme under present conditions? Is he further aware that those doubts have been expressed to the Secretary of State by the Select Committee on Energy? Will he look into the matter closely and make a statement soon?

We are well aware of delays in construction. We wish to strengthen the management of the NNC to make it into a free-standing, more efficient and effective company. We have decided that the PWR option should be explored, because of past difficulties. PWR appears to have advantages of time and construction and in regard to the amount of work done off site. We are mindful of what has gone wrong with the nuclear programme, and our policy is to try to overcome those difficulties.

Is not my hon. Friend worried about the monopoly enjoyed by the National Nuclear Corporation? Does he accept that the time has come to ensure that we receive the best possible benefit from the experience of companies in this country and overseas?

I do not know quite what my hon. Friend has in mind. In this country not one order has been placed for a decade, and it is extremely difficult to think in terms of more than one supplier to the nuclear industry. As my hon. Friend knows, various consortia came together precisely because there was not enough work.

Bearing in mind the cracks in the Magnox reactors and the fact that the AGRs have been an engineering disaster, does the Minister agree that safety should take precedence over a quick program me?

Safety is our top priority and takes precedence over all other considerations. The right hon. Gentleman is wrong and irresponsible to describe it as a crash programme. It can in no way be described as that. If the programme is implemented, the proportion of our electricity generated by nuclear power will be substantially less than the forecasts in the Green Paper that was initiated by the right hon. Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn) when he was Secretary of State.

It appears increasingly likely that the principal delay will be in getting approval for a PWR. What steps is the hon. Gentleman taking to make sure that in 1982 he can place an order, whether for an AGR or any other type of plant?

The Government have yet to announce the precise form and scope of an inquiry into the PWR. We understand the need to place orders quickly and make swift progress.