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"Nuclear Energy—The Real Costs"

Volume 24: debated on Monday 17 May 1982

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asked the Secretary of State for energy what is his policy towards the conclusions of the report of the Committee for the Study of the Economics of Nuclear Electricity entitled "Nuclear Energy—The Real Costs".

All contributions to this important debate are assessed on their merits.

In that case I feel sure that great weight will be given to the report, particularly as the committee is under the chairmanship of Sir Kelvin Spencer, a former chief scientific adviser to the Ministry of Power. Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the report clearly shows that there is a great discrepancy between the findings of the report, the CEGB and the Minister's thinking on electricity prices? Is he further aware that it clearly shows that the production of electricity by fossil fuels will be much cheaper than production by nuclear energy? The hon. Gentleman should take that report into consideration when contemplating his future policy——

I hesitate to draw the hon. Gentleman's attention to the classic computer concept of "garbage in, garbage out." Obviously, I would not suggest that that applied to the report. However, the assumptions fed into the report will produce results. I should have thought that the CEGB's thorough and full statement of the case merited considerable attention, particularly as the CEGB has an obligation to concern itself with securing an economic supply for the consumer.

Will my hon. Friend bear in mind that in Sheffield the high cost of electricity is putting steelworks out of production because such costs make them uncompetitive with those supplied with cheaper electricity, whether that electricity is nuclear-generated from France, hydro-generated from France and Norway, or a mixture of both from the New World? Will my hon. Friend ensure that that is considered?

My hon. Friend is quite right to draw attention to the problems of industry pricing. It is important to remind the House of the CEGB's cost estimates for power stations in 1980–81. Hinkley Point B nuclear power station ran at a cost 22 per cent. lower than Drax, which is one of our best coal-fired stations.

Does not the Minister agree that this somewhat pretentious report may make doubtful assumptions and, not surprisingly, reach wrong conclusions?

I very much appreciate the comments made by the hon. Gentleman, who has great experience in this area. Assumptions about coal prices, nuclear capital costs and very interesting assumptions about nuclear fuel cycle costs have been added together to produce what the report seemed to suggest was the required result.

When considering the costs of nuclear power, will my hon. Friend bear in mind that the cost of building a nuclear power station will be greatly increased if construction work begins before it has been properly designed? Will my hon. Friend ensure that designs are properly prepared before construction work is started, thus making the building costs economic?

My hon. Friend is quite right. The pre-design work is a key factor in successful construction. Governments of both parties have always said that the building of any form of power station to cost and time is crucial to its economic success.