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Electricity Generation

Volume 98: debated on Wednesday 4 June 1986

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asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what he estimates the excess electricity generating capacity will be over peak demand in Scotland, after the commissioning of the nuclear power station at Torness.

The preparation of demand forecasts is a matter for the Scottish electricity boards. They estimate that in 1989–90, by which time the Torness nuclear station will be fully operational, the plant capacity additional to that required solely to meet the maximum demand with planned security is likely to be 27 per cent. This excludes oil-fired capacity placed in reserve and does not allow for any exports in the course of trading with England and Wales.

As the Secretary of State said earlier that the Government were in no case to do anything, presumably in the context of the nuclear industry, will he confirm, or deny, that the South of Scotland Electricity Board has been withdrawing staff from other plants to put them into Torness to hasten commissioning of the reactor? In view of the Chernobyl incident and the fact that, once commissioned, the plant will at some stage have to be decommissioned, with all that that entails in relation to the production of nuclear waste, and in view of current oil prices, would it not be better to bring Inverkip out of mothballs and keep Torness in mothballs?

I have no information on the first point. On the more general proposition, the hon. Gentleman should appreciate that it is in the interests of Scotland to have the maximum of cheap electricity for industry and for the consumer. As the hon. Gentleman knows, that is not only my view but that of his Social Democratic colleagues in the alliance, and it is a view widely held in many parts of Scotland, except in some of the circles in which the hon. Gentleman mixes.

Assuming that Torness is to be commissioned before the next election, what plans are being prepared for the evacuation of people living near the plant in the event of a Chernobyl-type disaster? If such plans do not exist, will the Secretary of State ensure that plans are prepared and that they are published?

The hon. Gentleman should be aware that the Government have given particular importance to issues such as civil defence and how to deal with any emergencies that may take place. The hon. Gentleman and his colleagues have utterly opposed any attempt to encourage local authorities and others to participate in normal sensible preparation for any problems that might arise involving power stations or any part of the local community. Notwithstanding that, the South of Scotland Electricity Board and all responsible public authorities take into account the need for proper provision for any incident that might take place. The hon. Gentleman should also be aware that the record of the nuclear industry in Scotland and in the United Kingdom over the past 30 years has no equal anywhere in the world.

Will my right hon. and learned Friend confirm that the purpose of Torness is to provide cheap electricity for those for whom the Opposition consistently bay in favour of a cheaper way of life and that there is no risk of a Chernobyl-type disaster at Torness because of our safety standards? Will he further confirm that a British Conservative Government, unlike the Socialist Government in Russia, would not cynically keep secret such an accident regardless of the consequences?

No doubt consideration of the kind to which my hon. and learned Friend referred in the first part of his question led to the Labour Government ordering Torness, the hon. Member for East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson) supporting its construction and the present leader of the Labour party declining to enforce its decommissioning.