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Air Pollution

Volume 124: debated on Thursday 10 December 1987

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To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will outline the position of Her Majesty's Government with regard to the proposal from Switzerland, the Federal Republic of Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden and Austria, within the framework of the UNECE Geneva convention on long-range transboundary air pollution, to establish a protocol to achieve a 30 per cent. reduction in emissions of nitrogen oxides by 1995.

In common with the great majority of countries which are parties to the convention the United Kingdom Government do not consider the objective of a 30 per cent. reduction in nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions by 1995, on a 1980 base, to be a feasible objective, given, for example, the lead times involved for the introduction of the new emission controls technology.

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will make a statement on the discussions held between 16 and 18 November during the meeting of the working group on nitrogen oxides under the auspices of the UNECE Geneva convention on long-range transboundary air pollution, in view of the working group's mandate to draft a protocol which would result in effective reductions in emissions of nitrogen oxides by 1995.

The United Kingdom, together with representatives of 20 other parties to the convention, participated in the meeting to which the hon. Member refers.The working group agreed on the structure of the draft protocol and on a number of articles, but has yet to reach agreement on the key articles concerning basic obligations and transfer of technology. I expect further progress to be made at the next meeting of the working group, scheduled for 16–19 February 1988.There is no reference to 1995 in the mandate of the working group.

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will list the anticipated annual emissions of nitrogen oxides and hydrocarbons from petrol-engined motor vehicles in the United Kingdom for each of the years up to the end of the century, taking into consideration the limits agreed under the Luxembourg agreement and changes in the vehicle fleet.

Estimates of future nitrogen oxide and hydrocarbon emissions from petrol-engined vehicles depend on assumptions about growth in vehicle use, vehicle replacement rate and the full emission characteristics of vehicles built to new specifications. Uncertainties attach to each of these factors and estimates are revised as new evidence becomes available. Warren Spring Laboratory has made some initial predictions for the Department through to the year 2010 and these have been published in report LR 612 (AP)M. I shall arrange for copies to be placed in the Library of the House shortly.

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will outline (a) the results yielded by daily measurements of precipitation composition from the primary network of nine rural sites during the most recent week for which figures are available, (b) the results yielded by the secondary network of collectors during the most recent week for which figures are available and (c) for each network the minimum period of delay between recordings being taken and results being available.

Results from the first year of operation (1986) of the primary and secondary acid deposition networks were published in September 1987 by Warren Spring Laboratory which undertakes the monitoring on behalf of the Department. Copies of the report have been placed in the Library. The report shows maps of the annual averages of acid deposition. Stringent quality control of the data is carried out in quarterly periods; validated data are generally available within one month of the end of each quarter. I am arranging for data for the most recent available week to be extracted and sent to the hon. Member.

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will list (a) the tonnages of both sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxides emitted by each of the coal and oil-fired power stations operated by the Central Electricity Generating Board for each year between 1970 and the present day (b) the corresponding percentage sulphur content of the fuel consumed at each of these stations and (c) the source of the fuel.

I regret that this information could be obtained only at disproportionate cost.

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what assessment his Department has made as to the effectiveness of the use of tall chimneys to dilute and disperse emissions of (a) sulphur dioxide and (b) nitrogen oxides, from fossil fuel power stations.

Evidence for the effectiveness of tall chimneys in achieving low ground level concentrations of sulphur dioxide is provided by the data published in the Department's annual digests of environmental protection and water statistics. These show that ground level concentrations have fallen in line with emissions from low level domestic, commercial and industrial sources but are much less influenced by power station emissions. The results are consistent with the parameters imposed on power station chimney design intended to give acceptable ground level concentrations of both pollutants.

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what are the current estimates of acid deposition falling over Britain which originates from United Kingdom sources of air pollution; and if he will provide a breakdown of this information into sulphur and nitrogen oxides.

Sulphur and nitrogen budgets for the United Kingdom were presented by the United Kingdom review group on acid rain in its second report to the Department ("Acid Deposition in the United Kingdom 1981–85", pages 65–66). Copies have been placed in the Library.

Approximately 85 per cent. of sulphur deposition on the United Kingdom is estimated to come from United Kingdom sources, and the figures for nitrogen oxides is very similar.

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, pursuant to his written answer, Official Report, 8 July, column 161, to the hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark). whether he is now able to make a statement on the findings of the study by the Fellowship of Engineering into the environmental impact of various flue gas desulphurisation systems for use at coal-fired power stations.

The report of the Fellowship of Engineering's study on acidic emissions abatement processes will be presented to the Department on 15 December. I will arrange for copies to be placed in the Library of the House. One of its four volumes is devoted to coal combustion. The environmental impact of the various flue gas desulphurisation processes depends not only on the process but also on the circumstances of the particular power station. The report is a valuable source of part of the information needed to assess the impact of FGD at particular stations but it also has a wider value as a source document for specialists investigating the implications of possible future abatement options.

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what consideration has been given to the exploitation of indigenous reserves of low sulphur coal as a means of reducing emissions of sulphur dioxide from coal-fired power stations; and if he will make a statement.

The House of Commons Environment Committee considered this possibility in 1984 but concluded that there was little scope for using indigenous low-sulphur coal to reduce emissions from power stations.The bulk of the United Kingdom's low-sulphur coal production comes from Scotland and from Wales. The former is almost entirely used already by the south of Scotland Electricity Board, and the latter by specialist markets. I understand that there is no scope for the economic expansion of this production.

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what assessment the chief inspector of pollution has made as to whether the prevention of emissions of sulphur dioxide from the chimneys of the major coal-fired power stations not included in the three-station programme of flue gas desulphurisation retrofitting is practicable with current abatement technology.

The chief inspector has advised that for new coal-fired power stations flue gas desulphurisation is practicable with current abatement technology. On the basis of this advice the Government, in September 1986, in addition to authorising the CEGB to retrofit 6,000 MW of existing generating capacity over the period 1988 to 1997, announced that future coal-fired power stations would he required to be fitted with FGD. There are no plans at present to extend the retrofitting programme to other existing stations, but the possibility is kept under review.