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Nuclear Power

Volume 124: debated on Thursday 17 December 1987

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To ask the Secretary of State for Energy what is Her Majesty's Government's policy towards proposals by the Central Electricity Generating Board to build new nuclear generating capacity, in the context of the overall development of national electricity supplies.

In August of this year I received an application from the CEGB for my consent to build a pressurised water reactor nuclear power station at Hinkley Point C in Somerset. The CEGB has also informed me that it expects shortly to submit applications for my consent to build new coal-fired power stations at Fawley in Hampshire and at West Burton in Nottinghamshire.The Government are satisfied that there will be a need for considerable new generating capacity before the end of the century. By then, many existing power stations will have been retired. The days of overcapacity in electricity supply are rapidly coming to an end, and new capacity must be planned now if supplies are to be maintained. Electricity demand is steadily rising as economic activity revives.Secure supplies of electricity are vital to the nation's well-being. We cannot afford to risk dependency on one source of power alone. There is an obvious need for diversity in the nation's power sources to which nuclear power can make a valuable contribution. It provides independence from the uncertainties of future prices of fossil fuels. My right hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr. Walker), attached substantial importance to the need for greater fuel diversity in giving his consent in March of this year for the Sizewell B PWR. In the ensuing debate of 11 May the House recognised the important contribution that nuclear energy is making and will continue to make to the strength of the British economy. The proposals to privatise the industry which I shall bring before the House in due course will take the need for diversity fully into account.The Government are satisfied that the PWR can provide nuclear energy safely. The Sizewell B decision was made only after the most careful and painstaking independent assessment of the issues by the inquiry inspector. In June of this year the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate also completed its assessment of the safety issues for the Sizewell B design with the granting of a nuclear site licence. The safety of that PWR design has been exhaustively examined and found to be acceptable. The NII will, of course, have to continue to be satisfied, through the licensing process, in respect of individual projects and, in particular, with the examination of those safety issues which are site specific in their nature.However, without further nuclear stations, the nuclear component in our electricity supplies will decline as the existing Magnox stations are retired. The CEGB made it clear at the Sizewell B public inquiry that, in the event of receiving consent for the Sizewell B PWR, it would wish to proceed with a small family of PWRs based on the Sizewell B design. Each future power station application will be considered on its merits. The Hinkley Point C proposal is the first of these and I shall announce, in due course, the details of the public inquiry which will assist me in my decision on the CEGB's application.Subject to receiving the necessary safety, environmental and other consents, these stations will contribute, along with other generating options, including further coal-fired stations and renewable resources, to meeting the nation's requirement for additional generating capacity.