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Nuclear Industry (Investment)

Volume 164: debated on Monday 18 December 1989

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To ask the Secretary of State for Energy what his proposals are for the future of the nuclear industry investment programme.

The first priority is the successful completion of current programmes, including Sizewell B and the major projects at Sellafield. The question of Nuclear Electric building new nuclear stations will be considered in 1994.

Does the Secretary of State accept that the row over the privatisation of nuclear power has done more harm to the industry than even the Windscale fire of 1957? With the industry under attack on all sides from greens, the coal lobby, the European Parliament, the Irish Dail and a number of nations throughout the world, is it not about time that he made some far more reassuring noises about future investment in these stations?

The Government have made it clear that we have not abandoned nuclear power. We recognise its strategic value in diversity, security of supply and the reduction of fossil fuel emissions. As I said, Sizewell B will be completed to maintain the PWR option. The prospects for nuclear power will be reviewed in 1994. I hope that during the intervening period we can look at some of the costings of nuclear power to see whether we can reduce them.

Is the Secretary of State aware of the considerable dismay in the Welsh counties that faced the prospect of PWR stations at the Government's reluctance to give any compensation towards the costs that they incurred in preparing their cases against those PWR stations, which are now not being built? Will the Secretary of State reconsider the matter to see whether those local authorities can be properly compensated?

In such circumstances it is not normal for the Government to compensate people for, rightly, seeking representation and incurring expense while presenting their case. I should have thought that people to whom the hon. Gentleman referred would be well satisfied with the outcome; I cannot say that I was, but I had to live with those circumstances.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that some European countries have successful private sector nuclear power stations? Is there anything to stop that happening in this country if nuclear power becomes competitive again?

Absolutely nothing. What I said about reviewing the option in 1994 related to Nuclear Electric, which will be a state-owned successor company to the CEGB. That company's prospects will be reviewed again in 1994, but it is perfectly open for anybody who so wishes to make the necessary planning applications if they believe that to be a sensible course of action.

Before Lord Marshall is made a scapegoat for the nuclear fiasco, will my right hon. Friend acknowledge that if his advice to build PWRs had been taken 10 years before it finally was, we should probably have a family of them now producing economic electricity?

I certainly do not intend Lord Marshall to be made a scapegoat for anything. He is a distinguished public servant who served Governments of all types; but, as someone more significant than I has said, "Advisers advise, and Ministers decide."

Is it not a scandal that over the past two or three decades this Government and successive Governments have been kidding the people that nuclear power is cheap, efficient and safe—and cheaper than coal? Now the truth has been blurted out: it is two or three times dearer than coal and other forms of energy. Is it not also disreputable that the Government, who have been conning the British people, should hand over £250,000 to Lord Marshall and accuse him of being a scapegoat? I know a lot of poor people in my constituency who would be happy to be called a scapegoat and handed £250,000.

I understand that the hon. Gentleman must have been pondering his question while I was answering my hon. Friend the Member for Erewash (Mr. Rost) a moment ago, when I said that I did not want anyone to treat Lord Marshall as a scapegoat. I paid him a well-deserved tribute and said that he was a distinguished public servant.

The hon. Gentleman, who takes an interest in some parts of these matters, would be well advised to read carefully some of the evidence given—modesty forbids me to disclose who gave it—to the Select Committee on Energy last week. It was pointed out there that many economic factors in the various forms of energy generation have changed. Oil, gas and coal are much cheaper relative to nuclear power than they were. The hon. Gentleman will be wiser when he has read that evidence.