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Nuclear Power

Volume 464: debated on Thursday 11 October 2007

The Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform
(Mr. John Hutton)

The public consultation on the future of nuclear power in the United Kingdom closed yesterday.

Over the past five months, we have consulted widely, seeking views from a broad range of interested parties on the information and arguments set out in our consultation document. We are now giving careful consideration to all the responses.

We have already lost vital time because of the way in which the Government botched this consultation. Will the Minister assure us that he at least has the bottle to make a quick decision on this matter?

We need to make a quick decision; I can certainly agree with the hon. Gentleman to that extent.

The latest figures from the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority reveal a 16 per cent. increase in the cost of decommissioning legacy waste, to £73 billion. Is my right hon. Friend confident that he can honour the Government’s guarantee that there will be no future subsidy from the taxpayer for any new nuclear build, given that no one has the slightest idea about what the future decommissioning and waste management costs will be?

Yes, we are clear about that, and the arguments that support it were clearly set out in the nuclear consultation document. My hon. Friend raises a fundamentally important aspect that has come up repeatedly during the public consultation, but I believe that we have set out the right way forward. There will be no taxpayer subsidy and no hidden subsidies for new nuclear if Her Majesty’s Government reach that decision. That is the right and sensible way to proceed.

As the hon. Member for Barnsley, West and Penistone (Mr. Clapham) said earlier, crunch time for domestically generated power in the United Kingdom is only five years away. Bearing in mind how long the Government have taken to make a decision about nuclear power and that it has to form part of the mix in future if we are to meet our climate change targets, how soon will there be a recommissioned nuclear power station that produces new nuclear energy in the UK?

I respect the hon. Lady’s concerns, which are shared by all parties. She should, however, be careful about saying that her party has a monopoly of wisdom. I have been carefully studying the words of the hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Alan Duncan), who appears to take three different positions on nuclear power. He was opposed to it, then it was a last resort and now he is apparently in favour of it. However, we shall shortly discover the position of the official Opposition.

My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary set out in previous answers some of the measures that we are taking to deal with the hon. Lady’s point. We are aware of the importance of getting on with the matter, and the Government are determined to do that.

The Secretary of State wills the end but not the means. Will he confirm that the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority has not been able to appoint contractors to decommission the old Magnox power stations because they are not interested in doing the work at the price that the Treasury is prepared to pay? Is it surprising that companies such as E.ON and EDF say that the window for new build nuclear is closing in this country, when the Government’s dithering means that old stations are not being decommissioned, there is no clarity about the price of carbon and the Government cannot even set out the regime for nuclear waste disposal? Does not the greatest threat to our energy security come not from the Russians or the middle east, but from the Government’s delays and inability to make the big decisions?

No. Again, I have a lot of respect for the hon. Gentleman, but his remarks are ridiculous. His point would be much more valid if there was any consistency or coherence behind his party’s energy policy. When he supports our reforms to the planning arrangements, others will take his comments a little more seriously.