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Nuclear Power

Volume 512: debated on Thursday 1 July 2010

2. What plans he has for the development of nuclear power in the UK.

The Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change (Chris Huhne): The Government are committed to removing any unnecessary obstacles and allowing the construction of new nuclear power stations to contribute to our energy security and climate change goals, provided that they receive no public subsidy. The Government will complete the drafting of the nuclear national policy statement, which will be put before Parliament for ratification as soon as possible. The Office for Nuclear Development continues. The Minister of State, Department for Communities and Local Government, my right hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark), has announced a new streamlined system to replace the Infrastructure Planning Commission. We will publish an updated timetable for the production of all national policy statements, including the energy national policy statements, later in the summer. On new public subsidies, the former and new Chief Secretaries to the Treasury have pointed out that there is no money left. (4934)

The Secretary of State has referred to nuclear power and nuclear energy as a tried, tested and failed source of energy with huge costs and huge risks. That is in stark contrast to the policy of the Tory Government. Given this huge conflict in policies within the coalition, will the Secretary of State tell the House what impact those differences will have on the future energy requirements of the UK and, in particular, on the development of new nuclear plants?

The hon. Gentleman knows that it was precisely because there were very clear differences between the Conservative part of the coalition and the Liberal Democrat part of the coalition that we dealt with that as one of the key issues—we reached agreement on how we would treat it—in the first coalition agreement. We set out very clearly that there will be a framework in which there will be no public subsidy for nuclear, but that if investors come forward with proposals they will without any doubt be able to get them through the House of Commons, as there is a majority on the hon. Gentleman’s side of the House in favour of nuclear power, and the Conservative party is in favour of nuclear power.

I must say that the hon. Gentleman does a slight injustice to my personal position, which has been very clear. As an economist, I am sceptical about the economics of nuclear power, but I recognise that it is entirely up to investors to make that decision. If there is no public subsidy and if investors think that it is worth taking the risk, as they increasingly do, looking forward to rising oil and gas prices and a rising carbon price, they will take those decisions.

I am sorry, but I must tell the House that progress is simply too slow. We need snappier questions and snappier answers.

Will my right hon. Friend reassure the House that he will not be put off building nuclear power stations by exaggerated fears of the dangers of disposing of nuclear waste in one or two sites, especially as those who promote those fears seem to have no doubts about the problems of sequestering CO2 from carbon storage and capture in thousands of sites for thousands of years?

My right hon. Friend makes a very good point about the importance of continuing the Government’s efforts to deal with the legacy of nuclear waste and decommissioning as a reassurance to those involved in new nuclear build that the problem will be dealt with properly. The Government have that very much in hand.

Can the Secretary of State explain why it was right to give a grant to Nissan to make electric cars—a proposal we support—but wrong to provide a commercial loan to help a British company, Sheffield Forgemasters, to be at the centre of the nuclear supply chain, particularly in light of the admission by the Minister of State, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, the hon. Member for Hertford and Stortford (Mr Prisk), that £110 million would have come back to the Government from that loan and that the Government would have got extra money if the company had made a profit?

The right hon. Gentleman knows that the loan to Sheffield Forgemasters was not a commercial loan. If it had been, it would have been arranged through the banks and not the Government. It was precisely because of the public subsidy element and the fact that that was not affordable that the Government decided not to proceed with it.

The Secretary of State is quite wrong about this, because the money was set aside from the strategic investment fund. A process was gone through at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills about whether the loan would give value for money, and the Industrial Development Advisory Board concluded that it would be. Is not the truth that we have a combination of the short-sightedness of the Conservative party, which sees no role for Government in creating the green industries of the future, and the prejudices of the right hon. Gentleman against nuclear power?

I assure the right hon. Gentleman that my prejudices, whether they exist or not other than in his imagination, did not enter into this decision. It was simply unaffordable in the context of the fiscal legacy that he and his friends left this House. We have it on no less an authority than his colleague the former Chief Secretary to the Treasury that there is no money left.