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Nuclear Power Stations

Volume 491: debated on Wednesday 16 December 1987

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2.48 p.m.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will defer all plans for further nuclear power stations until after the publication of the proposed Bill to privatise electricity generation and supply.

My Lords, it is for the Central Electricity Generating Board to submit applications for consent to construct new power stations, including nuclear power stations, to the Secretary of State for Energy. The CEGB also decides when to submit such applications.

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Viscount for his reply. Is it not the case that at the moment we are totally in the dark? Is it not true that recently the Government have refused to publish either a Green Paper or a White Paper so that no-one outside the Government knows what is to be the future of the existing nuclear power stations, let alone what the cost might be of decommissioning them when they reach the end of their useful life?

My Lords, the Government are considering a wide range of options for the future structure of the industry and no decisions have yet been taken. However, it is certain that we shall not be selling the electricity supply as a monolithic business. It is our firm intention to introduce as much competitive pressure as possible into the industry.

My Lords, does my noble friend not agree that unless the programme for 30 new gigawatts of capacity is in place and operative by the end of the century, we all may well be in the dark and that the programme is already at risk as a result of delay?

My Lords, I agree entirely with my noble friend. I can assure him that the matter is being pursued as fast as possible.

My Lords, would my noble friend accept that there are a number of us in this House who would be greatly concerned if there were to be any postponement whatsoever in the development of the nuclear industry in this country? This is for a very wide variety of reasons, not least among which is the fact that there are thousands upon thousands of people in this country whose jobs depend on a healthy and successful nuclear industry. Would my noble friend convey this point of view to the Secretary of State?

My Lords, I can assure my noble friend that the Government are committed to the continuing development of nuclear power and wish to see it play an important role in the country's future power supply. However, there is an obvious need for diversity in the nation's power sources in which nuclear is able to contribute. We are considering how this can best be secured in the privatised electricity supply industry but no decisions have yet been taken.

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that while people may very well accept that there is a need for a nuclear power programme, they are nevertheless (for obvious safety reasons) very conerned about the nuclear industry and nuclear power stations being under the control of private industry. I think that is probably the object of the question. I hope that the noble Lord will pay attention to that as well as of course to the unknown cost factors related to the PWR, since we have never had a PWR operating in this country.

My Lords, I shall certainly take note of what the noble Lord has said; but I can only repeat that all these matters are still under discussion at the moment. No decisions have been made. However, I think that I should tell the House that private generators in other countries such as Japan and West Germany have invested in nuclear power and we expect that private generators in Britain will also see the value of nuclear generation.

My Lords, does the noble Viscount recall that his right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Energy recently gave it as his view that on privatisation the generating companies would be bound to generate a certain proportion from nuclear sources? Is that still the opinion of the department? Would that commitment be irrespective of commercial considerations?

My Lords, if that is what my right honourable friend said, then I am sure it is still the case.

My Lords, can my noble friend say whether the additional capacity which is required by the mid-nineties can be met by coal-fired stations? Would he not agree that a nuclear power element is needed if we are to meet this additional capacity that is required?

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that his statement on the security of jobs for the future of that great industry is very much welcomed on all sides of the House? However, regarding defence, is he aware that the Royal Navy, the Army and the Royal Air Force will depend a great deal on nuclear power? Would it not be right and proper that there should be the safeguard of having that industry in the hands of the people and the British Parliament?