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Energy Policy

Volume 697: debated on Thursday 10 January 2008

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement made by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform in the other place. The Statement is as follows:

“With permission, Mr Speaker, I wish to make a Statement on UK energy policy.

“Our strategy, as set out in our Energy White Paper last year, is designed to achieve two objectives: first, to ensure that the UK has secure energy supplies; and, secondly, together with other countries, to tackle the global challenge of climate change.

“The competition for energy resources is increasing. Access to supplies across the world is becoming increasingly politicised. As a result, the cost of energy is rising. Few who have been exposed to the science of climate change now doubt the immediacy of the threat to our planet. As the UK shifts from being a net energy exporter to a net importer, our ability to source a diverse range of secure, competitively priced energy supplies will be one of the most important challenges that we face as a country—affecting our economy, our environment and ultimately our national security.

“Our strategy to manage these risks is based on three elements: increasing energy efficiency, helping people and businesses to make a real contribution to solving the challenges we face; using the widest range of cleaner energy sources; and ensuring that the UK is as energy-independent of any one supplier, country or technology as possible. Let me touch briefly on each of these.

“We have already set out the measures we are taking on energy efficiency. These could result in carbon savings of between 25 million and 42 million tonnes of CO2 by 2020. We will keep these measures under review, going further and faster wherever we can.

“We are also planning for the amount of UK electricity supplied from renewable sources to treble by 2015. The Energy Bill, published today, will strengthen the renewables obligation and help speed up the deployment of an even greater share of energy from renewable sources. Offshore wind, wave, and tidal power will all gain from this new approach.

“The Government are also committed to funding one of the world’s first commercial-scale demonstrations of carbon capture and storage. CCS is a technology that has the potential to make a critical contribution to tackling climate change. Measures in the Bill will enable this to move forward. It is vital that, if we are to be as energy independent as possible, we must first continue to press the case for energy market liberalisation in the EU. We must, secondly, look to maximise economic domestic energy production and, finally, ensure that energy companies have the widest range of options open to them when it comes to investment in new, low-carbon power generation.

“Over the course of the next two decades we will need to replace a third of the UK’s generating capacity, and by 2050 our electricity will need to be largely low carbon. So, we must be clear about the potential role of nuclear power. In October we concluded a full and extensive consultation across the UK, seeking people’s views on whether new nuclear power should play a continuing role in providing Britain with the energy it needs. Today I am publishing the Government’s response in the form of a White Paper alongside our analysis of the comments we received.

“I can confirm today that, having carefully considered the responses, the Government believe that new nuclear power stations should have a role to play in this country’s future energy mix alongside other low-carbon sources. The view of the Government is that it is in the public interest to allow energy companies the option of investing in new nuclear power stations and that we should therefore take the active steps necessary to facilitate this.

“Nuclear power has provided us with safe and secure supplies of electricity for half a century. It is one of the very few proven low-carbon technologies which can provide baseload electricity. Nuclear power currently provides us with around 19 per cent of our electricity.

“Nuclear power will help us meet our twin energy challenges: ensuring secure supplies and tackling climate change. First, a continuing role for nuclear power will contribute to the diversity of our energy supplies. Secondly, it will help us meet our emissions reduction targets. Every new nuclear power station will save the same amount of carbon emissions that are generated from around 1 million households. The entire lifecycle emissions of nuclear—that is, from uranium mining through to waste management— are only between 2 per cent and 6 per cent of those from gas for every unit of electricity generated. Thirdly, nuclear power will reduce the costs of meeting our energy goals. Analysis of future gas and carbon price scenarios shows that nuclear is affordable and provides one of the cheapest electricity options available to reduce our carbon emissions. Our energy suppliers recognise this and that—in a world of carbon prices and high fossil fuel prices—nuclear power makes commercial sense.

“For those reasons I do not intend to set some sort of artificial cap on the proportion of electricity the UK should be able to generate either from nuclear power or from any other source of low-carbon energy. That would not be consistent with our long-term national interest. Given that nuclear power is a tried and tested, safe and secure form of low-carbon technology, it would be wrong in principle to rule it out now from playing any role in the UK’s energy future.

“Not surprisingly, however, some important concerns were expressed during the consultation about nuclear power. These concerns fell into four broad categories: safety and security, waste management, costs, and the impact of nuclear power on investment in alternative low-carbon technologies.

“Ensuring the safety and security of new nuclear will remain a top priority. Having reviewed the evidence put forward and the advice of independent regulators, we are confident that we have a robust regulatory framework. The International Atomic Energy Agency concluded that our regulatory framework is mature, flexible and transparent, with highly trained and experienced inspectors. But it is right that we should work closely with the regulators to explore ways of enhancing their efficiency in dealing with new nuclear power stations. I am keen to ensure that the UK has the most effective regulatory regime in the world. I believe that it could be a critical differentiator for the UK in securing access to international investment in new nuclear facilities. I have asked Dr Tim Stone to take this work forward alongside his continuing work on the financial arrangements regarding new nuclear power stations

“During the consultation, many argued that a permanent solution for dealing with existing waste must be developed before new waste is created. Having fully considered the evidence, our conclusion is that geological disposal is both technically possible and the right approach for managing existing and new higher-activity waste. It will be many years before a disposal facility is built. But we are satisfied that interim storage will hold waste from existing and any new power stations safely and securely for as long as is necessary. In addition, before development consents for new nuclear power stations are granted, the Government will need to be satisfied that effective arrangements exist or will exist to manage and dispose of the waste they will produce.

“The third concern related to cost. It will be for energy companies, not government, to fund, develop and build new nuclear power stations, including meeting the full costs of decommissioning and each operator’s full share of waste management costs. The Bill includes provisions to ensure that. Transparency in the operation of these arrangements will be essential. In order to increase public and industry confidence we will establish a new independent body to advise on the financial arrangements to cover operators’ waste and decommissioning costs. The advice of this new body will be made public.

“The nuclear White Paper published today sets out a clear timetable for action to enable the building of the first new nuclear power station, which I hope will be completed well before 2020. The Planning Bill will improve the speed and efficiency of the planning system for nationally significant infrastructure, including new nuclear power stations, while giving local people a greater opportunity to have their say. A strategic siting assessment, to be completed by 2009, will help identify the most suitable sites for new build. We expect that applications will focus on areas in the vicinity of existing nuclear facilities. Work is already under way on assessing the safety of the new generation of reactors. Finally, we must work with our EU partners to strengthen the EU Emissions Trading Scheme to give potential investors confidence in a continuing carbon market. We look forward to the Commission’s proposals later this month.

“I remain firmly of the view that there should and will be room for all forms of low-carbon power technologies to play a role in helping the UK meet its energy objectives in the future. Nuclear power can be only one aspect of our energy mix. On its own it cannot resolve all of the challenges we face. Meeting these challenges requires the full implementation of our energy and climate change strategy, with nuclear taking its place alongside other low-carbon technologies.

“The Energy Bill will ensure that we have a legislative framework enabling all these technologies to make a positive contribution to our future requirements for cleaner, more secure energy. Giving the go-ahead today that new nuclear power should play a role in providing the UK with clean, secure and affordable energy is in our country’s vital long-term interest. I therefore invite energy companies to bring forward plans to build and operate new nuclear power stations. Set against the challenges of climate change and security of supply, the evidence in support of new nuclear power stations is compelling. We should positively embrace the opportunity of delivering this important part of our energy policy. I commend the Statement to the House”.

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement on UK energy policy. We on these Benches are always happy when government policy is so close to our views that we can establish a responsible consensus on matters of importance.

Tragically, for 10 years, under the predecessors of the noble Lord, Lord Jones, nothing serious was done to address the vital issue of our energy security. Those truly were 10 wasted Labour years, and now the noble Lord leaps into action. How he must relish his freedom from party caucuses on a difficult issue such as this.

This issue is now a matter of the highest priority. These small steps towards establishing a framework that protects our climate from rising carbon emissions and ensures that this country will not suffer a future energy shortfall are long overdue. If we are to have costly long-term investment, there must be a framework of political stability in which to invest. The private sector should know that any investment in new nuclear power stations on the basis of this policy will be safe under a future Conservative Government. Although I think the noble Lord will agree with me that few in this House anticipate the nightmare of a Liberal Government, I hope we shall hear the same assurance of policy security for investors from the Liberal Benches. They should not take risks with our nation’s energy security.

On refining the planning system, setting a price for carbon to ensure a long-term climate for investment and for establishing a clear policy for nuclear waste and decommissioning, our priorities are very similar to those of the Government. We share the view that any new nuclear industry must be subsidy-free.

We inevitably have questions. The Statement identified nuclear power as a proven low-carbon technology that will contribute to energy diversity in an affordable manner. Can the Minister therefore state confidently that the Government’s policy will now lead to private investment in new nuclear power stations? When does he expect the first nuclear stations to come on stream, and how many existing installations representing what percentage of our energy needs will have been decommissioned by that date?

There are many pitfalls ahead that will make building a new generation of nuclear power stations difficult. Does the Minister not agree that our national skills base is impossibly low? Where will the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate recruit, train and keep the necessary number of skilled employees to assess and approve reactors for the necessary licences? How much power do the Government intend to give the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate to require design adjustments to the application rather than simply accepting or rejecting them?

I also have questions about the new advisory board. How much authority and power will it have over new-build projects and why do the Government not intend to give it a statutory basis?

I should like to probe the Minister further on the Government’s commitment that any new nuclear power plant must be built without any subsidy, whether on waste disposal or guaranteed off-take agreements. The Statement is rather unclear on whether companies will be held responsible for all future waste management and disposal, or merely for the current practice of using interim storage until a facility for geological disposal is built. How will the Government protect the taxpayer from becoming responsible for these costs if they are higher than anticipated or if the company should go bankrupt? What price Northern Rock one day being followed by a “Nuclear Rock”? Would the Government intervene in the same way?

There also appears to be inconsistency between the Government’s statement that nuclear power is a low-carbon source of energy and their continuing insistence that the climate change levy insists that it should deserve a carbon penalty. Can the Minister explain this? Can he also confirm that the Government still have no intention to bolster the EU Emissions Trading Scheme with something more robust? And will they really not consider underpinning this scheme with a carbon tax?

In view of the interruption to gas supplies by Russia for essentially political reasons, have the Government made any risk assessment of European Union reliance on Russian gas? The Minister is a big traveller—does he have any plans to go to Russia to discuss these matters soon?

I thank the Minister for the White Paper; I look forward to studying both it and the Energy Bill. There is much in it that we agree with—for example, the importance of energy efficiency—but it is clear that the Government still need more encouragement, especially with microgeneration and energy decentralisation. And why will they not support our policy on smart meters?

Today’s Statement gives me hope that the Government are finally taking climate change and energy security more seriously. I look forward to working with the Minister as he bangs his famous drum and gets a grip on what has been his department’s lax and careless attitude to our energy security over the past 10 years.

My Lords, I thank the Minister, and thank the noble Baroness as well for the happy thought of a Liberal Government in the foreseeable future. That is a wonderful post-Christmas thought.

The noble Baroness said that the Opposition have been firm in supporting nuclear power. I found that rather strange; I have been present for a large number of these Statements over the past few years and the Conservative Party has not been quite as firm in its support of nuclear policy as has been suggested. Indeed, in some cases, it has almost joined the Liberal Democrats in their scepticism. But I find, yet again, that I am on my own on these Benches regarding scepticism about nuclear power. This attitude is based not on some luddite view of nuclear power but on very real concerns. When it was first introduced we were told that it would be too cheap to meter. The billions of pounds spent on waste management since then leads us to question the claims that nuclear power is the cheap option.

We often ask far too many questions, but I have one specific question which I hope the Minister can answer today. The Statement is not a surprise. We have been waiting for it through the publication of two White Papers. It was heralded in the press not as UK energy policy but the go-ahead for nuclear power stations. Will any subsidy be built into the package for building new nuclear power stations? Will that include setting the carbon cost? That would be a subsidy in itself over the long term—we could be talking about 30 to 50 years. If that were set, and new low-carbon technology was introduced, we would still be paying a rather heavy price for nuclear power.

As everyone has stated, and we recognise, the benefit of nuclear is reduced carbon dioxide emissions. But there is a question mark over the cost, which could cause a problem in the coal and gas industries. We tend to forget in these debates that we rely heavily on coal and gas. As the price of gas goes up, we might well increase the amount of coal we use. Carbon storage and capture will be an expensive technology to develop. If all the money is spent in the nuclear pot it is possible that the Government will take their eye off the ball. I very much hope that carbon storage and capture and the development of clean coal technology is not forgotten.

The Statement mentioned energy efficiency as a primary goal, which I very much welcome, and the Government’s commitment to renewals. The Statement mentions offshore tidal and wave power, which is very welcome. However, have the Government backed away from fighting the battles for onshore wind energy? It is much cheaper and, in carbon terms, much easier to fix a turbine onshore than out at sea.

Two other issues arise. One of the issues about which we are particularly concerned is waste. I notice that figures were given for the carbon cost of building a nuclear power station as against gas, but I do not see how they were arrived at. I very much hope that the Minister will put in the Library the document on which they are based because we still do not know what the carbon cost of deep-level storage—which will have to be built and maintained—will be. We are still talking about that being decades into the future. There will be a rather nasty carbon sting in the tail for dealing with waste over many decades.

Finally, obviously the easier sites in which to place nuclear power stations is where they are at the moment and, of course, there is a good deal of support among local communities for the continuation of employment. However, if you believe in climate change you also believe in rising sea levels. Nuclear power stations are always built on the coast. When the siting report is looked at, will a great deal of consideration be given to how much cost and effort will be needed in constructing sea defences for nuclear power stations? If much effort needs to be expended in constructing sea defences, that will have a major knock-on effect for communities situated near those coastal stations.

My Lords, I assure both the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, and the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, that I forgive them for their generous, after-Christmas approach in hoping for a Conservative or Liberal Government. However, in a bout of January meanness, I assure them that that is not on this Government’s agenda.

I especially thank the noble Baroness for the support of the Conservatives for the nuclear programme. She is absolutely right that if this is going to be a question of private sector investment, it has to have the assurance of a very long-term, cohesive approach from both Houses as to the environment in which they can invest. The Government thank her for that.

Noble Lords can be confident that this will be a question of private sector investment and the technological solutions that go with it. Indeed, at the moment, as the noble Baroness was kind enough to say, I go round the world banging a drum. I am proud to be able to bang the drum and sell the environmental technological solutions for so much of climate change. Those are British solutions being sold round the world.

We hope that 2020 will be the maximum date for the commissioning of the first nuclear power station and that in fact that will occur in 2017 or 2018. We are looking at that timescale. I assure the noble Baroness that there will be no subsidy from the taxpayer. The noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, asked the valid question whether that included any hidden subsidy. If we work on increasing the price of carbon, that on its own is not a government subsidy but acts to make the nuclear option even more cost-efficient.

The noble Baroness asked me what reduction is expected in nuclear capacity for generation. Currently, it is 10.2 gigawatts of nuclear capacity in this nation. By 2020 that will reduce to 3.6 gigawatts if we do nothing about it. We all want a more efficient European Emissions Trading Scheme. It was a British design and drive and it is being bought into, but at nowhere near enough the correct level. It must be bought into and driven forward even more if this nation is to benefit from it. Incidentally, I say as an aside to the noble Baroness that every time I go to Russia I feel proud about the energy equation as regards this nation. We have some world-class players making a difference there as well.

I point out to the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, that we will not in any way, shape or form take our eye off the ball of what I call the mix. That is the mix of carbon capture and storage, the mix of offshore wind farm development, the mix of energy conservation and the education of the next generation in that—that must not be forgotten—and the mix of the stimulation of technological solutions to so much of the problem. Nuclear is not on its own the solution to this any more than any of the other methods. As regards the noble Lord’s question on the strategic siting assessment, we hope that that will report, after consultation, by April of this year; it is that quick. His points about siting and its implications, especially with regard to sea levels, will be taken into account in that. The analysis of the White Paper, which comprises a separate booklet, will be placed in the Library to assist noble Lords with the relevant figures.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for the welcome Statement and draw attention to the interests that I declared in the register. I am very pleased that, before the publication of this White Paper, the difficulties which the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate had with the Treasury were resolved and that a fair number of the new staff will be able to be recruited so that the examination of nuclear reactors will be carried out very rapidly. That is critical to the 2017 target date of which my noble friend spoke. He correctly identified the low emissions from nuclear generation as compared with gas. Could he tell us whether the climate change levy will continue to be imposed on the nuclear industry, given the Government’s now public admission that such a small amount of CO2 comes from the generation of nuclear power, and that this is a burden which the industry should not necessarily have to carry at this time, given the low emissions for which it is responsible?

My Lords, my noble friend raises a very valid point. During my time at the CBI I was intimately involved with the formation of the climate change levy. I do not know whether the nuclear industry will be exempt from the levy for the reasons that he gave. I promise to provide him with a full answer on that as soon as I have found it out.

My Lords, I welcome the Statement. Does the Minister recall that 28 years ago I announced to the House of Commons a programme of approval of 13 new pressurised water-reactor nuclear power stations, of which only one ever got built, and that was 12 years after my announcement? How will he ensure that the same thing does not happen again and that a slightly better performance occurs? Can he say a little more about what the design that gets the Government’s approval is likely to be, because the key to all this is that it should be a serial system of faster build, with more common systems that are more easily inspected and with safety more guaranteed? What kind of design will the Government choose? Many designs nowadays are very different from the PWRs that I was talking about. How will the Government reach a decision on that, because last time we had a huge battle over which design to go for? We need to know that this time, otherwise nothing will happen.

My Lords, I assure the noble Lord that one reason why our proposal will not suffer the same fate as that he mentioned is that this nation cannot afford that. We are at five to midnight in terms of how we renew this country’s generating capacity to keep the light on in every respect, and there is a sense of urgency in every part of our society. It will be a totally different situation this time. The noble Baroness was kind enough to say that I have had the privilege of presenting this measure to your Lordships' House, and I shall devote every effort to it that I possibly can.

I should explain that there is a generic design consultation. The process for selecting the reactor design for that will occur in spring this year. It is that quick. At the moment we are looking at four different sorts—one from Canada, one from France and two from America. This is absolutely key to making the whole thing work. Interestingly, yesterday Sizewell B completed approximately 450 days of continuous 24/7 generation. That is world class and that is what we shall try to achieve in the future.

My Lords, will the Minister comment on some issues that might be said to arise from a moral and ethical set of concerns in this area? I recognise that moral and ethical language will deal with matters of balance and risk. The Statement spoke of there being no cap on how much nuclear energy might supply our future energy needs. Do the Government have a working view of the contribution to our future energy supplies that might be supplied by different kinds of provision? Having worked in South Yorkshire, I am very interested in coal. Every interference that one makes in the natural world has losses as well as gains associated with it. Do the Government have a working understanding of how the proportions might work in the future? What is the limit on the nuclear contribution?

Secondly, in terms of the risks, I was little concerned that the Statement said that there is no foreseeable resolution to the geological issue surrounding the management of waste. It sounded as though the Minister was saying, “We think we can contain it until we find a solution”. Perhaps he could give us a little more confidence that the management of the risk surrounding nuclear waste is under better control in Her Majesty's Government’s thinking and practice.

My Lords, the right reverend Prelate raises a very valid point on justification in the interests of the nation: the ability for us to keep the lights on, to compete in the world and to have the power, mixed with the moral and ethical standards to which the right reverend Prelate rightly refers. In March 2008, we will issue a call for the justification applications; that process meets the requirements of EU regulation that new nuclear processes should demonstrate that their benefits outweigh any other possible social, health and ethical detriment. That is taken very seriously by this Government and will be dealt with accordingly. On geological issues, I would like to reassure the right reverend Prelate that I did not use the words, “I think it will be all right”. I do not deal with uncertainty in that way. The geological disposal situation is the one on which the Government have decided and we are satisfied that that is the right way forward.

My Lords, the Minister will not be in the least bit surprised to hear that I warmly support the Statement as an important step towards new nuclear build, a much-needed low-carbon based energy source. However—and I have given the Minister's office notice of this question—is he aware that when Sir John Harman, chairman of the Environment Agency, addressed a nuclear audience shortly before Christmas—the Environment Agency is one of the most significant of the Government’s agencies—he rather startled his audience when he made it clear that the EA will not approve any new nuclear build until the Government have given a long-term commitment to the finance for dealing with nuclear waste? The noble Lord will recognise that that goes way beyond the phrase in the Statement about being satisfied that effective arrangements exist? If the Environment Agency has to be taken seriously, as I think it does, is there not a risk that the timetable for new nuclear build and the timetable for achieving the financial commitment for which it is asking are totally inconsistent? When will the White Paper on nuclear waste be produced and will it resolve this apparent inconsistency?

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, not only for that remark but also for the notice that he gave me of that question. I have three points on that. There is no point in having a powerful, well recognised, one-of-the-best-ever environment agencies and not expect it to be the custodian of that which it is appointed to look after. Secondly, I think it shared our view. I do not believe that this is inconsistent at all. Basically, it is saying that having a mechanism for the long-term management of radioactive waste is absolutely essential and that it will not allow the private sector to start building or funding that unless it can prove that it has the cash put aside to deal with the waste disposal issue. As we set out in the White Paper, our policy is that before those development consents for new nuclear power stations are granted, we will need to be satisfied that effective arrangements exist or will exist to manage and to dispose of the waste. I know that the noble Lord shares my view of “Come on, get on with it”. It is so important here. Our full response towards managing radioactive waste safely—consultation—will be produced by the end of this spring. We are not dragging our feet.

My Lords, first, will my noble friend summarise the penalties that the country would pay if we were not to proceed with what is suggested? Secondly, will he confirm that the degree of safety, which concerns much of the public, has been considerably enhanced since Chernobyl? Has not the whole situation changed since then? Thirdly, has not the price of the Government’s proposals been grossly exaggerated by some who for political reasons oppose those proposals?

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for the observations on whether there has been an exaggeration of the cost in relation to this issue. Those with vested interests in various parts of society who allow their prejudices and philosophical objections to get in the way of the harsh realities and facts of this matter will always be convenient with the truth. My noble friend is absolutely right to say that the type of reactors that will be commissioned, manufactured and installed by the private sector will be utterly different from those in place at the time of Chernobyl and Three Mile Island. They are much more efficient and safe and much more dependable in providing base load electricity for our children and their children.

On the first point made by my noble friend, I point out that one of the most important parts of all this is that this, the fifth biggest economy on earth, has to go forward in an uncertain world very sure that it can be secure in its energy supply compared with getting energy from countries that are less stable, have different views and make us very vulnerable. We have to ensure that our people can keep the lights on, notwithstanding what other countries do.

My Lords, I too warmly welcome the Statement. It is long overdue but at last it is here. I declare an indirect interest in that I am chairman of the trustees of the British Energy pension funds. I have a question about offshore wind to which the Minister briefly referred. In a recent speech to a European conference, the Secretary of State was widely reported as indicating a massive increase in the programme for offshore wind—I stress “offshore”, as the Minister did in the Statement. Can he say something about the priority that the Government attach to the programme for offshore wind, which seems to involve a substantial number of wind turbines all around our shores?

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord MacGregor, raises a point that enables me to assure noble Lords that we will support the growth of offshore renewables. We will create additional powers, enabling Ofgem to administer an efficient and effective regulatory regime for offshore electricity transmission to connect large-scale offshore renewable projects to the onshore electricity network. We see that as key and part of the mix. We will not ignore it but we shall stimulate further offshore investment.

My Lords, I also support what has, at last, been achieved after so many years of uncertainty. The management of nuclear waste is clearly of enormous concern. However, some believe that it has the potential for further energy use well into the future. Perhaps the Minister will say a word about that.

My Lords, I can assure the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, that the storage going forward will of its own create the opportunities for businesses to invest in technological solutions to what is an essential problem in the whole mix. We do not think that we have a multitude of answers at the moment; we are choosing the geological solution. These are all very long-term issues, and in that long-term timeframe other technological solutions on all aspects will come forward—not just on waste disposal but on what happens immediately after generation. The door is open to ideas and investment in those ideas to find a technological solution.

My Lords, I give the Statement a broad welcome, but wonder whether I can press my noble friend on one point. He said that four different designs were under review. I understand that one of the strengths of the French nuclear industry is that there is a standard design for all French power stations, which results in economies of scale and other improvements in efficiency. Will we settle for one design, or several?

My Lords, the swift answer is that I do not know, but I know that four are being looked at. In talking about the French, it is important that people who oppose this proposal understand that right now this nation is using nuclear-generated power, and will continue to do so, even if we never use nuclear generated electricity for a long time to come. It comes from some 100 miles from London; it is called France—

My Lords, I welcome the Statement and in doing so want to question the Minister on a slightly different aspect. The Statement properly mentions energy efficiency in relation to tackling climate change and everything else. The electricity generating industry itself wastes more energy—which it vents to the atmosphere—than it supplies to its customers. What plans do the Government have to deal with that anomaly? I accept that it is difficult to deal with it in relation to existing plant, but when we are considering new generating capacity, this matter should be properly taken into account and dealt with.

My Lords, I assure the noble Lord that it will be taken into account and it will be dealt with. The consultations—particularly Dr Tim Stone’s work—will take that into account. I should point out that we have to continue with educating and training people in energy use. That is to be part of the mix. It is interesting to note that building a nuclear power station puts less carbon into the environment than building a wind farm.

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that without the Government’s Statement and White Paper, the ageing nuclear power stations that we have in the country today would probably be replaced with gas-fired power stations which would have much higher emissions of CO2? Will he take this opportunity to assure the House that the Government will not be blown off course in their efforts to tackle climate change and secure our energy supplies by any legal challenge by Greenpeace or any other NGO?

My Lords, I can give my noble friend that assurance on both counts—vigorously on the second. On the first, it is important that the leaders of our society make it clear to the country that we have no alternative but to accept a mix and to choose methods that will not put more carbon into the environment as we generate electricity for our children.

My Lords, I, too, welcome the Statement and thank my noble friend for making it. I follow up on the important point made by the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, and ask my noble friend whether he is satisfied that there will not be a lengthy gap in ensuring that there are effective arrangements to dispose of the waste product. That has obviously come up in the consultation, as the Statement makes it clear that it is one of the main points at issue. The point about not having a long gap and being ready to go on planning consents rather than being held up is enormously important. Secondly, can my noble friend give us a timescale on when we can expect Dr Tim Stone to report on the issues he is dealing with?

My Lords, I assure my noble friend that there will be no gap. Many of the private sector companies engaged in this are already working to take it forward immediately. My noble friend is absolutely right that that is a key issue, and we will ensure that there is not a gap. Dr Tim Stone has today been reappointed, as I said in the Statement, and he has been told effectively to get on with it. I do not know when he will report, but I will get back to my noble friend on that.

My Lords, do the Government intend the nuclear power industry to be treated in every way the same as renewable energy sources under the non-fossil fuel obligation on our power supply companies?

My Lords, I remind noble Lords of the interest that I have declared in this area. I follow that question on the treatment of the nuclear industry with a question on costs. I have no difficulty with what the White Paper says, but will there be a level playing field? Will the other sources of green energy contribute equally to those areas that are not directly in the costs? For example, I refer to the need for back-up and the infrastructure with wind power.

I have two points beyond that. Several colleagues have referred to waste, and I shall, if I may, extend the point that was made from the Cross Benches. Recently there appears to have been a good deal of work done on what to do with waste other than bury it. I believed that nuclear waste was exactly that in perpetuity until I met a man in Stoke-on-Trent who bought a large hole and sold its contents of waste three times at a useful profit. Two things seem to have happened. First, scientists have proposed that nuclear waste can be used in future reactors. Indeed, one has gone as far as saying that if the conclusions are correct, Britain could use its nuclear stations throughout this century free of cost in terms of fuel. It is important that the design of the reactors used should fit that bill.

Secondly, it is extremely important that nuclear produces hydrogen. The Americans have been producing hydrogen in submarines for the purposes of the environment.

My Lords, I hope that my noble friend will forgive me. I hate to interrupt him but we have reached 20 minutes. My noble friend will answer his noble friend’s comments but the House must move on. I wonder whether he can come to his final point.

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for that walk through the possibilities of what we can do with waste in the future. It neatly dovetails with the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, about what, going forward, we are going to do with waste. There will be times in the next century when we find that there are technological solutions that can not only make a profit but can probably help in generating future electricity. As for the question of a level playing field for the treatment of low-carbon generative capacity from nuclear power and low-carbon generative capacity from wind, tidal, solar or biomass power, I wish people would understand—and I hope Scotland is listening—that even Scotland is not windy 24/7.