Considered in Grand Committee
That the Grand Committee do report to the House that it has considered the Draft National Policy Statement for Nuclear Power Generation (EN-6).
My Lords, I am pleased to open this debate on the Draft National Policy Statement for Nuclear Power Generation. We have already discussed in detail the draft overarching energy NPS, which will be the primary document for energy development consents, and in two days’ time we will be debating the draft non-nuclear NPSs.
Let me draw the attention of noble Lords to the fact that the House retains the right to adopt a resolution in respect of a specific national policy statement if it so wishes. My noble friend the Leader of the House has indicated that in the event of a Motion for resolution being tabled, the usual channels would undertake to provide time for a debate in the Chamber.
This afternoon we focus our attention on the draft nuclear national policy statement. We heard in the previous debate that the national policy statements are a key part of the planning reforms introduced in the Planning Act 2008. They are the essential policy statements against which the Infrastructure Planning Commission will determine applications for development consents by those wishing to build major energy infrastructure. They also set out the Government’s policy on the need for new energy infrastructure. However, they do not in general set out any new policy. This is also the case for the draft nuclear policy statements.
We are not here today to debate the need for nuclear energy, as that is decided. The Government concluded in the 2008 nuclear power White Paper that nuclear has a role to play in the future energy mix alongside renewables and clean coal. We also said that it is in the public interest to allow energy companies to fund, develop and build new nuclear power stations and that government will take active steps to make the conditions right for investment and to enable new nuclear to come online as soon as possible. Action taken by the Government so far has resulted in real interest in new nuclear in the UK, with energy companies announcing plans to build around 16 gigawatts of new nuclear capacity.
The delivery of the nuclear NPS is a key part of these actions, and we are here today to consider whether the draft nuclear NPS, alongside the five other energy NPSs, is fit for purpose, and how it might be further improved. As I said two weeks ago, the nuclear NPS is not the same as the other technology-specific NPSs. In the draft nuclear NPS, 10 sites have been identified which the Government have considered potentially suitable for new nuclear power stations. They were identified after the Government undertook a strategic siting assessment to establish which sites are potentially suitable for the deployment of new nuclear power stations by the end of 2025. We consider that all these sites are needed to contribute towards the carbon reduction objectives set out in the low-carbon transition plan. That is not to say, however, that all sites listed will have a power station built on them immediately. Ten sites are listed to ensure that sufficient sites are available, even if a number of sites are not developed or fail to secure development consent.
In our first sitting, the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, urged the Government to reconsider the suitability of Dungeness. I have no doubt that we shall come to consider that question further in this sitting. However, at this point I should say that the reason we did not consider Dungeness to be potentially suitable is that development would result in adverse impacts, which could not be avoided or mitigated, on the integrity of a European special area of conservation. The Government also commissioned a study to identify whether there might be alternative sites to those nominated. Three sites were identified as worthy of further consideration. However, having considered them further, the Government do not consider them credible candidates for deployment by 2025.
In the long term, meeting the objectives in our low-carbon transition plan will be a significant challenge. The overarching energy NPS sets out that the lead scenarios estimate that demand for electricity up to 2025 will remain at around 60 gigawatts. Our present generation capacity is 80 gigawatts, which provides a buffer to meet demand when, for example, a generating station is offline for maintenance. However, there will be a loss of capacity over the next decade, as around 12 gigawatts of coal-fired capacity closes by 2015 in response to more stringent emission standards set by the large combustion plant directive and around 10 gigawatts of nuclear capacity reaches the end of its life. We also anticipate that some gas-fired generating stations built before 2002 will close in response to the industrial emissions directive, and that capacity must also be replaced.
Leading up to 2025, there is therefore a significant need for new major energy infrastructure, including net additional electricity generation. We estimate that around 30 per cent of electricity generation should be from renewable sources, mainly wind, by 2020. Wind, as some noble Lords who are here today often remind me, is intermittent, as other renewable energy sources are, so there must be sufficient alternative generation capacity to meet demand when the wind is not blowing. Fossil fuels provide a flexible capacity but have high emissions. The NPSs therefore set out how the IPC should implement our policy, set out in the framework for coal, which requires all new fossil fuel generating stations to be carbon-capture ready and all new coal-fired generating stations to have carbon capture and storage on at least 300 megawatts net generating capacity. The Government are also providing funding for four CCS demonstration plants, although this does not preclude developers bringing forward more proposals for coal-fired generating stations with CCS if they consider it a commercial proposition.
Alongside these technologies, the Government believe that new nuclear power should in principle be free to contribute as much as possible towards meeting the 25 gigawatts of new non-renewable capacity. The Government expect that, under this approach, a significant proportion of the 25 gigawatts will in practice be filled by nuclear power. The explanation of the need and urgency for new nuclear power stations is an important part of the draft nuclear national policy statement, and that will be central to the Infrastructure Planning Commission’s decision-making.
The overarching national policy statement makes it clear that the IPC will need to balance the need for new nuclear power stations against their potential impacts. The draft nuclear NPS will guide the Infrastructure Planning Commission on how to assess potential impacts of new nuclear power stations, such as on local infrastructure and through visual effects. Where relevant, it suggests measures that the Infrastructure Planning Commission might expect the developer to take or to have taken to reduce impacts.
The draft nuclear NPS also explains the Government’s assessment of arrangements for waste. In the 2008 nuclear White Paper, we said that 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 that they will produce. Having considered this issue in the NPS, we are satisfied that effective arrangements will exist to manage and dispose of the waste that will be produced from the new nuclear power stations. These include safe and secure interim storage of radioactive waste onsite, followed by long-term disposal in a geological disposal facility. Having made good progress in recent years, the Government are now running a staged process to identify a suitable location for a future geological disposal facility. We have already received formal expressions of interest from three local authorities about potential involvement in a geological disposal facility siting process.
Alongside the draft nuclear NPS are two environmental reports—an appraisal of sustainability and a habitats regulations assessment. They support the draft nuclear NPS and the Government’s assessment of sites. The appraisal of sustainability is required by the Planning Act and helps to ensure that national policy statements and the Government’s assessment of sites take account of environmental, social and economic considerations, and contribute to sustainable development. The habitats regulations assessment assesses whether the nuclear NPS is likely to have an adverse impact on particular habitats which are protected under European law. When the habitats regulations assessment concludes that there are adverse impacts, the NPS cannot be approved unless the Government think that there is an imperative reason of overriding public interest to do so.
We have just completed a comprehensive consultation exercise, inviting detailed responses from local communities which might be affected by the potential new nuclear power stations. I believe that the consultation was thorough and effective. I have been enormously impressed by the quality of contributions and the large numbers of people who have attended. We have seen more than 3,000 people attend our national and local events; there were some 21,000 visitors to the NPS consultation website and more than 3,000 responses to the consultation. Of these, more than 2,000 responded to one or more questions on the nuclear NPS. Many important issues have been raised that we will consider carefully and reflect appropriately in the final NPS.
We will of course consider carefully the report by the Select Committee in the other place, which is expected by the end of March, and the issues raised by your Lordships. At the end of these sittings, the Grand Committee will report to the House. This is not the last opportunity for people to have their say. Developers must consult communities before submitting an application to the IPC, and people will also have the chance to input at application stage. However, this consultation has provided people with a chance to shape the guidance which the IPC will use to inform its decisions.
Like the other energy NPSs, the nuclear NPS is critical in bringing forward nuclear infrastructure developments and ensuring that the right framework is used in the consideration of development consents. We strongly believe that the nuclear NPS is fit for purpose. I welcome today’s debate and look forward to responding to the points raised by noble Lords.
My Lords, I am sure that the Committee is grateful to the Minister for his careful introduction. It will not altogether surprise him if I return to some of the points that he has made, particularly on the Government’s refusal to countenance Dungeness as a site for future nuclear build. I shall also want to talk, not today but on Thursday, about carbon capture readiness.
I start my speech with a compliment. The nuclear NPS is perhaps the clearest statement of the Government’s civil nuclear policy that they have made since they first embarked on it in 2006. The Minister referred to the 2008 White Paper, but there were intimations well before that. After that, the compliments must end. Ministers cannot escape responsibility for the fact that the years of delay before 2006, which was the reversal of policy, means that there is now, as we have been warned by Ofgem, a serious risk of interruptions of the supply of electricity to consumers later this decade. It was only last month that Ofgem gave that warning.
From 1997 onwards, this Government’s policy was based on the foolish fantasy that renewable energy—in practice, mostly wind power—was somehow going to keep the lights on. Indeed, former Ministers at the DTI and Defra gave every appearance of believing, no doubt with complete sincerity, that they were presiding over the run-down and eventual disappearance of civil nuclear power in this country. One has only to look at the history to see what happened. They were content to see British Energy virtually go to the wall, to the point where, in order to keep operating, it had to be rescued by the Treasury. That led to the almost inevitable takeover which happened when it was taken over by EDF. The Government’s flagship legislation during this period had nothing whatever to say about new nuclear build. They were concerned only with winding down and decommissioning existing plants and facilities.
Could the noble Lord perhaps refresh our memories by telling us what references to nuclear power there were in the Conservative manifesto of 1997? It is my understanding that the Conservative Opposition, as they then became, had long previously abandoned nuclear power as far as further construction of power stations was concerned.
I think that the noble Lord has it entirely wrong. There was of course argument, and I took part in it with some of the shadow Ministers at the other end, but David Cameron made it perfectly clear in a speech to the CBI early on that the Opposition would support new nuclear build.
This Government sold Westinghouse, the only British-owned company that could actually build a new nuclear power station. It was a company with an international reputation, but they sold it to the Japanese. Even the members appointed by Michael Meacher to the committee set up to advise the Government on nuclear waste—I noticed what the Minister said about that—were mostly so anti-nuclear that they were not even prepared to consider the question of handling the waste from new nuclear build. It was not until the membership was substantially changed, as a result of recommendations of the Select Committee on Science and Technology in this House, that the Government began to make progress.
We are now faced with the problem of having to catch up after those wasted years. We need to build a new nuclear supply chain. I declare an immediate interest as a president of the Energy Industries Council, which is striving to do exactly that. We need to train a new generation of skilled manpower. I declare another interest as the honorary president of the National Skills Academy for Nuclear. We need to start the long process of assessing the latest reactor designs for safety and integrity, and we have to invent new procedures and processes to allow investors to identify and get the consents for the sites to be able to start work. It is a truly dismal story, and I hope that Ministers now recognise how much they will be blamed if indeed the lights go out.
However, we are where we are, and we have to do our best with what is before us. I therefore turn to EN-6. As was foreseen at the time of the Planning Bill, and as the Minister said, this is the only national policy statement to deal with the spatial element of the industry. The Government have determined where the new plants are to be built and also where they are not to be built. As I think I said during the passage of the Planning Bill, that seems very sensible. However, I have a number of points to make.
First, much is made, and it has been repeated again today, of the need to get 25 gigawatts of new nuclear capacity up and running by 2025. In my view that is a highly ambitious target, and it is most unlikely to be realised.
I have been provided with a chart which has a number of figures based on information drawn from the National Grid Transmission Entry Capacity Register. It is a very important document because it shows where sites will be linked to the grid. It has four columns. It gives a first-connection date for the sites. Some of those are as early as 2016—interestingly, it includes Dungeness—but others go much later, into the 2020s. Then there is what it calls a “first capacity”, which is in megawatts, and that comes to a possible total of 13.5 gigawatts. The maximum capacity by 2025 is shown in the next column, and would go up to 25.5 gigawatts. Then there is the best guess of the actual build by 2025, and there the figure is 10.2 gigawatts. There is a massive difference, of course, between the first, second and last figures, and one might ask why that is. Why are we not going to reach the 25-gigawatt figure?
There are, in fact, three reasons. Even where building can start before 2025—and so far only one company, EDF Energy, has given notice to the IPC about one site, Hinkley Point, and that is under the Planning Act procedure—the rate of build is likely to be phased considerably. Early on, there was some thought that a company such as EDF or Horizon Nuclear Power, the partnership between E.ON and RWE, would be able to build several stations at the same time. They have now made it clear that that will be very difficult. For example, EDF may start at Hinkley Point. Its next station will be at Sizewell, but that is not likely to start for several years after work has commenced at Hinkley Point. Therefore, the completion will be later. It is the same with Oldbury and Wylfa. At one point, there was some suggestion that they might be built together, but in fact that is not so. I have seen minutes from the companies saying that, although they might start the second one before the first one is completed, they are going to be substantially staggered. At one of the sites, Sellafield, it is perfectly clear that only half the capacity will be built by 2025. That is the first reason.
The second reason is that some sites might not be developed at all. It would not surprise me if the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, has something to say about that in a few minutes. The examples are Braystones and Kirksanton in Cumbria. I have two pieces of evidence for saying that. First, it is being recommended to Cumbria County Council that it should not support these two sites. I have here a paper prepared for the council’s cabinet only in February. The NIWG committee—the Nuclear Issues Working Group—also recommended that,
“Cabinet be minded not to support Kirksanton and Braystones because it was not convinced at either site that the benefits of development would outweigh the costs”.
Bearing in mind that these are greenfield sites involving villages which have not had nuclear facilities before, that is not altogether surprising. Therefore, those two are unlikely to be built.
Furthermore, it has emerged that RWE, which had originally had applications agreed for these two sites, has now withdrawn them. Therefore, that grid connection is not by any means certain. Nucleonics Week states:
“RWE npower said in a statement that it could renew the grid connection applications at a future date. But it said that since it was not possible to commit to specific plans for the sites at this time, it had chosen ‘not to maintain the current grid connection agreements’”.
So the company involved and the local authority are saying that those two sites are not in their immediate programme. That is the second reason.
The third reason is that two sites have yet to have any developer committed to build on them at all; namely, Heysham and Hartlepool. The maps that one has seen show, as yet, no interest in either of those. I draw two conclusions from this. The original 10 sites of which the Minister spoke a few moments ago are likely now to be down to six by 2025, and some of those six will not be completed by then. So the outcomes are bound to run a long way behind the Government’s estimates of built capacity by 2025.
My other point was made by the Minister, and we must bear it in mind. There is always the possibility that the IPC might reject one or more of the sites which it will be considering. This leads me to a conclusion that has been reached by a number of other people, which has also been put to DECC and was certainly voiced to the DECC Select Committee at the other end—some of us sat through some hours of evidence-giving. My conclusion is that the Government have been very premature in rejecting Dungeness. I will return to that in a moment.
In the mean time, I have a number of questions which I hope the Minister will be able to answer. If it becomes clear that the 10 so-called approved sites turn out to be insufficient to support the proposed expansion of nuclear capacity, what will be the procedure? Here one has to turn to the consultation paper to which I referred in our debate on 23 February. Not only was Dungeness rejected; so too were three other sites which the noble Lord has mentioned today—Druridge Bay on the coast of Northumberland, Kingsnorth in east Kent and Owston Ferry in the Yorkshire and Humberside region. As the noble Lord reminded us today, the central reason for the rejection of those last three sites was that they would not be credible by 2025. However, we are to have a road map to take us to 2050. What is the procedure for this?
One also needs to bear in mind the very important—I thought it was excellent—report prepared by the Minister’s predecessor, Malcolm Wicks, Minister for Energy, who was appointed by the Prime Minister as a special representative on energy security. Last August he produced a report which had a lot of sensible things to say, one of which concerned the future of nuclear energy. Paragraph 6.12 states that,
“our demand for electricity in 2050 could be 50 per cent higher than it is today … it is therefore important that it relies on large scale, low carbon and proven technologies to meet a proportion of this increased demand. As nuclear meets these criteria it is well placed to play a key role in our future energy mix. I believe that the level of ambition should be much higher in the longer term than currently projected. To enhance energy security and reduce our reliance on imports, a range between, say, 35-40 per cent of electricity from nuclear could be a sensible aspiration, beyond 2030”.
He is not going up to 2050, only to 2030. He has been supported by a number of very influential bodies, including the CBI, which is calling for an increased nuclear build. Inevitably, however, this is bound to increase the need for more sites. What is to be the procedure? How is that to be run? Would it not be sensible to have something in this NPS, EN-6, to indicate how that will be done? In the mean time, as I understand it, if someone puts in an application for a nuclear station on a site which is not listed, that does not go to the IPC but is handled by the department. Perhaps the Minister would be kind enough to confirm that.
One then comes back to the question of Dungeness. In the circumstances, it is rather surprising that that was the preliminary decision. The industry has been almost unanimously dismayed that the site has been rejected. The Select Committee heard that from its witnesses, and the Minister told the committee on 23 February that he did not have a closed mind. I and the Committee were pleased to hear that.
Perhaps I may end my speech—I do not wish to go on for too long—by saying why I think that Dungeness should be included. First, one comes back to the concept of need. Much emphasis is laid upon this in all the national policy statements. Dungeness could have connection to the grid by 2016. It could therefore be one of the earliest to come on-stream. It could have a full capacity of 1,650 megawatts, and it could be producing electricity certainly by 2019. Given Ministers’ recognition of the need,
“to maximise the contribution of nuclear as soon as possible”,
as part of the action to be taken against climate change, it is premature to rule out Dungeness at this early stage.
Secondly, Dungeness has almost the total support of the local community. Shepway District Council is making it very clear—including, no doubt, to the department—that it supports a new nuclear station at Dungeness. Thirdly, there is a growing awareness that there is a shortage of generation in the south-east. This was one of the arguments put forward at the original Sizewell inquiry—that there needed to be more generation in that part of the country. This demand/supply gap in the south-east will worsen if Dungeness is ruled out. It has an existing grid connection, and it is interesting that an analysis showed that the prices paid by bidding companies for other sites were very sensitive to the availability of a grid connection. The European Union Competition Directorate required EDF to sell off either Heysham or Dungeness. Clearly it regarded Dungeness as viable for the first wave of new nuclear developments.
I come to the point that the Minister briefly made. The rejection by DECC is based primarily on the EU habitats directive. However, nuclear development would take up only 91 hectares of a much bigger site of special scientific interest. The Minister did not mention, either today or in the documents, that that 91 hectares represents only 1 per cent of that site. It is a tiny proportion. The new development would help to protect the SSSI against coastal erosion. Indeed, it could become a security buffer that protects the valuable shingle habitat which is likely to be destroyed much earlier if the nuclear station is not built.
In any event, as the Minister has reminded us, the habitat can be overridden on grounds of IROPI—imperative reasons of overriding public interest. It seems to have been assumed that that would inevitably have to be related in some way to the habitat impact, but nowhere is it said. If we are looking to fight climate change and reduce carbon by building nuclear power stations as quickly as possible, is that not an imperative reason of overriding interest? For all these reasons, it should be open to a developer to apply to the IPC, which should then examine all the arguments for and against, perhaps more carefully than has been done by the department, which is spelled out in the NPSs. As I indicated on 23 February, I intend to table a resolution to this effect when this part of the NPS scrutiny process is completed.
I apologise for the length of my speech and look forward to hearing the rest of the debate. I certainly look forward to hearing the Minister’s reply.
My Lords, it is always a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin of Roding. I find that my theme today very much follows his line of thought in some parts of his authoritative contribution.
When we discussed the overall issue of energy policy two weeks ago, I said that I have no hang-ups on nuclear energy as a major source of our electricity supply, provided it is economic. The French have been pretty successful with nuclear and there is no reason why we should not have a healthy proportion of electricity supplied from it. The important thing is to get on and do it. All that the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, said reinforced that, and it remains my position.
The document that we are discussing today is straightforward. Ten potential sites are suggested, and that, I note in parentheses, is surprising. Are there really only 10 sites in the whole country? The noble Lord spoke about Dungeness with great authority. Surely it should be included as another site. Of the 10, seven seem straightforward. My concerns are with the remaining three: Braystones, Sellafield and Kirksanton. They are clustered close together on the Cumbrian coast, sandwiched between the Irish Sea and the Lake District National Park. I emphasise that it is a national park. I shall take them together.
My first question is whether it is really the case that, in the whole of England, almost one-third of the potential sites that the Government can identify are clustered together in a remote and sensitive corner of England. At this stage I must declare an interest as a vice-president of the Friends of the Lake District. I was going to say that it is a pity that the noble Lord, Lord Judd, cannot be with us today, but he is here in his place. He is the distinguished president of the friends. I very much welcomed his contribution on nuclear when he spoke in this Room two weeks ago. I hope that he will speak today in the gap, if we have such a thing. It remains to be seen.
Although each of the three sites is discussed separately—that is a matter of course—one might have thought that the cumulative effect of having three sites in connection with the national park should have warranted some discussion, certainly rather more discussion than the brief reference to them at paragraph 5.7.124, which deals with Braystones. The effects were dismissed two paragraphs later as not being,
“sufficient in themselves to justify excluding Braystones or the other West Cumbrian sites”.
That is extraordinary.
One might also think that there should have been discussion of the sea defence works that might be required—how unsightly those would be—and any other structures and their visual effect. We do not know how big each station will be or how many reactors each will have. Large-scale maps are provided, but there is no single map showing how the stations relate to each other or—and this is of great importance—how they relate to the topography and the national park boundary. For example, it would appear that Kirksanton station is only a few hundred yards from the park boundary and, moreover, that it is in a particularly sensitive part of the park, with its tremendous views from Black Combe summit across the Irish Sea to the Isle of Man and, on a good day, to the mountains of Mourne. Black Combe, the mountain, is immediately above the power station. Paragraph 5.11.82 of the NPS says that,
“the site offers local opportunities for screening through the use of landscaping, vegetation and tree planting”.
One wonders whether either the nominator of the site or the author of the report appreciates that you cannot conceal a site with plantation of trees when you are looking down on it from the summit of Black Combe or the surrounding fell-side. One wonders whether they have actually been there.
I am bound to say that I found the discussion of amenity, cultural heritage and the landscape-value aspects of the three sites as superficial, to put it politely. It is appalling. In the case of Kirksanton, the conclusion that the site is acceptable and passes the tests can scarcely be concluded, even from the superficial analysis in the report. At a public inquiry, the lawyers would have had a field day.
Then again, while the need for grid connection for each of these stations is recognised, there is no indication of what route or routes it would take. Again, the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, raised some serious questions about grid connections.
My Lords, there is a Division in the House. The Committee will adjourn for 10 minutes.
Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.
My Lords, I was talking about the grid connection. Although the need for a grid connection for each of these stations is recognised, there is no indication of what route or routes those would take, or of anything else. I understood from the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, that the issue of grid connection is completely in the air. Would it cross the Duddon estuary? We do not know, because there does not seem to be any grid connection. Would it be underground? We simply do not know.
I could go on. These are all issues that would have been explored thoroughly at a public inquiry. Notwithstanding this PPS, major issues of detail will eventually have to be gone into if any of these three sites is to go ahead. Perhaps I may suggest to the Minister, or more realistically to his staff, that they should look at the inspector's report on the Whinash wind farm public inquiry which took place a few years ago—that wind farm is on the other side of the Lake District. The inspector gave a brilliant analysis of the visual intrusion of large structures on the edge of a national park. At any rate, the IPC will be familiar with this.
My final point, which I want to stress, is that we cannot deal with these stations separately. What matters is the cumulative effect of these huge structures. For me, it is immaterial whether they are nuclear; what matters is their size and their close proximity to our finest national park. However, I am not clear about how this will be assessed by the IPC—perhaps the Minister can explain—and how, in due course, the public can have their say on the cumulative aspect of what is proposed in this PPS.
My Lords, I have long been a supporter of nuclear power generation. When I was a Member of another place, there were two nuclear power stations in my constituency, Berkeley and Oldbury. I lived between the two and I was a supporter of them then, and I still am. I therefore welcome the fact that, after wasting a decade—as my noble friend Lord Jenkin said so powerfully—the Government are now considering all this and are to take it forward. My noble friend spoke about the whole area, but I want to concentrate on one detail.
I recognise that the planning process for such large facilities was in need of improvement. Objectors should be able to have their say, but it is not in the national interest that they and their lawyers should be able to spin things out for many years. So I accept the framework of what we are talking about. However, I also think that when autocratic powers are in place, it is essential that, in the opinion of the citizens, they are used with due care, as anything else would be a failure of democracy.
That is why I am sad that this document is flawed in at least one important respect, the respect that I know best: the proposals about Oldbury-on-Severn or, more accurately, next door in Shepperdine. The present Magnox station was opened in 1967 with an enthusiastic speech in favour of nuclear power from the then Minister, Tony Benn. I recommend the speech to anyone who wants to make a good speech in favour of nuclear power. Some excellent points were made in it. That power station will not be generating for much longer, yet the local people have accepted it for many years. Successive managers and their teams have worked very hard to cultivate good local relations. Many visitors—and every local organisation for 30 miles around that has outings—have been shown over the power station. They have come away reassured about its safety and impressed with the fact that it very cheaply produces large quantities of electricity, enough electricity to power the whole City of Bristol one and a half times over.
At first sight, it is therefore rather surprising that every local council and many other bodies are firmly opposed to the ideas expressed in the document about building a replacement station in the area. Despite the local jobs that that would save or create, they are opposed, and so am I. We are opposed not to a replacement of Oldbury power station but to the specific proposals in this strategy document. The most important reason concerns the proposed cooling arrangements.
The present station was built at Oldbury because it could be cooled by the water from the Severn, on whose banks it stands. The same was of course true of Berkeley—the first commercial nuclear power station in the world—upstream, and of Hinkley Point, downstream where the Severn has widened out into an estuary. At Oldbury, the river is about two miles wide with an enormous tidal range at that point. However, the new proposals reject the idea of using the river water for cooling. Some may think, as I do, that as the available river cooling water was the point of choosing the Oldbury site in the first place, that would rule out using the site for the new station. Yet it apparently does not. The idea in this document is instead to build cooling towers, as if it were an inland power station instead of being adjacent to tidal water, and that is the key reason why local representatives and people are against it.
It is proposed to have up to four cooling towers, which will be up to 200 metres high with plumes rising well above that. Big Ben’s Clock Tower is 96 metres to the top of its golden finial; the cooling towers would be more than twice that height. Big Ben, of course, also comes to an elegant point, whereas the towers would be vastly bulky at the top. There would be no golden decoration there. Can you imagine what that will do to the views over this splendid estuary from miles away, including from both the Cotswold and Wye Valley areas of outstanding natural beauty? The cooling towers will not only dominate a vast area of estuarial beauty but stick up above the surrounding hills. They will actually be seen for 30 miles.
The overall document, EN-1, worries about the high visibility of development on undeveloped coast and talks of minimising the harm done to highly valued landscape by landscaping schemes. This document says that that site is,
“suitable … because … the nature … and scale”,
of the effects of landscaping are “uncertain”, yet there is no way that 200-metre cooling towers could be mitigated by, for instance, planting trees. The largest tree in the world, a Californian redwood, is 115 metres high—just over half the height of the proposed cooling towers—and has only reached that height after 1,000 years or more.
I realise that some may, by this stage, be thinking that this is all pure nimbyism. In my case, that charge fails on a technicality as we now live some way away, in Bath. In any case, that is to misunderstand the specific objections. My objection is not to a new power station at Oldbury but to cooling towers which would be a monstrous and unnecessary intrusion. Oldbury is, incidentally, the only site mentioned in the document where it is proposed to have any cooling towers. It is primarily those which have converted supporters of nuclear power into dedicated opponents.
There are other objections on which I shall not expand: the risk of flooding and the effect on the very special habitats there. These considerations are raised in the document as things that still need to be dealt with. It says that,
“it may be possible to avoid or mitigate impacts”—
for instance, on designated sites of biodiversity. There is also some discussion about the effect of all this on the possible schemes to harness the huge Severn tides which are also being considered. Depending on the outcome of those considerations, that may well, in any case, destroy the habitats, so we will probably not have to worry about the birds or fish by then. It might also make more river water available for cooling, although I doubt it.
I have a wider concern about all this. Draconian power—which is what these new strategic planning arrangements are—must be used with sensitivity if it is to be acceptable in a free society. I believe that the Government, in their new-found concern about coming energy shortages and in their rush to correct their error of ignoring nuclear power for a decade or so, have cut corners and abandoned logic. Oldbury, which is currently a well accepted nuclear station, is closing, but they said that we can build a replacement there. When they then found out that they could not use the river water for cooling, someone, who was probably sitting on a sofa at the time, said, “Well, cool it some other way”. In any case, I do not think that the matter was given enough thought. I think that that destroys the case for the site, and it certainly destroys popular acceptance of it. When you convert friends of nuclear power into enemies on this scale, it is time to think again about this aspect of the document.
Can my noble friend explain why he thinks the Government have taken the strange decision of not allowing the cooling to be done by river water?
That is not explained in very great detail, but if my noble friend refers to paragraph 5.12.75, he will see that there is some discussion there as to whether there is sufficient water available nearby to cool a power station of the size proposed. The new power station is supposed to be about four times the size of the existing one. The existing one has a tidal lagoon, which was built when the station was constructed in order for sufficient water to be available when the tide was out. There was difficulty with it silting up, but that was got over at an early stage. However, that is where my noble friend will find the discussion.
My Lords, I wish to talk about three topics: the legacy of radioactive waste, the timescale for building our new nuclear power stations, and the possibilities of re-establishing the UK industrial base in nuclear technology. Before doing so, however, and following the precedent set by the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, I should like to start with a compliment and say how it pleases me that we are at least getting on with the planning of new nuclear capacity. I was clearing out my office over the recent Recess and found a copy of an interview that I gave to the Times in 2003 when I was president of the Royal Academy of Engineering. In the interview, I strongly advocated the adoption of nuclear power. What response there was from the Government at the time was negative, which was quite depressing. It is a great relief now that minds have been changed and that we are at least getting on with the planning process.
Returning to my three topics, first, I wish to confirm that we are dealing competently with the legacy waste that sits, for example, in the concrete tanks, B30 and B38, at Sellafield. Paragraph 3.8.12 of EN-6 tells us that the NDA estimates that a UK facility for geological disposal could be operational in 2040. Indeed, the Minister and the chairman of CoRWM confirmed this on 9 February while giving evidence to the Science and Technology Select Committee inquiry into this matter. This is the fifth inquiry that we have conducted and I happen to be chairing it.
The same paragraph points out that it will be only intermediate level waste that can be stored in 2040. We will have to wait until 2075 before the disposal of high level and spent fuel waste will be possible, and 2130 before the storage of legacy waste is complete and we can begin to store new-build waste. These are long timescales, even by the standards of this House, and it would seem to me far longer than the water tanks in Sellafield can possibly survive. I am assured by engineering colleagues that these water tanks are regularly inspected and declared to be safe, but to a layman they appear to be seeping and in need of repair. Without knowing more about the final geological storage, however, it is not possible to plan efficiently for the progressive storage of this waste. It is clearly inefficient and expensive to have repeatedly to restore the material in a format that is compatible with the next stage of storage, all the time being ignorant of the final format. In other words, we really have to get on with the task of deciding on the whole sequence of storage, including the final stage of geological storage.
At present, progress is painfully slow. Extracting the waste from the tanks is very expensive and, presumably because of budget cuts, the NDA appears to be proceeding at reduced pace until better times return. Can the Minister tell us where we are in implementing safe intermediate storage of our legacy waste? Is any of this waste stored in a dangerous manner, and how long will it be before we know that our legacy waste is to be stored in a manner that will be satisfactory for at least the next 65 years, in other words until geological storage is available?
My second point relates to the timescale on which our new power stations are to be built. Paragraph 2.5.6 states that:
“France has already demonstrated that it is technically feasible to build nuclear power stations at a rate that would be needed in the UK if new nuclear power stations were to be constructed on all 10 sites”—
although perhaps there are only six to be built, as the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, suggests—
“listed in this NPS by 2025”.
Paragraph 2.5.6 goes on to encourage the IPC to grant consent to sites at a rate consistent with this timetable. I find this encouraging and very much hope that it can be achieved, but I point out that this is not the most aggressive target that one can imagine. The average time that the Chinese have taken to build their last 10 reactors has been 6.3 years, and some of their new stations, such as the one at Ningde, which was started in February 2008, are scheduled to be completed in 2012—a build time of some four years. I am not suggesting that it will be possible for us to match the Chinese in the speed with which we can grant assent to sites, although it is clear that our slowness disadvantages us internationally. Will the Minister reassure us that those planning our build programmes have assessed how the Chinese achieved these short construction times and that we will be able to match them when we finally come to break ground and start to construct our own nuclear power station?
My third topic concerns the need for us to rebuild our strength in the nuclear industry. It is 15 years since Sizewell B was completed. Since then, the activities of our companies that have remained active in the nuclear industry have been concerned only with the disposal of radioactive waste and the servicing of our naval nuclear propulsion plants. Little remains in civil nuclear engineering and what remained at the beginning of 2006, as the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, mentioned, was virtually eliminated by the untimely sale of BNFL-owned Westinghouse to Toshiba, as part of what appeared to be a general government policy to approve the sale of any available assets in an attempt to contain the ballooning current account deficit, not to mention the public debt. We now need to recover from the underinvestment in civil nuclear engineering and rebuild at least the supply chains that will support the reactor vendors in building our new nuclear power stations.
There have been some positive actions, such as the setting up of the Nuclear Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre in Sheffield, taking advantage of the strong manufacturing expertise already established in Sheffield by the University of Sheffield and Boeing at the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre. This is the ideal location for this work, but, regrettably, the research funds for nuclear energy are small. There is the risk that, as with the National Nuclear Laboratory at Sellafield, little use may be made of the new facility. It may be too late to enter the competition to build reactors, but it is still within our grasp to re-establish our strength in the supply chain industries. If they are to succeed, we will need to provide for them a strong research base. Will the Minister reassure us that the Government are doing all they can to support our research and industrial development efforts in nuclear technology, so that we can re-establish the UK’s indigenous capability to support the building of our new plants? This will not only bring employment to the UK but ensure that we can deliver our nuclear programme on time and to budget.
My Lords, I speak today from my background as the former chief executive of the Environment Agency, where I had responsibility both for the regulation of nuclear waste and for flood defence and coastal processes. I start, however, on a personal note: if someone had said 15 years ago that I would be standing up to commend the Government on adopting a policy of developing more nuclear power, I would have questioned their sanity. I welcome the policy statement. Perhaps it would be useful briefly to touch on why.
My concerns before I became the regulator for nuclear waste and the authority for flood and coastal erosion were about safety and environmental issues. We have made such huge progress in both the management of nuclear waste and understanding of environmental impact and flood and coastal processes that I believe that the further development of nuclear power is to be commended in the context of climate change. It should be seen not as a permanent solution but as a bridging technology, because the impact of nuclear power is still huge in terms of cost and waste management. Moreover, the risk of safety going awry will always be there. If we can see the policy statement as a way of gaining additional generating capacity in a reasonably short time while we develop a richer, carbon-reducing energy mix for the future, we should press on.
I have become much keener on nuclear power as a result of some of the other propositions being made for carbon-reducing energy generation technologies, particularly the Severn barrage, but I propose to keep my powder dry on that until Thursday’s debate, when your Lordships will no doubt hear far more about it.
My support for the nuclear policy statement has three provisos. The first is the waste issue. The noble Lord, Lord Broers, hit the nail on the head when he said that the pace of development of a long-term deep depository is glacially slow. We need the Government to assure the House that the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority will make ongoing and credible progress in the development of a geological disposal facility for higher-activity solid radioactive waste, both for the legacy waste—I share the concerns of the noble Lord, Lord Broers, about some of the issues at Sellafield—and for waste from the new-build programme.
I am grateful to the noble Baroness for giving way. I find myself in a very similar position to hers: I have accepted that we have no alternative but to move to another phase of nuclear energy. However, the noble Baroness said that she was greatly persuaded in coming to that conclusion by the huge strides that we have made in the management of waste. Does she not agree that there is still a very big question as to whether we should start on the next generation of stations before we have started to manage the waste? However convincing the arguments, they are all theoretical; we have not yet made the decisions on how it will be done.
With the indulgence of the Committee, perhaps I may address that point. We have made considerable progress on how we handle new waste. The stuff that is up at Sellafield and some of the other legacy waste is a completely different kettle of fish. No matter what we do about a new-build nuclear programme, that problem has still to be addressed and solved. Careful planning of the new nuclear programme may include the disposal of waste material before sites are even constructed and some faster progress on the deep depository. However, I believe that, if we wait for solutions to all those issues to be put into practice and implemented, it would probably be a very long time before we start the new nuclear programme. Therefore, although it is not ideal, the alternatives—be they barrages across every estuary in the nation, over-reliance on carbon capture and storage, which is as yet unproven, or our continuing to pump carbon into the atmosphere—are equally unpalatable. So the position I have taken is that we have to pitch somewhere if we are going to make progress. I have come to the conclusion that carefully managed new nuclear build and carefully planned waste disposal is probably one of the least hazardous ways forward.
My second point is about sites. I very much welcome that the NPS is spatially explicit. But there needs to be a proviso about all sites because all the nominated sites are close to internationally protected nature conservation areas. Many face significant challenge in respect of the way in which the coastline is changing and eroding. There needs to be a full and detailed environmental impact assessment and a appropriate assessment under the habitats regulations not just at the NPS stage, but at the individual project stage.
The environmental assessments in the nuclear NPS are much more robust than in some of the other policy statements, but I would urge the Government to be clear that we cannot regard the habitats regulation assessment in the NPS as sufficient. I also urge the Minister to clarify that the findings of that process; namely, that there would be adverse impacts on wildlife sites, that there were in some cases no feasible alternative solutions and that therefore imperative reasons of overriding public interest would have to be invoked apply, so far, only to the NPS, and to assure the House that both the NPS in its final form and the habitats regulations assessment when finally published will have an explicit statement that the findings simply apply to the national policy statement and will have to be re-examined on individual applications site by site.
I am sure that the Committee is expecting me to raise my third issue, which is the uniting principle between the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, and myself—Dungeness. I very much welcome Dungeness being dropped from the list on the basis that it is either extremely difficult or impossible to mitigate or compensate for the environmental impacts on that highly distinctive, highly special, rare and internationally important shingle habitat. I should like the indulgence of the Committee for a few minutes and would like to transport noble Lords there. Indeed, I urge you all to go to Dungeness, probably not quite at this time of the year. It is a bit chilly right now, but in a month’s time, one will find a hugely distinctive, slightly weird, beautiful shingle landscape. It is internationally important for its nature conservation interests.
Those noble Lords who are more interested in the arts than the environment are no doubt aware that Derek Jarman published a wonderful book about the very special garden he created in the shingle environment. It is absolutely beautiful and I urge noble Lords to see the garden and to read the book. An example of its weirdness is: were you to put your finger in a pool in the shingle banks at Dungeness on the site of special scientific interest and linger for a while, you would probably find that you are in close fleshy personal communication with the medicinal leech. It is one of the few sites where medicinal leeches still thrive in this country. It is a wonderful sight for some rare shingle plant and animal species which occur nowhere else in this country. It is very distinctive.
I encourage all noble Lords to go to Dungeness to see how special it is. Those of you who are not taken by the wildlife interests, or by the visual and spiritual interests, might be more convinced by the fact that this site is also on a very fast-eroding coast, which is sustained now only by the fact that lorries go to one side of the nuclear power station almost daily to pick up huge quantities of gravel and shingle, in order to ferry it round to the other side of the nuclear power station so that the sea can carry it round to the first side. There is a constant need to keep replenishing the shingle, otherwise the nuclear power station will come under severe threat from a very strong coastal current on that part of the coast. It is simply not sustainable for the future. In my view, that is probably one of the strongest arguments for not having a further power station on the Dungeness site.
Let me say one more sentence, as I may pre-empt what the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, is about to say. I do not think that building another power station and putting a whacking big concrete sea defence around it is sustainable. It may stop the shingle from disappearing for a few years, but the reality is that the erosion around these coastal defences is so massive that, if you are not careful, you will end up with a nuclear power station virtually on an island. That is also unsustainable. The expert assessment of the coastal erosion processes at Dungeness is that it is too risky to sustain. I now give way to the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin.
The noble Baroness has gone to great trouble to explain her views on this. Does she recognise that there is indeed an alternative view: that it does not have to be a damn great concrete wall; that a new power station on the site designated on the map attached to the NPS would have a very stabilising effect on the shingle; and, therefore, that it might help to preserve the quality and the uniqueness of the shingle which otherwise will be swept away as she said?
The noble Lord is right to say that there is an alternative view, but it is not one which I espouse, and it does not appear to be an alternative view which the Government and their experts espouse. No doubt we shall argue about the rights and wrongs of the alternative view, and I am sure that the Minister will also respond on that.
The current operator at Dungeness, as the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, said, has put forward lots of arguments as to why it is sensible to have a replacement power station there, mainly on the basis that it is not confident that other sites will come forward. That issue is central to the national planning policy statement, and I believe that the Government need to be more proactive in promoting the development of nuclear power on all these nominated sites if we are to meet some of the deadlines and timescales about which other speakers have already expressed concern. It is already connected to the National Grid, but that does not necessarily mean that there ought to be a power station there. Of course, local people are far more familiar with having a power station on their doorstep and, therefore, are less sensitive. I believe that the environmental and coastal erosion arguments are more powerful.
I am sure that World War 3 on the future of Dungeness is about to break out. The noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, and I will no doubt do battle. I believe that we can, through the medium of this policy statement, aim for nuclear power station development that not only helps with energy security and carbon reduction but also takes good account of environmental and coastal erosion processes.
The noble Baroness has argued very powerfully about the environmental anxieties relating to Dungeness. The noble Lord, Lord Chorley, argued equally tellingly and vehemently about the rich inheritance—in character and scenically—of the Cumbrian coast and the national park. Does the noble Baroness not agree that it is essential that we do not get into a ding-dong about this bit of scenic inheritance or that bit of environmental inheritance but that we need a strong, powerful injunction from the Government that, in all that is done, environmental considerations in all their forms must be given priority in finding the right solutions?
I thank the noble Lord for his contribution. I am sure that he is absolutely right, but the joy of this policy statement is that it takes a very balanced approach. It says that we should be clear that we need to develop nuclear power and that there will be some areas where compensation is required but some places where development should not happen. Although I would love to take the stance that the environment must be pre-eminent, I think that in reality there will be some give-and-take on some of the sites where it is possible to get adequate mitigation and compensation but that that will not be possible on other sites. That is why a site-level environmental impact assessment and a habitat regulations assessment are important.
My Lords, I rise simply to say that I am glad that Wylfa—
I do not think that the noble Lord has put his name down to speak in this debate, but he may of course speak in the gap if he wishes.
My Lords, I am very pleased to follow the noble Baroness, not least because she used the word “joy”. I remember at the beginning of his speech the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, speaking about a dreary history. I was surprised that all the enthusiasts for nuclear power in this Room were so gloomy about the prospects and so critical about what was going to happen.
Perhaps I should start by declaring an interest. I am the chairman of the Nuclear Industry Association, which is the trade association for the industry. It is a paid position. I have been a long-term advocate of nuclear power and so I am very pleased and proud to be able to hold that post.
As I have been a long-term supporter of nuclear power, this document bred in me a sense of impatience, because I felt that it should have come out earlier. Having said that, once it was published, I could see why it took a long time to produce. We should bear in mind the problems that we have had over nuclear power during the past 20 years. I want to get this point on the record because people on the other side of this Room seem to be suffering from selective amnesia. As I recall, Sizewell B was completed in about 1995, but we have yet to see Sizewell C. That was more than a gleam in the eyes of Tory Ministers; it was a commitment that was quietly dropped, in exactly the same way as consideration of sites for waste disposal was dropped when it appeared that there were too many of them in Tory seats. Let us get the record straight on this. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, that that is not rubbish, because it is clear that he has conveniently chosen to forget. As I recall, on the whole question of siting nuclear waste facilities, only one Member of Parliament, Tam Dalyell, was actually prepared to volunteer his constituency—and that was long before the days of voluntarism. It was only when he got back to West Lothian that another West Lothian question was asked. Tam found that it was not the answer he was looking for. His view was shared by many Old Etonians on both sides of the House in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
My point is that this document is important because it deals with the implications of the Planning Act and tries to ensure that they are properly understood. The length of time that it took to produce the document reflects not only its rigour but the fact that the resources available to DECC to undertake the work which it is now responsible for should, frankly, be enhanced. It would have been good to have had this document before the summer, but we know the strains that are imposed, and are continuing to be imposed, on that department. As a fledgling department, it does not have the breadth and depth of staff necessary to do the job. That does not imply any disrespect to those currently in employment there; there just needs to be many more of them to get on with the job at the rate at which it needs to be done.
All parties are responsible for the delays which have taken place. I was the Labour Party’s shadow Energy Minister in the early 1990s. It was explained to me by Tony Cooper, the then general secretary of the power station managers’ union, that a sizeable number of nuclear power stations were to be closed in the middle of what is now this decade and that something would have to be done to fill the gap. In those days we were faced with a choice. We had plenty of gas, but it would be dangerous to become over-dependent on it. Coal production was closing down at a considerable rate for reasons into which we need not go. The point that I wish to get across is that it has been self-evident that the opportunities offered by renewables and by coppice burning, which was to be one of the cornerstones of Liberal energy policy in days gone by, would produce nothing as great as that required to deal with the emerging gap in energy generation.
Given that we are faced with the rush for generation capability, we need to ensure that the planning process, which is one of the historical obstacles to rapid development of major projects—not just for energy, but a variety of purposes—is dealt with effectively and rigorously. The planning process has been characterised as an adventure playground for vexatious litigants and their filibustering legal advisers. That should not mean that if we are to change the process it should be any less rigorous, but it certainly could be quicker. We should be able to have not only due process but proper consideration of the objections. We have heard already today some of the points which could well emerge in the process as the IPC undertakes its work.
When one reads at least the first four parts of the document, one cannot but be impressed by the comprehensive character of the considerations that the Infrastructure Planning Commission will have to take into account. Northern Ireland is discounted. Scotland merits a mention in respect of the reserved character of energy in the devolution settlement. Whether our energy needs will require the continued contribution from the sites at Hunterston and Torness does not concern us today, but the relatively longer life of the Torness site could well enable it to be used for future reactor construction. It is interesting that those who call for the inclusion of Hunterston reflect concerns about the socio-economic aspects of the case. We know that nuclear power stations offer well paid, high-quality employment for people who become assets to the community. The emergence of talented, capable families does a great deal to enhance education and the social and cultural life of the area. In many instances, although Hunterston or Torness are not particularly isolated, some of these communities are fairly isolated and the injection of a rich group of well qualified people—I mean rich in talent—is of great significance. I well understand why a number of people want power stations retained on particular sites. Speaking as a Scot, I think that the prospect of well paid employment in Scotland is more than a passing consideration.
I shall dwell on Scotland for a moment. Nuclear power has had great significance in the past 50 or 60 years of its industrial and economic history and has made a major contribution to our industrial life. That can be seen in research and engineering and in the quality of a number of big firms; for example, the Weir Group, Doosan Babcock or Rolls-Royce in its varying forms. A number of household names in engineering are rooted in the Scottish power generation experience.
It is paradoxical that the only distinctive things that an openly opportunistic crowd like the Nats have are their commitment to a separate Scottish state and their antagonism to all things nuclear. It is one of the considerations that are turning the Scottish electorate away from them. They have experienced a minority Scottish National Government at Holyrood for the past two years or so, and they are turning away from them in droves. I hope that this Scottish dimension to the problem will be resolved in the forthcoming general election and, beyond that, at the election for the Scottish Parliament, when I think they will be tossed out and wiser counsels will prevail about whether there should be continuing generation at nuclear power stations in Scotland.
I offer my entire support to what the noble Lord has said so far about the place of nuclear power in Scotland, particularly its beneficent impact on remote rural communities, such as Caithness and north Sutherland. Would he accept that it is unfortunate, though understandable, that the considerations that are deployed in the paper under discussion are treated only as matters to be noticed and that Scotland is not covered by the considerations in this report? He is entirely right that this document might provide a relevant consideration in planning in Scotland, but there is a great gap now, and it needs to be filled.
I do not disagree with the noble Lord. Many of us who are both Scottish and British in our political interests know that there are times when you can have a fight and times when you do not need to have one. At the moment, in Scotland, we do not really need to fight. The nonsense that the nationalists tend to speak about generating capability and the wishful thinking relating to renewables is such that they are being found out on every day that passes because all influential Scottish public opinion formers are coming down in support of the nuclear case. There is compelling evidence from communities of the specialist character of the Dounreay facility, of which I know the noble Lord has been such a defender over the years.
There will be debates within the IPC process. It is clear that the IPC has a long and intimidating checklist against which the planning applications will have to be assessed. The detail is sufficiently comprehensive and explicit to enable anyone wishing to frustrate the process to seek judicial review. IPC members have made it clear to me in conversations and at meetings that they have been appointed as much for their experience and expertise as their independent minds. These are significant individuals. The chair has a distinguished career in public service—the kind of person who will not be messed about by civil servants and the like, but who will lead teams of well qualified and experienced individuals to look at these issues on their merits. If they do not, and as I said earlier, the weapon of judicial review will delay and frustrate in the way that planning processes in the past have done. I am confident that this process will not only accelerate but assist consideration of the projects. I have flogged this horse previously, but I say to those Members opposite who have ill-disguised opposition to many of the processes of the IPC, not least in the absence of any ministerial involvement, that the supposed independent, cool, political, accountable voice that is heard following a planning inquiry is very often vacillating, delaying and, as Mrs Thatcher would have said, “frit” because of the electoral consequences of unpopular decisions which need to be taken but are inconvenient. The IPC process will enable proper, rigorous scrutiny and avoid unnecessary political delay and embarrassment.
I only hope that, as we get closer to the general election, wiser counsels will prevail and we will not hear these outbursts of root-and-branch opposition to the IPC. I can see the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, perhaps rising to my bait, but, before he does so, I would say that he was distinguished by his support for the process as a former Planning Minister and his general backing for the Bill in the past. Whether he has moved I am not sure, but if he wants to ask me a question, I am happy to take it.
Staff at the IPC have seen the statements made in the green paper last month and the guidance note published with them. Has he seen them?
I have had discussions with—
No, you have not seen them.
I am sorry. We are talking about the green paper produced by whom?
It is the green paper produced by the Conservative Party and published on the internet, with a guidance note, which I took the trouble to send to the staff of the IPC. They know about it. Have they shown it to the noble Lord?
The noble Lord has a distinguished record of service, but—let us not get above ourselves—the Tories are not in government yet. This business of issuing election manifestos wrapped in a piece of green paper does not give them any status. I am aware that quite a polite but, at the end of day, rather rude letter was sent by a junior opposition spokesperson in another place to the appointees on the day on which they took on their jobs, telling them, “Be ready for your P45, lads, because this job isn’t going to last”. The noble Lord may with his characteristic courtesy be trying to build some bridges to the IPC. But there is a feeling abroad that there could be delay, new legislation and worrying circumstances for potential investors. One difficulty that we must recognise is that, at the moment, there is not just political uncertainty but uncertainty whether this planning process will be quicker. If it is, we will see an acceleration in the programme.
Noble Lords have talked this afternoon—and the noble Lord, Lord Broers, was very gloomy—about the nuclear supply chain. In my capacity as the chair of the Nuclear Industry Association, I can tell them that we have held seminars across the country for interested firms that want to be part of the nuclear supply chain. We are finding that people with skill and engineering capability, who have been engaged in other areas of activity such as the defence industries and hi-tech engineering for the construction of hydrocarbon plants and the like, are saying, “There is not that much difference in what we do from what the nuclear industry requires”. There is a fantastic degree of optimism within British engineering at the moment, which I am sorry that the noble Lord has not been exposed to.
Equally, I simply make the point that, with regard to British engineering capability, there have been British companies in China, Korea and Japan, such as AMEC, Balfour Beatty, Rolls-Royce, Doosan Babcock and Westinghouse, which, although it is now foreign-owned, still has 3,000 employees in Britain—it is not as if the whole thing was sold lock, stock and barrel and everybody went away. There are centres of excellence in the United Kingdom which foreign companies could not move and will not move, especially now that we have the prospect of what could be called the nuclear renaissance. But if we are to get that, we must ensure that one of the first obstacles, the planning process, is dealt with openly, transparently and fairly. This document lends itself to that and will assist in it, and it will enable us to move towards 25 megawatts by 2025. I agree that it is very optimistic, but it can be achieved—if only because we are talking about at least 3 gigawatts on most of the major sites over the period.
I disagree with the point made about the length of time that some of the reactors are taking to be built in China. The number of months is going down; there are some instances of 38 months. I am not saying that that is what we would want, but 44 to 48 months would seem at this stage, for the starting-off, a reasonable assumption to make. The more we build, the better we get at it and the shorter the times we will be able to move towards. I am not as pessimistic as some of my colleagues, but equally I am not adopting some kind of Voltairean view that all is for the best in all possible worlds. A lot is still to be done, but we have made a good first start with this document, and I commend it.
I am not pessimistic, necessarily; I like to think that I am optimistic. What I was trying to say was that we have a strong possibility of recovering our nuclear base. I was trying to ask the Minister to reassure us that the Government were going to support them in doing that. I am very pleased to hear that the noble Lord thinks that we could build plants in even less than 48 months; I look forward to that. I should like him to realise that I am not pessimistic about this—I am optimistic—but the Government will have to do all that they can to help, especially to provide a strong research base.
I do not want to delay the Committee, but perhaps I may make this point. It is my understanding that tenders are being prepared for the initial civil engineering work. We have to define what we mean by the length of the construction period. If you are dealing with a greenfield site, there is obviously that much more to do. But, in a number of UK sites, specialised civil engineering work can start long before the planning process and it would not in any way prejudice the outcome of that. That is why when we talk about the 44-month and 48-month periods, we could be referring to the reactor construction rather than a lot of the earth-moving and initial improvement work.
My Lords, I do not particularly want to get involved in the game of pots and kettles, but we need to recognise that discussion of the waste issue has been around for a very long time. It began right back, I suppose, in the late 1940s when we were building our own nuclear weapons. As I have always understood it, the big problem with dealing with nuclear waste is the legacy waste from the military programmes. That is where the bulk of the waste disposal problem lies. I got involved in this indirectly from local government in the 1980s through Nirex, which at one stage produced a list of something like 30 potential sites all over the country in which to dispose of nuclear waste. If a lesson is to be learnt from this, it is that a bit of humility would be a good thing. If I wanted to quote a case of really appallingly bad public administration over the years from the United Kingdom, this would be the issue that I would pick. It really does appal me.
The other thing that needs to be said is that over the past 40 years, it has been possible to get away with it, but things have now changed and it has been apparent that they have been changing for quite a long time. The change has been the coming coincidence, which was entirely predictable, of the rundown of our existing nuclear power generation capacity and the growing realisation of the need to tackle the problem that is inducing climate change. That coincidence is very much a coincidence of the past decade.
I feel sorry for the Government, who were elected in good faith on a very poor policy with regard to nuclear power, but I congratulate them on changing their mind. I hope that the Minister will forgive me for saying that I feel, as I said at the last meeting, that my back is firmly pressed against the wall today. We need decisions because we need to get action and we need to get on with it. The only reason that I tolerate it is because I know that the Minister’s back is equally firmly pressed against the wall. He, too, sees the need for action, which is what we are facing.
Perhaps I may deal with the issue of environmental impacts. I accept that this will always be a very touchy subject. In relation to Dungeness, if one were to look at maps of the southern coast of this country century by century, one would find the alignment of that coast dramatically different today from 200, 300 or 400 years ago. One of the penalties of living on an island is that its shape changes, particularly when the coast is of an alluvial compound. There is some hope. I had to deal with a problem in the county of Essex where the sea wall was increasingly unprotected because the sand had completely washed away. Not surprisingly, the people who lived behind that wall were very worried. If you stood on the sea wall in a gale, you would feel it jumping as the waves hit it. That is how bad it was. There was a solution, although the county council had to approve it—that was my involvement. It was quite expensive, but the ratepayers paid for putting two T-shaped groynes half a mile out to sea and about three-quarters of a mile to a mile apart. Two years later, when I returned, the locals were complaining because the sand was blowing over the top of the sea wall. You just cannot win, but there are things that can be done.
I do not like having my back against the wall. I note what the Minister said about the possibility of a debate on this matter in the Chamber if we feel that there are sufficient grounds for amending these reports. However, I would prefer this to be dealt with in a different way. The Planning Bill provided for the revision of national policy statements, and it would be more sensible if, at this stage, the Minister were to agree to approve these policies today, recognise their flaws and initiate an immediate review of everything in these statements. I shall turn to some other aspects that we need to think about in a moment. On Thursday, other aspects will be raised which we shall need to consider. I suggest that it is probably not possible to find solutions in the next few weeks to the concerns that we, as a Committee, have raised. Even if we take the matter into the summer, time will probably be too limited for serious and proper consideration of how we are to take this forward. It would be better to approve these statements, acknowledging the flaws in them.
Can the noble Lord confirm whether the position of his party on the future of this process is that amendments to the national policy statements will, in future, be subject to approval by both Houses of Parliament? If that were the case, would that mean that, if the Government of the day wished to add another specific location for a nuclear power station, that would become the subject of a political debate in both Houses of Parliament? In other words, will it become a political football?
My Lords, the world of politics is the world of administration of society, and whatever we do will become political. However, if there is a change of Government after the election, at the moment, the policy is to keep the process, but it is possible to keep the process and amend, to a degree, the machinery. I pay tribute to my noble friend Lord Jenkin for doing his homework on this. The chairman of the IPC has said that what we are suggesting will work. Perhaps we can put that to bed. If we wanted to make the national policy statements subject to parliamentary approval, which at present they are not, legislation would be required. We have to face that. As always, the existing legislation stands and that is what we are dealing with today. What the future holds is very unpredictable at present. Like every other Member, I have to accept that, even though we have at least moderate confidence about our presence in this palace after the election.
I want to raise two other issues. My noble friend Lord Cope in a way raised the issue of waste heat from power stations. The problem applies to nuclear power stations just as it does to every other form of generation. We will not have an energy-efficient generating industry until we find a solution to this difficulty. It is a fact, whether we like it or not, that discharging warm water, even if you pour it from a deep pipe three miles out to sea, is a pollutant that changes the environment not only where it is released but downstream. We are extremely fortunate in this country that we have very good sea circulation around our islands that disperses this problem to a considerable degree. However, it would be better to find a use for that heat and keep it ashore. There are real difficulties with that.
Siting power stations on the coastline is very good for a host of reasons, but it makes the problem of waste heat more difficult to resolve, because you cannot easily use it for community heating, which was one of the roles that used to be fulfilled by the old Battersea power station. We forget that. It is a huge free energy source available for this country if someone could find a use for it. There is of course another problem. Any use that we find for it must be able to survive—if I may put it that way—during downtime in the power station when it closes down for maintenance, whether planned or emergency. The difficulty with the possible horticulture solution is the need for a backup heating system to enable the power station to shut down. There is therefore an argument for having at least two active reactors in each power station, whereby one at a time could be shut down. Even that would be difficult if the user were paying a business to supply the waste heat from both reactors. We need to recognise that there are real problems with this. Until we solve them, we will have an inefficient energy industry. That gives me no satisfaction, so we must find an answer.
There is nothing else that I want to raise, except to say that these documents must be approved. The Independent Planning Commission is ready to receive planning applications or, as I understand it, will be ready from around the end of this month. The brutal reality is that no one who wants to put in a planning application knows how to design that application until we have approved these documents. That is why all our backs are against the wall. I plead that we approve the documents now or, rather, at the end of the process, although the Minister should accept that they are flawed and that a proper review should be undertaken. I do not think that the suggestion that we debate them on the Floor of the House will take the matter forward one step.
My Lords, I begin by welcoming back the prodigal daughter—the noble Baroness, Lady Young—to the nuclear fold. I have had long battles with her in the past. Noble Lords will remember something called Lappel Bank, about which she raised exactly the issue as to whether one very small part of a designated area could be transferred to productive economic use. I think that we need a sense of proportion in these things. I also do not quite understand the logic regarding Dungeness. If that power station is closed in due course and there is no replacement, who will then be there to shift the shingle around? So this site may be lost anyway.
I have three issues to raise in this debate. The first is process. Government documents project that by 2025, we will need 60 gigawatts of new generating capacity to cope with retirements and growth. This is a huge challenge when one remembers that the total generating capacity is about 120 gigawatts. According to the documents, only about 8 gigawatts of that additional capacity is under construction at present, so we have a large and urgent problem. The planning system must take some of the blame, though the lack of vision and courage shown, particularly in the energy White Paper of 2003, has also contributed.
I have always strongly supported the procedures in the recent Planning Act, of which this debate is a part. It is essential for projects such as those which we are considering to have a stage in which the Government express a view, after proper consultation, on whether a particular development is in the national interest and whether the sites envisaged for it are considered suitable. One cannot treat a nuclear reactor as though it was just the latest addition to Tesco’s estate of superstores. The Government’s proposals envisage that, if approved, the development will go on to be considered by the IPC.
I am unclear about what precisely the Opposition have envisaged, if they were elected, to deal with this problem. My concern is that if the intention is to throw the proposals back into a local planning debate, that would be a recipe for giving local people a veto on issues that have national implications. In practice, what will happen is that if a local inquiry opposed a development, the matter would be referred on appeal to the Secretary of State. The latter cannot simply overrule but has, in effect, to rerun the whole process to justify his decisions. So the years tick by, uncertainty grows, and costs mount.
One of the benefits of our being interrupted by a Division is that the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, has been able to draw my attention to something that I had not noticed before in the guidance note on their new policies. The aim is to retain the fast-track content of the Planning Bill procedures and to refer matters to a major infrastructure unit. The documents then states:
“The Secretary of State will then be required to make a final decision on the application within a specified time limit on the basis of the material presented”.
What assurance do we have that that discipline will be sustained? If it is not, we will not be much better off than we are now.
I had exactly the same question. The answer I have been given is that the law will be changed and the Secretary of State will have three months after getting the recommendation from the major projects unit of the inspectorate. That will be statutory.
I thank the noble Lord for that clarification. We will obviously need to look, if it ever comes about, at the small print.
The second issue is how decisions are taken on the mix of technologies to fill this 60-gigawatt gap. I have serious concerns here. On page 271, the national policy statement on nuclear power, which we are debating, states:
“The modelling also suggests of the 60GW, about 35GW would8 need to be renewables”.
The Minister used the phrase “we estimate that”. This is nothing whatever to do with modelling but arises from the decision taken by the former Prime Minister, in the face of strong advice from officials to the contrary, to sign up to the EU’s targets for renewables. That is what is driving this. However, the rational, efficient way to decide on the share of different technologies is to line up all the options, whether classified as renewables or not, and then to create a merit order, taking those that score best first. The ranking could be a score card of cost per tonne of CO2 avoided, its contribution to strategic security of supply, and issues such as constancy versus intermittency. Is that what we are likely to get from the prior carve-out of 35 gigawatts from renewables? Far from it. My rough calculations indicate a serious problem.
In January, the Department of Energy and Climate Change and the Crown Estate announced proposals for licensing what was described as 32 or 33 gigawatts of stored capacity of offshore wind. A cost figure of £75 billion was issued for this, but with wind the output is likely to be about 30 per cent of potential. In short, we would be paying £75 billion to secure 10 gigawatts of output, and intermittent output at that—that is, £7.5 billion per gigawatts. To achieve the same 10 gigawatts through nuclear power, you have to build something with about 11 gigawatts of capacity. My research indicates that a modern reactor of 1.6 gigawatts might cost £5 billion, which means that we would need about six or seven reactors, which might cost about £35 billion, compared with £75 billion—that is, about half the cost of offshore wind. That is on average. The divergence is even greater if one compares the cost of peak output, since wind cannot be relied on to produce when demand is highest, whereas with nuclear power, barring accidents and emergencies, by and large the maintenance is scheduled in the summer months, meaning that it can produce more than the average in the winter months.
I am also trying to establish whether there is an inverse correlation. Are wind speeds lower in colder weather? The data for the past three months, when analysed, may tell a very interesting story. A logical approach—not one pandering to green politics—would start with the most cost-effective technologies, of which nuclear power would be one, and then expand to the point where other technologies overtake them. Experience from France indicates that the optimum share of the 60 gigawatts would not be 25 out of 60 but probably 60 or 70 per cent of it.
But it gets worse. My evidence for this is a remarkable article by George Monbiot in the Guardian on 2 March. Saint George is the patron saint of the green movement, and I suspect that the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, probably has a Saint George icon on his wall at home. If not, then I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, will. George Monbiot writes about the recently announced feed-in tariffs to encourage dispersed generation by micro wind and solar PV, technologies that he describes as “comically inefficient”. Micro wind would earn 34 pence per kilowatt hour and solar panels 41 pence. That electricity is then sold to you and me at about 11 pence. He estimates—I do not know quite where he gets the figures from—that the scheme could cost £8.6 billion and by 2030 might save 20 million tonnes of CO2, at a cost of £430 per tonne of CO2 saved. He then quotes a McKinsey table of cost comparisons in which, for £3 invested in geothermal energy, you would save 1 tonne of CO2, while for £8 nuclear energy you would save 1 tonne and for insulating commercial buildings you do not pay £8 but save £60. The argument concludes:
“So who is opposing this lunacy? Good question. The Conservatives, Liberal Democrats, Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace have lined up to denounce the government for not being generous enough”.
The real scandal here brings me to my third point, which is a constitutional one. It is clear that the promotion of renewables, particularly those of microgeneration, will cost many billions of pounds, most of which will be paid by adding a surcharge to household and company bills. Much of the burden will fall on families of modest means, and the benefit will go to the better off. There is not much scope for installing wind turbines and solar panels on the tower blocks in which many of our poorest families live. A big house with a big roof and big grounds—dare I say it, even an estate—would of course be ideal. Worse still, not a penny of this money will feature in any Chancellor’s budget, and none of it will be recorded in the Government’s financial accounts. None of the subsidies will be voted on by Parliament in estimates and none of the receipts will be voted on in a Finance Bill. It will all be done by netting off electricity bills. That offends every canon in the role of Parliament in approving tax and spending.
My conclusion is that we must urgently press on with the renaissance of the nuclear sector. Therefore, I support this national policy statement, but, as I have indicated, I would go even further. A major report is needed on the way in which renewables, no matter how inefficient or costly, are given first dibs. We should give notice to the EU that we wish to renegotiate the renewables framework and replace it with a low-carbon framework. Finally, we need a new mechanism of transparency and accountability for the many billions of pounds that we have spent on encouraging renewables.
Would the noble Lord accept an invitation to take part in the Energy Bill, if we get the chance to take that debate any further in this Parliament?
My Lords, it is all a matter of scheduling. If the noble Lord tells me when it is, of course I shall consider it.
My Lords, Second Reading is scheduled for 23 March. The noble Lord would be very welcome to take part in it.
My Lords, nuclear energy is coming back into its own. Nothing illustrates that more decisively than President Obama, through the use of his presidential power to offer loan guarantees, giving the green light, two weeks ago, to the construction in the United States of the first nuclear power station there for 30 years. However, the western world is waking up late. There are apparently 56 reactors now under construction around the world, the majority in Asia. It is a tragedy that, when the West discovered what the Government here describes on page 12 of the NPS as,
“the urgent need to decarbonise the economy”,
it did not take the opportunity to go for nuclear power. Instead it defined renewable energy to exclude nuclear energy and went down the fairytale route of wind power, a blind alley down which it continues today to pour scarce resources.
The advantages of nuclear power are well set out on pages 10 and 11 of the NPS, starting with the comprehensive and vibrant sentence:
“Nuclear power is low-carbon, economic, dependable, safe, and capable of increasing diversity of energy supply and reducing our dependence on any one technology or country for our energy or fuel supplies”.
Nuclear power is the real thing. It confronts and answers the need for a constant, abundant and cheap source of electricity, unlike wind power which is irregular, scarce in the sense that it consumes huge resources to provide very little, and produces electricity at up to three times the cost of nuclear power. Wind power also occupies much more land space, provides far less permanent employment—let alone qualified permanent employment, to which the noble Lord, Lord O’Neill of Clackmannan, referred—and its turbines have a half or a third of the life of nuclear power stations.
Nuclear power requires little addition to the grid as new stations are to be sited, for the most part, close to the present ones, and there will be no need to extend the grid substantially, whereas wind farms are to be sited far away from where the electricity they generate is required, to the great detriment of the landscape and of household bills, because enormous extra grid lines have to be built. The crucial difference—one not mentioned in the NPS and one which derives from all these comparative disadvantages—is that wind power requires subsidies of over £1 billion per annum today, paid for by the consumer, as the noble Lord, Lord Turnbull, emphasised, and nuclear power requires none. If I understand it correctly, the substantial costs of decommissioning nuclear power stations are provided for by the generating companies with a 4 per cent charge added to electricity bills. I would be grateful if the Minister would confirm that taxpayers have not paid in the past, are not paying today and are not being asked to pay in the future for the decommissioning costs of nuclear power stations.
The tragedy is that over the past 10 years we have lost our leading role in nuclear energy. Our new stations will have to be built by foreign consortia; we will have to wait in the international queue for their attention; and, in any case, we cannot expect production from new stations for up to 10 years. Meanwhile, as stated in the NPS at paragraph 2.2.1, up to 22 gigawatts of existing coal and nuclear power stations are due to be phased out. A ban has also been placed by the Government on any new coal power stations without carbon capture and storage—a completely unproven technology on the scale required.
As the contribution from wind power has to be ignored when calculating the generating capacity required to meet peak demand due to its unreliability, the result is a rapid increase in our dependence on gas. It is gas-fired power stations that are above all being built today. At the same time, our own gas fields are depleting rapidly so that by 2020, it has been calculated, we will be 70 per cent dependent on imported gas, yet our own gas storage has not kept pace with this development. We can store only some 4 per cent of our annual requirements compared with France’s 24 per cent and 19 per cent in the case of Germany. Therefore, a very worrying 10 years, at least, stretch ahead.
In fact, there are two worries. The first is black-outs. This concern seems to be shared by Ofgem. Last month, Alistair Buchanan, the chief executive, was quoted as saying:
“It is the scale of collapse in energy supply from 2013 up until 2017 that is profound and worrying”.
It was he also, I think, who said:
“In 2017 we get to the really sweaty-palm moment in terms of … shortages”.
The second worry is the soaring price of electricity. Every new green measure seems to bring with it an additional charge to electricity consumers. I have seen one estimate that the funding of the £200 billion investment needed to reach the Government’s targets would produce an increase in electricity bills of 100 per cent—in other words, a repeat of what we have seen since 2003.
The first very obvious result of this increase in electricity bills is a relentless rise in the number of those in fuel poverty—to over 4 million today, despite the Government’s target to have it abolished by this year. However, apart from the effect on households, the less easily discernible but equally if not more dangerous effect is that on industry’s costs. That was the subject of a Question at Question Time today. The result is simply bound to be an exodus of some firms and plants to places where they can continue to operate competitively, and the bankruptcy of others. As this will mean job losses, is this wise at a time of recession?
There is the usual section in the NPS devoted to climate change, where confident but, in my view, entirely unjustified assertions about the changing climate are made. I had something to say about this in our previous debate which I shall not repeat. However, I notice that on page 27, at paragraph 4.1.7, the IPC is warned to take account of the risk of tsunamis. Can the Minister perhaps say how the IPC is expected to do this? Will it be required to fly in experts from the United Nations or perhaps from Japan? And if it is told by experts, as it is bound to be, that there is some risk of tsunamis, what is it expected to do about it? Does it require the power station to be moved uphill? On page 19, the NPS warns us to expect,
“increased ... intense rainfall events”.
What is the IPC expected to do about them ?
No doubt these warnings derive from the Met Office, which is one of the four official sources for the weather data relied on by the IPCC. The Met Office does not appear to have had an entirely happy time recently. On 5 January, I expressed surprise in the House that it had not abandoned seasonal forecasts since they had been proving so unsuccessful. The Met Office has now obliged. Last week, the Times announced that,
“the Met Office is to abandon the seasonal forecasts that have brought it so much recent humiliation”.
One might have thought that if the Met Office were going to abandon forecasts for a few months ahead, it would at the same time abandon forecasting the climate 100 years ahead. No such luck, I am afraid. On the same day, the head of climate monitoring at the Met Office chose to confirm with all the authority of his office that our climate was changing rapidly—in all regions of the planet, he said—and he and his group stated that there was a 95 per cent chance that human activity was to blame. I should like to ask the Minister: when saying that it is retiring from making seasonal forecasts, is the Met Office withdrawing the forecasts that it has already made? In November, it went public with the prediction that 2010 would be one of the hottest years on record. Has that now been withdrawn or does it belong in the category of longer range climate forecasts in which the Met Office still claims expertise? In fact, it is to a large extent made up of global warming missionaries, as can be appreciated by a glance at the latest issue of its magazine Barometer, whose zeal to demonstrate the result to which they are committed colours their forecasts, I suspect.
I find the Government’s expectation that energy consumption in this country will not rise over the next 15 years, as the Minister repeated this afternoon, extremely difficult to share, given the expected large increase in population and past trends, unless of course a severe increase in electricity prices brings about another recession and a collapse in demand. That is hardly something to be wished for. But if that does not happen and consumption starts to rise again, as it always has done in the past, then the supply projected by the Government will not be sufficient. That is before one begins to consider the needs of electric cars, the sales of which the Government are also keen to promote with subsidies, without any evident concern for what this might do to electricity demand.
Governments once used to talk about the need for joined-up government. There is very little of that on show today in the field of energy, albeit that this particular NPS reveals the Government to have taken a most important, if tragically belated, step towards securing our future energy needs.
My Lords, first, I apologise for not being here for all the debate—I had to present a report to the EU Committee at four o’clock.
Perhaps I may start with a personal observation. The noble Lord, Lord Reay, spent quite some time rubbishing the Met Office. It is now based in Exeter and is an important part of the economy. It is a major centre of British and global expertise in a number of areas. It is highly respected. It certainly went too far in its seasonal weather forecasts, which were wrong, but it does not deserve its description in the noble Lord’s speech. I would strongly defend that body.
During the previous NPS debate, I had to say, as a Liberal Democrat, that as we did not really believe in the IPC, to a degree I had a rather different view. As regards this debate, as Liberal Democrats do not believe in nuclear power, I suppose that I am doubly irrelevant. I can see the noble Lord, Lord Woolmer, pointing to the empty chair that had been occupied by my noble friend Lord Maclennan. I agree that some Members on the Liberal Democrat Benches are in favour of nuclear power and it would be wrong to suggest otherwise.
We see a future that is built around renewables and carbon capture and storage, with a particular emphasis on energy efficiency. After researching and considering the subject of this debate, we do not have any real problem with it. First, there is the example of recent nuclear developments in Finland. The issue is similar to that of nuclear fusion, about which it is always said that it will be the technology of 50 years’ time—it is always 50 years’ time. It always seems to be the case that the nuclear power station in Finland will be completed in four years’ time. At the moment it is 75 per cent ahead of its budget.
When the nuclear industry has been relatively successful in this country, there has been no real competition in the market. We had the Central Electricity Generating Board. Costs could be put out in an average fashion and consumers accepted them, because that was how it worked. We no longer have that lack of a market, and I welcome it; we have competition in the energy fields. However, there is a situation that I regret. The carbon price is some €12, whereas, if nuclear power is to make its way in any sense commercially, it probably needs to be around €50. Then there is international competition. Not only do we have difficulty around skills but it will be difficult to attract capital in capital formation or equity. Then there is the amount of debt that is needed and the raw materials required, too. The United States example has been mentioned, but the only way in which that programme is moving forward is by loan guarantee. Originally, the project there was expected to have some 50 per cent loans against 50 per cent equity; it will now be pretty well 100 per cent or at least 80 per cent loans. So there is a public guarantee and subsidy for the large majority of those construction costs. In a way, therefore, as a Liberal Democrat perhaps I need not be concerned—except to say that we put the emphasis and energies in the wrong places. However, as the Minister said, we are not here to debate that at the moment; we are here to look at this statement.
I found a number of interesting things. One was in the language on page 6, in the whole framework of what we are doing here. The last bullet point on the page says:
“The IPC should start its examination of development consent applications for new nuclear power stations on the basis that need has been demonstrated and should give this need, and the benefits of meeting it, substantial weight in determining the applications”.
I take that as a positive point, in that it should do that but it does not have to. That may rather broaden the scope of the IPC beyond what I expected.
I also took on board the point about tsunamis, although that may be something that we need not worry about too much. We also need not worry about nuclear power stations generating under 15 megawatts. On the Tamar, we have the old decommissioned nuclear reactors of submarines; perhaps we could use those for that. But that is clearly not very relevant to this.
There is one thing that has come to me through this that I genuinely cannot understand. What is the point of the IPC in this area and this document? What does it actually do? It is clear that the IPC is not just spatial, when other such bodies are not; it is site-specific. We do not have an IPC that looks at potential sites and decides which can be nuclear facilities; that is already done. Indeed, the document excludes the IPC from specifically looking at applications for sites beyond these 10. As the Minister said, the Government have already considered a further three and have decided that those should not be considered at present. It is not the role of the IPC to look at where nuclear sites should be, and it is not the role of this document to do that either. That is very much the role of the Government and the Secretary of State.
I asked the same question of the Minister on the previous occasion. When and under what circumstances is the IPC able to say no? I see no circumstances under which there can be any answer but yes. The applicant comes through the door of the commission and says, “I have a nuclear application”. The question is “Where?”. The applicant mentions one of the 10 sites, and that is it. I do not understand what else can be said except that there are a couple of other things that the commission can look at. On page 18 is the heading, “Consideration of good design”, so the IPC can say whether the nuclear power station should be art deco, neo-Georgian or perhaps classical. That is great. However, I do not see why the local authority could not do that. It would not get in the way of the strategic planning for the country. It could also look at a number of “siting criteria”—the phrase used on page 26—and move the deckchairs a little in terms of where the facilities are and how they are laid out. I see no reason why, even given the reason why we have these planning commissions, a local authority should not be able to do that. So why this document and this commission around nuclear? As far as I can see, everything has already been decided. It is in the power of the Secretary of State.
The other issue of particular concern is nuclear waste. The document is very honest and illuminating about it. It states:
“The Government has therefore not set a fixed delivery timetable”,
for nuclear waste. We know why. It is because they cannot get agreement on it and cannot deliver a strategy or a location for nuclear waste. The document goes on,
“but in planning the implementation of the national policy of geological disposal, the NDA has assessed that a UK facility could be operational for the disposal of legacy ILW by about 2040”.
I suppose that is a start—it is 30 years ahead—but it goes on,
“with legacy HLW/spent fuel emplacement beginning around 2075”.
That is 65 years ahead of where we are at present, but the document then goes on:
“Disposal of legacy waste is estimated to be completed by around 2130”.
We are looking 120 years ahead in this document. Many of us who went through the Climate Change Bill were rather concerned—although we thought it right to do so—about looking at targets for 2050, when I will be 98, but here we go to 2130. Finally, the document states:
“It is possible to envisage a scenario in which onsite interim storage might be required for around 160 years”.
I find that very concerning.
We have here something that pretends to be a national planning statement about nuclear power but is actually about power generation. That is absolutely accurate: it is the Draft National Policy Statement for Nuclear Power Generation. What it shows, admits and opens out completely is an utter inability to complete the supply chain in terms of where the waste from generation will be dealt with. That is a great concern.
I do not understand where this gets us. I welcome the spatial element of the report, which the other reports do not have—I find that strange—but it goes from nothing to micro: the appendices to the report show where the boundaries will be.
Finally, the document is site-specific. We have only 10 sites in total. Another three were rejected, and it is unlikely that others will come up in a short time. Given the limited ownership of these sites and the limited ability to finance nuclear power, what will happen if these companies are unable to develop the sites themselves but wish to sit on them for appreciation? Will we be held to ransom because we have only 10 sites that are controlled by even fewer corporate organisations?
My Lords, I am advised by the Registrar of Lords’ Interests that it would be safer to declare my association with Imperial College than not to. I therefore declare that I am a governor of Imperial College. I apologise for not having done so on 23 February.
This has been a very interesting debate, as was the previous debate. Much has been said in the consideration of the draft policy statement. Rather than repeat the issues which have been explored around the Room, I shall keep my remarks brief. I thank my noble friends Lord Jenkin, Lord Cope, Lord Dixon-Smith and even Lord Reay. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Broers, in particular, for sharing his concerns on the legacy issues and the continuing need for a strong research base—well, I would say that; I have already declared my interest. I even enjoyed the spirited defence by the noble Lord, Lord O’Neill, of his party’s dithering. I hope that he will not beat me up for the few words that I shall now say.
I agree with my noble friend Lord Dixon-Smith about the time that it has taken the Government to get to this stage. At every stage of the process, we have had to push to take the necessary decisions and implement the necessary legislative framework. The draft statement is an important step along the way, but it is late in the day and is certainly not sufficient, given the position in which we will find ourselves when the current generation of nuclear power stations come to the end of their lives.
The Government’s indecision on nuclear power will have huge consequences. Last year, figures were released showing that the Government were predicting power cuts from 2017, starting with a shortfall of 3,000 megawatt hours a year and rising to 7,000 megawatt hours by 2025. We seem to be back in the 1970s. We have an enormous government deficit, public sector strikes and, now, government-sanctioned power cuts. I hope that the Minister will tell us whether this assessment still stands. Are the Government still expecting power cuts between 2017 and 2025?
The draft statement makes a nod towards the need for early deployment of new power stations. How many of the 10 sites might end up being developed under this fast-track process? Will any of the next-generation power stations be completed before the lights start to go out? I join my noble friend Lord Jenkin in asking whether the Government are confident that 10 sites will be developed by 2025. What contingency plans have they put in place if there are further delays or obstacles in the application or building process?
One source of delay that can be identified in advance is the possibility of court action taken by those who oppose nuclear build in its entirety against a planning decision to green-light an application. The Government’s refusal to take responsibility for any major planning decision will only play into the hands of those seeking to delay any building until it is considered too expensive to continue. The chair of the Law Society's Planning and Environmental Law Committee, Mr David Brock QC, said in an evidence session in another place:
“I would have thought it almost inevitable that somebody would have a go using judicial review … It seems to me that if we are trying to get the policy in place in a short timeframe that is something that must be addressed and considered”.
I urge the Government to accept the Conservative policy of ensuring parliamentary approval for national policy statements to remove the risk of vastly increased costs and timelines from such court cases.
Challenges against the necessary planning decisions, whether through the courts or the IPC’s decision-making process, can be reduced by making a clear statement early on about just what is expected from those making an application. The costs and safety issues of decommissioning and waste management are of course critical, as is the impact on the local and wider environment. Will the Minister guarantee that applications will be assessed rigorously to ensure that all costs will be met by the commercial partner and not the taxpayer?
Opposition to development can also be countered by genuine engagement with local concerns and sensitivities. Indeed, given the high level of local popularity that existing power stations tend to enjoy, any sudden surge in opposition should be looked at very closely to see what has gone wrong with the consultation process.
As energy and environmental concerns have grown over the past 15 years, we have consistently said that nuclear could have a place in the mix of energy supplies, as long as it is economically viable and does not require subsidy. The Government have taken a long time to get to the same position. It appears that they are still struggling to make the necessary commitments to future steps. With such short-sighted thinking, it is no surprise that the future of our energy sector is looking still so shaky. I hope very much that the continuing opposition to any sort of nuclear generation from the official view of the Benches to my left will not cause Labour’s commitment to nuclear power to wobble any more. Any further delay, I believe, would be disastrous to the energy security of our country.
My Lords, this has been our second debate in Grand Committee on the national policy statements. Like the first, it has been extremely interesting and we have covered a lot of ground. It is a great pleasure for me to respond to the many points that have been made. My noble friend Lord O’Neill has taken me to task both here and in meetings that I have attended in the NIA, to which I pay tribute, on the speed with which we produce the national policy statements.
My noble friend is right. I would have liked to have produced them earlier and for us to have got through the process of parliamentary scrutiny, consultation and designation before the election, which would have provided greater certainty. But we have not done that. As my noble friend also suggested, that is because this work has required very careful analysis and production. It has been more important to get the thing as right as we can, rather than be overhasty and then run into severe problems.
The noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, mentioned judicial review issues. I am sure it is entirely possible that some aspect of the new planning system might be taken for judicial review, which confirms the point that we really have to get this right. The scrutiny that the national policy statements undergo is an important part of ensuring that we consider all the issues and get this as right as we can.
It is inevitable that we come back to the principles of this new planning system and it is entirely right that we should continue to debate it. But the fact is that Parliament has now decided very clearly that the role of Ministers should be to set policy. That policy should be subject to parliamentary scrutiny. It would be then for the IPC, as an independent body, to make independent consent decisions. If one were to depart from that, the waters would be muddied in quite a difficult way. That is why we have never thought that it would be appropriate for Parliament to approve the national policy statements, because in the end that should be a ministerial decision. Nor do we think that it should be for Ministers to make the individual planning consent. Over the years, we have seen—this is not a political point, but just the subject of experience—that Ministers have sometimes found it very difficult to make those kinds of decisions. That is why I believe we have got this structure right.
I really must respond to the criticism made by the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, and the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, regarding the Government’s progress in coming forward with policy in relation to nuclear energy. I have always been a strong supporter of nuclear energy and, like my noble friend Lord O’Neill, I wish that we could have made more progress. However, very careful attention has been needed to build the consensus required to enable us to have confidence in new nuclear. My noble friend thought that the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, was suffering from some form of amnesia. In view of the lively contributions that the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, has made to our debates over the years, I do not think that, but I have endless quotations here from statements made by the Official Opposition over the years expressing doubts about nuclear power and describing it as a last option. I do not think that it will do now to portray the party opposite as having a consistent policy of supporting nuclear over the years. That simply is not the case.
I am most grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. Does the quotation which he has about nuclear being a last option include the honourable gentleman in another place withdrawing that remark?
Among the wodge of quotations that I have, I am sure that that is the case. However, the important point that I want to make to the noble Lord is that the party opposite has not had a consistent approach in supporting new nuclear power.
The position now is that we have the national policy statement, and it is clear that the Government believe that nuclear power has a very important role to play in tackling the challenges that we face. It is low-carbon, secure and reliable, and we believe it to be cost-effective.
Two issues have been put forward by noble Lords. First, it is said that we face severe energy issues over the next 10 years and, secondly, there is a criticism that we are putting too much emphasis on renewable energy. I shall respond, first, to the noble Lord, Lord Reay, and the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, about the so-called question of the lights going out. Of course, I read the reports produced by Ofgem with interest. Ofgem is an economic regulator; it is not charged with energy policy. Sometimes I think that Ofgem needs to reflect on what it is there to do, rather than produce rather speculative reports from time to time. It is the Government’s responsibility to establish policy in relation to energy and it is our job to ensure that there is security of supply. We will do that. Plenty of energy generation is due to go out of commission over the next 10 or 15 years but, even taking on board the impact of the emission standards legislation from Europe and the natural decommissioning of many of our nuclear power stations, the fact is that over 20 gigawatts of energy supply have just been constructed, are in construction or have received all planning consents, and more gigawatts are coming along in the pipeline.
The noble Lord, Lord Reay, raised the question of UKCS. I know that we disagree about the amount of gas that will be required in 2020, and it is really a question of the calculation made about reduced demand, but our best estimate is that in 2020 UKCS could still provide about 50 per cent of our gas requirement. We have seen a big increase in our import capacity. There are many storage projects in the pipeline. When people talk about blackouts in 2017, they sometimes refer to an appendix in a document produced by my department. That appendix refers to outages which happen at the moment—short-term, temporary outages. That is very different from suggesting that suddenly our whole energy supply will collapse at some time in the next decade. That is simply not going to happen.
As regards the mix, the noble Lord, Lord Turnbull, made an interesting, almost Treasury-style, analysis on the question of where we should be putting our money in terms of energy supply. I understand what he is saying. I would say to him, first, that we should not put all our eggs in one basket. Diversity of supply is important for energy security. Secondly, renewables should play an important role in the future. We have an incredible resource, particularly in onshore and offshore wind, and in tidal energy. I take the point about cost, but, first, I would refer the noble Lord to his noble friend Lord Stern’s overriding analysis that it is better that we get on with moving towards a low-carbon economy now, rather than wait for years and then have to pay much more. Secondly, we expect the cost of renewables to reduce over the years, which is why the renewables obligation certificate system is predicated in the way that it is.
I hardly ever agree with George Monbiot and I do not agree with him about FITs. It is Parliament which was insistent that we develop feed-in tariffs. I well recall the debates that I came into at a very late stage in relation to feed-in tariffs and the renewable heat incentive. There was a very strong consensus in both Houses that we should go down this route. It was pointed out by one noble Lord in the debate that we were criticised because we are projecting that only 2 per cent of our electricity needs will come from feed-in tariffs in 2020. However, they have an important role to play.
Before my noble friend leaves that point, will he explain how feed-in tariffs will help the poorest people in our community? My understanding is that feed-in tariffs will be subsidised by everyone who consumes electricity. Therefore, the most vulnerable will be making, as usual, a disproportionate contribution to that form of subsidy. Would it not be better to lay greater emphasis on social tariffs in a way which we are not doing nearly enough at the moment?
That is the sort of question that one always welcomes from one’s noble friend. Perhaps I may say to him how much I appreciate it.
It was said with the best of intentions.
He raises a very important point. If it were the case that the sole beneficiaries of feed-in tariffs and the renewable heat incentive were well-off people, that would not be right and I would not support it. We do bear that point in mind. I have to say that we are very supportive of schemes that are being developed whereby, for instance, social landlords in a position to get the benefit of the feed-in tariff are thus able to invest in microgeneration, and the tenants receive the benefit of lower bills as a result. I very much understand my noble friend’s point and I refer him to the Energy Bill, now in our House, in which we introduce mandatory social tariffs, which is a very good start. My noble friend is right on the substantive point that we need to be careful to ensure that our interventions do not cause problems for the most vulnerable people in our society.
It has taken me some time to get to the issue of the 10 sites. The whole basis of this matter is that, in principle, we believe that new nuclear power should be free to contribute as much as possible to meeting the needs for 25 gigawatts of new capacity. The noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, started this debate about whether 10 sites are enough. He raised a number of factors which he thought might make it very difficult to reach 25 gigawatts, particularly in the timescale of 2025. Of course, there are uncertainties. There is no certainty that development consent on all sites listed in the NPS will be granted. I return to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, that it is wrong for him to assume that the IPC will automatically give consent to each application simply because a site is listed as potentially suitable in the national policy statement. For that reason we felt it necessary to include all 10 sites to ensure that sufficient sites are available for development. It is not possible to predict whether there will be one or more reactors on each of the 10 sites.
I do not normally interrupt the Minister but I genuinely do not understand the basis on which the IPC can say no. There is an absolute presumption, in the way in which the report is written, that these sites are suitable for nuclear power. It is much stronger than the usual planning regime—I think they are called PPSs. On what basis, which would not immediately be appealed against in some way, can they say no?
The national policy statement clearly sets out the need, as the Government see it and as is their duty. The IPC is required to make decisions in line with national policy statements, unless it is in breach of a statutory duty or it is unlawful and so on. It also has to have regard to other documents, such as any local impact reports submitted by any relevant local authority, any regulatory matters which will affect the development, or any other matters which it is thought are important and relevant to that decision. Then it has to weigh up carefully the information provided in the application and in other material which is presented during its examinations to ensure that any identified adverse effects, including longer-term impacts and any cumulative impacts from the application, are taken into account and mitigated. If the IPC is satisfied that the adverse impacts identified outweigh the benefit of the proposed development consent, consent should be refused. It is quite clear that the integrity of the whole system must rest on the ability of the IPC to refuse consent if the adverse impacts outweigh the benefits. That is where the 10 sites come in. Quite clearly, it could refuse applications.
The other issue on the 10 sites is that we do not know whether one reactor or more might be applied for or given consent. As a general guide, a single reactor at each of the 10 sites will result in 12 to 17 gigawatts of nuclear capacity, depending on the reactor technology chosen. We did not consider it appropriate to include more than 10 sites in the NPS at this stage when the need is balanced against the potential harm to Natura 2000 sites. The number of sites would not necessarily be a barrier to the number of power stations because, as I have said, you could put two or more stations on most of the sites listed. I suspect that the real barrier is access to finance and the willingness of companies to make multi-billion pound investments.
I turn again to the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, who asked whether we would be held to ransom by companies which hold sites but will not develop them. We certainly do not intend to be held to ransom. I make it clear that these have to be commercially viable projects, because they will not be subsidised by the taxpayer. Clearly, as we debated last time and as was debated in the Select Committee in the other place, it is for the Government to ensure—we are working on energy market assessments at the moment—that the conditions are right in which companies would wish to take those developments forward. That is very much the role of the Government, but it does not put us in a position where we could be held to ransom, as the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, suggested.
Carbon price, which was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Reay, is an issue, given the low price of carbon. Of course, the tightening of the cap from 2013 onwards will have a positive impact. But we have always said that we will keep the price under review and that we would be prepared to look at options for dealing with this issue. As part of the work that we are undertaking in the energy market assessment, we are looking at that matter. We hope that the initial outcome of the EMA will be produced around the time of the Budget, whenever that may be.
What happens if the 10 sites prove not to be enough? Should the need arise, the Government could and would issue a second call for nominations for credible sites. That option is certainly open to us. If a site not listed is applied for by a developer, the IPC will exam the application and make a recommendation to the Secretary of State.
I am very grateful for that information because it is something which I had obviously totally failed to understand. The documents state that it would be a matter for the department. What the Minister has said is very helpful.
I am grateful to the noble Lord for that. The whole purpose of these debates is to understand where we need to put more clarity into the document.
Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.
My Lords, I am very glad to continue responding to the points raised. I shall come on deal with specific sites—particularly Cumbria, Dungeness and Oldbury—but I want, first, to respond to my noble friend Lord O’Neill about the situation in Scotland and to the noble Lord, Lord Maclennan, who is not alone in the Liberal Democrat Party in supporting nuclear power. In the happy event that the SNP loses control, decision-making for nuclear power stations in Scotland will remain devolved. The IPC’s remit is limited to England and Wales. However, I agree with my noble friend: when one looks at the history of fantastic skills, it just seems a tragedy that we are in this position in Scotland at the moment, and we must surely hope that good sense will prevail in the not-too-distant future.
I turn to the comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, in relation to Cumbria. Essentially, he raised a number of concerns about the greenfield site and about the cumulative impact of three sites in Cumbria. The noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, reported that he thought that the county council was being recommended not to support that. I make it clear that the question here is: how is the cumulative impact of three sites in one county taken into account? I should point out that the draft NPS has identified potential cumulative impacts—for example, on biodiversity and visual and landscape impacts—as well as, on the plus side, opportunities for employment and supporting industries. The assessment found that there was scope for mitigation of some of these adverse impacts but that in some cases full mitigation was unlikely. However, at this early stage in the planning process, it is very difficult to pre-empt which of the sites might come through, when that might happen and, indeed, whether all of them will achieve planning consent. Therefore, in the NPS we have not ruled out sites on the basis of cumulative effects. We have highlighted the effects for the careful consideration of the IPC.
I am very grateful to my noble friend for giving way. He makes the point that you must weigh the economic and employment prospects against the scenic and landscape character arguments. Do the Government also take seriously the fact that, although we are talking about local employment, we are talking also about a national park, which is there for the enjoyment of the whole nation, where those from appalling urban city centres, and so on, can come and regenerate their lives?
Yes, my Lords. The overarching NPS states that,
“the IPC should consider how the accumulation of effects might affect the environment, economy or community as a whole, even though they may be acceptable when considered on an individual basis with mitigation measures in place”.
In addition, the nuclear NPS specifically asks the IPC to consider cumulative effects, including the impact on the Lake District National Park. The IPC is well able to come to a proper judgment on those matters.
On transmission and RWE, I can tell the noble Lords, Lord Jenkin and Lord Chorley, that we will explore with the national grid whether that decision affects the deployability of the sites by 2025 and whether they should remain on the list. Until we have explored with the grid, it is not clear that a lapsed agreement would impact. The real issue for us is to establish whether the agreement could be resurrected without a significant problem. I cannot say any more about it, except to reassure noble Lords that we are very alert to the position here.
The noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, says that it is premature to reject Dungeness as a site, and the noble Baroness, Lady Young, is supportive of the position. We excluded Dungeness because the Government did not believe that a new nuclear power station could be built there without causing adverse impacts on the integrity of the Dungeness special area of conservation or that any impacts could be avoided or mitigated. Additionally, the imperative reasons of overriding public interest did not extend to Dungeness due to the alternatives available.
I missed the last three words. You could not have IROPI apply—but why?
The imperative reasons of overriding public interest case did not extend to Dungeness due to the alternatives available; in other words, the 10 sites listed in the draft nuclear NPS. The judgment was made that development of the other 10 sites would better protect the integrity of the Natura 2000 network of European sites.
My Lords, let us suppose that it is not 10 sites but only six sites. Does not that change the argument?
No, my Lords, I do not think that it does, for reasons that I referred to in relation to why the 10 sites are there. Dungeness is the only nominated site that overlaps with a European site to such an extent that avoidance of adverse effects is not possible and mitigation of the effects of direct land take is also not considered possible. However, as I said to the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, two weeks ago, I do not have a closed mind. We will, of course, consider representations made during the consultation, but the Government reached their current view after the most careful assessment and having taken advice from our statutory advisers and environmental consultants. As the noble Baroness, Lady Young, pointed out, Dungeness, as a special area of conservation, is the most important shingle site in the UK and Europe and one of the largest shingle expanses in the world. I have consulted my officials, who have yet to discover the spiritual nature of the shingle, but we are ever hopeful that, in the true pathway of the department, we might get there.
I wonder whether the Minister’s noble friend might actually want to enjoy the spiritual adventure when the lights go out.
I am confident, for the reasons that I have said—
I am very pleased that the spirituality of Dungeness is being focused on so much. As the Minister has assured us that the lights will not go out, I think I can get there and experience the spirituality now.
I also take the point about whether putting sea defences in at Dungeness could help to deal with the moving shingle. The advice that I have received is that it could possibly stabilise the shingle, but the unique feature of the shingle is that it is constantly moving, which is why there are unique ecosystems growing on it. If you stabilise it, you will not get the same ecosystems. I suspect that we will debate this again in future. It has to be carefully looked at.
The noble Baroness, Lady Young, and my noble friend Lord Judd asked whether, notwithstanding the assessment that has taken place on individual sites within the NPS, the IPC will undertake site-by-site consideration of these matters. The habitats assessment has been made at the NPS level but, as with the overriding judgment, it will need to be done by a developer when an application is brought forward. We will make that explicit when we revise the national policy statement.
The noble Lord, Lord Cope, who is a strong supporter of the nuclear policy in general, expressed concerns about the cooling towers in the development at Oldbury. The existing Magnox station is direct-cooled. It passes water from the Severn directly through its condensers and back into the river. The new station may have more than eight times the electrical capacity of the current station. If it were direct-cooled, it would need to extract from and discharge into the river in the order of eight times the quantity of water. The fear is that the warm water discharge would impose an unacceptable heat load on the river and the estuary. That is why an indirect cooling system would be required. The sustainability appraisal recognises that, given the height of the reactor buildings and the assumed highest cooling towers, methods of mitigation are limited and that all visual effects will be mitigated fully. If an application came forward, the IPC would have to consider the issue using the guidance on visual impact in the overarching NPS. The IPC would have to judge whether the visual effects on sensitive receptors, such as local residents and visitors to the area, outweigh the benefits of the project. It is also worth bearing in mind that before the IPC will formally accept an application, the developer will have to have gone through extensive local consultation.
I understand that one of the developers, Horizon Nuclear Power, has stated publicly that it is looking at all cooling tower options, which may include cooling towers shorter than 70 metres, such as hybrid cell towers, and it will consult on the feasible options as part of its pre-application consultation. I take the point that the noble Lord raised, and I hope that he will accept that, as with the other site, this is not a done deal and that there are specific reasons why cooling towers have been proposed. This will all have to be considered if the NPS is adopted with the sites currently in it. Those matters will have to be gone into very carefully by the developer with the local community before the formal application can be accepted by the IPC.
Very interesting points about nuclear waste were raised by the noble Lords, Lord Broers, Lord Teverson and Lord Dixon-Smith, and by the noble Baroness, Lady Young. I want to reassure noble Lords that the issue of waste is important and is taken very seriously. That is why our policy is that before consents for new nuclear power stations are granted, we need to be satisfied that effective arrangements exist, or will exist, to manage and dispose of the waste that they will produce. We have grasped the nettle of dealing with the UK’s nuclear legacy waste. We are committed to doing that in a cost-effective and competent way. We have set up the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority. It is responsible for decommissioning and clear-up. It is also the first UK organisation to have a complete overview of all types of civil nuclear radioactive waste, which leads to the setting of effective waste-management strategies.
Sellafield is a large complex and nuclear/chemical facility. It has supported the UK nuclear power programme since the 1940s. I agree that the decommissioning of Sellafield is a huge challenge. I chair the Sellafield Remediation Forum, which is a regular meeting of all those concerned to make sure that progress is being made and the issue is now being tackled in a much more coherent way. The forum is making good headway and I can assure noble Lords that the Government are committed to a safe and secure environmental decommissioning of the site. Although one can never be complacent or underestimate the challenges at Sellafield, there are real signs of progress.
While the noble Lord is on the subject of decommissioning, can he say anything in answer to my question about who pays the costs of decommissioning? If he does not have the answer now, will he send it to me?
My Lords, the position is very clear. I was going to come on to that issue, but shall deal with it now. The fact is that taxpayers are having to put a lot of money into the decommissioning legacy. We have learnt the lessons of that, so that when it comes to new nuclear development we are absolutely clear that the cost of decommissioning must be met by the developers. We have established the financial framework, and we are still engaged in consultation and argument about the exact way that the contribution will be made, but we are clear that that cost must fall to the developer. We are setting up mechanisms that will avoid the issue of the taxpayers’ contribution to legacy waste.
We have made progress on the long-term management of highly radioactive waste. Some noble Lords were worried about the timescale. The exact timing of the process for siting a geological disposal facility is, in part, driven by discussions with local communities and a willingness to move forward at each stage of the process. This is a siting process based on volunteerism, partnership and experience in the UK and overseas, which suggests that such an approach is the most likely way to succeed in siting a facility.
I know that the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, is worried about the dates. The NDA’s planning assumptions are that the first waste emplacement will be in a geological disposal facility by 2040, with legacy high-level waste spent fuel emplacement beginning around 2075 and disposal of legacy waste estimated to be completed by about 2130. These dates are caveated to recognise that the early pace is guided by the volunteer communities involved in the process and are governed by the years of cooling required for the waste material. I have picked up from the DECC Select Committee and your Lordships’ committee, which is investigating the work of the Committee on Radioactive Waste Management, that there is a desire for firmer time guides in relation to this issue. We will of course consider that very carefully when we respond to the parliamentary process. However, I am convinced that the approach that we set out—interim and very secure storage on-site and then geological disposal—is the right way forward. There seems to be an emerging international consensus in this area, but we will of course pay very close attention to this as we go forward.
I should like to turn to a number of other issues. The noble Lord, Lord Teverson, raised Finland. Yes, lessons are to be learnt from that. We believe that the key lesson we have learnt is that it is much better to do a lot of the regulatory work at the design stage, rather than wait until a facility is half way to being built and then discover that there are problems. The generic design assessment, which is being taken forward by the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate, is a way of dealing with that. The process is going well. I believe that it is on time. I hope that it will ensure that we do not have the kind of problems to which the noble Lord referred.
I should also say that I hope very soon to lay the legislative reform order that will lead to the reform of the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate and set it up as a separate body with, none the less, close links to the Health and Safety Executive. Clearly, we have an effective regulatory body and we want to make sure that it is able to meet the big challenges that we will face in the future.
A number of noble Lords, including the noble Lords, Lord Broers and Lord Jenkin, raised the issue of skills. There is huge potential here. If we can energise institutions and tempt young people into the sector, we can give them the skills that they need for the fantastic careers ahead of them. We have launched the National Skills Academy for Nuclear and so far have invested £3 million in it. It is led by employers from across the nuclear sector. I hear very good things about it and the work that it is doing. We will shortly release a new report that looks at the specific skills and capability needs behind nuclear new build in the UK.
I very much agree with the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Broers, about research and university support. We are supporting nuclear skills development with the involvement of universities. In January 2009, we established Nuclear FIRST at the University of Manchester to provide a national training centre for doctoral scientists and engineers in nuclear fission science and technology. We have also established the Nuclear Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre, which will be owned and run by the University of Sheffield. The University of Manchester is part of the management consortium that is running the National Nuclear Laboratory, which will be a world class nuclear science and technology laboratory.
On nuclear research, EPSRC spending on nuclear research has increased substantially over the past few years. Its programme, Keeping the Nuclear Option Open, has been provided with £6 million over four years. I very much take the point made by the noble Lord, and I will certainly take the opportunity to discuss with the relevant bodies the need to make sure that we step up our game in relation to research.
On the supply chain, my noble friend Lord O’Neill and the noble Lords, Lord Jenkin and Lord Broers, made the point that we have to develop a UK supply chain. The global nuclear renaissance provides a multibillion pound opportunity for industries involved in the supply of goods and services. There is no reason whatever why this country cannot create a globally competitive UK nuclear supply chain. Last summer, I attended a conference organised by EDF. More than 300 British companies were invited to get really involved and to become part of a strong, vibrant UK supply chain. The Government are looking at ways to ensure that business in the UK is able to make the most of the opportunities available.
We should remember that we can argue about at what point this Government made the decision in relation to new nuclear, but globally we are well ahead of many countries. There is a great opportunity if we can move ahead as quickly as possible, but not just in terms of the investment that will take place in the UK. I am convinced that we can also become a centre of excellence that we can export to other countries. Of course, we should not forget that we are not starting from scratch. We are building on an industry that may have considered that it was moving towards a decommissioning mode; none the less, it is a very good foundation and it is vital that we do not lose that possibility.
I return to the question of timing raised by the noble Lord, Lord Broers. The noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, is always chiding me about progress and timetables. Can we learn from the Chinese? I suspect that we can learn some things, but I doubt whether planning consent is an issue that the Chinese Government have to worry about too much. We need a robust planning system. As my noble friend Lord O’Neill said, we need a system where people feel that they can put their point across. We do not need a Sizewell B public inquiry where hundreds of days are spent arguing about whether to have nuclear excluding proper discussion of the local impact of a nuclear power station. Essentially, that is what the new planning arrangements will give us.
I am confident that we are on time. If we look at the progress being made in the industry with the establishment of the IPC and the work that has been undertaken by the nuclear inspectorate and in relation to the national policy statements, I am confident that we are still on time. I am confident that the Government will do everything that we can to support the development of the new nuclear industry. We will have to consider very carefully the comments that we have received and the parliamentary scrutiny of the national policy statements but, having done that, we can then move towards designation or adoption of the national policy statements. I believe that we are very much in business and that we have been given a second chance concerning nuclear. The first time around, for many reasons, this country did not take advantage of the opportunity in the way that it might have done, as it was at an early stage of peaceful civil nuclear development. We have been given another opportunity and there is huge potential for this country in terms of energy security and also in terms of investment in jobs and exports. It is very important that we take advantage of that.
Committee adjourned at 7.12 pm.