Thursday, 13 January 2011
Arrangement of Business
Before the Minister moves that the national policy statement be considered, I remind noble Lords that the Motion before the Committee will be that the Committee do consider, rather than approve, the draft national policy statement.
Revised Draft National Policy Statement for Nuclear Power Generation, volumes I and II (EN-6)
Considered in Grand Committee
My Lords, I am pleased to open this debate on the revised draft national policy statement for nuclear power generation. National policy statements are key documents with which the Infrastructure Planning Commission, and later the Major Infrastructure Planning Unit, will determine applications for development consents. In conjunction with the overarching national policy statement, the revised draft nuclear national policy statement will offer guidance on how to assess potential impacts of new nuclear power stations. Associated major transmission lines would be assessed using the electricity networks national policy statement, which was part of our discussion on 11 January.
The revised draft nuclear national policy statement will finish consultation on 24 January. It has been through some changes since noble Lords last considered it in this Committee in March last year. I will highlight some that may be of interest.
In the revised draft nuclear national policy statement, eight sites that the Government consider potentially suitable for new nuclear power stations are identified. This has changed from the original draft, which listed 10 sites. After lengthy consideration of all consultation responses, the sites at Kirksanton and Braystones in Cumbria were deemed unsuitable. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, was concerned about the cumulative effect of these sites on Cumbria. They were in fact removed due to concerns over the visual impact on the Lake District National Park and deployability by the Government’s target date of 2025.
The noble Lord, Lord Cope of Berkeley, was concerned about the potential for extremely tall natural draft cooling towers at Oldbury in south Gloucestershire. We have altered the overarching national policy statement to ensure that applications for natural draft cooling towers can be brought forward only when the much shorter hybrid mechanical towers are not reasonably practicable. This greatly reduces the likelihood of 200-metre-high cooling towers coming forward.
A number of points were also made regarding Dungeness, not least by the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, and the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone. After very careful consideration of the evidence received in the consultation and points made during parliamentary scrutiny, Dungeness remains off the nuclear national policy statement due to concerns about the adverse effect that the site could have on the Dungeness special area of conservation, an ecological site that is protected by European legislation.
In Committee last March, the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, was concerned that, in setting out the Government’s conclusions on the potential suitability of sites, the national policy statement left the Infrastructure Planning Commission unable to refuse an application. We have clarified that this is not the case and, further, that the imperative reasons of overriding public interest that are a requirement of the European habitats directive, and set out within the national policy statement, are ones that the Government have considered in putting sites on the list, not reasons to force through an application for development consent.
The noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, asked us to clarify how sites that were not on the list would be treated, which we have done in the new draft. The national policy statement does not prohibit such an application coming forward; it would be considered by the Infrastructure Planning Commission or its successor and decided by the Secretary of State. However, those sites that are on the list have the clear advantages that scrutiny, consultation and engagement have so far brought.
Before the Minister leaves that point, can he confirm that, were there not to be any changes in the planning arrangements, the application would still not go to the Secretary of State but remain with the Infrastructure Planning Commission? A comma was probably missing from his statement. I just wanted clarification.
I do not normally read out the commas, but I shall go back and do that. Yes, the IPC will continue to manage applications until the changeover. As we said in the debate on the national policy statements earlier in the week, we are incredibly grateful for the co-operation that we have received in this changeover period.
We consider that all the remaining sites are needed to contribute towards the Government’s carbon reduction objectives. That is not to say that all sites listed will have a power station built on them. Eight sites are listed to ensure that sufficient sites are available, even if a number of sites are not developed or they fail to secure development consent.
A topic of interest was also the waste that is produced by nuclear power stations and how it will be managed and disposed of. The Government are satisfied that effective arrangements will exist to manage and dispose of the waste that will be produced from new nuclear power stations. This is reflected in the national policy statement. These arrangements include safe and secure interim storage of radioactive waste onsite, followed by long-term disposal in a geological disposal facility. The revised draft national policy statement reflects that we currently expect the geological disposal facility to be ready to take new-build waste in 2130.
A second public consultation on the energy national policy statements is under way and is due to end on 24 January. However, this is not the last opportunity for people to have their say should a site be taken forward. Developers must consult communities before submitting an application, and people will also have the chance to input at the application stage. However, this consultation has provided people with a chance to shape the guidance which the planning bodies will use to inform their decisions.
Like the other energy national policy statements, the nuclear national policy statement is critical in bringing forward infrastructure developments and ensuring that the right framework is used in the consideration of development consents. I strongly believe that the revised draft nuclear national policy statement is fit for purpose, but I welcome today’s debate and look forward to hearing the points raised by noble Lords. I commend the national policy statement to the Committee. I beg to move.
My Lords, I am very pleased to be able to take part in this debate and I congratulate the Minister on bringing forward these documents and those that we discussed on Tuesday. We debated this whole process long and hard when the legislation was going through. It is good that we are able to scrutinise and consider these documents without the possibility of amending them at this stage. I declare an interest as being chairman of the Rail Freight Group and a harbour commissioner in the port of Fowey in Cornwall.
The proposed nuclear power stations will probably be absolutely necessary to achieve the Government’s carbon reduction commitments. I hope that Ministers, having decided to go nuclear, will be able to look at the carbon footprint of the construction and manufacture of nuclear power stations to make sure they play their part in contributing to carbon reduction. Whether one starts with uranium mining, I am not sure, but they should certainly look at construction and materials. A lot of people do not realise that in producing a tonne of cement, you produce a tonne of carbon. That is an easy calculation to remember, but it is still an awful lot of carbon. Steel probably takes even more. Then there is the question of deliveries to site; I shall come on to that. I have not seen anything in the documents that covers that, so I want to talk about it briefly this afternoon.
Before I get on to that, there are a couple of things, starting in paragraph 2.10, to do with flood risks and droughts. I have been talking to people in Oldbury and Hinkley Point about whether it would be useful to bring things in by sea. I am conscious that, certainly at the Oldbury site, people are extremely concerned about the level of the tide that will be coming up the River Severn in the future and about how high they have to build. The document is silent on the design time for which they should calculate the level above the flood. It says that the design should be for the life of the power station, but it is possible to give these things extra life by upgrading them in 30 years’ time or so. Even if they are decommissioned, there is a question of whether it will matter if they flood. I do not know, but I do not see the timescale for which flood risk is calculated addressed here. Do you work to a 100-year flood or a 200-year flood? In the past few weeks, we have seen some pretty frightening floods in Brazil, and in Australia following 10 years’ drought, and the calculation will be different. I would feel more comfortable if something in the document was a bit more specific as to how the bidders should approach the matter and how they will be judged.
Conversely, paragraph 2.10.2 talks about the risk of drought. The Minister mentioned the comments from the noble Lord, Lord Cope, about Oldbury and the high cooling towers; he has certainly talked to me about that too. It is pretty extraordinary that you need cooling towers when you are next to the sea, because the sea is not a bad source of cooling. I am told that it is because when the Severn goes out and there is no water in it at low tide, there might be a problem, but I should have thought that it would have been possible to build a tidal lake to fill up at every high tide, and to make sure that there was enough volume to provide the cooling needed until the next high tide. High tides are pretty predictable; they do not not come. They have slightly different levels sometimes, but they usually come. I hope that that will be looked at as an alternative to having any of these cooling towers at all at Oldbury, frankly.
Paragraph 3.13.3 is welcome. It talks quite a lot about the impact of the construction, but construction is not seen as particularly important. The paragraph talks about the long term; the rest of it says, “There will be a few problems during construction”. I have worked on a few big projects in my time. Transport Ministers are trying to persuade people in the Chilterns that a high-speed line is a good idea, but people get upset when new things are built near them. It would be useful to have in the document—I am not sure where—some reference to the importance of mitigating the effects of construction in terms of transport noise and everything else. From the point of view of carbon reduction, I would certainly like some reference to environmentally friendly transport such as sea or rail. You cannot use rail everywhere, but you probably can use sea in most places because these things are built by the sea.
I have been doing quite a lot of work with regard to the Olympics, trying to make the construction more environmentally friendly. We have had some success in getting materials brought in by rail and river, but the process of procurement was not designed or managed nearly as well as Heathrow Airport’s terminal 5. At one stage, I calculated that if the procurement and logistics had been organised, about 800,000 lorry movements into Stratford, east London, could have been saved. The same examples would apply to any major project anywhere, such as a nuclear power station. In a document such as this, some reference to minimising the carbon footprint, together with all the other mitigating effects, would be very useful. Certainly you can build quays at Oldbury and Hinkley Point to bring in materials, as we have been discussing. You could extend railway lines to those sites or you could have short railway lines, but I think that a bit more work could be done to mitigate the effects. Finally, if a railway line is to be built, it could be used to get the nuclear waste out, as such waste does not often go by road for very long distances.
In conclusion, I think that this is a good document. It says all the right things, although it just needs to say a little more. However, it is an improvement on the previous document and I commend it.
My Lords, I do not intend to take up a lot of the Grand Committee’s time. I know that my noble friend Lady Parminter will be speaking about flooding, in particular. When I participated in a debate on this subject prior to the change of government, I remember saying that as a Liberal Democrat, first, I did not believe in the IPC and, secondly, I did not believe in nuclear power, at which point everyone immediately went to sleep and quite rightly wrote off all my subsequent comments. Circumstances change to a certain degree and so I shall try to address this issue constructively. From a personal point of view I have always believed—certainly in terms of the challenge from climate change—that in the medium term there is an important role for nuclear power, and I have always fully accepted that.
One of the strange things about this policy statement is that, unlike the others, it delineates and specifies sites, whereas the others do not. If I looked upon that with my local councillor hat on, I would say that this document proffers a benefit to landowners for particular sites that effectively, by being approved, receive outline planning permission. Once agreed, that becomes policy and those are the chosen sites. I was very grateful to the Minister for quoting what I said on the previous occasion. Given that there is effectively outline planning permission, I still find it difficult to understand how a refusal could ever occur. I understand from the long list that it might happen because of the habitats directive, although I would expect that to be looked at in terms of the original site assessment programme. It could also occur because of the bad taste in the design of the building. However, on the whole this document is particularly important in comparison with the others because it effectively says where new nuclear will develop, and those communities can expect that to happen. That is reinforced by the fact that if you ask, “What if other sites are put forward?”—there is a route for doing that under section 2.3 on page 8—the report makes it clear that the Secretary of State and the process will inevitably frown on any person trying to change those allocations before 2025. Something in me feels that that is not necessarily and completely a good principle of government and a way in which the permissions should be granted. However, I certainly accept that those sites listed are the obvious ones, subject to climate change and rising sea levels; that whole area is at question.
There are two areas that I want to talk briefly about. One is nuclear waste. I understand why the documents effectively say, “By the way, you can’t take this into consideration because it is sorted and the Government’s told us that they’ve sorted it”. I accept that there is to be nuclear power; that is because of the lack of work undertaken—the lack of commitment to solve the problem—decades ago. However, I am not comfortable with the policy statement just writing the whole area off. That is not taking the responsibility fully. The Government are undertaking various roles; we have discussed that with the Minister informally. The timescales—they may be good in terms of technical feasibility and consultation—involved in making the decisions and finding solutions are still wildly long, and we should be concerned about that in the context of planning.
The last thing that I want to say is something that I referred to earlier in the week on EN-1, around socioeconomic impacts. The noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, mentioned this in relation to Hinkley Point. I again draw the Minister’s attention to the fact that major constructions—they clearly have to happen—have major effects, particularly in more rural and coastal areas, because of not just carbon footprint but the huge numbers of workers who come into the area, even if a large number of local people are employed as well. That can have huge effects on social housing, because private landlords understandably get the highest bidding for their properties from such workers. In terms of accommodation, the whole tourist sector can close down for three years, which can mean that other tourist businesses in the region close down in the mean time. To a degree, that may be the consequence of moving forward on development and filling the huge energy gap that we have before 2025, but the subject should not just be the fifth chapter in EN-1 or mentioned in this planning document. Those mitigations need to be absolutely central to the assessment process. Tying up with local government is extremely important in this area, and I hope that it will be made clear to the decision-makers by the Secretary of State as the policies are brought forward.
My Lords, I shall try to be bit shorter than I was on Tuesday, so as not to incur the wrath of the government Whip. I have checked the rules since then; yes, there is guidance, but those who took part in the debates last year will remember that I was rather longer, entirely without protest from anybody. However, in order to be shorter, I want to make only one substantive point to my noble friend on the Front Bench: it is on the question of sites, which other speakers have already addressed.
I return to the point, hinted at by the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, as to what happens after 2025. These two things are very much related. Of course, I entirely understand—and this has been said very clearly, both in the papers and by the Minister in another place in the debate in December—that the eight designated sites, which are listed in EN-6, volume 1, are intended to be enough for up to 2025. I understand why Braystones and Kirksanton have been excluded from this first tranche. Although I think there were going to be some representations on that from one of the potential developers, they have not materialised. But I have to say that I remain very disappointed about the exclusion of Dungeness. This raises two separate but related issues—the case for approving Dungeness in the first place and, if it is not approved, what the implications are for the post-2025 investment. I am very pleased to see the noble Lord, Lord O’Neill, in his place. As the chairman of the Nuclear Industry Association, he will know that that is one question that it has asked. Additional sites may need to be found for development beyond 2025 in order to meet the target to reduce UK carbon emissions by 80 per cent by 2050. Those are two aspects of the question.
I shall not argue the case extensively for Dungeness, as it was argued at considerable length in Committee and on the Floor of the House on 11 and 25 March last year. Without trying the patience of the Committee, I should like to rehearse briefly the arguments in favour and against. In favour is the argument that you have an existing nuclear site there, with Dungeness B still operating. It has excellent connections to the grid, when some of the other sites, particularly Sellafield, may need to have considerable investment. It is very strongly backed by the local community, by Shepway council and the other local authorities in the area. The noble Lord, Lord Teverson, acknowledged that point. There is a need for more baseload generating capacity in the southern half of the country to reduce the amount of transmission from the north. If it were to be included in the list, and applications could be made, it would be one of the first to be up and running. Those are quite powerful cases. Against this, one has the environmental argument. It is a unique coastal system with intrinsically important shingle sites. There are several internationally designated sites, including a special area of conservation and a special protection area. They are both part of the Natura 2000 network. It is also a proposed Ramsar site. I do not for one moment deny that those are powerful cases.
The case for Dungeness has been argued several times in another place in the context of these national policy statements by my honourable friend Damian Collins, the Member of Parliament for Folkestone and Hythe. His latest intervention was in the debates on the statements on 1 December, in which he stressed the role of Natural England and referred to its belief that the development would somehow be an unavoidable and irreversible interference in the vegetated shingle. In that debate, my honourable friend the Minister, Charles Hendry, said—and this is the important point:
“The consultation is continuing, and, if additional evidence that changes that conclusion”—
the conclusion that Dungeness should not be in the list—
“emerges in the course of the meeting that I will have with my hon. Friend and his local authority's representatives, or in written submissions, we will take it into account”.—[Official Report, Commons, 1/12/10; col. 927.]
I read that as saying that to some extent this is an ongoing issue and cannot at this stage be definitively put to rest. I asked my honourable friend Damian Collins where the discussions had got to. His answer was that he had had a meeting with Mr Hendry, with officials and others present. He sent me a note, stating:
“Charles Hendry has agreed to contact Natural England to ask them for guidance on what evidence they would need to see to help alleviate their concerns about the damage to the shingle habitats at Dungeness. So rather than them just saying no, we are asking for their help in establishing an agenda that might help us take Dungeness forward. This would be the basis for us commissioning some further environmental research”.
That is clearly ongoing business.
The other night, I had a word with the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Finsbury, formerly involved with the Environment Agency. He advised me to get in touch with it, which I have done over the last couple of days. Only this morning, it sent me a really useful report that describes the history of the management of those shingle beaches at Dungeness. It goes back over decades; this is a long-standing problem, which of course did not prevent the building of the first and second nuclear power stations there. Because of the constant movement as a result of the tides, shingle has regularly been borrowed from the eastern end of the beach and placed on beach locations to the west where the erosion losses are most acute. That has been a regular process involving, obviously, thousands of tons of shingle, shifted from one end of the beach to the other. That work has had to be paid for by the nuclear power station—initially by British Energy, and now by Électricité de France, EDF, which runs Dungeness B. It is obligatory under the terms of the operating lease.
We then come to the point where the special area of conservation was designated, and it turned out that what one might call the “borrow pit”—the part of the beach from which the shingle came, which represents only about 1 per cent of the SAC area—was protected. The conclusion was drawn that the existing system had to cease. I quote from the report that I had only this morning:
“Last year, with our agreement, EDF commissioned Halcrow (consultants) to undertake detailed mapping and data gathering on shingle movement in the locality. The aim was to establish whether and where shingle could be extracted without detrimental impact on designated habitats. Halcrow identified two options and have since worked with NE”—
“to address their concerns with a view to developing a proposal that can form the basis of a viable planning application.
This is work-in-progress but we”—
the Environment Agency—
“are hopeful that such a proposal, and with it a viable planning application to KCC”—
Kent County Council—
“may be in place this spring. Following appropriate scrutiny by the planning authority, planning consent could be granted by summer, when we would start recycling shingle again”.
By definition, that would clearly have the approval of Natural England; that is the context in which the whole negotiation is continuing.
That is further evidence that this is all work in progress, which is what my honourable friend Damian Collins suggested in another place in December. Therefore, I contend that it is premature to rule out Dungeness as one of the designated sites for a new nuclear power station. I hope that my noble friend will be able to comment on what, for me, is new evidence about what is going on there in an attempt to deal with this very important shingle site, with the erosion of the coastline and with safeguarding the habitats.
That leads to the second issue about the period beyond 2025. I have referred to this report—
Before the noble Lord goes any further, I was not clear about what he said. Was he saying that the shingle arrangements which are now being examined by the Environment Agency in relation to a possible planning application relate to a planning application for the operation of the existing power station or a subsequent one? He did not make it clear whether it was simply the existing power station or one that might come along if this document were changed.
I am afraid that I cannot answer the noble Lord’s question for the very simple reason that, when I tried to ring the telephone number given to me by the Environment Agency, it turned out to be a wrong number. The question was perfectly clear. They knew exactly what my inquiry was about because I had made it very clear that it was in the context of a potential new power station at Dungeness. This whole issue is being examined. First, there were my honourable friend’s discussions with Charles Hendry concerning whether Natural England was going to be approached to see what could be done, and here we have the Environment Agency, which is responsible for the management of the beaches, saying that this work was going on. That is the position and in these circumstances it seems premature to rule out this site.
I can deal with the second issue more briefly—that is, the period beyond 2025. On most of the illustrated pathways, the implication of the 2050 pathways studies is that there will be more nuclear power after 2025. Indeed, the chart on page 43 of the paper shows that the option with the lowest nuclear investment is the one with the highest cost—that is, it is the most expensive option. This ties up with what my honourable friend Charles Hendry said in reply to another honourable Member in another place who had referred to the 16-gigawatt of new nuclear by 2025. Mr Hendry went on to say:
“That is not necessarily the end of the ambition, but it looks like what is achievable and realisable over those 15 years. There is no doubt about the Government’s ambition in terms of new nuclear”.—[Official Report, Commons, 1/12/10; col. 900.]
In other words, the eight designated nuclear sites—mentioned by my noble friend this afternoon—are seen to be enough for development until 2025. However, what happens after that? Of course, as is indicated, there may be more than one power station at some of the designated sites. Indeed, as we already know because it has been announced, EDF, which is developing both Hinkley Point and Sizewell, is envisaging two reactors at each of those locations. Yet, at paragraph A.4.3 of volume 2 of document EN-6 there is a very stark statement:
“The Government does not believe that there are any alternative sites”.
If that means up to 2025, it would be consistent with the rest of the document, but if the 2050 pathways study is any guide, will there not have to be more sites after 2025? Is that not a necessary implication of Mr Hendry’s statement that I quoted a few moments ago?
There will be an increasing need for nuclear power if we are to achieve our environmental objectives by 2050. Will that not inevitably require more nuclear sites and, if so, how are they to be designated? My noble friend said quite clearly that it is open to any developer who wishes to develop another site to make an application to the IPC or its successor, and the decision would be made then by the Secretary of State—as will happen of course under the new Localism Bill. There is therefore a path ahead, but the reality is that if the department has said from the beginning that a site is not suitable for development, I doubt that any company would risk its resources on embarking on what is a very expensive process. I am told that it requires 20,000 sheets of paper to put in an application under the planning laws and the guidance issued by the IPC. It is an expensive operation. It seems to me in these circumstances that one has to have regard to the fact that there will be more nuclear sites and that it may therefore be unwise to rule out Dungeness at this early stage. I think that I have made quite a strong case. I hope that my noble friend the Minister may be able to offer some hope to the inhabitants of Shepway, who are desperate to see this nuclear industry continue in their area, of getting the further station that they look for.
My Lords, I totally agree with the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, that there will almost certainly be a need during the next 20 years or so for more nuclear sites than are currently envisaged by the Government. Although I know nothing whatever about the specifics of Dungeness, I have already made a very strong case, and I will look forward to what the Minister says in response.
Perhaps I may begin by surprising probably both sides of the Committee by offering an element of at least modest congratulation to the Government and the Conservative Party on the distance that they have travelled on this subject since I left the Conservative Party some four years ago. At that time, the Tory Party’s doctrine was that nuclear power was a last resort. That was just one of the myriad issues on which I disagreed with that party at the time—it was not the most critical but it was important. I am very pleased to see that, in this matter at least if not in others, the Tory Party has advanced in the right direction. I still do not think that it has got to the right point. I think that its acceptance of nuclear is grudging and in some cases is based on something of a misunderstanding. I note that the overarching document, EN-1, states at paragraph 3.5.7:
“The Government believes that new nuclear generation would complement renewables”.
That seems to be wrong on two grounds, the first political and the other technical. The political ground is that it does not emphasise sufficiently the enormous importance of nuclear. It implies that nuclear is just one of a whole series of possible sources of future power generation. It must be the major source of electricity generation in the future. Secondly, it is quite wrong to say that it “complements” renewables; it is baseload, and renewables are not. What complements renewables is the natural gas combined cycle generation capability which stands alongside renewables, so that when the wind is not blowing, which is about 70 per cent of the time in this country, it can immediately be switched on and replace that peak load. However, nuclear is not a reciprocal of renewables, as that sentence suggests. Therefore, I think that the Government have not quite grasped the enormous importance of nuclear even yet.
We have with us a very able Minister who knows his brief very well. He made a response to a debate on this subject that I attended the other day to the effect that nuclear was not getting any subsidy because it was a proven technology. That seemed a very arbitrary and irrelevant criterion. It may well be that we do not need to give a subsidy to nuclear because nuclear investment will happen without it. If so, I would be the last to suggest that taxpayers’ money should be added to it. However, the criterion should be whether it is necessary to give a subsidy to achieve a desired purpose for the future strategic interests of the country. Obviously, it is necessary to provide subsidies for tidal and wind power, which we are doing, and I support that. Obviously, it is necessary to provide subsidies for the whole area of carbon capture and storage, which is uncertain technologically. I am happy with that investment, with all its risks. Investments do involve risks, and I do not have to tell the Minister that, as he has an investment banking background. I am in favour of that too. However, the criterion should simply be whether it is necessary, not whether a technology is more or less proven. We all know that nuclear technology is subject the whole time to upgrading and improvements of various kinds. That attitude reflects again the feeling of a reluctant commitment to nuclear power which characterises the Government’s policy, although that is a great deal better than the policy that I described, which persisted some four years ago. I hope that the Government will continue to advance in their thinking in the right direction.
I have one or two specific questions that I shall take the opportunity to put to the Government with the chance to have the answers on the record, because I suspect that they will be of interest to others in this country apart from myself. The first one relates to the whole issue of timing, which seems to me absolutely urgent. We are behind time. Of course we should invest in nuclear, and the Blair Administration should have invested in nuclear. There is no doubt about that and I am perfectly happy to accept that point. We should have got into this business 10 years earlier, and we now find the Magnoxes being decommissioned and the EGRs, potentially, being decommissioned. We do not have time to replace that capacity quickly enough. At paragraph 3.5.9 of the EN-1 document, the Government say that they believe it is,
“realistic for new nuclear power stations to be operational in the UK from 2018, with deployment increasing as we move towards 2025”.
That is welcome as a statement of a target but it does not say enough. Can the Government fill out that particular sentence? How many new nuclear power stations do they expect to be operational by 2018? We very badly need to know. When will those power stations start to contribute electricity to the grid? Can we have a little more detail on that?
My second question relates to the further studies referred to in volume 1 of EN-6. I was able to get volume 2 only when I came into the Committee today. I tried yesterday in the Vote Office—if that is the right name for it—where you get papers, to get volume 2 and was told that it was not available. If I were still in the House of Commons, I would probably make a point of order on that. We do not make points of order here, so I cannot do so. I mention it in passing.
Page 4 of the EN-6 refers to a whole lot of studies that will be required. Paragraph 1.6.5 says:
“Further studies will need to be carried out, as part of the project HRA and environmental impact assessment”,
and then, in the following paragraph:
“Further studies will need to be carried out, as part of the project EIA process for individual development consent applications”.
In the fourth paragraph within paragraph 1.6.5, it says:
“These issues will need to be considered in project level HRAs and EIAs”.
The final sentence on the page is:
“The significance of these effects can only be determined through studies as part of the project level EIA and HRA”.
We have a welter of new environmental studies to be undertaken. Are these going to be prerequisites for the granting of planning consent at the beginning of construction of these nuclear power stations and, if so, is that 2018 target at risk, or are the Government confident that whatever happens with these studies, that 2018 deadline—which is far too late in terms of the national interest but we have to do the best we can—will not be at risk? We need to have a clear, unambiguous answer on that.
The third question for which I should be grateful for an answer relates to the whole issue of geological waste. Paragraph 2.11.3 on page 14 of EN-6 says:
“In reaching its view on the management and disposal of waste from new nuclear power stations the Government has in particular satisfied itself that … geological disposal of higher activity radioactive waste, including waste from new nuclear power stations, is technically achievable”.
It may be technically achievable, and that is good news. We know that it is technically achievable because the Americans are investing in a major deep nuclear waste project, and the Finns are investing in one as well, in both cases in granite, and taking into account all the obvious risks. But what are the concrete plans from the Government for making progress in that area? I think that earlier I heard the Minister say that the intention was to have this deep nuclear waste storage facility in place by 2130. Did I hear him say that or did I mishear him?
Perhaps I can help the noble Lord, because this was a subject that the Select Committee on Science and Technology considered at some length when we had a session on relationships with the Committee on Radioactive Waste Management. It was perfectly clear that it will deal with the legacy waste first and then the new-build waste afterwards. We were told very firmly that the target date for the repository would be 2040 but, because it will have to deal with all the legacy waste first, of which there are considerable volumes, it may not be until the next century that it will start being able to deal with the new-build waste. That is why in these reports such stress is laid on the question of the interim storage of that waste. The future is quite clear. Yes, I agree with my noble friend Lord Teverson that it is too long a period. That was a view that the Select Committee took—and I am pleased to see the noble Lord, Lord Broers, in his place—but that is what is currently planned. However, it is a clear programme to go ahead, and the statements in the national policy statements are really justified.
Would it be possible for me to add a word here about this? There was to be a debate in the House on the report from the Science and Technology Committee this afternoon. Quite appropriately, that debate was abandoned, but I hope that the Minister will support an attempt to conduct that debate in future, because the report has some important recommendations about the role of CoRWM and its relationship with government. I hope that we have that debate, as it would help the noble Lord to understand where we were, at least, on this position of the long timescale for nuclear waste.
I am grateful to the two noble Lords who have just intervened. In fact, I am glad that I raised the subject because it inspired those two contributions, and anyone reading the record of this debate will be much better informed as a result. Of course, I hope that we will have the debate to which my noble friend referred on the Floor of the House before too long. There are a whole lot of questions about this which have already been raised and need to be answered, and I look forward to anything that the Minister feels able to say on the subject now. However, I am sure I am not the only person in this country who feels that the idea that we have to wait until 2130 until we cope with the waste from the new power stations is very questionable. Certainly, it is something that needs to be challenged very carefully to ensure that there is really no better alternative.
My final question relates exactly to that issue. I read with astonishment paragraph 2.11.2 of this document, EN-6, which says:
“On the presumption of a once through fuel cycle (and therefore assuming no reprocessing of spent fuel)”.
I looked through this document as much as I could, although I have not had the opportunity to read volume 2, and I could not see any other reference to reprocessing. I simply cannot understand why reprocessing has been rejected in this apparently casual way by the Government. It seems to relate directly to the issue of fuel. The noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, knows much more about the engineering and technological aspects of this than I shall ever do. Clearly, if you have reprocessing, you greatly reduce the volume—he will no doubt tell me in what proportions—of the nuclear waste that arises from a given generation of energy. Quite apart from the enormous importance of economising on the world’s uranium supplies, reprocessing seems very positive in terms of dealing with and managing nuclear waste.
Why does the document not have a rationale for apparently abandoning the idea of reprocessing? Why have the Government given up on it? Why does reprocessing not appear to have any future here? That is an important point, and I would be grateful for the Minister’s response on it as well.
My Lords, I wish to pick up on two points. The first is climate change adaptation. Normally I would defer to others; it is a shame that the noble Lord, Lord Giddens, cannot be here this afternoon. It is widely accepted that the impact of climate change during the lifetime of any new power stations could be huge. Given that the proposed new sites are at greater risk of flooding, that should be a matter of real concern to us.
The national policy statement states that Government considers that the sites have the potential to be protected from the risks of flooding on the basis of the assessments that have been done. However, annexe C of volume 2, which I managed to get hold of downstairs in the Printed Paper Office, makes it clear that a number of the assessments have been challenged. Therefore, it is key for us that we can give the public the confidence that they deserve and need that the flooding risks can be adequately addressed. In that regard, I feel that the NPS is not entirely as helpful as it might be. For instance, paragraph 3.7.12 on page 21 states that,
“the Government has determined that all of the listed sites are … potentially suitable for new nuclear development in spite of some being located in higher flood risk zones because of the lack of alternative sites and the need for new nuclear development”.
In a document that the public can access, that sentence does not give them the confidence that they deserve and need. To that end I support the proposals of the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley; if he had not made them, I would have done myself. We need to give the IPC and its successor bodies much more power in terms of giving the operators a need for robust assessment of the risks of flooding, and much greater guidance on assessments of both the present and the future scenarios for flooding. They need to be able to convince us and the public that mitigation measures can be put in place, or we will fail in our duty to the public.
The second issue that I wish to touch on is radioactive waste management, mentioned by a number of noble colleagues. The national policy statement makes it clear that the IPC and subsequent bodies may be considering proposals for new interim waste management facilities—effectively, more above-ground storage in sheds. Although risk assessments are required by the IPC for other issues—indeed, we have just talked about flood risks—no requirements are mentioned for the IPC and operators for the analysis of security risks at new facilities for waste management, and how they might manage such risks. I do not regard that necessarily as an omission, as it might be another nuclear regulator’s role to undertake responsibility for consideration of such matters, but I would like the Minister to assure me that new guidelines will be issued—if not by the IPC to operators, then by the appropriate nuclear regulator—on security for new waste-management/disposal facilities.
The national policy statement also covers long-term storage, which the noble Lord, Lord Davies, just mentioned. Like him, I was interested in paragraph 2.11.3 on page 14, which states that,
“the Government has … satisfied itself that … geological disposal of higher activity radioactive waste, including waste from new nuclear power stations, is technically achievable … a suitable site can be identified for the geological disposal of higher activity radioactive waste”.
What it does not say that the Government are satisfied about—nor am I at this point and I am surprised that it is not covered in the NPS—is how such a facility is going to be paid for. For clarity in this matter, I think that a bullet point needs to be included so that the public can have confidence in how this facility is going to be paid for. In that regard, we urgently need clarity on the methodology for ensuring that operators meet their full share of the costs for waste disposal.
The Minister may remember, as may others, that at one of the breakfasts that he organised in November this was a matter that I and others raised. I am very grateful to the Minister for the way that he offers these breakfast meetings as a way of bringing issues forward. However, I now believe that it would be useful to know when the consultation on the revised waste transfer pricing methodology will be published. The NPS is a very important building block if we are to get the necessary nuclear installations—and, sadly, they clearly are necessary—in order for us to meet our energy needs in the future. However, if we do not have all the building blocks at the same time, the operators will not know what their full costs are when they put forward their planning applications. Therefore, I should like some clarification on those points.
My Lords, one feature of the handling of the nuclear issue has been the importance that we place on timetabling. Given that power stations will close because of exhaustion, obsolescence and, not least, changes in environmental standards, we are going to face the possibility at least of a generating gap in the middle of this decade. It is fair to say that, whatever fills that gap, we will have a radically different energy mix in generation terms from what we have at present. Certainly, when we get down to the fundamentals, it is a matter of keeping the lights on, keeping houses warm and keeping industry going. Ultimately, it will not be some alphabet soup of foreign energy companies that get the blame for the fact that the lights begin to flicker; in the final analysis, it will be the Government of whichever political complexion who will be deemed to be to blame. Therefore, it is important that we all take this process extremely seriously. Certainly, the requirements of the planning legislation, in whatever form it appears, will mean that after a proper period of debate and consultation the Government’s view—whoever they are—of the best means of meeting our energy requirements as they would define them will come to both Houses for acceptance. It is quite likely that we will not agree on every jot, dot and comma, but there is an emerging consensus that nuclear has a significant part to play in what we might call a mixed or balanced energy policy basket of generating capability.
Speaking as chairman of the Nuclear Industry Association, in which I declare an interest, I offer my support for the statement before us today. The Labour Government published a broadly similar statement with a few amendments, but the broad thrust from the Conservative-led Government is very similar to that of the Labour Party. Attention has been drawn to some of the differences.
Certainly, there will be changes in the planning process. I do not like all the changes and I think that they are open to the threat of unnecessary delay, but I do not really see the IPC and its successor being that much at variance over the manner in which they ultimately handle the planning issues.
However, before we even get to that stage, there is the question of the sites. Already this afternoon we have had some debate about Dungeness. When we last discussed this matter, the debate was heavily influenced by the intervention of the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone. I remind the Minister that a scone, pronounced “scon”, is something that you eat, whereas Scone, pronounced “scoon”, used to be the palace of the Scottish kings—not that I am a great supporter of Scottish kings. Nevertheless, I feel a certain responsibility to help English people with the pronunciation of a language which they have sought to appropriate. It is the old story: it is not us who have the accent but you, as I am sure the noble Lord on the other side will agree.
I notice that the Minister is keeping an open mind on this issue. We have to be careful about the “latest report syndrome”. If we keep chasing every hare down every hole, we get virtually nowhere when decisions have to be taken.
We are talking today about eight out of a potential 10 stations. It should be borne in mind that if we make use of five of the existing sites, we will have replaced all the existing nuclear capability in the UK. Therefore, stations 6, 7 and 8 will be additional generating capability, probably in the order of 3 gigawatts of power or perhaps even more depending on the type of reactor used. That seems to be regarded by the potential generators as the minimum. We are therefore talking about quite a sizeable increase in the nuclear contribution by 2025 if everything goes through. By 2023 or 2024, other sites may need to be considered. I would like to think that that is the case, because the sites currently envisaged for development are achieved on the basis of sound financial considerations and that they meet their targets on time, and of course that they do it safely. If each of those boxes is ticked, it seems self-evident that there will be other people, or perhaps the existing players, wishing to take advantage of alternative sites. As I have said in other debates on this topic, I would hope that at least one of the two sites in Scotland will become available for UK plc. With every week that passes, I am more confident that we will see the end of the anti-nuclear nationalist lot in the Scottish Parliament and a coalition of some kind or another which is likely to be more sympathetic to the exploitation of at least one—I hope both—of the sites at Hunterston and Torness.
I hope that the Minister in presenting this document today is not saying that this is the last word and that, at an appropriate time, he will be prepared to look afresh at additional sites, or perhaps the two that have been suggested in Cumbria—if some of the concerns there can be met. Indeed, I hope that he will look at whether sites of other power stations can be used. Let us face it, one of the great arguments for the placement of nuclear power stations on existing sites is that there is public tolerance and technical capability, and there are wires. If there are wires and there are people who are used to running power stations, you meet at least almost two of the three or four necessary criteria. We may well find that there are major stations which currently burn coal whose sites could be used for nuclear purposes if that was appropriate. As someone who represented a former mining area when I was an MP, I know of the unemployment levels, because we had never been able to replace the kind of work that was made available by the coal industry at the same rates of pay and with the same job satisfaction. To many people it would seem pretty hellish work, but for the guys who worked there it was something in which they took pride, in terms of not just their physical prowess but their technical ingenuity. It would be wrong for us to try to portray this as the last word on the subject.
I am asking for flexibility, but it is appropriate to emphasise that we will need consistency in planning. When people go to the expense of making a planning application, as has been alluded to already, they should have confidence that it will be handled in a consistent, speedy but nevertheless rigorous manner, because we have to balance the needs of both the investor and the general public. I have concerns about the change from the IPC to the Major Infrastructure Planning Unit, in respect largely of ministerial interference. However, we can discuss that another day, because we are dealing here with the broad guidelines that have to be followed.
At the moment, there is not so much public concern about what seems to be the rather Whitehall issue, you might say, of the planning arrangements. There are always issues of public anxiety relating to safety of the environment. It is reassuring to see in the document a confidence expressed by the Government that they have already dealt with the funding of waste management. The noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, referred to that. My understanding is that an agreement has been arrived at as to the cost per unit of electricity under the new arrangement in respect of what has to be made available for the handling of waste, so the financial issue has been taken care of. On the technical issue, the answers are available and are being tried—one can only use the word “tried”, because they are not yet complete—in Scandinavia, including Sweden and Finland. They are also being tried in parts of North America, although there the vagaries of the federal system of government, the states’ rights and what have you mean that in some areas it may go a bit more slowly.
The fact is that people are handling waste and making preparations to store it. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Broers, will speak; the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, and I were members of the Select Committee. We were concerned about CoRWM and both Governments being relaxed—complacent even—about the fact that it is a long-term issue and that we will sort it out eventually. My noble friend Lord Davies made the valid point that we have waste that is not just a liability but can become an asset. That will obviously be dealt with elsewhere other than in this document, partly because the Government are a wee bit frightened of talking about reprocessing in this context. However, the fuelling of the generation has to be part of the answer to the nuclear issue. I understand that some of the contracts at Sellafield have to be reconsidered and renegotiated in 2012. The issue is not within our concerns today, but the rather relaxed approach that CoRWM adopted when it presented evidence to the Science and Technology Committee on its future plans was that it will be 35 years or thereabouts before it really needs to get down to business on this. A lot of us think that is far too long a period and that the Government have to get a grip on the issue a lot earlier.
These are comparatively small points, but they have to be dealt with in terms of giving signals to the public. I was a bit concerned when the Government said that they would look again at the whole question of the national policy statement. I thought again about it, and recognised that public concern about nuclear is such that we have what you might say is grudging support for nuclear power in the UK. As we pass justification so overwhelmingly in the other House, and with the broad consensus that was evident in the Chamber when we debated it here, and as we pass each milestone and there is no application for judicial review, so we clearly see the case for nuclear becoming ever more accepted by the people.
Therefore, I welcome the statement today. I see it as a means whereby the public can be increasingly reassured and investors will feel emboldened to make application for the new stations that we know we require. On this side of the House we are here not just to support issues but to oppose them on occasions, and it is fair to say that we will come back and haunt the Government on some of them. I have certain qualifications but, on the broad approach today, I am happy that this is a good step forward which the House and the country will come to applaud.
My Lords, I shall speak briefly in this debate from a Cumbria perspective, where I was until November last year the chair of the local economic development body. This statement will be welcomed in Cumbria as a major milestone in what is a long road to building nuclear as an essential part of our energy mix in this country. I should like to be more generous to the coalition than was my noble friend Lord Davies. Things have moved along since the election on the nuclear question, in a positive way. I particularly welcome the fact that the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change has come out so clearly in favour of nuclear being part of Britain’s future energy mix. This is a major step.
I draw attention to the huge potential of the nuclear future in west Cumbria, which I have got to know extremely well over the past three or four years. Not only is Sellafield the centre of our nuclear clean-up but there is also very big potential at the site for power stations in addition to the one initiative that new generation has started to show an interest in today. The county council believes that there could be more than one new station on the Sellafield site to deal with the needs of nuclear post-2025. There is also the potential for reprocessing. If the Minister could give us some indication of what the Government’s timetable is for thinking about decisions on this issue, it would be very helpful to the local community. The communities in Cumbria have expressed an interest in the question of the long-term waste site, which is very important indeed.
The point that I want to make on this is a simple one. This is an important planning stage that we have reached on this issue, but many more issues will have to be resolved if we are going to build—
I am grateful to the noble Lord for intervening in the gap, but the rules are that there is a limited time for speeches in the gap. I hope that four minutes is recognised by all speakers, as a number of noble Lords want to come in. I apologise for interrupting the noble Lord, but I am sure he will want to be on the right side of the Companion.
I shall try to be very brief. A lot of issues have to be resolved, including questions relating to the infrastructure in the area, as well as questions to do with skills and grid connectivity. It is not simply a question of planning approval followed by the private sector taking the initiative and solving all these questions. If we are going to make a success of Britain’s energy coast, we have to build an effective partnership between the Government, the private sector nuclear developer and the local community. That is what I want to stress. In Cumbria, it would be very helpful if we could hear from the Government that they are committed to such a partnership. Under the previous Government, we established a strategic forum to try to bring all the interests together to look at what needed to be done, and I hope that the Government can indicate their intentions to work for the realisation of this enormous potential in Cumbria, which is for the good not just of Cumbria but of Britain in giving us energy security and a low-carbon source of generation, and has enormous international potential. I hope I have been brief enough.
My Lords, in this the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible, I have no doubt that phrases from the Bible will be used often in debates in your Lordships' House. I have always been fond of St Paul, who began one of his devastating arguments with the phrase, “I speak as a fool”. Well, I shall speak as a fool—as someone who does not have command of all the details of energy policy but who has taken an interest over the years. I have always been a strong advocate of nuclear energy and have been frustrated during the past 15 or 20 years at the complete paralysis into which it has fallen. I have been struck at the way in which the weather is suddenly changing. I always regarded the dash for gas as a great pity. I think that future generations will look back and regard the burning of so much of that precious natural resource in our power stations in virtually one generation as a great mistake—it is such a wonderful raw material and resource. I fear that the fall in the world price of gas with the onset of shale gas may tempt some energy companies to continue to dash for gas and not face up to the need to develop our nuclear infrastructure.
I speak as a fool particularly in relation to section A.2.7 of the rather scarce volume 2 of our document. It begins by stating that all the updated energy scenarios,
“assume that electricity demand in 2025 will be at approximately the same levels as today”.
That is quite a big assumption. It assumes that economic development over the next 15 years will not be as it was in the 15 years prior to the recent recession. It does not take into account the development of electric cars and all sorts of other technology that requires electricity. I therefore ask the Government to what extent they think they can rely on that assumption, which they relate to the impact of the recent recession. That may disappear rapidly over the next 15 years. It means that the 59 gigawatts that is spoken of may be less than is required; indeed, that is recognised in the last sentence of A.2.7. Can the Minister give us a precise figure? He said that not all the sites may be developed—my instinct is that they all need to be developed as much as they can. If all the sites were developed to their maximum perceived capacity, what generation would be achieved? I would be grateful for a reliable figure on that. The noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, said that it was absolutely necessary to develop those sites. The noble Lord, Lord Teverson, could not quite bring himself to say that it was absolutely necessary, but spoke of the energy gap which in my view makes it so. On what figures are the Government depending in this area? Without a huge contribution from nuclear, I fear that all the overarching policies will simply not add up.
Perhaps I may ask also about Scotland. I recognise that the identified sites do not include the Scottish sites. I have often driven past the rather splendid station just south of Dunbar, which seems to be a model of landscaping, with no cables in view. It is great pity that those sites are not envisaged. We cannot just assume that the SNP will be thrown out of government. How do the Government see the long-term position in Scotland?
My Lords, in addition to requesting the Minister’s support in gaining a debate on the Science and Technology Committee’s report on nuclear waste, I should like to make a very brief point relating to the timescale beyond that of the statements. I would like to ensure through the Minister that the Government will continue to support our commitment to fusion energy, particularly in light of the fact that the new hybrid technologies that may combine fusion with fission may offer practical solutions to a much shorter timescale than that for pure fusion.
My Lords, that was a brief contribution, the end of which almost caught me unawares. We have had a number of energy debates this year and towards the end of last year. I have to admit that I find them hugely enjoyable; the level of expertise in this House on these issues is impressive. I hesitate to draw a comparison with the other place, which I enjoyed being a Member of for a number of years, but the expertise here enables us to make a powerful contribution to the debates on this issue.
The points raised in today’s debate struck at the heart of the issue. The comments of the noble Lords, Lord Berkeley and Lord O’Neill, in particular brought us back to basics on the issues before us—namely, energy security and the need to ensure stable and secure energy for the future—as well as with regard to reducing carbon. I was struck by the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, about ensuring that we take into account the carbon cost of the whole process of building and maintenance, including transport.
I always feel slightly nervous when the noble Lord, Lord O’Neill, gently jibes the English on various things. May I defend myself to him as the granddaughter of a Scottish miner?
I also congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, on being so candid with us about his remarkable and quick change of views on both the IPC and nuclear power. He suggested that last time no one was listening and people may have been asleep. I tell him that in fact we had noticed, and I am sure that we will notice in future as well.
I have some specific questions about the document, but I return to a specific point that I made in the debate on Tuesday about its ratification process. I am sorry to labour the point, and I know that the Minister is not necessarily enamoured of answering my questions on process, but I ask for a specific reason.
Noble Lords have made a number of points, both today and on Tuesday, about issues in the document that could do with tweaking, or about issues that are not in the document. The noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, raised such issues, and the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, picked up a point about the document that I had raised before about sites being chosen along with their associated risks not because we think that they are the best sites but because we need to put the sites somewhere. If the Minister and his colleagues think that there are changes that could be made to these documents, can they be made prior to ratification by the other place, or will we need another round of consultation before they can be ratified?
The issue that I am trying to get to the heart of is whether we are moving forward on the process quite quickly or, every time we tweak something, does that delay the whole process of these policy statements taking effect? No one wants to delay them, but we want to ensure that the comments that we make in this place are taken on board and are valuable comments that can be used to improve the documents.
A number of noble Lords made the point about the public being considerably less hostile to nuclear power than they have been previously. The noble Lord, Lord O’Neill, commented that there was an emerging consensus on nuclear power. Many people, even the Secretary of State, have changed their minds from being totally opposed to being very much in favour, while some at least understand the benefits as well as having concerns. Perhaps the biggest concern, though, is the issue of the disposal of waste, which we have heard about today, and the commitment in the 2008 nuclear White Paper that the Government would have to be satisfied that effective arrangements existed or will exist to manage and dispose of the waste that was produced. The Government are now confident that geological disposal is the best available option that is known at this time, and it is the role of the NDA to ensure that all regulatory requirements are met.
With regard to section B.4 on the interim storage, we had a discussion about the dates. I said that noble Lords were confused by the question of 2040 or 2130, and the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin of Roding, was very helpful in that regard. In the new nuclear sites, the waste will initially be kept on site for this interim period—that is, until 2130. A period of over 100 years is somewhat longer than what most people understand as an “interim period”. I know that as the Minister made his speech he stumbled on that reference, which several other Members made, and I did the same. I find it incredible that over 100 years is an interim period of storage. It is only then that the Government expect that a geological disposal facility—a GDF—will be available to take the waste from new nuclear power plants. As well as the legacy waste to be disposed of first, there are obviously technical reasons why waste remains on site initially. However, I have concerns, and share those expressed by other noble Lords. It is likely that the waste will have to remain on site longer than the life of the plant, which of course has cost, security and safety implications.
Like the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, I struggle to understand the cost implications. I raised concerns on that with the Minister in the earlier debate, on 17 November, when we discussed the justification orders on the new reactor designs and the waste issues. Under government policy, there is no subsidy for nuclear. The operator has to fund all costs of waste disposal. As part of the generic design assessment, which we discussed previously as well, the Government require a funded decommissioning programme—an FDP—and, whereas the costs of verifying that would have been the responsibility of the Government, the Government now even seek to agree with the operator that the operator should meet those costs as well, even though they have admitted that they cannot oblige or force it to pay.
The reason I raise the subject is more complicated than certainly I, and possibly the Minister, first realised. The FDP will be a projection, an estimate of what it will cost to store the hazardous waste in the yet to be determined or allocated site—I take on board the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, about Cumbria—of a geological disposal facility in over 100 years’ time. When I raised the issues in November with the Minister, I pressed him on exactly what no subsidy meant—he was very clear about it—and whether the FDP had to include all costs at every stage of the decommissioning programme. He assured me that it does, but I was not aware at the time—I am sure that other noble Lords were not either—that we were talking about storage for which they would have to pay funding in 100 years’ time. It would not start for 100 years. How do we make calculations of the costs in 100 years’ time? How do we know the costs of transport, security and storage, and how do we know that in 100 years the GDF will be the best possible alternative for storage of nuclear waste? I also ask how the Government will pass on the costs of verification, given that we are talking about something in 100 years’ time. The Minister may well be aware of a straightforward assessment of how that can be achieved. If he were able to enlighten me on that, I would be grateful; if not, I fear that we will return to the issue on a number of occasions.
Also, could the Minister say anything about accountability? I am not being pessimistic when I state that no one involved in establishing, creating and verifying the FDP—or even discussing it here today—will probably be alive when it will be needed. What processes and procedures will be in place to ensure accountability and compliance? Given that the “interim storage” referred to in the documents by the Government is anything but, the facilities will need to be extensive and, as already referred to, are likely to last beyond the life of the plant. Given that, will the IPC or the MIPU have a role in deciding whether the storage facilities on site for the new nuclear plants are adequate and appropriate?
We touched on the second issue that I want to raise with the Minister the other day; it is about the IPC and the MIPU. In the last debate, we discussed the proposals in the Localism Bill to abolish the IPC and create a new MIPU that will make recommendations to the Secretary of State. As I referred to on Tuesday, although the NPS will form legal guidance for the Secretary of State in making planning decisions, can the Minister clarify whether the Secretary of State will be required to abide by the guidance of the MIPU or will that be advisory? Can the Secretary of State consider whether the adverse impacts of a proposed development outweigh the benefits? That is particularly relevant when looking at new nuclear power plants, and indeed at GDFs. There has been and is consistent change in public opinion, but I have no doubt that when any site is proposed or an application process goes forward, as well as support for that there will be local opposition, campaigns and lobbying—all entirely appropriate and welcome. However, under the independent IPC system, that would all be taken into account as part of the formal process, as it no doubt will be under the MIPU. That is where, in the context of planning further nuclear power infrastructure, we are unsure whether the Minister will have to abide by the guidance of the MIPU, or whether the Secretary of State will have some leeway about accepting it and what other factors they would take into account. What would those factors be? My reason for raising that is that I share the concerns of the noble Lord, Lord O’Neill, about whether the new process could create further delays, which is the last thing anyone wants.
I should also like to raise, as did my noble friends Lord O’Neill and Lord Davies of Stamford, the question of the timetable for the new nuclear power stations and whether there could be any delays. I hope that the Minister understands that I am not seeking to make a party-political point when I raise the matter of Sheffield Forgemasters.
So cynical! I am interested in whether the department has made an assessment of the impact that the withdrawal of loan funding will have on the timetable for the delivery of the new nuclear plants. The parts for the reactor shell which Sheffield Forgemasters planned to build are an important part of the supply chain. Are the Government working with the industry to seek alternative suppliers, and where are those likely to be? Alternatively, will the Government seek other ways of supporting the UK industry to deliver these parts?
The Minister will be aware that there is concern about whether the 2018 timetable can realistically be achieved. We all seek to ensure that it can. We know that the Secretary of State’s previous opposition has been reversed to total support and that the Government want to achieve this. I am not in any way questioning the political will of the Government in this regard. However, I am concerned about the practicalities of planning permissions. Will the new proposals put forward in the Localism Bill ensure that the necessary permissions will be in place for the 2018 timetable to be met, or does the Minister have any concerns about possible delays?
There is also the question of the readiness of the two new-build reactor designs. The Minister will recall our previous debate in November on justification orders. Does he have any updates on the timescale? What assessment has been made of the possibility of legal action in terms of judicial review at any stage that could delay the whole process? I am trying to probe the Minister as to whether he has complete confidence that we can achieve the timetable for 2018. If he does have concerns, can he share them with noble Lords and say what action can be taken to mitigate them?
I hope that the Minister understands the points that have been raised today. On this side, we want to see a mixture of low-carbon, secure energy supply at an affordable cost. Our main concerns relate to the national policy statement, possible delays and how we deal with the waste. I admit to being somewhat puzzled about the 100-year delay and about how we can estimate the costs and ensure that we have the right method of disposal. If the Minister can offer reassurance on those points, I shall be very grateful.
My Lords, I thank noble Lords for an excellent debate, which, as always, has been very informative. I thought that we might simply be here complaining until the ghost of the noble Lord, Lord O’Neill of Clackmannan, came in and told us what a great moment it was for us, supported so excellently by the noble Lord, Lord Liddle. However, let us get this matter into context. We have just given the green light to eight new nuclear sites when nothing has happened for 20 years, and people are standing here asking me questions about timetables, process, pathways and so on. I repeat: we have just given the go-ahead for eight new nuclear sites, and we should be leaping to our feet and jumping for joy. Everywhere I go, I find that people in this House and throughout the country have changed their view and now think that new nuclear is what it is all about. That even applies to the noble Lord, Lord Teverson—I rejoice in what he has to say—and his excellent colleague the Secretary of State, for whom I have the privilege of working. So let us go forward with gladness in our hearts rather than talking timetables and process and picking around at the edges. This is a fantastic opportunity for all those in the nuclear industry.
I just want to assure the Minister that I shall leap out of this Room with him with great joy if he is able to answer my questions. We are simply seeking assurances on the timetable—I am sure he understands that—and we want to share the great joy that he is experiencing.
I think that that was the Scottish side of the noble Baroness coming out there. Let us be gladdened in our hearts. Have the Government been reluctant? No, we have been at it for nine months and we have eight new nuclear sites, so let us rejoice in that. None of us is sitting here making party-political points about it. We are not saying “You haven’t done this” and “You haven’t done that”, and I am not accusing the Labour Party of anything. I have regularly complimented the Labour Party for changing public opinion so that we are able to be where we are now.
This document gives a very clear pathway to future investors that the Government want nuclear and there is an opportunity—come and get it. I was very interested in the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, particularly as we are in the Moses Room, when he started talking about flood and drought almost in the same sentence. Of course, he comes at this issue with great expertise of transport, which will be fundamental to infrastructure planning of all these sites. Clearly, the secondary impact of low carbon is very important, and will be very much part of the regulatory justification process.
A number of noble Lords have raised the subject of flooding. We can do no more than assess the flood situation and we have made assessments to 2100, which, as everyone has told me so far today, is a very long way off. I am sure that with the prayers of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chester, we will be around to see it, although there is a fighting chance that in my case that I will not, if I keep having these stressful debates.
Of course, we were totally right to observe the socioeconomic aspects, which the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, who has converted to nuclear, has rightly identified. The noble Lord, Lord Jenkin of Roding, kindly warned me that he was going to talk to us about Dungeness. He is right that it could offer great opportunity for that part of the world; I have seen that site—it is an amazing place. But we have to remember about Dungeness that it is not quite as simple as consulting Natural England and hearing from the Environment Agency. We have used consultants in coming to this conclusion, but the reality is that this was designated a special area of conservation after the first power station was established by the European Commission. That means that it is more than just a simple process. But, as the noble Lord will know, we are still in consultation and we welcome until 24 January any further recommendations that Members in the other place make and that the noble Lord himself wishes to make—when he has been able to get through to the right number, which must be very frustrating indeed.
The noble Lord, Lord Davies of Stamford, talks about subsidy. I made it clear that there was no subsidy. The nuclear power industry has been an industry for a very long period of time and there is a lot of expertise throughout the world. One chairman of its representative bodies is in this Room. We do not generally as a Government need to subsidise mature businesses that have huge expertise and know exactly what they are doing. We have to allow them to have the planning framework, the waste disposal issues and all the technical regulation that government has to allow them the freedom to make it a profitable venture. This Government understand as well as anyone—and the noble Lord himself was in the world of finance—that no venture will go ahead unless it is financially viable.
I shall deal with aspects of reprocessing in a few minutes, but I shall first deal with the noble Lord’s point about whether 2018 will be operational. Let us not kid ourselves. It is a huge task to get something going by 2018. One reason why we are removing the IPC is so that the Secretary of State will have direct control of the decision-making and speed it up. As the general public would rightly expect, the Minister will determine whether that site is ready. We are working flat out to ensure that we can get something by 2018, but will there be a judicial review in the mean time? It is probably likely. What will be the reaction to the judicial review? We do not know—we do not have hour-glasses in front of us—but we are determined with every best endeavour to ensure that the first one goes by 2018.
I am grateful to the Minister for his answers to my questions. The Government are clearly committed to trying to get the first nuclear power station on stream by 2018. To what timescale do they expect the subsequent power stations to come on stream?
We would naturally hope them all to be going by 2025, because we have made a huge pathway commitment to it. However, I shall not stand here and say, “It is going to happen on this day at that time”, because we are going into something that has not happened for 20 years and there is a long process to go through.
My noble friend Lady Parminter asked about the security risk, which is fundamentally important. I am personally reviewing the security of our sites, particularly Sellafield. Are the civil nuclear police fit for purpose? Are they operating in a way that enables them to resist the modern threats of a rapidly changing world? The Office for Civil Nuclear Security has been set up to address that. It reports to me, to persuade me that security is tight. It is fundamentally important that we ensure that those sites are safe and secure, particularly the hazardous areas.
The noble Lord, Lord Liddle, rightly pointed to Cumbria becoming a centre of excellence for reprocessing. The noble Lord, Lord O’Neill of Clackmannan, made the vital point that waste must be not a liability but an asset. As I have told him and the House previously, I have commissioned a cost-benefit analysis of a Mox plant. If we have the biggest plutonium stock in the world, we must turn that liability into an asset. I have had a second meeting on the subject. We have already had a write-round to Cabinet to ensure that we can perhaps go further on that plant. I hope that I will be able in the next few months to give him much stronger assurances as to its prospect. It is madness to have it sitting there if we can make it a non-cost exercise.
However, we must remember that we have failed at this once already. We have a Mox plant that was not fit for purpose, so we must get it right—it is very important, with new technologies, that we do that. This is of course a clear message to the people of Cumbria, because that is where the Mox plant would be located. I do not think that we have any problem as a Government in sending clear messages to the people of Cumbria about the importance of that site and of their role in it. The next generation of nuclear waste reprocessing has to carry us forward for years to come as we replace the current existing plant.
It can be resolved easily within this year—I hope within the first half of it. A huge amount of work is going on. You do not do a Cabinet write-round, as far as I understand, unless you are fairly committed to making something happen. I am giving your Lordships this information because it is something that I initiated before Christmas.
Before the Minister leaves his point, it should be stressed that at least some of the constituent members of the nuclear management partnership which is currently responsible for a large part of the waste management at Sellafield have considerable experience of running successful Mox plants elsewhere in the world. One of our problems was that we wanted to have a plant with a Union Jack wrapped round it when we built it. We did not quite get it right and it never operated, but there are people close at hand who can do the job if they get the right deal.
As the noble Lord will know, I have enjoyed the fine wines of the south of France while visiting the Mox plant down there to make sure that we do this properly. Of course, part of our discussions involved meeting the Areva board to do that.
A number of noble Lords raised the subject of the geological storage facility. Of course, it is ridiculous that it is so far out—and, of course, there is a huge workload, so I have instructed a work stream to ensure that we can get a much closer period. But as the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, knows, this is a voluntary decision made by the community. It will not be the Government jumping in with their jackboots and saying, “We will have it here”. This takes negotiation and long-term development and it takes partnership and working with the local community. We will take a very active role with the Cumbrian community to try to nudge this thing to a much closer timetable to the one that I have given you.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chester asked about the maximum capacity available. If there was one reactor on each of the eight sites, using the current new reactor—it is not for me to determine which reactor is used—there will be between 10 and 14 gigawatts, which as the noble Lord, Lord O’Neill of Clackmannan, said, is considerably more than what we have at the moment.
As to Scotland, I regret to say that this is outside my control. If we have a Conservative Government in Scotland, I am sure that there will be a great push for nuclear.
I am sorry to intervene, but can I press the Minister on this point? If even with the scenario that there is no increase in electricity need over the next 15 years, which with the increase in population and the other factors that I referred to seems an optimistic assumption, and you need 59 gigawatts of capacity by 2025 even on that optimistic assumption—if with those plans you get only that amount of additional capacity—there is something missing or short. Or am I speaking indeed as a fool and not adding my sums up?
There are two erroneous statements there, if I may say so. First, we are not predicting that the demand for electricity will be as the right reverend Prelate is suggesting; we are predicting that it will be between two and three times what it is now in 2050. So we know the task ahead. We are also not sitting here and saying that there are eight sites and that is all there are going to be—and I want noble Lords to go away and understand that. We must obviously endeavour to have more sites. The Government will not sit back and say that all we have are eight sites. At the moment, I am answering his question about capacity. I was saying what capacity would be if we had eight sites and one reactor on each site; that is what we hope to achieve from those eight sites. Clearly, if we have 10, it will be more.
The noble Lord, Lord Broers, gave one of the finest speeches that I have heard—he was remarkably to the point, and talked about fusion. As he knows, that is a subject for BIS, which is fully supportive of the development of this particular form of future generation.
I do not want to disappoint the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Basildon, by not answering a number of her questions. She rightly asked how we quantified the cost of waste and its disposal when the Government say that the private sector is responsible for paying for it. Of course, over 100 years we cannot predict that, which is why there is a system for reviews of the mathematics, which will happen frequently, and I can give her more detail of that because it is published somewhere in our documents. She asked whether the Secretary of State would take advice on the decision. Of course he will—but the point is that this country and its electors will want the Secretary of State to be responsible for a decision on something as complicated as this, and he will make it. She asked whether the IPC would have a role in deciding adequacy of interim storage on site. Yes—and that is clarified in the draft of the NPS in paragraph 2.11.6.
Before the Minister winds up, can he answer the question about process put by my noble friend Lady Smith? After the consultation period on this draft statement, can the process be changed? If so, will it have to be consulted upon again and will there be a delay? What will happen?
I am no expert on these matters as I have only been here for five minutes. I would expect noble Lords to be able to answer that. I have been passed a note, which is very helpful. I wish that noble Lords would not ask questions to which they know the answer. The answer is: if there are no substantive or material changes, there is no reason to reconsult or repeat scrutiny. However, my overriding point—
My understanding is that it is, and someone sitting behind me, who is not from my department, is nodding, which is very good news. Where does she come from, one might ask? We can all get hung up on words here and words there but, as I said on Tuesday, we have a very good relationship among ourselves. None of us is putting party preferences before our own. We are saying that we have a huge task ahead of us and, as a department, we take advice frequently. We seem to be in permanent consultation on virtually everything that moves. Even on Dungeness, we are still in consultation. We are there to listen; we are consulting; and we are all here to improve what may be lax legislation, although I do not believe that this legislation is. It is a very bold and big step forward. In fact, the step is so bold and big that we can leave this Room skipping rather than making steps.
As always, I thank all noble Lords for their expertise. The noble Lord, Lord Davies of Stamford, has joined our merry band and we shall welcome all the contributions that he makes to these excellent debates. I commend this national policy statement to the Committee.
Committee adjourned at 3.56 pm.