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Nuclear Energy

Volume 794: debated on Monday 10 December 2018


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have for the future of nuclear power in the United Kingdom following the collapse of the NuGen consortium, and given the continuing uncertainty regarding the project for a small modular reactor.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper and declare that I have recently been in China on a trip organised jointly by the Nuclear Industry Association and the China General Nuclear Power Corporation to inspect the HPR1000 nuclear reactor at Shenzhen.

My Lords, the Government believe that nuclear power has an important role to play in our future low-carbon energy mix. This is clear from our commitment to Hinkley Point C, the first new nuclear power station in a generation, as well as from the launch of the nuclear sector deal in June, which outlines a new framework designed to encourage industry to bring viable small-reactor propositions to the marketplace.

I must thank the Minister for that Answer but, notwithstanding his assertion, the Government’s support for the nuclear industry has been half-hearted at best. They have missed the opportunity to establish a joint Anglo-French nationalised nuclear industry in conjunction with EDF, which would have had a global reach in the area of decarbonisation. Moreover, the Government have failed to give sufficient support to Rolls-Royce in its project to create a small modular nuclear reactor that might have had excellent export opportunities. The project has been held in abeyance for far too long. Are the Government content to allow our nuclear facilities to be constructed and owned preponderantly by overseas suppliers?

My Lords, I think that is a bit rich from the noble Viscount who speaks, I presume, for a party that was in office for 13 years and did absolutely nothing to produce new nuclear power stations. We have produced a new nuclear power station and we have produced a nuclear sector deal that looks to enhance the sector and aims to support the 87,000 jobs in the sector and increase that number to some 100,000 jobs, and aims to see a 30% reduction in the cost of new-build projects and so on—I could go on. We are committed to the nuclear sector and will continue to be so.

My Lords, can my noble friend give us a little more up-to-date comment on our attempt to develop a new nuclear fleet? He has mentioned Hinckley C. At Moorside, of course, Toshiba has abandoned the situation and no other role can be found to support the consortium. I understand that Hitachi continues to be very worried about the situation at Wylfa, where, although there is talk of agreement, it has not yet been achieved. Meanwhile, EDF is thinking of building Sizewell C and I learn from CGN’s latest papers that it regards that as a joint venture on top of its undertaking to build one at Bradwell B. So the Chinese are really involved in everything. Is this not a rather worrying situation? Should we not have an update to the House on where we are going on the whole programme, since it does not seem to be going very smoothly?

My Lords, it is unfortunate that Toshiba had to announce that it would wind up NuGen, and as a result the project at Moorside has been lost—but that was a commercial decision for that company. That site will revert to the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority and it and we will consider options for its future. Moorside will remain available and we hope that others will come forward. Discussions will continue on Wylfa. As my noble friend knows, my right honourable friend made a Statement about that last June, announcing the first signing of proposals with Hitachi, and that will continue. We remain committed to nuclear, as we made clear in our nuclear sector deal. CGN, as my noble friend made clear, is committed to Sizewell, to Bradwell B and beyond, and we look also to other companies to come forward.

My Lords, I declare my interest as a foreign member of the Chinese Academy of Engineering. I am somewhat encouraged by what the Minister said because, in the situation we find ourselves in now, where storage of carbon dioxide is not going well—we have made scarcely any progress—and it is now obvious that batteries are far too expensive to back up wind on a national scale, we are left with nuclear, so it is extremely important that we proceed as quickly as possible. I have to admit that when I talk to Chinese engineers they feel that if we replicate an EPR we can do it at 30% less money than the initial venture, which means that if we combine that with the cost of wind properly backed up, which is about £60 per megawatt hour, we can do the same with nuclear. So should we not get on with all speed, but maximising our own contribution by including the small modular reactor?

My Lords, there was an awful lot to answer in the noble Lord’s question, but I think he is right to emphasise the importance of nuclear. It provides some 20% of our electricity requirements, and obviously in a low-carbon manner. We are also looking for cost reductions in new-build projects and I am glad that the noble Lord emphasised that. In our nuclear sector deal we are looking for cost reductions of some 30% over the next 15 years or so, as well as cost reductions in other areas. He is also right to emphasise the role that wind can play and the fact that the cost of wind is coming down.

My Lords, I welcome very much the Government being far more questioning about Chinese investment in critical infrastructure in this country, such as 5G telecoms, which is being rolled out. Will they extend that questioning to our critical nuclear infrastructure, not least Bradwell, which is a Chinese-designed system?

My Lords, we will continue to work with CGN on Bradwell, as they have committed to do, and we hope that Bradwell B will become available in due course.

My Lords, is it not clear that the news from west Cumbria is bad news not just for west Cumbria but for the United Kingdom as a whole? We have an ageing fleet of civil nuclear power stations, which it is essential to replace in order to maintain a baseload supply of electricity 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. There is almost no other way of guaranteeing that. I compliment the Government on their support for Hinkley Point, which is more than the Labour Government did—the previous Labour Government did not build a single nuclear power station, to my regret—but is it not important for them to make an urgent reassessment of how progress is stumbling, at best, before it is too late?

My Lords, I will try to be brief. The noble Lord was right to emphasise that it is an ageing industry, in terms of the power stations we have—that is why we want more—but also the workforce. That is why we want to re-equip the workforce to make sure that we can go forward and that we have the right people in the right places, particularly in west Cumbria, to continue to develop that industry.