HC Deb 22 June 1959 vol 607 cc847-9
32. Mr. Palmer

asked the Paymaster-General what action he is taking under the Ministry of Fuel and Power Act, 1945, in order to promote future economy and efficiency in the supply and use of fuel and power, in view of the fact that the comparison made three years ago between the cost of nuclear electrical power and power derived from coal has proved to be wrong because of the drop in the capital cost of coal-fired power stations and the expected stabilisation of the price of coal.

Mr. Maudling

My noble Friend could not accept the implication that the case for the nuclear power programme is no longer valid. As I informed the House in reply to a number of Questions on 15th June, it remains reasonable to hope that the cost of nuclear power will fall below that of conventional power within the next decade.

Mr. Palmer

Is the right hon. Gentleman not aware that, on cost alone, coal, if given a fair field and no favour, can still provide electricity much more cheaply than it can be provided by any other primary source? In those circumstances, would it not be wise for the Minister of Power at least to look again—without antagonism to nuclear development—into the economics of the power investment programme, even if it does mean an admission that the Government have probably made a mistake?

Mr. Maudling

The hon. Gentleman is, I think, neglecting two things. First of all, we cannot place all coal-fired stations on coalfields. The economics of a coal-fired station away from a coalfield is very different from the economics of one placed on a coalfield. Secondly, we are at the beginning of an enormous expansion of the nuclear power industry, and unless we put a real push behind it we cannot expect to reap the full benefits which we hope for from the work of our scientists and technicians.

Mr. A. Roberts

Is the Minister contemplating building any additional coal-fired power stations in the future?

Mr. Maudling

Yes. As we have made clear, the consumption of coal in-the electricity generating industry will rise substantially over the next few-years.

Mr. P. Noel-Baker

Would it not be of advantage if the Central Electricity Generating Board were to proceed rather less quickly with nuclear power stations?

Mr. Maudling

I cannot see how that could be of benefit to it, to the industry or to the country.

33. Wing Commander Bullus

asked the Paymaster-General what change there has been in the intention to modify three nuclear power stations to enable plutonium suitable for military use to be extracted should the need arise.

Mr. Maudling

Last year Her Majesty's Government asked the Central Electricity Generating Board to make a small modification in the design of certain power stations to enable plutonium suitable for military purposes to be extracted if need should arise. Having taken into account recent developments, including the latest agreement with the United States, and having re-assessed the fissile material which will become available for military purposes from all sources, it has been decided to restrict the modifications to one power station, namely, Hinkley Point.

Wing Commander Bullus

While appreciating that much of the detail of this project must be top secret, may I ask if my right hon. Friend can say to what sources of fissile material his Answer refers?

Mr. Maudling

No, Sir, I am afraid I cannot add anything further to my reply.