HC Deb 20 June 1960 vol 625 cc13-6
20. Mr. Lee

asked the Minister of Power what is his most recent estimate of the amount of electricity to be supplied from atomic energy during the next five years, and ten years, respectively; and to what extent this represents an increase or decrease over the previous estimate.

21. Mr. Pentland

asked the Minister of Power what contribution to the country's energy requirements, in terms of coal equivalent, can be expected by nuclear power stations in the foreseeable future.

The Minister of Power (Mr, Richard Wood)

The Government have recently reviewed the civil nuclear power programme in consultation with the Electricity Authorities and the Atomic Energy Authority, and the outcome is summarised in a White Paper which I have today presented to Parliament and which is now available in the Vote Office.

Mr. Lee

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that I have only just received a copy of the White Paper? Would he agree that it is rather sad that this cutback in the programme of the Atomic Energy Authority, a young, modern, public industry doing a great job of work, has had to take place?

Does it mean that the programme of 5,000 megawatts, which originally was due to be received at the end of 1965 and was then put back to the end of 1966, has now been deferred to the end of 1968? Would he say whether the cause of this is that there is now a large amount of coal and oil, especially oil, coming into the country which is not being priced on purely economic grounds? [HON. MEMBERS: "Read the White Paper."] I have only just received a copy of the White Paper.

Will the right hon. Gentleman say what effect this cut-back in atomic energy will have on the programme of the National Coal Board itself, as we shall not now receive the amount of electricity from nuclear sources which was anticipated? Does it not mean that, it would be better now to review the N.C.B. cut-back to ensure that we are not short of power by 1965?

Mr. Wood

The hon. Gentleman's supplementary question seems to go a little beyond the Question on the Order Paper. This is a very important subject. The hon. Gentleman has asked me various questions about the White Paper. I think it would be more convenient for the House if we discussed the White Paper at another time perhaps, as there will be an opportunity on another occasion.

It is not for me to say it, but I think it would be easier to discuss these great matters to which the hon. Gentleman has drawn our attention other than at Question Time. However, I should like just to say that, rather than this being a cut-back, it is a deferment of the acceleration which was planned in 1957. The acceleration would have required a very high rate of ordering in the two years referred to, and all that we are doing at the present time is to say that the rate of ordering will continue to go on at about the present rate.

Mr. Peyton

While very few of us will have had an opportunity to read the White Paper yet, may I ask my right hon. Friend to assure us that any suspicions that the principle of our having the cheapest, most economic and most efficient sources of fuel has been dropped are unfounded? Can my right hon. Friend assure us that that principle is still safeguarded, or are suspicions that the principle has gone by the board justified?

Mr. Wood

The whole reason for the change which I have announced this afternoon is that the point at which nuclear power generation breaks even with conventional power generation will be rather further in the future than was first expected.

Mr. Pentland

In view of the content of the White Paper, would not the right hon. Gentleman agree that it underlines the fact that we should have more detailed economic studies carried out into the whole of our fuel and power position? Would he not further agree that until these studies are undertaken he should, in consultation with the National Coal Board, call a halt to the closing down of pits, which at the present time—emphasise "at the present time"—are being termed uneconomic?

Mr. Wood

That goes rather beyond the hon. Gentleman's Question. However, perhaps I may give the specific figure for which he asks in his Question. The figure of a nuclear power capacity of between 3,500 and 4,000 megawatts would require the equivalent of 11–12 million tons of coal.

Mr. D. Price

Would not my right hon. Friend agree that this cut-back has been made necessary by the very remarkable technical improvements in the capital costs of conventional stations, but would he not also agree that it is important that the design teams brought into being under the nuclear power programme are kept in being? Can he give some undertaking that research contracts will be given in respect of at least some of the teams, because in due course we shall need nuclear energy in this country?

Mr. Wood

I will certainly take notice of what my hon. Friend said. It is most important that we should continue to get experience in building these stations so that we shall be ready to build them on an increased scale when the break-even point is reached.

Mr. Lee

Can the right hon. Gentleman say what loss will now be incurred by the Atomic Energy Authority and how it is to be covered?

Mr. Wood

I am not sure that I get the point of the hon. Gentleman's question. I do not think there will be a loss at all.

Mr. Lee

But the right hon. Gentleman has read the White Paper surely? I have had a copy for only two seconds, but I have read that there will be a loss to the Atomic Energy Authority. As the right hon. Gentleman has apparently not had a chance to read the White Paper, perhaps he will examine the question of the loss to the A.E.A.

Mr. Wood

I will re-read the White Paper for the tenth or twelfth time. The figure which the hon. Gentleman has in mind is perhaps the saving in capital expenditure. Perhaps he has not yet had long enough to read the document.

Mr. Lee

Paragraph 8 says: There will however be some loss to the Atomic Energy Authority.

Mr. Wood

Yes, there will be a slight loss, and, therefore, the net saving in capital expenditure would be a little less than £90 million.

Mr. Speaker

It is clear that we cannot debate this subject at Question Time.

Mr. Peart

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The right hon. Gentleman said that there would be an opportunity for him to answer questions on the White Paper, which forms the basis of his answers today. As it is customary when a White Paper is presented to the House for the Minister to make a statement at the end of Questions, would it not be possible for the right hon. Gentleman to make a statement on this very important subject at the end of Question Time?

Mr. Speaker

That question is very properly addressed to me, but not in the expectation that I would answer it. We are retarding the acceleration of Questions.

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