HC Deb 25 October 1976 vol 918 cc8-10
6. Mr. Warren

asked the Secretary of State for Energy if he will publish comparative data on the expenditure and delay to the SGHWR project compared with the budget figures to the latest available date.

Mr. Benn

I announced in July that expenditure on the SGHWR in 1977–78 would be reduced by £45 million. Expenditure in 1976–77 will be approximately £15 million less than previously expected. There has, in effect, been one year's deferment of the project.

Mr. Warren

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for that reply, but I am afraid that he has not answered my Question. I wanted to know how much had been spent against that which had been budgeted. Bearing in mind that he has not given me the figures, may I have an assurance that he will not take any final decision on the future of the SGHWR before the reference design has been completed in 1977?

Mr. Benn

I am sorry if I did not give the hon. Gentleman the figures that he sought. Many are published. If there has been an omission, I shall see that it is remedied. It has always been clear that the order for a power station of this kind would have to be cleared against the nuclear inspectors, and so on. That would be normal practice. Here we have a combination of a technical slippage, the need for public economy, and a rundown in current forecasts of demand which made it possible for the slippage to occur.

Mr. Rost

When does the Secretary of State expect to have an updated cost estimate of the SGHWR programme?

Mr. Benn

I shall look into that and see what the latest figures are. In fact, it has turned out to be more costly than was at first thought.

13. Mr. Rost

asked the Secretary of State for Energy if he will make a statement on the future of the SGHWR nuclear reactor programme.

Dr. John A. Cunningham

The National Nuclear Corporation has sought authority from my right hon. Friend for the Nuclear Power Company to carry out an assessment of the SGHWR, PWR and AGR systems. He has agreed to this on the understanding that it will in no way jeopardise the nuclear industry's ability to start work on site on an SGHWR early in 1979. Agreement to this assessment does not mean that the Government are committed to its conclusions.

Mr. Rost

If evidence accumulates to the Minister showing that the SGHWR programme is proving too difficult and too costly, and will not be commercially viable in export markets, would it not be more sensible to reach an early decision for us to cut our losses and to allow the British nuclear industry the opportunity of developing a system—the AGR or PWR—that would at least win us some export orders?

Dr. Cunningham

My right hon. Friend cannot reach a decision until some of the points that the hon. Gentleman has mentioned have been covered. In that connection, the views of the Nuclear Power Company are germane to the discussion.

Mr. Hooley

As we already have the Magnox, AGR and the SGHWR systems either actually working or in development, what on earth is the point of reviving the arguments about the PWR?

Dr. Cunningham

My hon. Friend is right to say that we have Magnox and AGR stations, but we do not have a commercial SGHWR station operating in this country. My hon. Friend will know from his membership of the Select Committee that the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority has written to my right hon. Friend advising him to look again at the choice of thermal reactor.

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