§ The Secretary of State for Energy (Mr. David Howell)
With permission, Mr. Speaker, I wish to make a statement on our nuclear programme.
Safe nuclear power and a strong nuclear industry are essential to this country's energy policy. On present prospects, supplies of North Sea oil and gas will be declining in the 1990s. Even with full exploitation of coal and conservation, and with great efforts on renewable energy sources, it will be difficult, if not impossible, to meet this country's long-term energy needs without a sizeable contribution from nuclear power.
The British nuclear power programme has been in decline over the last decade and the structure of the nuclear industry has been under review for nearly two years. If we are to reverse this trend and ensure that the industry is on a sound footing we must act now.
The Government have, therefore, held urgent consultations with those most directly concerned. We believe that there must be continuing nuclear power station orders if our long-term energy supplies are to be secured and current industrial uncertainties are to be resolved.
The last Government authorised the Central Electricity Generating Board and the South of Scotland Electricity Board to begin work at once with a view to ordering one advanced gas-cooled reactor station each as soon as possible. This is in hand.
The last Government also endorsed the intention of the CEGB to establish the pressurised water reactor as a valid option by ordering a PWR station provided—and I quote:design work is satisfactorily completed and all necessary Government and other consents and safety clearances have been obtained."—[Official Report, 25 January 1978; 942, c. 1392.]This Government agree that the nuclear and electricity supply industries should now proceed along these lines, and we have made clear to them our wish that, subject to the necessary consents and safety clearances, the PWR should be the next nuclear power station order, with the aim of starting construction in 1982. With the approval of the Government, the 288 CEGB has endorsed the National Nuclear Corporation's selection of Westinghouse as licensor for the PWR, and will shortly issue a letter of intent to the NNC to authorise the design and, subject to the necessary approvals, manufacture of a PWR. In consultation with the CEGB, the NNC will prepare the safety case for the board to consider and submit to the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate. Statutory consent actually to build the station will also be needed and an inquiry will be held in due course.
We attach overriding importance to the safety of nuclear power and will want to ensure that the lessons of events at the Three Mile Island station in the United States have been learnt. I am today publishing preliminary assessments of the Kemeny report on this incident provided to me by the NII and other authorities in the United Kingdom.
Looking ahead, the electricity supply industry has advised that even on cautious assumptions it would need to order at least one new nuclear power station a year in the decade from 1982, or a programme of the order of 15,000 megawatts over 10 years. The precise level of future ordering will depend upon the development of electricity demand and the performance of the industry, but we consider this is a reasonable prospect against which the nuclear and power plant industries can plan. Decisions about the choice of reactor for later orders will be taken in due course.
The Government attach importance to the steady build-up of the NNC into a strong and independent design and construction company, fully able to supply nuclear power stations efficiently, at home and abroad.
The boards of NNC and of its operating subsidiary, the Nuclear Power Company, will be brought together into a single-tier structure with full responsibility for the affairs of the company. The supervisory management agreement between the NNC and the General Electric Company will be terminated. The management of the NNC will be built up to suit the needs of our nuclear programme. Lord Aldington, chairman of the NNC, has told me that he wishes to retire shortly. I would like to pay tribute to the valuable and unstinted service which he has devoted to the nuclear industry over the last six years. I will be arranging for a 289 successor to take over the chairmanship in due course.
The immediate task of the NNC is to carry forward its work on the AGR programme, including early commissioning of the remainder of the first AGRs and to complete work on a PWR design ready for safety scrutiny. In addition, it is the Government's wish that the company should take on total project management responsibility for the first PWR, drawing on whatever resources it may need to support it in this role. The company may also wish to consider moving into some areas of manufacturing in due course.
The future success of our nuclear programme is of great importance to the prosperity of this country. I ask all concerned to give their active support to the decisions that I have announced.
§ Dr. Owen
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that we endorse wholeheartedly his statement that the safety of nuclear power is the overriding factor? Having authorised two gas-cooled reactors ourselves earlier this year when in government, we continue to support a steady ordering programme of advanced gas-cooled reactors provided that it is carefully adjusted to match realistic energy demand forecasts and is accompanied by increased investment in, and expansion of, the coal mining industry.
We also welcome the right hon. Gentleman's announcement about the single-tier management structure and the termination of the management agreement with GEC. Will he give an assurance that any new chairman of the corporation will be generally acceptable and not therefore associated with any of the major shareholders? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that, much though I would like to have as wide an agreement over the energy industry and energy policy as is possible between the parties, particularly following the Three Mile Island incident and reports from France, we have reservations about the wisdom of changing the reactor design to the American pressure water reactor? Does he agree that the onus of proof for any change in reactor design lies with the CEGB in a wide ranging public inquiry?
Can the right hon. Gentleman assure the House that, after such an inquiry and before any final decision is taken, he will ensure that a debate takes place in the 290 House? Will the Government also ensure that the public inquiry's terms of reference will allow comparative safety data from overseas, comparative costs of AGR, PWR and coal-burning power stations, and the import content in the different designs to be taken into account?
Finally, will the right hon. Gentleman ensure that, at the inquiry, all the relevant safety data, published by the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate, by the CEGB and by the corporation itself, will be published and will be available to the inquiry? Only on that basis can an informed decision be taken about whether to go for the pressure water reactor.
§ Mr. Howell
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for the tone in which he has responded to my statement. I shall be glad to try to answer his specific points and questions. First, he mentioned, not as a question but as a belief, his commitment to the expansion of coal. That is a commitment I share. The new coal industry that is arising from the old has an expending and important future. There can be no question other than that being so.
The size of the programme that I have announced, even if fully completed and, indeed, added to where we decide to do so later in the 1990s, would still leave a major and expanding need for coal in our energy economy, not merely for power generation but increasingly to replace oil for petrol and petro-chemicals. On that matter there can be no dissension.
On the question of a new chairman, I recognise the need. I have given an assurance that the new chairman and board and, indeed, the executive management must be of a kind that will command the confidence of all the parties and that will be in a position to overcome the old rivalries—and it will be no easy task —that have held back our nuclear programme and so give confidence to all involved.
I recognise the right hon. Gentleman's feelings on the matter of the onus of proof and a public inquiry. I must, however, remind him, and those who have doubts, that there are operating in the world at the moment no fewer than 153 light water reactors, that is, pressurised and boiling water reactors. A further 180 are being built. In other words, this is a mature system, with up 291 to 400 years operating experience behind it and with a vast worldwide experience and technical back-up. For this nation to cut itself off altogether from the option and opportunity of building pressure water reactors, with that worldwide system in existence and growing, would, in my view, be most unwise. That is why the CEGB believe, as, I understood, the Labour Government of which the right hon. Gentleman was a member believed, that this option should be kept open. That is why this Government believe that we should now build a pressure water reactor.
On the question of the public inquiry, we are, of course, giving full consideration to the type of inquiry that would follow safety clearance. There could be no inquiry until we had full safety clearance. We have made no decisions on precisely what type of inquiry should be established. I also make no secret of our view that the fullest explanations and the fullest discussion should inform the inquiry when it takes place. I can also inform the right hon. Gentleman that I am assured that all the principal safety documentation relevant to the initial licensing will be made available to that inquiry and published in order that the inquiry can take those matters into account. I hope that that satisfies him that all data on that matter will be published.
§ Mr. Patrick McNair-Wilson
Since it is essential to establish in the public mind the need for the increase in the nuclear programme, and since it is always easier to frighten people than to reassure them, will my right hon. Friend confirm that no one has ever lost his life in a nuclear power station as a result of radiation or nuclear mishap since the programme started?
§ Mr. Howell
I confirm my hon. Friend's statement. I confirm that this is a very safe industry with a magnificent safety record. Safety is paramount. We intend that it should remain so.
§ Mr. Benn
Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that what he has announced is a public expenditure commitment of between £10 billion and £20 billion, which is five times as great as the ordering programme over the last decade and absolutely different from what the generating board sought as late as the beginning of 292 last year? Will he tell the House whether he has abandoned the gas-cooled route, of which we have had 22 years experience, for this programme? If so, would it not be more honest to say that the Government have decided that they want the PWR?
Is the right hon. Gentleman also aware that there is no field tested system for storing nuclear waste on this scale and that the German courts have stopped work in Germany until that is established? I should like to reinforce the need for parliamentary debate and for a vote, as in the Windscale reprocessing case, before this programme goes ahead. A crash programme on this scale, with American reactors not tried in this country and now suspect abroad, could put the nuclear industry into the heart of public controversy, following great public confidence over the patient way that we have proceeded with a system that we developed and tried and that has worked well in this country.
§ Mr. Howell
I am aware of the right hon. Gentleman's experience in these matters. He used the words "crash programme". He perhaps misheard what I said. The programme that I have announced would result, at the end of the 10 years, in about 22 gigawatts—one gigawatt being equivalent to 1,000 megawatts—of electric generation capacity. That would be far short of the sort of level outlined in his own Green Paper published when he was Secretary of State, holding this job, of 40 gigawatts by the turn of the century. It is a limited programme, even by the standards and assumptions of the Department of Energy when he was Secretary of State. It is and should be a limited programme. This is a complex matter, and we must pursue it in a cautious and prudent way. I believe that we must pursue it.
The right hon. Gentleman asked whether we had abandoned the advanced gas-cooled reactor. I thought that I had made clear, and that he must have heard me say, that until we have safety clearance—until we have got that hurdle out of the way and until the design work for the building of a pressure water reactor has been satisfactorily completed—it will be impossible to make a commitment to a different reactor system, even if we then wish to do so.
293 The aim of our programme must be to see whether we can build a pressure water reactor and provide for and get the satisfactory safety clearances. If we can, the House and the Government can make a decision on which reactor system we should adopt for the necessary and limited programme that I have outlined. There can be no question of rushing from one system to another until we know all the facts and have the safety clearances. I hope that that is clear to the right hon. Gentleman.
As for a debate, I shall call the attention of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster to that matter. I recognise the enormous public and parliamentary concern about these major issues for our nation.
New forms of storage through vitrification are being developed. However, it would be misleading for the country to assume that the present problems of storage of high-level and high-activity waste are not easily manageable, as at present they are. The storage containers are steel encased in concrete encased again in steel, and they are under water. The waste is limited in volume and the storage systems work successfully. Therefore, while we want improvements in the system through the glassification or vitrification system, which will come in due course, and while there may be a need for it in 15 or 20 years, it would be misleading to indicate that we have an immediate problem and an immediate solution. We do not have such an immediate problem. That aspect is well under control and can be met.
§ Mr. Penhaligon
How can the Minister justify the Government's obsession with nuclear power after the Three Mile Island incident, the colossal leak at Windscale, the extraordinarily slow progress of research into the disposal of nuclear waste and the current two-year American halt to any development of the industry? Would it not have made more sense if the Minister had said that until a full inquiry into the PWR had been completed and a method of safe disposal of nuclear waste had been discovered, no further expansion of the industry would take place?
§ Mr. Howell
I think that the word "obsession" is misplaced. We are concerned with a build-up which, at the end 294 of this programme, would lead to about 30 per cent. of our electricity coming from nuclear power, leaving us with a variety of sources for power, light and heat in future.
The hon. Gentleman asked why we should be concerned with this programme. We should be concerned with it because we should be concerned with our children and our children's children, and the question whether they freeze and whether their industries work or not. That is the basis for our concern and for looking a little beyond the immediate future in working out our energy policy.
I have already answered the point about waste disposal. I believe that that problem can be and is being managed. There is no immediate problem there for the foreseeable future. I hope that that meets the point made by the hon. Gentleman.
§ Several Hon. Members rose—
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. The House will be aware that there is another statement to follow. It will help me to call many more Members if we can have brief questions.
§ Mr. Forman
Will my right hon. Friend assure the House that the relatively high cost of this programme, as foreseen, will not exclude adequate investment by this Government and future Governments in both energy conseravtion and renewable sources of energy?
§ Mr. Howell
Yes, I can give that assurance. Indeed, I can go further. In my view and in the view of the Government, the development of a nuclear capacity of this kind makes it all the more essential that we have a complementary development of different, smaller, and alternative and renewable sources of energy.
§ Mr. Palmer
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that his statement on the expansion of the nuclear power programme will be widely welcomed by the electricity supply industry, including all the trade unions, which have been pressing for it for some time?
Specifically, what will be the nature of the agreement to be made between the National Nuclear Corporation and the American Westinghouse company for the import of about 25 per cent. of the technology that will be necessary for the 295 PWR? In particular, will any restriction be placed on this country regarding the re-export of pressurised water technology?
§ Mr. Howell
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his general response to my statement. Indeed, I recognise his deep involvement in and knowledge of this industry and the electricity supply industry over the years.
The agreement will be the full activation of the licence between the National Nuclear Corporation and Westinghouse, with the commercial limitations that Westinghouse will impose. Those will be negotiated on the agreement as was done in supplying the original technology to the French and to the Germans when their PWR industries first developed. That will be the nature of the agreement.
Exchange of information with other countries will have to be within the terms of the Westinghouse licence. It certainly would not exclude, for instance, exchange of components or manufacturing information of certain kinds with the French who are also governed, and will be until 1982, by the Westinghouse licence.
§ Mr. Wigley
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there is widespread worry and anxiety about the safety of nuclear power stations, particularly the PWR and, if we get to them, the fast-breeder reactors? That is felt particularly in areas where these reactors may be built. Can the right hon. Gentleman give an indication about the locations of these reactors, and the locations for the dumping of nuclear waste?
§ Mr. Howell
I cannot give an indication on locations. Until there has been safety clearance for a PWR there will be no applications for sites on which to build it. I have received no such applications.
The hon. Gentleman said that there was widespread concern about the safety of nuclear power. I recognise that fully. It is for that reason that I have today authorised the publication of the evaluations of the Kemeny report by the CEGB, the UKAEA and the NNC. I am sure that these documents will be read with interest by hon. Members. On the whole, they support my own assessment of the Kemeny report—it is a fairly wide assessment—that what went wrong at Harrisburg had most to do with the organize- 296 ton and procedures of the American nuclear operations and nuclear operating industry and much less—in fact, very little —to do with the integrity of the system and of the equipment of the pressure water reactor.
§ Mr. Maurice Macmillan
Will my right hon. Friend accept that my congratulations to him on reaching a firm decision in the short term on our nuclear programme are not mitigated by my regret that he has not mentioned any future for the fast-breeder reactor? Is he aware that if a commercial type of fast-breeder were started at Doorway immediately, it could not possibly be completed until 1992—the end of this present programme? Will he confirm that the French are going ahead with their fast-breeder reactor and that it is necessary for us to make a decision if we are to produce a reactor that can demonstrate its capacity and thereby become an exportable product?
§ Mr. Howell
I am grateful for my right hon. Friend's qualified congratulations. He is right about the importance of the fast-breeder reactor. I expect a full report fairly soon from the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority on how we may best proceed towards a commercial demonstration fast-breeder reactor. I also expect that report to include comments on the possibilities of international collaboration, including collaboration with the French or with the joint French and German programme through the Serena organisation, and on ways in which we can best proceed on that basis. The French are pressing ahead, but these frontier areas of technology are not without severe difficulties. Nevertheless, I believe that the fast-breeder reactor is part of the nuclear future and I shall be receiving a report on this matter fairly shortly.
§ Mr. Woodall
Will the right hon. Gentleman be a little more forthcoming than he was in his reply to the hon. Member for CAE Narvon (Mr.Wigley)? Surely someone somewhere should have some idea where these nuclear power stations are intended to be placed. If not, something somewhere is sadly lacking. For instance, is there to be a nuclear power station in Yorkshire, which has more than its share of coal-fired power stations? Finally, is this 297 new programme likely to put any coal-fired stations in jeopardy?
§ Mr. Howell
In fair reply to the hon. Gentleman's perfectly understandable worry—first, we have to decide whether such a nuclear station will receive full safety clearance. Secondly, we have to go to inquiry, which the hon. Gentleman's right hon. Friends and others have rightly pointed out. When we do that, and a decision has been reached, the time will come—at theinquiry—to decide where the site should be. Until then, no one will come forward with, or decide upon, a proposal on where a nuclear power station should be sited. We have to take the matter one step at a time. That is in the nature of things, and there is no other way around it.
In future there may be more coal-fired stations. The programme does not rule out other sorts of power stations; it is merely that we believe that it is necessary, as a minimum, to have this commitment to a steady ordering of nuclear programmes to get our nuclear industry going and to make it worth while for people to invest their careers, management and expertise in reviving our nuclear industry.
§ Mr. Skeet
I welcome the Government's programme, but is the Secretary of State aware that the French capacity by 1985 will be four times that of the United Kingdom, and by 1990 five times that of the United Kingdom? Is the right hon. Gentleman also aware that the cross-channel cable may well be used for the advantage of the French rather than the British?
§ Mr. Howell
I am aware of the disparities between the British and French plans. Our energy position is different, and it is my view—and the Government's view—that we should build our future energy availability and security of supplies on a variety of resources. We wish to press ahead with a greater nuclear capacity, but we wish also to develop other resources. Even if we succeed fully on all our energy programmes, on estimates that are shared by both the previous Government and the present Government we will still need to achieve a 20 per cent. energy resource to increase energy efficiency and conservation. I hope that that answer gives an idea of the great importance attached to the development of our resources.
298 The cross-channel electricity link is currently the subject of a public inquiry. It would not be right for me to comment on it or on the source of electricity passing through it.
§ Mr. Home Robertson
Will the Secretary of State comment on the widely held public view about nuclear safety, namely, that what could happen will happen sooner or later? Will he confirm that there is no question of building Harrisburg-type PWRs on the sites that are at present being developed at Heysham and Torness, in my constituency?
§ Mr. Howell
I cannot comment on possible sites, for the reason that I have already explained. I can confirm not only that the principal safety documentation relevant to initial licensing for PWRs would be made available and published for any future public inqiury, but that the CEGB have undertaken to produce, next year, substantial and full documentation on the safety of the existing advanced gas-cooled reactor. That would be a further valuable contribution to public debate.
§ Mr. Donald Stewart
Will the Secretary of State take note that in view of the lack of fixed locations in Scotland already has one of the highest proportions of nuclear-generated electricity at the present time? If there were massive overcapacity, there would be strong opposition to any of that capacity being taken to England or the Continent through the grid. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware of the growing opposition to nuclear power in Scotland? Will he undertake to keep us from these dangerous plants and waste?
§ Mr. Howell
I take note of the right hon. Gentleman's Scottish concern. As to strong opposition, while there are certainly some who would strongly oppose these matters, I think that that is different from assuming that there is an overwhelming majority against them. On the contrary, I believe that if we look at the common sense of the Scottish, English, Welsh and Northern Irish people, we will find a preponderance in favour of the sort of power that I am describing today.
§ Mr. David Price
I welcome my right hon. Friend's statement, but do we take 299 it from the figures that he quoted that he is persisting in building large power stations of 1,500 megawatts or above? Will he put his mind to the possibility of building a larger number of smaller stations, which would fit in better with his policy of playing all the options? In that context, does that not make the fast-breeder nuclear reactor a little nearer down the time scale than he suggested in his reply to my right hon. Friend the Member for Farnham (Mr. Macmillan)?
§ Mr. Howell
I do not think that there is an inter-relationship between the thermal programme that I have announced today and moving ahead with the fast-breeder reactor, which we recognise is important. No decision has been made, and no minds are closed, on the size of the actual reactors at the pressure water reactor stations if the safety clearances are given and the inquiry approves their building.
§ Mr. Abse
Since it will be found to be droll, to say the least, by the British people, will the Secretary of State explain why, at the very moment when nuclear power stations are closing and licences are being frozen by the nuclear regulatory commission in America, we should move forward precipitously into the PWR.
If he is so concerned with safety, will the right hon. Gentleman explain why the Government are stubbornly refusing to publish the unabridged nuclear safety studies that are available? Today, he is quite clearly proffering only synoptic and inadequate evaluations rather than the full and unabridged text.
Will he spell out whether that means that in Wales there is no intention to move forward at Portskewett with an AGR, and that he is contemplating putting a PWR there? I would inform him that in addition to the Government making Wales an economic desert, if there is any suggestion that he should make it into a radioactive wasteland he will find that the public opinion that he mentions will be different from that which he imagines.
§ Mr. Howell
I deal with the last of the hon. Gentleman's three questions. The CEGB has informed me that it does not intend to press its application to build an advanced gas-cooled reactor at the Portskewett site. If it did decide to do 300 so, there would be a public inquiry, but it has informed me that it does not wish to press ahead at present.
The hon. Gentleman's interpretation of the Kemeny report differs from mine. That report did not recommend the freezing of licencing procedures for pressurised water reactors or nuclear station building in the United States. What was at issue in the United States, as is perfectly clear from the reading of the report—I am sure that the hon. Gentleman has had a chance to study it, because of its vital importance—is that it was regulatory, organisational and institutional patterns that were at fault. Furthermore, the report suggested that it would have been better to have a system closer to that which exists in this country. The hon. Gentleman's argument does not stand on the basis of the Kemeny report and the events at Harrisburg.
I deal with the 1977 generic report on pressurised water reactor systems. A general summary of the report was published, and a more detailed report followed. The hon. Gentleman asked, very fairly, why the whole report had not been published. Predominantly, what is not published is commercial information provided by Westinghouse, which would not have been provided if the terms were that it would be published. The publication was not possible, for commercial reasons. The rest is publishable and is available.
§ Mr. Edward Gardner
I welcome the decisive statement of my right hon. Friend, but will he tell the House what progress is being made on research into alternative sources of power—that is, alternative to oil, coal and nuclear fuel? What contribution does he anticipate those alternative sources will be able to make to our needs within the next decade?
§ Mr. Howell
Substantial research is being carried out into alternative sources, in both the public and private sectors. In areas such as tidal barrage or aero-generators, we are so early in the research stage that expenditure is not large. Big expenditure begins when the development stage is reached. Nevertheless, we are on a course that may lead eventually—and decision will have to be taken by future Governments—to spending enormous sums on carrying 301 forward these alternatives, such as aero-generators, wave power and tidal barrage, into full commercial application.
Frankly, I do not see any of these producing a substantial contribution over the next 10 years. By the end of the century it is possible that about 10 million tonnes of coal equivalent may flow from alternatives of one sort or another. In the nature of things, it is early days for the economic considerations. Expenditure is still much at the research level. My hon. and learned Friend must be left in no doubt that we regard the alternatives that he mentioned as an important part of future energy policy.
§ Mr. Albert Roberts
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Why has the right hon. Gentleman failed to mention substitute North Sea gas?
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I have no doubt that that is what the hon. Member for Normanton (Mr. Roberts) would have asked if I had called him.
§ Mr. Mike Thomas
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that those who are working in the power generation industry will be extremely disappointed that he does not propose to place another order before 1982? Is he aware that the hardware orders for the Torness and Heysham AGRs have not yet been placed? Will he do something to speed up the placing of those orders, as jobs depend on them? Is he also aware that that very fact will undermine the credibility of his alleged public inquiry and safety investigation strategy?
If the right hon. Gentleman is not proceeding on the AGR front, will he not arrive in a position in 1982 in which he has no option but to order the PWR? Will he give that information to the House? Is it not a fact that the Government have made up their minds already?
Lastly, may I welcome the right hon. Gentleman's statement on the independent and strong status of the new nuclear corporation and the termination of the GEC management contract? We are glad that over the weekend he had second thoughts on his idea.
§ Mr. Howell
I can assure the hon. Member for Normanton (Mr. Roberts) 302 that although he did not ask a question about substitute North Sea gas the matter is much in my mind. It will be an important part of the coal industry's future in providing gas after natural gas declines.
As for orders, there are the two new advanced gas-cooled reactor stations to be built. The orders will be important to British industry. Everything that the hon. Gentleman has said reinforces the need for us to press ahead with the safety clearances and the inquiry to get the next nuclear power station order established. I am sure that that is the right way forward. Today's announcement indicates that we shall go firmly and strongly along that path. That will be in the best interests of the supply industries.
§ Several Hon. Members rose—
§ Mr. Speaker
I call the hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. Welsh), and I shall call two Conservative Members when the hon. Member for Don Valley has asked his question.
§ Mr. Welsh
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there are millions outside this ivory tower who, like my good self, do not support any extension of nuclear power stations in Great Britain? Will he give me an assurance that no such plants, even after long inquiries, will be built in the constituency of Don Valley? The Government have a majority vote in the House. If they are successful in implementing the contents of the right hon. Gentleman's statement, will they arrange for one nuclear power station to be built within a few hundred yards of this place?
§ Mr. Howell
For reasons that I have explained, I cannot make statements or offer views on the locations of the next nuclear stations, or any future power station, until application is made to me and the matter goes, if necessary, to inquiry. I know that there are strong feelings for and against nuclear power. However, if we consider the issue in the way that the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen) urged—with less emotion and less rivalry and bitterness—we shall recognise the basic need from our children's point of view, and from the next generation's point of view, for safe, low-cost nuclear power. We must look forward if we are to see good government from any party.
§ Mr. Hannam
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the most important factor in the nuclear equation is to get and retain the support of the British people for the nuclear programme that he is outlining? What plans has he for keeping the public fully briefed on both the need for and the safety of the nuclear industry?
§ Mr. Howell
As I have already mentioned, we are undertaking a considerable programme of publication of safety documents relating to Harrisburg, the PWR and the AGR. In addition, it is my Department's intention to send to every hon. Member an information document setting out a great many of the detailed background considerations on nuclear power and its safety and related implications—for example, waste disposal. There is an understandable demand for more information and more detail on these complex aspects. I am open to further suggestions on more publications and more help that can be provided by the Government and by my Department to meet the queries and worries of hon. Members and of the public.
§ Mr. Rost
Does my right hon. Friend accept that the nuclear programme, which I fully support, could run into serious difficulties? There has been plenty of evidence cited and comments made to that effect from Opposition Members. That will continue to be the position unless we carry public opinion with us. Surely that can happen only if the industry and Government make greater efforts to disclose fully sensitive documents and material. If those efforts are not made, the anti-nuclear lobby will exploit the fears and anxieties of the British people unjustifiably.
§ Mr. Howell
I agree with my hon. Friend. I shall add to the list that I have mentioned further publications that we intend to make to demonstrate that my agreement is not merely verbal but will be translated into results. There are wor- 304 ries—the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport has referred to them—about waste disposal and certain leaks that have taken place at Windscale. It is our intention to publish the reports of the Health and Safety Executive on the 1976 incident—the leak from the B38 silo—and the 1978 incident that was eventually reported to my predecessor, and to publish a general report on safety operations at Windscale. That is a further example of the Government's determination to ensure that full information is in the hands of Parliament and of the public before and as we make decisions to expand our nuclear capacity, as we must.
§ Mr. Dobson
How can the Secretary of State talk about a programme that is based on what he described as the cautious assumptions of the CEGB against the background of the technologically and financially disastrous AGR programme? No doubt there were cautious assumptions in 1965 when that programme was launched. The board managed to get one station to work in 15 years. On its own estimates, which it supplied to the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Lewis) the cost of the delays in the AGR programme amount to £1,200 million. That sum would have provided only the capacity that was not provided by AGRs.
§ Mr. Howell
The hon. Gentleman is obviously not in agreement with some of his hon. Friends and other hon. Members who have asked questions. When he talks about the difficulties of the past he is reinforcing the urgency of firm and clear decisions to get the industry on a path that will enable it to know that it will have a programme that will enable the customer to have confidence in the industry and will enable the two sectors to work together effectively. The hon. Gentleman's argument reinforces the need to proceed as I now seek to do.
§ Several Hon. Members rose—