HC Deb 10 March 1980 vol 980 cc910-2
8. Mr. Jessel

asked the Secretary of State for Energy what information he has about public attitudes to the generation of nuclear energy.

Mr. Norman Lamont

I believe that there is wide recognition of the need for nuclear power.

Mr. Jessel

Will the Minister look out for the result of this month's referendum on nuclear energy in Sweden, where it has become a major political question which has been widely debated, so that we can all get an idea of how far the mentality of protest is truly representative of an informed public opinion?

Mr. Lamont

We shall certainly follow the results of the referendum in Sweden. None of the options in Sweden gives a clear go-ahead for nuclear power. The one which is most favourable for nuclear power allows it to go ahead only after the completion of those reactors now under construction or now in use. However, the referendum will certainly give us some guide to public opinion elsewhere.

Mr. Benn

Is the Minister aware that the Government are now in danger of losing public confidence in their nuclear energy proposals, first because they have gone for a PWR which is widely regarded as being inherently unsafe from a design point of view, something confirmed by Sir Alan Cottrell, the Government's former chief scientist; secondly, because there are serious difficulties in the PWRs used in France: and thirdly, because, when the previous Government were in office the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate made it clear to me that the Westinghouse PWR would not be acceptable and that major and extensive modifications would be required? Is he aware that unless the Government are candid with the public and do not try to rush through a programme without a debate and decision in the House, they will lose the confidence of the British people in this component of our energy policy?

Mr. Lamont

If the Government are in any danger of losing public confidence in this dispute, it will be not least because the right hon. Gentleman himself has done so much to stir up public opinion and to give rise to groundless fears. It is a complete travesty to say that the Government are not being candid and open, when this Government have published so much more documentation than the right hon. Gentleman's Administration published. Furthermore, the right hon. Gentleman knows that the NII has said that, even after the Three Mile Island incident, there is no reason why a PWR should not be designed to satisfy the most stringent security requirements. Fourth, I am sure that the NII, in its safety evaluations, will take into account Sir Alan Cottrell's views. Sir Alan himself has had a consultation with the NII and was brought up to date on some points of which he might not have been aware. The right hon. Gentleman will no doubt be glad to learn, as I am, that Sir Alan has confidence that no dangerous cracks in PWR pressure vessels will escape detection if the recommendations of the Marshall group on pressure vessel integrity are carried out.

Mr. Beith

Does not the hon. Gentleman realise that serious reservations about the scale of the Government's nuclear power commitment are now widespread, and nowhere more so than in areas such as Northumberland, which are scheduled for both power stations and nuclear waste disposal? Should he not recognise that, whatever the view of those who do not have proposals for such developments on their doorstep, the picture is very different among those threatened with them?

Mr. Lamont

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would not wish to misrepresent the scale of the Government's nuclear programme, because this Government's nuclear programme is much less than that planned in other European countries—much less than in France and Germany and much less than the 40 gigawatts of nuclear power foreseen in the Green Paper of the previous Secretary of State for Energy.

Mr. Dorrell

Although I welcome the Government's continued and firm commitment to the nuclear programme, does the Minister agree that some of the public opposition that has been stirred up by statements such as those that we have just heard can be allayed by a recognition of the amount of money that the Government are continuing to put into research into benevolent sources of energy as alternatives to the hydrocarbons? Does he accept that that is an important part of a programme to get wider recognition of the need for nuclear power? Are the Government still committed to maintaining their programme of research into alternative sources of energy?

Mr. Lamont

Yes, the Government are committed to continuing with research into the alternatives. I am sure that my hon. Friend knows that the energy projections of the Department include a contribution from those sources of energy in the year 2000.

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