HC Deb 26 January 1981 vol 997 cc623-4
3. Mr. Adley

asked the Secretary of State for Energy if he will make a statement on the progress achieved in the expansion of the nuclear energy programme.

5. Mr. Geoffrey Johnson Smith

asked the Secretary of State for Energy whether he is satisfied that the reorganised nuclear industry will be able to meet cost and time targets for the United Kingdom's new nuclear power stations.

The Under-Secretary of State for Energy (Mr. Norman Lamont)

Following my right hon. Friend's statements of 18 December 1979 and 14 April 1980 the structure of the nuclear industry has been strengthened and work is in hand on the two new advance gas-cooled reactors and on the design of the proposed pressurised water reactor. The opportunity now exists for the creation of a strong and efficient nuclear industry in the United Kingdom.

Mr. Adley

I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. Does he not agree with me that some of those who criticise the Government's nuclear policy on safety grounds are implying incompetence, evasion or dishonesty by the CEGB? As that is a most unfair and improper suggestion, will he and his colleagues be rather more robust in defending the Government's policy and explaining it to ordinary people?

Mr. Lamont

We shall certainly be robust. I am somewhat surprised at my hon. Friend's suggestion, since we are frequently accused of being simply a mouthpiece for the nuclear industry—whereas the Government wish the nuclear debate to be an open one. However, the Government have made no secret of their view that this country, particularly in view of the concern about energy prices, needs a strong and larger nuclear component.

Mr. Johnson Smith

Can my hon. Friend reassure the House that the development of a British version of the PWR remains on schedule?

Mr. Lamont

The development of a British version of the PWR does remain on schedule, but my hon. Friend will know that we are still at the preliminary stage of doing the design work. The NII is doing its work for the inquiry. So far we are on target, but matters are at a very early stage.

Mr. John Home Robertson

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the nuclear programme at Torness in East Lothian is likely to run into some difficulties if the authorities continue to ignore the undertakings given about the employment of local people? Is he aware that there are 643 unemployed construction workers in East Lothian but that the contractors at Torness are bussing in 614 workers from outside the Lothians and Borders?

Mr. Lamont

I note what the hon. Gentleman says, but I am afraid that Torness is the responsibility of the Secretary of State for Scotland.

Mr. Patrick McNair-Wilson

Can my hon. Friend give us any idea of the time scale that the Government have in mind for the development of a commercial fast breeder reactor?

Mr. Lamont

I cannot say when an announcement might be made. No decision has yet been taken. There have been various discussions between the AEA and people in other countries about the possibility of collaboration, but I stress that no decision has yet been taken. This House will, of course, be informed at an early stage.

Mr. Penhaligon

At the open and public inquiry into PWR safety, will the Government be prepared to ensure that those objecting to the PWR do not lose their case in the face of Government propaganda because of a lack of finance?

Mr. Lamont

It has never been policy that objectors to projects should be funded at the taxpayers' expense. We have no present plans to alter that policy.

Mr. Ancram

Is my hon. Friend concerned at the escalation in the projected outturn costs of the new AGRs at Heysham and Torness? Is he still satisfied that they are justified economically?

Mr. Lamont

I am concerned about the escalation of costs for AGRs generally. Certainly there is a large margin. However, I strongly believe that the industry has to get to grips with those costs or the economic case for nuclear power will be endangered. The situation is not one which can leave us complacent.

Mr. Eadie

Since, in reply to his hon. Friend the Member for New Forest (Mr. McNair-Wilson), the Minister was not very specific, and since he must have seen the trailer running in the press to the effect that most of the experimental processes at Dounreay are almost complete, will he try to avoid giving the impression that the Government are complacent about this? Will he ensure that the House receives a statement about this matter, arising from statements which have appeared in the press?

Mr. Lamont

I have seen many statements in the press, including many misleading and totally inaccurate statements, and I do not think that we should make a statement to the House on the basis of them.

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