HC Deb 26 January 1981 vol 997 cc630-1
11. Mr. Hooley

asked the Secretary of State for Energy when he expects the first pressurised water reactor nuclear power station to begin supplying electricity to the national grid.

Mr. Norman Lamont

Work is now proceeding on the design of the PWR and on the preparations for the public inquiry, but it is too soon to say when the PWR might be commissioned.

Mr. Hooley

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that on all the evidence flats fantastic £25 billion programme will not make any serious contribution to Britain's energy strategy for decades, if at all? Would it not be more sensible to abandon it and to concentrate on conservation and other energy sources that are much more likely to yield a good result?

Mr. Lamont

First, it is a £15 billion programme and not a £25 billion programme. Perhaps it should be £25 billion. Secondly, the hon. Gentleman says that it takes a long time to construct a nuclear power station or to get a nuclear programme under way and that it would be better to abandon it. I cannot accept that. We have already had many questions about energy costs. One reason why our electricity costs compare badly with those in France, for example, is that the French have a higher proportion of nuclear energy than we do. That is why we must press ahead and why we must build nuclear stations in Britain to time and to cost.

Mr. Rost

Is my hon. Friend aware that there is already a serious slippage in the timetable for the design of the British PWR? How does my hon. Friend think that this will affect the timetable for its construction and completion?

Mr. Lamont

I do not think that my hon. Friend is quite right. My right hon. Friend and I had a meeting last Friday with all those involved in the preliminary work on the PWR. It is not right to say that there is a slippage. Indeed, there is not a slippage on the design work. We know very well that there have been problems with power stations both nuclear and conventional. The industry must get to grips with these problems, otherwise nuclear electricity will not be economic.

Mr. Speaker

Order. I remind the Minister that he is addressing the House, of which I am a part. The hon. Gentleman has turned his back on me throughout all his answers.

Mr. John Evans

In view of the doubt cast upon forecast demand for electricity at the end of the century, and bearing in mind the public hostility towards the PWR project, does the Minister think it necessary to go ahead with its development?

Mr. Lamont

There may or may not be arguments about demand for electricity. However, to accept those arguments would be to accept arguments against power stations of any type and not necessarily against the PWR project. As he knows, the electricity industry, in consultation with the Department, continually revises and re-examines its forecasts. We are satisfied that in the 1990s there will be a need for more nuclear electricity. The hon. Gentleman should not forget that nuclear electricity is cheaper than other forms of electricity. We need cheaper electricity as well as more electricity.

Mr. Merlyn Rees

Regardless of whether there is slippage in the conventional sense of the term, the hon. Gentleman will recall that in last week's debate he announced that there were no terms of reference and no time scale for the inquiry. Does that not mean that there will be delay in the PWR project and that the Department should be considering further orders for the AGR project?

Mr. Lamont

No. I said to the right hon. Gentleman that we expected that the inquiry would begin in 1982, and without in any way presuming what the inquiry's findings will be, if the findings are in favour of the PWR, construction will be in 1983. The construction of the station could take six or seven years. We are at a stage where much work still has to be done on the design.

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