§ 11.3 am
§ Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)
I wish to discuss the safety of nuclear power stations. There has been considerable debate—much of it well informed—over the past few months about the plans of NIREX to find a series of sites for the dumping of nuclear waste, which I believe to be the consequence of the nuclear industry; the debate is rather short-sighted, because we should be discussing the causes of nuclear waste rather than the places where it can be dumped.
There has also been considerable discussion of the Chernobyl disaster and the atmosphere that it has created in this country. Initially, the disaster was misunderstood. It was dismissed as something to do with a peculiarly Soviet design of power station, but it became clear subsequently that a similar disaster could happen in many other places throughout the world.
Earlier this week we heard about the accident that affected a number of workers at the nuclear power plant at Cap de la Hague which is about the same distance from London as Chernobyl is from Kiev and is probably closer to London than some of our own nuclear power stations.
In recent years there have been regular statements to the House about nuclear discharges from Sellafield and the safety of that plant. A few years ago we witnessed the tragedy of Three Mile Island and the near-disaster there.
All those events have changed the atmosphere of the discussion of nuclear power and the safety of nuclear power stations. For the first time, many people have understood the indivisible link between nuclear power stations and the construction of nuclear missiles. The plutonium that is required for nuclear warheads cannot be manufactured except in nuclear fission reactors. That was the original basis for the construction of a number of nuclear power stations in this country, particularly Calder Hall.
Over the past few weeks there has been much more media coverage of the problems and safety of nuclear power. Those who complacently talk about the safety of nuclear power stations and say that British nuclear power stations are the safest in the world should examine the record and the changing technology of the past 20 years.
Since the Windscale disaster in 1957, there have been continual changes in the safety procedures, but the technology is always behind the ability to pollute and the ability to create nuclear waste. The television film last Saturday about the disaster at Idaho Falls in 1961, an accurate reconstruction of what happened, showed that technology was far behind the ability to pollute the atmosphere.
Workers were sent in to clean up the plant and were not adequately briefed, protected or prepared. A number of them were army personnel, and when the medical community at Idaho Falls wished to trace them, the army denied it information about their whereabouts. Many people in the United States may be suffering long-term genetic cancers, as a result of the Idaho Falls accident, and they may not even know that they are in danger. People in other parts of the world have had the same experience.
The nuclear industry, which is supposed to be entirely safe, has had 151 reported accidents in 14 countries since 1971. Every time an accident happens we are told that the 660 British industry is the safest in the world and nuclear power is the safest form of power generation. Comparisons are made with deaths in the coal mines.
Nuclear power represents the end of a long chain which starts with the exploitation of workers in Namibia, the denial of aboriginal land rights in Australia and the activities of the major mining companies that take uranium from the earth. The chain ends with nuclear power stations surrounded by the tightest security and with enormous implicit dangers to the people of this country and of the northern hemisphere. There are few nuclear power stations in the southern hemisphere, and the fact that there is little interchange of air between the hemispheres means that the dangers from Chernobyl and other such places tend to affect mainly the northern hemisphere. It is interesting to examine the production of electricity by fuel type. Electricity produced by nuclear power in United Kingdom has increased from 28 terawatt hours in 1973 to 49.9 TWh in 1983 and it is planned to rise to 126 TWh by the year 2000. The production from solid fuels, mainly coal, has gone up from 174.6 TWh in 1973 to 194.7 TWh in 1983 and is planned to be 193 TWh by the year 2000. Already, 20 per cent. of our electricity is generated by nuclear power but only 4 per cent. of our total energy needs are met by nuclear power, causing enormous danger to the British people in the process.
France is often compared with Britain as a country obsessed with nuclear power, which is true. According to equivalent data, in 1973 the French nuclear industry generated 14.7 TWh, by 1983 it had increased to 144.3 TWh. by 1984 it had increased to 191.5 TWh, by 1990 it is planned to increase to 274.9 TWh and by the year 2000 it is expected to be 384.6 TWh—enormous increases by any measurement.
The increase in nuclear power generation is largely a western European phenomenon. It goes hand in hand with the attempt to end Britain's coal production and, even more so, to stop the use of coal reserves in France. The Department of Energy should question the EEC on this because the EEC's statistics explain coal production in terms of productive capacity, not in terms of total reserves. Every time a mine is closed, its reserves are denied as being available for use. That is yet another example of the propaganda that nuclear power is the only way forward for Britain and for Western Europe.
A Commission document on new Community energy objectives, which was published on 28 May 1985, listed several objectives, including:to maintain, and if possible increase, the market share of solid fuels;not more than 10 per cent. of electricity to be generated from oil and gas;approximately 40 per cent. of electricity to be generated from nuclear power;a tripling in new and renewable energy production by the end of the century.Forty per cent. of electricity generated by nuclear power will represent for western Europe a massive increase in generating capacity from nuclear power. Only France, Belgium and West Germany have reached that level.
I shall compare production of nuclear power in western Europe with production in other countries. The 1985 "BP Statistical Review of World Energy" shows, giving million tonnes oil equivalent figures, that in 1974 in the United States nuclear energy produced 28.8 MTOE, by 1978 it had increased to 75 MTOE and by 1984 it had increased to 89.4 MTOE. It is true that capacity has 661 doubled since 1975, but it is interesting that the planned growth was much lower than in western Europe, because of the effects of Three Mile Island and campaigning by people in the United States who realised the dangers of nuclear power. We, too, should learn from those lessons.
Looking at the centrally planned economies, we find that China does not produce any nuclear power and that the USSR has increased production from 4.5 MTOE in 1974 to 12.5 MTOE in 1979, to 20.5 MTOE in 1982 and to 25 MTOE in 1984. Unfortunately, the Soviet Union is now planning a massive increase in nuclear power generation. I believe that Britain, France and the Soviet Union are wrong to increase nuclear power generation. They are planning that massive increase because they believe that it provides them with cheap unit cost electricity.
On the face of it, nulcear power is capable of providing cheap electricity. Unit costs can never calculate the backward and forward chain effects of having nuclear power. They cannot meausure the disastrous effects on the lives of people in Namibia, Western Australia or anywhere that uranium is produced, nor can they measure the dangers to people living in Britain or elsewhere in western Europe when a nuclear disaster of the Chernobyl type occurs. Accountants cannot measure death, long-term pollution or the amount of land that will be taken up through the building of nuclear disposal sites as we continually expand the nuclear industry.
§ Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)
My hon. Friend has said that nuclear energy provides only 4 per cent. of our total energy requirements. I understand that we are capable of producing twice as much electricity as we need. Is not the production of nuclear energy a fairly good cover, not only in Britain but in America and Russia, for the production of plutonium for nuclear weapons? That is really what it is about.
§ Mr. Corbyn
My hon. Friend is correct. That is a very valuable point. The complex of power stations around Chernobyl in the Ukraine is dedicated to the production of plutonium. A large part of the production of the British nuclear industry is also involved in plutonium production. That plutonium is stockpiled at Aldermaston, then exported to the United States and then re-exported to Britain in the form of cruise and Trident submarine missiles. There is an inextricable link between the production of civil nuclear power and the warheads that result from it.
The debates in the past few weeks have convinced more people than ever before that the nuclear industry is essentially dangerous. We are dealing with technology that cannot adequately deal with the dangers of nuclear power. We are dealing with a problem that cannot be resolved because there is no known method of providing long-term safe disposal of nuclear waste, as was shown by the debate a few clays ago on the NIREX sites.
If nuclear waste is to be continually dumped, it must be dumped in places from which it can be retrieved. Obviously, there must be security around those sites. Do we want Britain to be riddled with razor wire fences around nuclear sites where dumping will take place year after year? The half-life of some of the intermediate and high-level radioactive waste is much longer than the technology that is designed to protect us from that waste. We must seriously take account of that fact. There are a 662 number of nuclear power stations in Britain — from Hartlepool in the north-east to the Sizewell sites in Essex and Dungeness on the south coast—and an enormous complex of nuclear power stations around the Severn estuary, including the Hinkley and Oldbury power stations. People are now thinking twice about all those areas, because they realise that the Chernobyl disaster occurred only 84 miles from Kiev, which is only slightly more than the distance between London and the proposed Sizewell nuclear reactor site. Many French nuclear power stations are closer to London than British power stations are.
On 15 June 1985, a conference was held in Liverpool on pollution and militarisation of the Irish sea. A day conference, called "Irish Sea—Nuclear Cesspool", listed nuclear installations near the Irish sea—Wylfa nuclear power station, Capenhurst fuel enrichment plant, Springfields fuel manufacturing plant, Heysham nuclear power station, the Windscale reprocessing plant and the Chapel cross nuclear power station.
All those installations discharge liquid radioactive wastes of varying degrees into the Irish sea, making it the most radioactive sea in the world. The figures in the report are taken from the 1984 Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food report, which gives an analysis of samples taken in 1982. It considers the emissions from those power stations and the half-life of the waste borne into the Irish sea, which varies from eight days to years and hundreds of years.
The conference did not receive much publicity. Those who question the basis of the nuclear industry always find it hard to get any publicity. However, I hope that that will now change. The conference sought to examine the fallout of waste into the Irish sea and the conclusions that could be drawn from it. In a preliminary statement, Mrs. Susan Schafer said:Evidence of child leukæmia in Cumbria, and Northern Ireland is dismissed as 'unproven', despite the results of the accident of 1957 at Windscale which are still being assessed. No other explanation of the exceptionally high proportion of Down's Syndrome babies born to mothers who had lived in Dundalk and Maryport at the time of the fire has been offered. As well as leukæmia and Down's Syndrome, there is the high incidence of Hodgkin's disease in the Isle of Man.It emerges from the work of Dr. Bertell and others that what is wanted is a comprehensive survey of all the actual and possible health hazards that arise from three generations of abnormally high radiation exposure on the Irish Sea coast.In relation to the Clean Seas Campaign, a Dublin-based organisation, a Whitehaven fisherman said:They sort the fish into three boxes at Whitehaven. The ones with tumours, scabs and diseases are taken away by the nuclear people. The dodgy ones are thrown back and we sell the others.Although emissions from Sellafield have been reduced and although the nuclear industry recognises that pollution of the Irish sea poses a serious problem, that pollution has already occurred and the long-term damage has already been done. There will still be discharges into the Irish sea and so dangers will still arise.
I shall quote from a glossy piece of information put out by the information services branch of the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority entitled, "Nuclear—Safe Power". It says:In Britain before a nuclear power station can be licensed the owners must show that it is safe. How safe is safe? One design target is that the chances of a sequence … occurring and releasing uncontrolled radiation to the environment must be less than one in a million for each year the reactor is in operation. Put another way, if all Britain's electricity came from nuclear power stations such an accident would be expected less often than once 663 every 10,000 years. To achieve these standards, all conceivable occurrances, including earthquakes and crashing aircraft, are considered in the design of a reactor. The designer also assumes that equipment will fail and that operators will make mistakes. Protective systems are therefore duplicated or triplicated. … Reactors normally run smoothly for months at a time. A Magnox reactor at Sizewell ran for 653 days before it was shut down for the regular biennial check. Other stations have similarly impressive records.I am sure that those who design and operate nuclear power stations have safety very much in mind. But do we have the technology to protect us from the sort of accident that happened at Chernobyl? Estimates have been put together based on the Department of the Environment bulletin, which on 9 May 1986 listed dose averages across the country. It is not clear how they were compiled, except for the comment that the data refer to the period 2 to 8 May.
Aggregation of the data presented gives a total average dose of 0.0723 mSv, assuming the radiation hazard due to radioactive milk is calculated as three sevenths of the peak radiation hazard during the seven days for which the data are presented.
Risk estimates for cancer and other hazards due to various authors can therefore be calculated. Using the figures of the International Commission on Radiological Protection, it is likely that there will be more than 100 fatal cancers as a result of the fallout. There will be many more non-fatal cancers, and total effects may go well over the 200 mark. Using the figures put together by Dr. Gofman in a book that he prepared some years ago, the total is much higher and the danger is much greater.
The Government must come clean about what the danger from the Chernobyl disaster is. I hope that they will monitor the situation carefully and publish all the figures. Using the Department of the Environment's data for radiation risks to the United Kingdom population from the Chernobyl disaster for 2 to 8 May, it can be stated that between 100 and 1,700 people will suffer from long-term cancers. Those figures are not designed to alarm people. They are given because I believe that it is important to understand just how dangerous one accident at one power station a long way away was to the people of this country.
As a result of the Chernobyl disaster, there was a high degree of fallout. The weekly science magazine Nature is well respected. The edition that came out yesterday reported on the actions that had been taken by various Western European Governments following the Chernobyl incident. The Austrian Government's decision has been to dismantle the only nuclear power plant that it has. The plant has never been in operation, but it has been decided to abandon it altogether. The Netherlands has decided not to expand its nuclear industry, and Sweden may bring forward its 2010 deadline for the closure of its nuclear power stations. It is possible that other actions may include the Long Island Lighting Co. in the United States not being given a licence to operate a new nuclear plant, because of the lack of any convincing plan to evacuate local inhabitants in the event of a disaster.
The safety of nuclear power stations is vital. The doses that people in the Soviet Union received from the disaster at Chernobyl were considerably higher than those that people received here. The doses received in Poland and Sweden were also considerably higher than those received here. However, it is not good enough simply to say that 664 the Soviet Union had a different type of nuclear power station and that an accident could not happen here. Sizewell is 84 miles from London, which is the same distance as separates Kiev from Chernobyl.
We need to know what inquiry the Government will mount into the safety of the nuclear industry as a whole and the long-term health damage to our people as a result of a continuing nuclear power programme, and about the link that exists with the nuclear weapons industry. Without that information or inquiry, there will be a continuing campaign by many people in this country who are frightened and worried about the implications of nuclear power. Many people in the United States are turning their backs on it. Indeed, there is opposition to nuclear power development in the Soviet Union. Moreover, there is opposition to it throughout Western Europe.
It is time that the Government recognised that nuclear power is inherently dangerous. They should also recognise that we must develop our basic fuel reserves of coal, oil and gas, as well as alternative energy sources. But the Department of Energy chooses to spend much more on research into developing nuclear power than on developing alternative energy sources. Indeed, its booklet on alternative energy sources is about half an inch thick and seems to represent the sum total of the Department's interest in the subject.
A document produced by the Nuclear Electricity Information Group asks whether there could be an accident like Chernobyl in Britain. It says:Not an accident like Chernobyl, because we do not have that type of nuclear reactor. A British team studied the Chernobyl design in 1976 when our own nuclear programme was being reappraised … But if you mean, could there be a major accident in a British nuclear power station, the answer must be `yes' although the chance of an accident on the scale of Chernobyl is so small it might happen once in a million years. Nuclear engineers continually assess and re-assess the chances of accidents, taking the most remote events and assuming they happen together.I just do not believe that the nuclear industry is anything like as safe as those who run it and who stand to make a great deal of money out of the development of nuclear power stations seem to believe. It has a fundamentally corrupting influence on us. I read the first English edition of Pravda on the Chernobyl nuclear power station. It chronicles the events and says that five large farms and 30,000 people had been evacuated from the area immediately around the Chernobyl plant, and describes the events that took place. That could well happen in the United Kingdom unless we do something now about nuclear power stations.
In the New Scientist of 15 May 1986 an article entitled:The unanswered questions of Chernobylstates:It is still not clear exactly what went wrong at reactor number four of the Chernobyl nuclear power station in the Ukraine late last month. The information that the three experts from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) have brought back from their trip to the Soviet Union last week has posed as many questions as it has answered.The accident happened at 0123 hours … on Saturday 26 April. The reactor was in the process of being shut down for routine maintenance at the time, and was running at around 7 per cent. of its maximum output of 1000 megawatts.The core of the reactor exploded without warning, ripping open the top of the reactor vault. Morris Rosen, director of the IAEA's Division of Nuclear Safety and one of the three to visit the stricken reactor, said this week: 'The initiation was rapid. There were no precursors to the explosion recorded in the data that have been recovered from the control room.'665 It has since become clear that the reactor was running at less than 7 per cent. of maximum output when the disaster occurred. Those who continually criticise Soviet technology and say that such an accident could not happen here, should remember that the Soviet Union is technically advanced. Moreover, court action is at present being considered against the manufacturers of the sensors that should have shown the approach of the disaster. Those sensors were manufactured not in the Soviet Union but in France, which is supposed to be advanced in technological matters.
The nuclear power industry is fundamentally dangerous to our people. The problem of waste disposal can never go away. The debate on NIREX earlier this week is the start of debates that we shall have year in, year out, so long as we continue this lunatic, headlong rush towards developing a nuclear economy.
§ The Parliamentary tinder-Secretary of State for Energy (Mr. Alastair Goodlad)
I am grateful to the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) for raising this important issue, in which he takes great interest. It has, understandably, raised deep anxiety in the United Kingdom and elsewhere in the wake of the tragic accident at Chernobyl. That has led to calls for closer international co-operation in the IAEA framework, including the establishment of an international mechanism for early warning and mutual assistance in the event of any future accidents. We fully support those objectives, and the United Kingdom is playing its full part in international discussions and actions.
The United Kingdom already has a formal agreement with France for the exchange of information in the event of an accident at a nuclear installation. The relevant parts of our civil nuclear emergency plans would be implemented in the event of any risk of significant radioactivity reaching this country from France or elsewhere.
At the request of the Government of the Federal Republic of Germany, an emergency meeting of the board of governors of the IAEA was held in Vienna on Wednesday to discuss the Chernobyl accident, its consequences, and the measures initiated as a result, as well as further measures which the agency may take for improving international co-operation on the safety of nuclear installations. There was a very full attendance. Throughout the discussion it was clear that there was universal concern at the Chernobyl disaster and its implications for the safe development of nuclear power. all sides of the House share that concern, and I repeat our expressions of sympathy for those who suffered as a result of the accident, especially those who are gravely ill and the families of those who have died.
The IAEA has provided an important channel of information about the course of events at Chernobyl. Dr. Blix, the agency's director-general, and some of his senior colleagues flew to Moscow at the beginning of the month to obtain a report. The IAEA has now agreed to hold a post-accident review meeting with experts from different countries. The soviet authorities have agreed to provide a full account.
There were many constructive, practical suggestions on possible additional measures to improve co-operation on nuclear safety. These measures need to be carried forward urgently. With the full support of the United Kingdom, an 666 outline programme was drawn up. It has two main elements. The first is the establishment of expert groups to draft two binding international conventions, one on reporting and exchange of information on nuclear accidents with possible transboundary effects. There was general agreement on the need for this convention, to which the United Kingdom attaches the highest priority, and which, the House will remember, was called for by the Tokyo summit. The second convention is to be on co-ordinated emergency response and assistance in the event of nuclear accidents which could have transboundary effects.
All the board members confirmed that, even before new conventions on the exchange of information and mutual assistance came into force, their Governments would inform potentially affected countries, the IAEA and other appropriate international organisations, such as the World Health Organisation, immediately in the event of a significant release of radioactivity within their territory.
The second element of the programme will be a conference of governmental representatives to review the full range of nuclear safety issues, in the light of the Chernobyl disaster. An expert group was established to consider, over the long-term, additional measures to improve co-operation on nuclear safety, including nuclear safety standard.
The agency's director-general has been asked to prepare detailed proposals to implement this outline programme. His proposals will be further discussed at the next regular meeting of the board of governors which begins on 10 June.
Detailed information on the causes of the accident and subsequent events is still awaited, although from a summary description by the IAEA experts who visited Chernobyl and from statements made by the Russians themselves, the accident appears to have been caused by a sudden surge in power which led to an explosion in the core, and was not the consequence of an outside event.
The nuclear industry in this country will obviously wish to learn everything it can from this accident. The full presentation on the causes of the accident which the Soviet Union expects to give within three months will naturally be of the greatest public interest throughout the world. It is important to understand exactly what caused this horrifying event. As has already been noted, the Chernobyl reactor is of a different design to any operating in this country, and would not have been licensed here.
We have in this country a sound system of nuclear safety licensing in which the onus is on the electricity utilities to put safety first. That is their prime responsibility as owners of the plant. The licensing authority, the nuclear installations inspectorate, is a wholly independent watchdog which makes sure that those responsibilities are met. We can be proud of the safety institutions we have in this country. They have stood the test of time and they operate well.
In the view of our nuclear experts, the Chernobyl reactor design suffers some inherent flaws. I understand that the graphite moderator runs very hot at over 700 deg C—far higher than is the case in our own reactors. At such temperatures there is a risk of a graphite fire if air gains access. All reactor systems are designed in one way or another to deal with changes in the conditions of coolant. In the Chernobyl reactor, if steam pockets form in the coolant, fuel element activity levels rapidly increase, making control more difficult.
667 There are particular safety considerations for a pressure tube reactor. More than a decade ago consideration was given to building a pressure tube reactor called the steam generating heavy water reactor in the United Kingdom. It would have been moderated, not by graphite, but by heavy water. British technical experts decided that it could meet the British safety standards only at such great expense that it was impossible to make an economic reactor of this type which also met our safety rules. The project was abandoned.
A major issue that has been raised is containment. In the accident at Three-Mile Island, there was a partial core meltdown, but there was no significant harm to the public because virtually all the radioactivity was retained inside the containment building when the primary pressure containment was breached. The Chernobyl reactor accident, on the other hand, has led to a large release of radioactivity. People, therefore, naturally ask what containment there is on British Magnox and advanced gas-cooled reactors. I am advised by the CEGB that all nuclear fuel in British civil reactors is enclosed in sealed cans, referred to as fuel cladding, which forms the first barrier against the escape of radioactivity in any reactor. The fuel, together with the other components of the reactor core and the primary coolant, whether it be water or gas, are enclosed within a primary pressure circuit, which "contains" the pressure of the system. In practice, however, this barrier cannot be complete since there must be pipes penetrating this barrier, for example to get the coolant and control rods in and out.
The golden rule of safety is that we must assume the worst — that anything which can go wrong will go wrong — and that there could be a complete failure of the pipes. In that event there is a need to ensure that no harm comes to employees or to the public. In the case of water-cooled reactors, steam would escape from any breach of the primary pressure circuit. That steam would be radioactive, because waterborne corrosion products are irradiated in a reactor core. It must therefore be contained so that the radioactivity is not released into the environment. For this reason, in this country a water-cooled reactor would be required to have a third barrier in the form of a containment building, or secondary containment.
Gas-cooled reactors behave differently when their pressure circuits are breached. Carbon dioxide cooling gas is relatively free of radioactivity, because radioactive corrosion products are not readily transported by the gas and great care is taken to ensure that no damaged fuel remains in the reactor. The environment of the fuel elements would change only relatively slowly and there are numerous devices to ensure that the coolant would be kept circulating past the fuel. In those circumstances, I am advised that leakage of radioactivity from the fuel, if any, into the coolant would be small. There would not, therefore, be the same danger in releasing carbon dioxide gas into the atmosphere as from steam from a water-cooled reactor.
§ Mr. Tony Banks
Since radioactive pollution is no respecter of national borders, are the Government satisfied that the radioactive leak at Chernobyl has been completely contained?
§ Mr. Goodlad
I do not think that our information is sufficiently complete for me to be able to say that with any confidence.
There have also been allegations that the older Magnox stations are operating beyond their original 20-year design life. The operation of all nuclear power stations in this country has to be licensed by the nuclear installations inspectorate. That is a fully independent expert body, which is part of the Health and Safety Executive. Nuclear reactors are shut down for routine maintenance examination every two years and they cannot start up again without consent from the NII. Therefore, they are subjected to a continuous process of review and reassessment as part of the very high standards of safety applied to nuclear plants in this country. The NII would certainly not tolerate a situation in which nuclear stations were operating beyond their design parameters. The so-called 20-year life of Magnox stations was, in fact, merely the period over which the original cost of building the stations was amortised. The operators were, however, requested some time ago by the NII to carry out major in-depth reviews of the longer-term safety of the Magnox reactors. So far, neither this work, which is still going on, nor the regular supervision of the stations by the NII, has revealed any reason to suggest that Magnox stations cannot continue to operate safely. The NII will continue to monitor the progress of the reviews, and has announced that it will publish its conclusions at the end of each review.
§ Mr. Corbyn
If the reviews indicate, when they are published, that Magnox stations are unlikely to be able to operate safely beyond the recommended initial construction period, will the Government be prepared to close down those stations?
§ Mr. Goodlad
The Government will certainly follow any NII recommendations that are made as a result of the review.
In this country, nuclear facilities and materials in transit are subject to uniformly high standards of physical protection.
At the design and construction stage, nuclear plant operators are required to consider all security risks attached to their proposed operations and to take advice from the security authorities. The average amount of radiation received by the United Kingdom population from discharges of nuclear waste has been estimated by the NRPB to be one tenth of 1 per cent. of the radiation we receive from all sources.
Stress was laid by the hon. Gentleman on the future potential of renewable sources of energy. The Department is supporting a major research and development programme to develop and promote renewable energy technologies which have the potential to make an economic contribution to this country's energy supplies. In the 12 years since the inception of the programme, over £90 million has been invested by the Government in research, development and demonstration activities in renewable energy field—a very substantial increase on the sum invested by our predecessors. The Department is advised on the content, application and amount of the research programme by the independent Advisory Committee on Research and Development under the chairmanship of Sir Sam Edwards. Current advice is that the application and amount of the funding is appropriate.
669 I believe that our response to Chernobyl must be one of continuing care and vigilance. It wold be folly to turn our backs on a source of energy whicy has provided a valuable element of diversity and security to the country's energy supplies and is emerging as the prime source to meet the needs of the world in the 21st century. It is already an important component of the energy supplies of western Europe; 65 per cent. in France, 55 per cent. in Belgium and 25 per cent. in Germany.
The growth in energy demand in the next century will depend on a number of factors: among other things, economic growth, world population and energy prices. We in the developed world currently consume over three quarters of the world's annual energy, although we have only a quarter of the population. By contrast, three quarters of the world's population in the less developed world consume less than a quarter of its energy. In the 21st century world energy requirements will almost certainly increase dramatically. At the beginning of this century, the world's population was about 1 billion. It is currently about 4.7 billion and it is growing at close to 1.7 per cent. a year. By 2025, the world's population will exceed 8 billion. The population of the less developed world, which uses a fraction of our energy per capita, is likely to have doubled. World economic growth at similar or faster rates would put even greater pressure on energy supplies. How are we to meet an increasing need for energy from an increasing population? The situation is already urgent—we have seen the devastating effects of deforestation in several areas of the world. Increasing demand will intensify the pressure on available supplies. Yet demand must be met cheaply if the less-developed world is to have any chance of establishing its industrial base and if the poverty and degradation which is daily before us is to be alleviated. Increased economic activity — leading to better health, education and so on—cannot be achieved without cheap energy.
Each country will judge how best to satisfy its energy needs in the light of its own particular circumstances. For 670 some, a major step forward in living standards would be obtained through the introduction of simple methods, such as stoves burning dung with improved efficiency.
At present, nuclear power is used for the generation of base load electricity. It cannot supply all the energy, needs met by oil and gas. It can, however, reduce the pressure on hydrocarbon reserves and help the transition to using fossil fuels more for purposes for which there is no convenient alternative, such as petrochemical production and transport.
To establish new industrial bases throughout the world, large reliable supplies of electricity would be required. It would not be responsible for the developed nations to turn their back on nuclear power and pre-empt all the world's diminishing resources of fossil fuels.
Looking to the future, this Government decided that there should be the fullest possible inquiry at Sizewell. that inquiry took more than two years to complete. The inquiry report, written by the distinguished inspector, has so far taken 16 months to write and has still not been completed. We can complain about the frustrations that such democratic processes bring, but they have been accompanied in this country by a remarkable record of safety and care which should be a cause of confidence in the future use of nuclear energy, to our environmental and economic advantage. We shall consider that report when we receive it.
With skilled and dynamic leadership, Britain's nuclear industry is providing over 100,000 jobs, making a considerable contribution to our balance of trade, reducing the nation's energy costs and using and developing the scientific and engineering skills of the British people. We benefit from the use of radioactive materials in medicine, university research and industry, as well as from the generation of electricity. For those of us with a deep desire to improve Britain's economic performance and eradicate unemployment, using forms of energy that safely provide our industries with low-cost electricity must be the right policy.