HC Deb 16 February 1987 vol 110 cc643-5
5. Mr. Chapman

asked the Secretary of State for Energy what proportion of electricity supply in 1986 came from nuclear power.

Mr. Goodlad

Based on provisional figures, some 20 per cent. of the electricity available from the United Kingdom public supply system was provided by nuclear power in 1986.

Mr. Chapman

Will my hon. Friend confirm that that is a relatively small proportion compared with many other countries, including Japan, West Germany and France? Will he further confirm that 26 countries now have significant civil nuclear power programmes? In any debate on Sizewell, should not an important point be that the independent Nuclear Installations Inspectorate has a good track record of ensuring and insisting upon the highest safety standards in British nuclear power stations?

Mr. Goodlad

My hon. Friend is correct in the first part of his question. He is absolutely right in saying that the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate does a good job.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

Does the Minister accept that to proceed with Sizewell risks fracturing the strong public majority support in favour of nuclear power? Is it worth the risk of upsetting that lobby? Is there not a danger that if there were even a minor incident in a PWR station a strong majority against nuclear power may develop, when we are trying to avoid that?

Mr. Goodlad

I note what the hon. Gentleman said. He will appreciate that because of the quasi-judicial position of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State I cannot anticipate his decision on Sizewell.

Mr. Hannam

Will my hon. Friend take the opportunity to refute the allegation that the Government are holding up the report on the linkage of leukaemia with nuclear power stations? Will he also confirm that coal-fired power stations produce more than double the radiation emissions of nuclear stations?

Mr. Goodlad

My hon. Friend is right. The Government would certainly not wish to intervene to hold back the report, which has been sent to the printers. I understand that it took longer than expected because the authors took longer than expected to assemble the material.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services has today given a full description of the report, in answer to a question from the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher). I understand that a summary of the findings prepared by one of the authors shows that in the CEGB nuclear power stations, taken as a group, no indication of an abnormal pattern for leukaemia was found. On the second part of the question, my hon. Friend is right in saying that in coal-fired power stations the collective committed dose equivalent is about 5 manSieverts per GW year of electricity generated and that for nuclear stations it is less than 2 manSieverts. There is, of course, much more coal-fired electricity.

The important point is that the overall dose from either source is very small indeed compared with the dose to the population from natural background radiation.

Mr. Meadowcroft

Is it not a significant coincidence that the best estimate for the amount of energy that could be saved by conservation is about 20 per cent. — the same as the amount of energy currently produced by nuclear power stations?

Mr. Goodlad

The hon. Gentleman produces a very interesting statistic.

Sir Trevor Skeet

Does my hon. Friend agree that the public are at greater risk from radon gas and the common X-ray than from nuclear power stations? Does he also agree that if the Labour party proposals were implemented it would take nothing short of 20 years to phase out nuclear power stations in the United Kingdom?

Mr. Goodlad

My hon. Friend is correct in saying that the dose to the population from the nuclear industry is very small indeed compared with that from naturally occurring sources. I am happy to say that I am not responsible for Labour party policy on nuclear power, but I agree with my hon. Friend that it is preposterous.

Mr. Benn

Has the Minister consulted the American Government, who will explain to him very clearly the massive popular opposition in the United States to the pressurised water reactor, which explains why the Americans have not ordered one for 10 years? Is the Minister aware that, without ordering such a reactor for 10 years' the Americans, who have fewer other fuel resources than we have, have been able to manage perfectly well?

Mr. Goodlad

For reasons that the right hon. Gentleman will appreciate. I do not wish to comment on matters that were the subject of the Sizewell inquiry.

Mr. Waller

Is my hon. Friend aware of the complaints that hon. Members persistently receive from companies in their constituencies about the access to cheap energy enjoyed by their French competitors? Is it not a fact that even if we have relatively low economic growth in the future there will be a disproportionate increase in our demand for energy which can be met effectively and economically only by our relying to a considerable extent on nuclear generation?

Mr. Goodlad

My hon. Friend is correct in what he says about the French. On the question of nuclear generation, I should prefer to rely on what I have already said.

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