§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Portillo.]
§ Mr. Speaker
There is great demand to take part in the debate. If the ten-minute limit on speeches between 6 pm and 8 pm or between 7 pm and 9 pm applied today, I would have operated it. I ask hon. Members to be as brief as possible so that as many hon. Members as possible can be called.
§ The Secretary of State for Energy (Mr. Peter Walker)
I welcome the fact that Parliament will today debate the report produced by Sir Frank Layfield following his inquiry. It is, after all, a debate for which we have had to wait four years since my predecessor made it clear that he appreciated the strength of a case for a debate in Parliament before a decision was taken. I have studied his views on that and very much agree with him. I have therefore decided that, without this becoming a precedent, it would be a good idea for Parliament to have the opportunity to express its views before I make a decision on the report.
I have the responsibility to take a decision on the Central Electricity Generating Board's application to build Sizewell B and today, before making this decision, I shall listen with care to the views expressed in the House. I shall comply with your request, Mr. Speaker, that speeches should be kept to 10 minutes because, although I have the CEGB's application before me. I am unable to express any views on the inspector's report until I make a decision and, for that reason, my role in the debate will be one which I have not previously experienced in my 25 years in the House and one to which I am totally unaccustomed—that of listening and providing no views of my own.
I should, however, like to express my gratitude and appreciation for the work that has been done by the inspector and his staff. The inquiry opened in January 1983 and continued until March 1985, having heard 340 days of evidence. Sir Frank Layfield presided over the longest and most exhaustive planning inquiry in our history and he was assisted by a small secretariat and four skilled assessors. In fact, he and his staff dedicated several years of their lives to a painstaking analysis of the arguments for and against the building of a pressurised water reactor at Sizewell. It took from March 1985 until December 1986 to write the bulk of the report. The report summarised the vast quantity of evidence and it certainly illustrates the depth of this inquiry. Sir Frank Layfield prepared a summary of the report, which hon. Members and the public have found most useful.
I should like also to express one other appreciation. Irrespective of the views which any of us may have of the recommendations or observations in the report, I think that we can agree that Sir Frank has succeeded remarkably in producing a well-written report which made the task of those who had to read the entire report far less of a burden than it would otherwise have been.
§ Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)
For the purposes of the debate and on a point of fact in relation to the Department of Energy, can the right hon. Gentleman say whether the lowest oil and coal prices which the Layfield committee assumed were likely between 1990 and the year 2000 are higher than those which his Department thinks likely, 27 given the recent fall in oil prices? This is a question about departmental judgment and the answer would help any hon. Members who are called in the debate.
§ Mr. Walker
I have no intention of commenting or making observations upon that or any other part of the report. I am advised that I should not do so.
Whatever decisions the Government make as to the forms of energy that we shall seek to develop, they are likely to have a profound effect for decades to come. The background to decision-taking on energy matters throughout the world is that this is the first century in which the world has been faced with energy problems. Nobody in the year 1900 would have predicted the quadrupling of the world's population, or the gigantic increase in industrialisation. Virtually all forecasts that have been made throughout this century have had one thing in common, and that is that they were wrong. In the main, they were wrong in underestimating the growth of population and industrialisation. None of us can predict with any certainty changes in population or industrialisation over the coming decades. The experience of this century and the nature of potential worldwide growth in the next century show that Britain and the European Community need to pursue energy policies in whatever form that can meet the potential needs of the future.
I am sure that within the debate there will be mention not only of the contribution that can be made by nuclear energy, if that course is pursued, but of the contribution that will come from other forms of energy, some of which, such as coal, oil and gas, we already possess, and others, such as the sun, the wind, the tides and geothermal energy, into which research has taken place both here and abroad on a considerable scale.
We also need to recognise the important ingredient of improved energy efficiency. In my judgment, an important contribution can be made to assist the balance between supply and demand. I know the interest and knowledge in the House on the diverse aspects of energy. My task today is to listen to the views expressed on both sides of the House during the debate. I hope that it is a debate of high quality in which constructive and creative views are expressed. I can only assure the House that, in coming to my decision, I shall take great care to note everything that is said in today's debate.
§ Mr. Stanley Orme (Salford, East)
After the Secretary of State's short contribution to the debate, the Government are about to make their most important decision about the future of electricity generation. For eight years, not a single power station has been ordered. On all assessments, the ordering of new capacity must now take place with some degree of urgency. It was with some wonder that in the past we heard from the Government that no decision would be taken on power station ordering until they reached a decision on the proposal to build a PWR at Sizewell. The CEGB itself has got it wrong. It did not anticipate the increased demand for generating capacity. In fact, it went to sleep during the four and a half years of the Layfield inquiry. Now we have had reports that the CEGB requires an urgent go-ahead for new coal-fired stations. To delay further is to create continuing uncertainty in the electricity generating industry, in power 28 manufacturing and in the coal industry. Yet to decide to go ahead with the PWR would be to go into a technological and economic cul-de-sac.
I agree with what the Secretary of State said about the industry and the application of Sir Frank Layfield and his colleagues. But the report is out of date. The inquiry closed in March 1985. Therefore, in over 3,000 pages of the report, there is no reference to Chernobyl. Since March 1985, the prices of oil and coal have altered dramatically. The conclusions reached in the report are based in the main on "substantial elements of judgment." Even without taking latter events into account, my assessment of the report is that the balance of judgment should be not to proceed with the PWR.
Layfield's recommendation to go ahead with the PWR at Sizewell is based on two assumptions concerning estimates of future fossil fuel prices and probabilities of safety. Through no fault of his own, Sir Frank Layfield has been unable to take post-1985 events into account in reaching his verdict. However, the Secretary of State has a responsibility to judge the decision on whether to go ahead with Sizewell B, not merely in the light of the inquiry's findings, but having given due consideration to subsequent events. The economics of nuclear power compared with other forms of electricity generation have come under considerable scrutiny. In his report, Sir Frank Layfield commented:The evidence showed that the CEGB had significantly over-estimated the likely future price of both heavy fuel oil and coal.Sir Frank Layfield considered that an independent view of the cost benefits was so important that he introduced his own assessors, the Cambridge Energy Research Group. It was the group's submission on the then economics of nuclear power versus coal that convinced the inspector that nuclear power was a cheaper option. It is, therefore, of considerable significance that that same group has published an up-to-date assessment of the economic pros and cons. That report takes account of the major changes in fossil fuel prices since the end of the inquiry. The group has used the same formulas as an earlier Nuclear Energy Agency report, but, being a dispassionate observer, it has come to different conclusions. Mr. Evans and Mr. Bullen say in their report:The results show that the once prevalent view that nuclear is cheaper than coal cannot now be used as a basis for rational decision making by utilities and Governments. This does not mean that coal represents the cheaper option, simply that the uncertainty is great and that under a broad range of assumptions nuclear power is unlikely to offer substantial economic benefits".
§ Mr. Michael Fallon (Darlington)
The House should be clear on this point. The right hon. Gentleman says that he opposes the go-ahead for Sizewell. Will he make it clear what the position of a Labour Government will be if Sizewell has been given the go-ahead? Will Labour cancel it? What will happen to people in my constituency who work at Davy McKee, Whessoe, Darchem and Press Construction, which might be working on the project?
§ Mr. Orme
I shall deal with the hon. Gentleman's valid point.
The National Coal Board's own evidence on future coal prices was generally accepted by Sir Frank Layfield. He was convinced by the NCB at the time, and noted thatthe NCB has used these projections as the basis for its own investment decision making".29 Since that time the NCB has completely revised its views, and it presented its new projections to the Select Committee on Energy. Since the evidence was presented to the Sizewell inquiry, productivity in the coal industry has increased by 23 per cent. The Central Electricity Generating Board has negotiated a contract with British Coal that provides increasingly cheaper coal for our power stations. There can be no doubt that if the Layfield inquiry were taking place now, different and lower assumptions on oil and coal prices would be used. Assumptions on capital costs would also be different. Sir Frank Layfield accepted the CEGB's assertion that it had got capital costs under control, particularly in relation to Heysham B and Torness. We now know that that is not so. In Heysham B and Torness, as well as every other nuclear power station built in the United Kingdom, there have been substantial over-runs and capital cost increases.
§ Mr. Gavin Strang (Edinburgh, East)
I know that my right hon. Friend may not want to say a great deal about Torness, but will he comment on the fact that there are serious difficulties at Torness in relation to safety, which is delaying the commissioning of Torness? Will he give the House an assurance that we oppose the commissioning of Torness and that a whole host of factors follows from those difficulties?
§ Mr. Orme
No, I want to continue now.
By the CEGB's own admission, the capital costs have risen by 11 per cent. since it gave its figures to the inquiry and that is even before construction has commenced. The CEGB estimates that the cost to the country is now £1,550 million.
We are dealing with a pressurised water reactor involving imported technology. The design and technology involved in the PWR will not be exportable by Britain. Indeed, the PWR is rapidly becoming out of date technology and the American designers, Westinghouse, are working on an advanced PWR in conjunction with the Japanese.
In the United States, nuclear power is supposed to have been operating on a commercial basis since the early 1960s. However, it still receives a third of all federal subsidies. Last year, Forbes Magazine, the United States financial journal concluded:nuclear power is an option nobody in their right minds would now consider seriously.In this country, we are considering buying an American technology which the Americans have rejected. Since 1973, the United States has been cancelling orders for nuclear power stations, including the Westinghouse PWR, not commissioning them. In fact, the United States has not ordered a new PWR in the past 10 years.
Modern coal-fired stations, however, provide an important export market for the United Kingdom. British design and construction of coal-fired stations leads the world market and a most modern advanced station is currently being built in India and is breaking both cost and lead time estimates. It is vital for our power manufacturing industry that the industry is able to use its newest designs, incorporating techniques for cleaner coal burn, in the 30 home market to maintain and expand export potential. Further delays in placing those orders, be they bureaucratic blind alleys or lack of political will, continue to undermine the ability of the power manufacturers to maintain jobs and create wealth for this country.
A similar position exists with regard to the retrofitting of the flue gas desulphurisation in existing coal-fired power stations. Since the Secretary of State for the Environment announced six months ago that a programme of retrofitting was to take place, no action appears to have been taken. Perhaps the Secretary of State can tell us what progress is being made.
It is not simply the power engineering industry that is affected by such decisions. The PWR at Sizewell and the desires of the CEGB to extend that to a family of PWRs throughout the country will have an increasingly detrimental effect on the British mining industry. Britain's mining technology is exported throughout the world. The industry employs more than 80,000 men and women and between 30 per cent. and 50 per cent. of their production is sold abroad because they are able to develop their equipment in the home market. British Coal has operated positive purchasing policies to enable that to happen. Both need to be able to plan ahead. To do that, they need to know that there is an expanding future market for British coal.
The arguments about the jobs potential of Sizewell B are deliberately misleading. We know that coal-fired power stations require more personnel to operate them. We have been told by leading power manufacturers— and I have met many representatives of these manufacturers in recent weeks—by NEI, Babcocks and GEC, that more employment is generated in the construction of coal-fired stations. To increase nuclear power in this country is to displace many thousands of jobs in the mining industry.
The cost to the nation, let alone the social cost to mining communities and others, of further cuts in that industry must be offset against the cost of nuclear power.
Contrary to the Government's propaganda, nuclear power looks increasingly more expensive. That was highlighted by the reports received by many of us this morning from the Council for the Protection of Rural England and the Town and Country Planning Association, among others. How, in those circumstances, can we expect the promised cheaper electricity'?
We have been told to look to France as an example of the fulfilment of that promise. The French electricity supply industry is the only one in Western Europe and the United States to have consistently made a trading loss. The 2 billion francs borrowed for its nuclear power programme has made France one of the heaviest borrowers of foreign exchange in the Western world. But has it provided cheaper electricity for consumers? Between 1975 and 1984, electricity prices in Britain doubled; in France, they trebled.
§ Mr. Peter Hardy (Wentworth)
Does my right hon. Friend agree that Electricil de France is the largest corporate borrower in the world and is largely responsible for the fact that France is the third biggest borrower in the world? That has never been mentioned by the scores of hon. Members who, during the past three years, have been trumpeting cheap French nuclear power.
§ Mr. Orme
My hon. Friend has underlined graphically the points that I have just made. In France, prices to 31 industry are kept artificially low, but prices to domestic consumers are the third highest in Europe and 17 per cent. higher than the average in the United Kingdom. Let us not follow that example.
The inquiry report dismisses other sources of energy, including combined heat and power and the Severn barrage, as not having reached the stage where they can be considered as alternatives. It is vital to the long-term future of our energy resources that the Government give a higher priority to the development of those schemes. As well as stepping up research into all forms of renewable energy resources, a start should be made to the CHP lead city scheme and to the Severn barrage. I welcome the steps that the Government have taken recently to put more money into the Severn barrage, but we need much more investment in the alternatives.
We have always argued that energy policy should not be based solely on narrow economic criteria. The Government have always argued that that is a sound basis for deciding the future of our energy resources. It would be extraordinary if they did not apply the same stringent balance sheet approach to the nuclear industry as they have consistently applied to mining, steel and shipbuilding.
During the past 30 years, nuclear energy has received a total Government investment more than 40 per cent. greater than that given to coal. But coal and other energy industries must shoulder the burden of their own research and development. Only the nuclear industry has a separate account for part of its research and development, yet, despite the Government's investment, it proposes to import nuclear technology. The construction of the PWR would not only have no economic benefits, it would have serious side effects on jobs in other sectors of British manufacturing, especially in coal mining. On the Government's narrow criteria, the case for Sizewell B is not proven.
But the decision on Sizewell B cannot be based only on those criteria. Having considered the economic case, a judgment must be made on whether the risks involved in an extension of nuclear power outweigh the benefits. Layfield is on less secure ground here, even in his now out-of-date report. At one stage, he comments:there is no such thing as absolute safety. Experience has shown that accidents will happen.As the world knows, accidents can and do happen. Layfield was unable to take into account the ramifications of the Chernobyl incident in the Soviet Union. I must put these points to the Secretary of State, bcause the public are asking questions to which we demand an answer. Has he raised that omission with Sir Frank Layfield? Did he at any time seek a reopening of the inquiry? Has Sir Frank Layfield corresponded with him on this issue and, if so, will he make that correspondence available? It is extraordinary that Sir Frank Layfield should spend four and a half years on a report, yet a major disaster in the Soviet Union is not taken into account by the inquiry. At the very least, the inquiry should have been recalled to deal with that.
I accept that safety in the British nuclear industry is as good as any in the world. Undoubtedly, engineering expertise can minimise the risk, but no superiority of design can write out human error. Sir Frank concluded: 32the evidence on human factors shows that the effect of human error on safety is potentially large. There are no reliable methods yet for quantifying human error. Research and development work is in progress and some such methods should be devised for use in the future.Is it not vital that "some such methods" are devised before a judgment is made and that they are not left to some time in the future? The evidence of the Three Mile Island incident, which was studied by the inquiry, only goes to prove that the potential for human error cannot be ignored or shunted aside, but must play a considerable part in reaching a decision.
That is not the only area of safety considerations that the report leaves open-ended or up in the air. No preconstruction safety report has yet been submitted to the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate, despite the fact that the Select Committee on Energy recommended— it was accepted by the Government— that the site licence should be given by the NII before the inquiry. The NII still cannot grant that licence. Layfield recommends that the preconstruction safety report be published. Can the Secretary of State give us any idea— if not today, certainly soon—whether that will be the case, when we might expect it and whether he will make a decision in the absence of such a publication and licence? The House is entitled to that information.
§ Sir Eldon Griffiths (Bury St. Edmunds)
Those of us who live in the vicinity of Sizewell and have wrestled with the matter would like the right hon. Gentleman's advice on this issue. Since the French pressurised water reactors on the Channel coast could present us with a problem of nuclear safety, how would it reduce the risks of nuclear accident in this country if the Labour party abolished PWR here?
§ Mr. Orme
Our point is that the PWR has not been constructed in Britain, so if we did not proceed, at least it is an element of safety. Unfortunately, we can do nothing about the French development, but at least we would be drawing to the attention of the world the fact that such a development is unnecessary. In an energy-rich nation such as Britain, it is certainly unnecessary.
Sir Frank Layfield seems to be prepared to leave the decisions on safety to the CEGB and the NII. He placesgreat importance on the Nirs role in monitoring the development and implementation of the quality assurance programme for Sizewell B.But, on the inspectorate's own admission, the business of assessing the safety of new nuclear projects is well behind schedule because it is understaffed. Giving evidence to the Select Committee on Energy in January, Mr. Eddie Ryder, Her Majesty's chief inspector of nuclear installations, said:Our priority is the safety of operating installations. For those being designed or under construction we face a choice of reducing our standards or delaying the work. We chose to keep up the standards and delay the new projects.The question that we must ask the Secretary of State and the Government is why the inspectorate is understaffed at a time such as this when there is public concern.
What steps are the Government taking, prior to making their decision on Sizewell, to ensure that the NII can fulfil its crucial role of monitoring the safety of existing plants?
Layfield makes important recommendations with regard to operator training and safety, military security and increased research into the effects of radiation on the public and workers. He recommends:fuel loading shall not start until at least one year after a simulator for Sizewell B has been installed and is ready for use by training operators.33 Such training is obviously necessary, and the fact that it must be done for 12 months will affect the cost. The danger is clear if Layfield accords training such priority. Later, he recommends:the Secretary of State for Defence should consider whether there are practicable means of reducing the number of breaches of the Provost Marshal's ban on military flights within a defined air space around the Sizewell site.
Layfield urges:the NII should satisfy itself that the possibility of both generators being out of synchronism with each other and with the grid would not give rise to an intolerable risk".
None of those precautions is necessary for a coal-fired power station.
When assessing the evidence of radiological risks to the public and workers at the plant, Sir Frank Layfield recommends further co-ordinated and analysed studies to be made. The inadequate OPCS report, which was put in the Library last week, is an even more convincing reason for the research to be undertaken as a matter of urgency. My hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) will deal with that if he catches your eye, Mr. Speaker.
These and the many other recommendations made by the Sizewell B inquiry report must be accepted and acted upon if the Government make the ill-judged decision to proceed.
Would it not be better, safer and more economically sound not to have to pursue these drastic measures? The Government need not pursue them if the political concentration was not to further weaken the markets for coal. All this was before the Chernobyl disaster. How much more stringent would Sir Frank's safety recommendations be if he could take evidence on the effects of that disaster? The Chernobyl accident took place 1,600 miles away and almost 12 months ago, but our farming communities are still suffering the after effects. The world has realised that nuclear power is rightly called an unforgiving technology. To ignore the risks is to ignore the effects on present generations and generations to come.
Sir Frank concluded that Sizewell B should be built only:providing that there is expected to be economic benefit sufficient to justify the risks incurred.Nobody believes any longer that that remains the case.The economics have changed and the probabilities of safety have changed. Public acceptability has certainly changed. In a caveat to his recommendations, Sir Frank Layfield stated:consent should not be given for building Sizewell B unless the risk is confidently expected to be at or below a broadly set level of tolerability. The level of tolerability should so far as practicable reflect the public's views".Out latest estimate of the public's view is that two thirds oppose any increase in nuclear power. The public do not believe that the risks are worth taking.
§ Mr. Nigel Forman (Carshalton and Wallington)
As the right hon. Gentleman is now talking about nuclear power in general, I wonder whether he could enlighten the House on a related and important matter. What would be the stance of his party, if it came into government, on existing contracts for reprocessing at Sellafield and on future contracts? The House needs an answer to that question.
§ Mr. Orme
The hon. Gentleman can read it. If he does not have a copy, I shall send him one.
On all the criteria—on economic grounds, on safety grounds—the case against Sizewell B is the strongest. For the Government to go ahead would be to fly in the face of all rational assessments of our future needs. We urge the Government to reject the recommendations of the Layfield report. If they decide to go ahead, we shall reverse that decision. To end delays, we will strengthen our electricity generating capacity by giving the go-ahead for a programme of modern, clean coal-fired stations. That is the case that I put before the House on behalf of the Labour party.
§ Mr. Dalyell
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. It is a bit churlish to criticise the Secretary of State, because he said that he would listen to the House. My point of order concerns the treatment of the House. Is it not ludicrous to be asked to have rational and informed debate without the latest predictions about 1990 to 2000, which exist in the Department of Energy, and which are substantially different from the projections which Layfield had? I am not blaming the Layfield committee in any way—
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. That cannot be a point of order for the Chair. I know that the hon. Gentleman is anxious to take part in the debate, and those are just the type of arguments which he should raise if he is called.
§ Mr. David Howell (Guildford)
As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said, the Layfield report is a painstaking and thorough document. There have been criticisms that its terms of reference were too wide. I do not agree. It is helpful and valuable to have such a comprehensive and detailed report which is such a massively studious and expert document. It provides a good start for the House to hold a debate on this important issue.
The arguments that the right hon. Member for Salford, East (Mr. Orme) advanced have been made informally outside the House and are quite familiar. They are that the Layfield report is outdated, although the right hon. Gentleman acknowledges its thoroughness. He made two groups of charges on that score. One relates to the outcome of Chernobyl and the lessons that we should draw from it, and the other relates to the changed economics, the evolution of oil and coal prices since March 1985, and whether they do not undermine the Layfield arguments in some way.
I should also like to explore a third set of considerations—conservation and other forms of investment and the inevitable inflexibility of huge 10-year investment, during which time many things can change. Before we give this gigantic project an affirmative or negative view, we must understand the advantages and dangers of that inflexibility.
Chernobyl was a major disaster and of extreme concern to the entire human race. It must be understood, however, what we were looking at and what the Russians were dealing with. We were lucky in that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State had the opportunity of a close examination of the Chernobyl affair and, unusually, the Soviet authorities decided to be extremely explicit and set out the nature of the problem and what went wrong.
35 The first point for the House to understand and for the right hon. Member for Salford, East (Mr. Orme) to accept, which I am sure he will, is that in the case of Chernobyl we are looking not at pressurised water reactors but at an entirely different generation of pressure tube reactors, which grew from military developments and were rejected by all Western countries four decades ago. In the Western world there is no civil nuclear reactor in any way related to the technology which the Soviet military authorities used and later handed to their civil engineers to build pressure tube reactors.
As the House now knows, the feature of pressure tube reactors is that they are unstable below 700 MW. The theory of the Soviet authorities was that instructions to human beings were sufficient to ensure that the reactors were never run below 700 MW. That theory with its reliance on human error has never been applied at any point in Magnox or AGR or any other design in the West. In other words, we build nothing like the Chernobyl reactor.
I do not minimise the horror of what happened at Chernobyl, but those who see a comparison between the design of Chernobyl and the design of existing, let alone future nuclear reactors of the kind proposed for Sizewell and possibly elsewhere, are making a comparison between two completely unlike and separate technologies, systems of engineering and scientific patterns of development. That is my view of Chernobyl. It justifies us being concerned about Chernobyl, but it should not lead us to believe that it invalidates the argument for Sizewell.
§ Mr. Alexander Eadie (Midlothian)
I am trying to follow the right hon. Gentleman's argument. He says that the Russian reactor is a different type and that there is no comparable reactor in the United Kingdom. Surely the right hon. Gentleman must agree that one factor emerges—that civil nuclear power is an unforgiving technology. Sizewell B has not yet been built and his argument about it requires a little bit of elaboration. On the one hand we have an unforgiving technology and on the other we have a proposed nuclear reactor which has not yet been built.
§ Mr. Howell
I do not think that this debate will allow time for the elaboration that all these complex issues require. The technology at Chernobyl grew from a pressure tube military technology of 40 years ago that was abandoned by the Americans, the British and the whole of the West more than four decades ago. The comparison does not stand.
The second major charge laid by the right hon. Member for Salford, East and by many people is not a matter of party politics but one that we must try to examine dispassionately. It is the matter of economics. With the building of more nuclear stations are we heading towards cheaper electricity or will it become more expensive? If that were the case we would be foolish to ask taxpayers to do what business men would not do—invest over 10 years in an enormous project for a lower payback than might be obtained from other kinds of investment.
The first question to be addressed is how much weight we put on the variations in fossil fuel prices. At the time the Layfield committee was set up or even since it concluded the oil price first dropped through the floor and then came roaring up again. No one has the slightest clue about how oil prices will shape over the next five or ten 36 years. The oil companies have always been spectacularly wrong. In 1979 they predicted that by now we would have $50 or $60 oil barrels, but we have no such thing. The estimates are heroic but nearly always wildly out or thwarted by events.
To a lesser extent the same is potentially true of coal. In the free market in Rotterdam coal is changing hands for about $30. I think that the CEGB is paying up to twice that to the British coal industry and that price could go higher or lower. With great respect to the right hon. Member for Salford, East one cannot base a technology and commitments that will last 10, 20, 30 or even 40 years on very temporary and largely unpredictable trends in fossil fuel prices.
The reason why I feel confident to recommend that the right hon. Gentleman should ignore those trends is that in a sense his case is in a plate in front of him. There will be more coal-fired power stations. Everyone knows that more coal-fired stations will be built in Britain and all round the world. As long as British coal is competitive with imported coal, is of high quality—which it is— and is mined efficiently—which in most cases it is—there will be an excellent future for the British coal industry, our mining communities and for our deep-mined coal technologists.
When the right hon. Gentleman puts up the case for coal he is not putting down the case for nuclear power. All he is saying, and most people will agree with him, is that we will continue to have a substantial coal-fired electricity generating capacity. The question that he and all of us have to address is how heavily in the 1990s and thereafter do we want to rely for our electricity supply on coal. Do we want the 80 per cent. reliance we have had in the past or have we not learned some bitter lessons from that? Regardless of party, most people would say that we have indeed learned some bitter lessons and that prudence dictates a more balanced electricity generating capacity in future.
We need a certain proportion of nuclear power—possibly somewhat higher than we have now and perhaps nearer the German or Japanese levels, as well as a substantial, efficient coal generating capacity. Oil and natural gas will possibly be burnt in power stations and we may have the more diverse technologies which my right hon. Friend the Minister has mentioned. These will make for a better balanced future generating capacity. Coal has a place in it, but so has nuclear power.
If we are to expand our nuclear capacity somewhat, which is essential, how should we do it? The price tag for the pressurised water reactor is now £1,550 million. I am advised that a second one would not carry launch costs and would be substantially cheaper. I take the view that it could be very much cheaper still. I should not like anyone to attribute to me the view that I endorse all the costs that arise from the CEGB's operations. Britain still builds and operates power stations too expensively.
I am not entirely convinced that a gigantic, centralised organisation like the CEGB is the ideal format for electricity generation for the next 20 years. The Japanese electricity supply industry has 13 per cent. more staff but produces three times as much power for two and a half times as many customers. Perhaps we can get many more efficiencies and larger cost reductions from building the next nuclear power station than the £300 million that has been mentioned.
On the overall economics, it is not possible for the right hon. Gentleman to take the trends of the past two years 37 in either coal, oil or natural gas prices and build up a gigantic case for the next 10 or 20 years which says that the Layfield argument is wrong. If we are to have a balanced supply we need more nuclear power. Perhaps not the 40:1 ratio that Layfield recommends, but it is likely that nuclear power stations, if built and operated efficiently, will produce cheaper electricity. If that is true we would be crazy not to have an expanded nuclear element in our power supply.
Finally I should like to speak about the whole question of inflexibility. Is it right for us to go nowadays for giant investments that take 10 years to produce any payback, or should we look at small operations and investments of the kind that are employed in some of the American utilities? They are much quicker to build and because of that can be financed by the private market. There is much less risk involved if, while they are being built, the whole demand pattern changes. There is room for these developments, but they do not exclude further nuclear power. We shall see more 10-hour-a-day gas turbines being built in the United States. They can supplement the base load which has to be provided by nuclear power and coal and will continue to do so.
It is interesting to note how daily electricity demand in Britain has changed even in the past five years. There are now fewer sharp peaks and a greater opportunity, on top of the base load of fixed stations, to have smaller turbines coming into action for about 10 hours a day. I share with my right hon. Friend an enthusiasm for alternatives such as wind, wave and sun power, but they will be unable to provide the 8,000 to 17,000 additional MW about which we are talking for the next 15 years, although they can and should make a contribution.
Perhaps we should have another switching station. I was able to authorise one at Sellindge in 1981. When all the lines are working, that will bring in 2,000 MW a day of French electricity. I do not know what the price is to the French, but it is certainly much cheaper to us. The French have surpluses, and while we should not rely on them for ever, perhaps we should invest another £380 million for those 2,000 MW as that is considerably cheaper than building our own power stations.
When all those things have been done, we shall need very big stations to provide the base load, and I believe that such stations will have to be a mixture of coal and nuclear, whether the industry is publicly or privately owned.
§ Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed)
Does the right hon. Gentleman believe that a privately owned and privately financed electricity industry would embark upon the Sizewell project without subsidy or guarantee?
§ Mr. Howell
I have studied the economics of the Kansai Electric Company in western Japan, which is building something very similar to the Sizewell plant, although with certain elaborations. It is doing so with private finance and without subsidy. Therefore, perhaps our private system could do so as well.
It has been argued that if our electricity supply industry was private it would never again build nuclear, but I do not think that that argument stands up, as many private utilities around the world—although not at present in America—are now doing so.
Nuclear power in the West has proved by its record that it is as safe as most forms of power generation. In fact, it 38 is very much safer than many other forms of power generation. It is a sad fact that, tragically, deaths occur in our usually very safe mining industry. It is also a sad fact that hydro-electric dams come to bits and are destroyed. Someone told me the other day that 50 had collapsed in the last 50 years. Therefore, they are not very very safe either.
Of course there are risks. There is no such thing as total safety, but there is such a thing as efficient and total containment of any accidents that occur. I believe that our nuclear industry and nuclear engineers are fully able to deliver that level of safety.
§ Mr. Howell
I am just about to finish as I know that many other hon. Members wish to speak.
My conclusion is that while we should be cautious about the economics, it is right to go ahead and build the PWR at Sizewell now. That will give us a better balance, better economics and a safer supply of electricity to old and young, industry and the nation, for many years to come.
§ Mr. David Steel (Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale)
While agreeing with some of the observations of the right hon. Member for Guildford (Mr. Howell) in respect of some of the alternatives that the Department of Energy should be pursuing, I nevertheless flatly disagree with his conclusion. I want to look principally at the economic and safety arguments.
Sir Frank Layfield was asked to make his report on the three principal questions of national policy, the economic benefits of the PWR, and whether it was necessary and whether it was safe. At the time the CEGB argued that its justification for the reactor was largely on the grounds of anticipated cost savings rather than capacity requirements. The board has subsequently changed its position to the one that has just been argued by the right hon. Member for Guildford— that the PWR is required on the grounds of anticipated shortfall in capacity. It bases this change of view on an unexpected rise in electricity demand.
Therefore, in coming to his decision, the Secretary of State must first look at the record of the industry in forecasting demand. I have in front of me the table of forecasts which the CEGB has given to the public from 1967 to 1979 which cover the years 1973 to 1986. I shall not weary the House with all the detailed figures, but throughout that time the CEGB's record on forecasting has contained an average error of 26 per cent. These errors have always been over-estimates in demand. Frankly, errors of that scale make opinion polling look like an exact science in comparison. I do not believe that we can possibly rest our case on the industry's track record in forecasting demand.
The hon. Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Strang) mentioned Torness. I took a particular interest in that inquiry because of my constituency interests in that project. In the public inquiry in 1974, the South of Scotland Electricity Board predicted a 6 per cent. growth in demand per annum. By 1980, it was possible to assess just how accurate that had been, and our own Select Committee pointed out that the real figure had been 1 per cent. In response to that Select Committee report, the 39 SSEB revised its forward estimates to 1.75 per cent. growth per annum, yet in the six years since then the growth has been only 2.2 per cent. over the whole period.
As parliamentarians we are entitled to say that the industry's forecasting record is not one on which we can possibly base a case for making this investment decision now.
But even if we accept that, contrary to all previous experience, the board has got it right this time, I would still argue that constructing a PWR is a wholly inappropriate response. Load management and electricity-specific energy conservation would reduce demand more quickly than new capacity of any kind could be constructed and at less cost. I was cheered by the Secretary of State's reference to, and acknowledgment of, the scope for still further conservation measures. That is absolutely correct. There is now an abundance of evidence from the United States that this is by far the most attractive priority. More recently, the Norwegian electricity industry has found that it is cheaper to reduce demand than to build new capacity.
Here this House has responsibility, because in my view it is simply the rigidity of the CEGB's statutory basis and its institutional obsession with new power station construction that prevents it from taking full advantage of these opportunities. Were we to change the statutory requirements of the CEGB from providing electricity at the cheapest price to making the most economically effective use of its fuel and capital resources, that would go a long way towards allowing British electricity consumers, both industrial and domestic, access to the benefits that are already available in other countries.
In any case, if new capacity were to be required at relatively short notice, new nuclear capacity is surely the least attractive option. That is particularly true if, as the board is now proposing, that new nuclear option is of a design of which it has no previous experience, either in construction or operation.
I accept the point made by the right hon. Member for Guildford about the prudence in public policy of achieving a variety of supply. That is the basic weakness of the Labour party's case. It wants to take us back to a position in which we are over-dependent on coal production, despite the history of that sector.
Our first national priority should be to implement life extension programmes at some of our existing fossil fuel power stations. If we introduced a programme of rewiring generators, repiping boilers and reblading turbines, the life of those existing stations could be extended, their efficiency and economic performance could be improved, and in our view a regular programme of much-needed employment could be directed to the British electricity supply industry. I am not talking about new stations but about revamping what we have already.
The second priority should be to implement a programme of combined heat and power generation. We should insist that the CEGB implements the provisions of the Energy Act 1983 and allows more privately generated electricity to be supplied to the grid. Nothing so much displays the contempt of the board for the interests of the consumers or the wishes of Parliament as its failure to take advantage of the opportunities that we created by that legislation, or for that matter its current decision to sell off the sites that could be available for combined heat and power. I understand that at present there are 64 disused 40 sites, of which 19 have been demolished and 33 are up for sale. Surely, as a matter of national policy we should be arguing that combined heat and power must have a far greater part in our programme.
The right hon. Member for Guildford paid lip service to this, but we are in danger of under-estimating the potential of new energy sources, such as the tidal barrages. As with other major projects, I accept that there must be. environmental impact assessments. These are going on at the moment, especially on the Severn and the Mersey. Their capacity for producing power at low cost, although not admittedly in great volume, could be immense. More important, barrage schemes could and should by now have provided considerable new technology with export potential for this country.
It is only after all those measures have been taken that any new centralised generating capacity of any sort should be considered and authorised as a sensible forward investment. Neither I nor the alliance adopt, a flat earth policy to the nuclear industry. We accept that it is possible that in future an energy gap may come up. That is why we continue to support the industry's research and development. We believe that in the immediate future there is no need for further commercial expansion of nuclear power production. Therefore, we would not proceed with this proposal.
The Layfield report's dismissal of the conservation and combined heat and power arguments is rather cursory. Sir Frank Layfield seems to have wholly misunderstood the attempts that have been made to compare public investment in conservation with that in new supply, regarding the former as some sort of public subsidy. He also assumes that there is no competition for capital and that money is available for any worthwhile investment. It is instructive for the House to note the recent report of the Comptroller and Auditor-General in which he said that energy management schemes in the National Health Service with a payback period of only two years were being stalled for lack of resources. That seems a short-sighted saving within the Health Service.
It is now widely accepted that the Layfield assessments of costs and benefits have been superseded by events since the ending of the inquiry. Although I accept the view of the right hon. Member for Guildford that the changes, for example in coal prices, may be temporary, nevertheless we must look at the balance sheet that was put in the suggested costings in the report as against what has happened since. Changes in the forecast of future coal prices and the rise in the real capital cost of the PWR have transformed a potential net benefit of £500 million over the life of the plant into a potential net loss of about the same range or even up to £1,300 million.
The Central Electricity Generating Board has already agreed that the capital cost has increased by 11 per cent. in a year. That alone, on the Layfield report's calculations, will reduce the economic benefits of the PWR to near zero.
The assumed world coal price in the year 2000 was $75 a tonne, yet British Coal, quite apart from forecasting a world coal price of around $40 a tonne, is also stating its intention not to produce coal at any price above about $60 a tonne. Its plans schedule any pit operating at above that price level for closure. To have one section of our energy industry operating on that assumption while another operates on a much higher long-term price level cannot be right. Surely some judgment must be made by the Department of Energy.
41 The report's assumptions acknowledges that there is a one in four chance that the PWR would lose money. I would argue, that on those revised figures, the balance now tips precisely against the PWR when compared with any of the other alternatives, including electricity.
The overwhelming probability is that, even if the PWR were built on time—that is a feat that has not yet been managed for any British reactor—and even if its capital costs do not increase further, contrary to almost any previous experience anywhere else in the world, and its availability over its lifetime is as promised, it will still prove to be a burden and not a benefit to the electricity consumer.
The obvious course that the Government should adopt if they really believe in the economics of the PWR, is to do what they have done with the Channel tunnel and other major developments and that is to say, "All right. Let us invite private participation in the enterprise." The Government put great faith in the market place and the PWR. If the Government had the courage of their convictions, they would let one be the test of the other. [Interruption.] That is not Liberal policy. The Government will not do that either. But if the Government had the courage of their convictions, that is the logic of the case that they would put.
The Layfield report and its conclusions have been rather misrepresented. He says:I was not able to base my conclusions on a final safety case for Sizewell B, as none was submitted.Since the primary purpose of the whole inquiry was to assess the safety arguments and reassure the public, that is a rather startling omission. There were repeated ministerial promises and promises by the nuclear installations inspectorate that the final safety case would be available before the inquiry was completed. Of course, that was not available, and it is still not available.
The question that I hoped that the Secretary of State might have mentioned, although perhaps he will when he replies, is: when will the departmental decision be taken in relation to the forthcoming nuclear installations inspectorate report? I am assuming that no decision will be taken until after that report is received. Yet, we have already been told, and the Select Committee was told only last month, that the nuclear installations inspectorate, as the official Opposition spokesman, the right hon. Member for Salford, East (Mr. Orme), mentioned, has not been fully staffed at any point in the past five years and that it failed to complete the 20-year safety reviews of the magnox power stations on time. Indeed, two of the 24-year-old stations have still not been completed, and the inspectorate has failed to provide the Sizewell inquiry with the assessment of the safety case.
That is an important matter and not one that we can simply shrug aside. It is just as well that we are debating this on the Adjournment and not as a formal motion. I do not see how we could because the House would not be in a position to come to a conclusion until that report was available.
The quotation in the report that particularly worries me is:the quantitative assessment of risk from Sizewell B has a high degree of uncertainty".The report also states that the safety criterionhas not been fully justified".Here I come to the Chernobyl question. Since Chernobyl there have been studies in the Oak Ridge laboratories in 42 the United States which suggest that we might expect a major accident on the scale of Three Mile Island or Chernobyl once in seven years in western Europe, or once in 15 years in eastern Europe.
What disturbed me most about the Chernobyl episode at the time that the facts and figures came out was that the Soviet scientists and, indeed, Soviet Ministers, had given the figure to the Soviet public at the time of the construction of Chernobyl of the possibility of an accident once in 10,000 years. That was precisely the same figure that was used by the Americans in the case of Three Mile Island. Therefore, despite the complete difference between the two, that I wholly accept, the basic risk figures for those relative populations, with different technologies, were precisely the same basis.
§ Mr. David Howell
It is not only different technologies. At Three Mile Island no one died. Therefore, there is also a total difference, in circumstance which the right hon. Gentleman should bear in mind.
§ Mr. Steel
I accept that, but I am talking about risk factors which are a matter of legitimate public concern. The same figure, once in 10,000 years, was given in the Soviet Union and in the United States for entirely different technologies. I have just quoted to the House the latest assessments given by the laboratory in the United States.
We can all argue to what extent we allow risk to the population, but one thing cannot be disputed is that since the Chernobyl incident, the costs built into the project for insurance have multiplied. The estimate I received is of a tenfold increase. That increase has arisen since the Layfield costings were done. Therefore, it is an additional cost factor that must be updated and put into the accounts.
In these circumstances the principal conclusion to which Sir Frank Layfield came was worded somewhat obscurely, or ambiguously. He said:there should be good confidence that Sizewell B, if built, would be sufficiency safe to be tolerable, provided that there is expected to be economic benefit sufficient to justify the risks incurred.I read that statement over arid over again. It is a statement that is in danger of achieving circularity. If it has any meaning it is to suggest that if economic benefits are sufficiently large to justify the risks, the reactor should be sufficiently safe to be tolerable. In other words, some risks are acceptable only if the economic benefits are sufficiently large. If follows that if there are no economic benefits, as I believe, the risks are not tolerable. Since it is now clear that the purported economic benefits will not materialise, had Sir Frank Layfield been aware of the subsequent factors, it is at least arguable that he would have been compelled by his logic to find against the PWR on safety grounds alone.
There have been several questions to the Secretary of State, one only last week from my hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith), about the Government's review of emergency and safety procedures in the light of Chernobyl. The Secretary of State answered all those questions by saying that he was still in a quasi-judicial capacity; so could not give the House the information sought. That is a little disturbing, because pre-Chernobyl the United Kingdom's emergency plans provided logistic arrangements to evacuate a maximum radius around nuclear power stations of one and a half miles. In the United States the plans cover a radius of 10 miles. However, in the Soviet Union evacuation of the 43 civilian population had to take place up to 90 miles from the power station. It is important that we know at some time, if it is not possible now, what the Government's revised planning is and what its cost implications are. That, too, is post-Layfield and must be included in the figures.
My colleagues in Somerset county council told me that when they put forward their new emergency plans for Hinkley Point, the CEGB refused to co-operate in extending the area covered by the plans. At some point the Government must make clear their view on that position, and the extra costs involved.
The report has gone some way towards clarifying the public debate about PWR generation. Our alliance parties are certainly not convinced of the case for it on either economic or safety grounds. The disposal of nuclear waste and emergency procedures are far from clear. Therefore, we see no case for ordering Sizewell B nor for proceeding with similar reactors at Druridge bay or Hinkley Point. Given that opposition, my conclusion and advice to the Secretary of State is that it would be highly irresponsible to proceed with Sizewell B in advance of a general election.
§ Sir John Osborn (Sheffield, Hallam)
The Sizewell B inquiry has taken an inordinate length of time, but it has achieved two purposes. First, it has dealt with the installation of a PWR, redesigned by the CEGB with safety in mind. It has taken in the lessons of Three Mile Island and the experience of the operation of PWRs in other countries. Secondly, the inquiry has dealt with the suitability of Sizewell B as a site for the first reactor of this type in Britain.
As a member of a Council of Europe committee that has visited installations in France and elsewhere, I have been given the impression that our procedures tend to make us the laughing stock in other countries. Nevertheless, given that we have these procedures, I congratulate Sir Frank Layfield on completing a tremendous, almost impossible, task and on the way in which he has presented his findings. However, I genuinely wonder whether public inquiries of this type are the best way to tackle such difficult, complex technological and environmental issues. I hope that the Government will look into that. I read with interest Sir Frank Layfield's comments on the successor station to Sizewell B.
I spoke in the debate on Chernobyl. At that time the cost of energy to industry and energy strategy seemed vital issues. Indeed, they have been my study and interest. I am well aware that, in the late 1960s and early 1970s when I was a member of the Science and Technology Select Committee under the chairmanship of the late Mr. Airey Neave, it advocated the development of the steam-generated, heavy-water reactor. At that time I was among those who felt that others were too far ahead of this country in the development of the PWR reactor and that Britain should pursue another type. Since then—15 to 20 years ago—the PWR has proved itself.
The public debate on the Chernobyl accident went wider than this country and I have come across it in the Council of Europe. Perhaps the fear is the fear of not knowing what radioactivity is. The challenge suggested at a meeting in Berne was to let laymen know how it is 44 measured. Such terms as sieverts and curies mean little to him. The measurement of radioactivity in simple terms so that the man in the street can understand it is a challenge.
My approach to the Chernobyl debate was international. In 1955 I was with the Westinghouse team, admittedly for odd industrial reasons, selling the PWR. That was at the first Atoms for Peace conference in Geneva. Since then a large number of PWRs have been brought into operation throughout the world and 75 per cent. of France's electricity is generated by the PWR. I am certain that the hon. Member for Midlothian (Mr. Eadie) remembers replying to a Western European Union debate for me when I was the rapporteur on the subject of Europe's capacity for building reactors. The trouble is that Britain did not move with the rest of Europe at that time.
There are 318 PWRs in the world. In France there are 43 in operation and 14 more under construction. All this nonsense—to other countries—about Sizewell justifies some of the comment that I have had from those who have led the way. There is the syndrome that nuclear energy, whether nuclear-fired electricity generation or low-level or high-level nuclear waste disposal, is fine but not in one's back garden. I very much hope the Secretaries of State for Energy and the Environment will arrange financial incentives, perhaps for local communities, so that rates are low where people are affected by this problem.
I have been worried about the impact of energy costs in Britain. The National Economic Development Office has been involved and there have been representations from many industries led by Lord Gregson. If energy prices in general and electricity prices in particular are available to our competitive industries at lower prices, because of the reduced cost of production, our industries will be at a disadvantage.
It must be appreciated that the French will have surplus electricity generating capacity which they can produce and sell well below Britain's prices. It alarms me that at present this country wishes to attract melting and smelting from other countries, including the United Kingdom, to France on those grounds. That is an entirely different story from that put forward by the right hon. Member for Salford, East (Mr. Orme).
§ Mr. Hardy
The hon. Gentleman has made a serious point for our area. Does he accept that the British Government should not sit idly by and see British industrial capacity wiped out because French nuclear electricity prices are so low that we cannot compete? Moreover, they are low simply because the receipts of Electricite de France do not match the loan charges which it must meet.
§ Sir John Osborn
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention, which was exactly the same as his intervention in the debate on the Second Reading Coal Industry Bill. As the hon. Gentleman knows, I am concerned about the steel industry of the United Kingdom and, specifically, Sheffield. After the announcement of redundancies at United Engineering Steels at Stocksbridge last month I wrote to the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry and the chairman of the Trade and Industry Select Committee asking them to ensure that Britain does not operate at an unfair disadvantage to other countries. I hope that both of them will take up that matter, and I will send the Secretary of State for Energy copies of the correspondence.
45 Lord Marshall and others, including successive chairmen of the British Steel Corporation, have said that electric arc steel melting, for instance, let alone other forms of steel melting, have become progressively less competitive because of the high cost of electricity. My theory is that the special steels industry has been too dependent on coal-fired electricity from high cost deep-mined coal, particularly in Yorkshire, and that that has been the real reason for the closures in Sheffield.
Last week Parliament had the privilege of hearing a presentation by Gavin Laird who spoke of the need for a thriving manufacturing sector, for expanding the market for our goods and for advocating new technology. He also reminded us that today Britain is importing more manufactured goods than it exports. Finally, he stressed the importance of new industries and our nuclear industry.
I have been asked what would have been the consequence if Sir Frank Layfield had recommended that the pressure water reactor, such as envisaged at Sizewell B, should not go ahead. What would have happened if a Secretary of State for Energy had then supported that recommendation? One thing is certain—Great Britain would have to close down a new technology industry which could give opportunities for employment and jobs, and export opportunities at a time when so many industries have had to face contractions. It would mean that the cost of electricity for industrial, let alone domestic users, would rise.
Last year the right hon. Member for Salford, East proposed a motion at Cambridge thatThis House should halt the nuclear power programme.I opposed that motion, for some of the reasons that I have outlined. One thing is certain— if there had been a Labour Minister, regardless of the Layfield report, I doubt whether any new nuclear power stations would be built in this country now. I doubt whether existing power stations would be kept in operation, regardless of the consequences.
Not going ahead with a nuclear power programme would affect the lives of our children and grandchildren. It would reduce the availability, and raise the price, of electrical energy, which is of vital importance to our factories.
Nuclear energy as a practical concept is barely 50 years old. I read quantum physics at Cambridge 45 years ago and I have always supported the concept that the development of a nuclear power programme would last at least 100 years. In 50 years time the finite resources of oil, gas and cheap coal, particularly in Britain, will be less plentiful.
The Secretary of State, in a speech entitled "Energy for the next generation: the impending challenge", given in June last year, stressed that the availability of energy was the very foundation of the world economy. He said that we must ask ourselves about the abandonment of a nuclear programme. All wise people must ask that question. I have confidence in a Secretary of State who is prepared to say that, and I welcome the fact that the next phase in the development of a tidal project on the Severn is now being financed and considered.
The Secretary of State also reminded us that the provision of nuclear energy for mankind has its challenges and dangers. One of the characteristics of Britain and its people is that they are very good at knowing why 46 something should not be done, whatever that may be, and then allowing our competitors, particularly from Japan and the United States, to jump ahead of them.
Each energy option for the future produces its own environmental hazards and safety problems. Acid rain from conventional coal-fired stations is an example. Nuclear-fired power stations creat a different challenge.
The CEGB has stated what it will be doing next. it has in mind, for the turn of the century, three to five pressure water reactors and two to four coal-fired power stations, probably on the south coast and possibly using British coal. Seven sites are available for nuclear power development.
I come from the main mining area of Britain— Yorkshire and Nottinghamshire—and I am concerned that the price of £42 a tonne, which the CEGB pays for coal, is uncompetitive against world prices. World prices have fallen by 55 per cent. since 1981 whereas British prices have come down by only 10 per cent. British Coal will have to drop its price by over 50 per cent. to be competitive. That is the reality on the other side of the argument and the House must face it.
I support the Secretary of State's resolution over the last year, and his approach to the question of the availability of energy, particularly electrical energy since the Chernobyl disaster. I accept that he has to make a decision and to listen to a debate in the other place as well. I welcome in principle the Layfield recommendations and I hope that the Secretary of State will endorse them, although I know that he cannot do that today.
This nation must take the next steps to ensure more competitive electrical energy for the future. The country should look to the next century and to the provision of energy for our children and future generations. Britain must have energy, at prices which are competitive with those available elsewhere in the world and we must bear in mind the unreliability of liquid and gaseous fossil fuels and perhaps the finite nature of solid fossil fuels.
§ 5.6 pm
§ Mr. Jack Thompson (Wansbeck)
This is probably one of the most important energy debates in the history of the House—certainly in the last 40 or 50 years. The inquiry was established because of the lack of public confidence in the nuclear industry and the need for the Government and the CEGB to restore and encourage confidence in the industry. That exercise has not succeeded. The inquiry was based upon a local planning issue and the proposal to build a power generating plant in rural Suffolk. but superimposed upon that was the question of the PWR development, a comparatively new concept for the generation of electricity in the United Kingdom.
The use of PWRs has caused more consternation worldwide than any other form of power generation. The Layfield report notes that when the first power station was built in Britain there was not the same interest or protest that there is today. That is understandable. In the 1930s we did not understand about developing nuclear power stations or about the problems that might arise. Thirty years later, in the 1950s, people take a completely different view of the problems caused by electrical generation using nuclear methods. People are more aware. Even before Chernobyl people were more concious of the problems. People's awareness of the environment, the safety aspects and the costs involved in nuclear power stations has been enhanced.
47 It is difficult for hon. Members to fully understand the implications of the inquiry, which runs to eight volumes. I should be surprised if any hon. Member has read all of them.
We must consider what practical steps can be taken in the interests of the population. More confidence would have been engendered by the inquiry if those who objected to the proposals had had the same opportunity as the CEGB to present their case.
Right from the beginning of the inquiry the CEGB—backed by considerable sums of consumers' and taxpayers' money—was able to present its case. The inquiry is said to have cost the board more than £5 million. Smaller organisations—most of them voluntary—could not raise such contributions and a number had to withdraw from making or developing their presentations because they ranout of cash. That contributed, right from the start, to destroying public confidence in the inquiry. That complaint ran throughout the inquiry and was referred to specifically by Sir Frank in the main documents and in volume two, parts 9.41 to 9.42.
Right hon. and hon. Members have concentrated on the safety aspects of the PWRs and the report placed great emphasis on that aspect. I believe that the more detailed comments in volumes two and three suggest Sir Frank's rather lukewarm response to the CEGB's policies. I wish to draw the attention of the House to one fact that has disturbed me greatly—the strained relationship, which is obvious when one reads the main report, between the CEGB and the nuclear installations inspectorate.
From the public's point of view the value of the NII is its independence. I was disturbed to learn—there is only the slightest hint—of some link between the NII, the Secretary of State for Energy and the Health and Safety Commission. The NII is responsible to the commission, which is, in turn, responsible to the Secretary of State. I find that somewhat disturbing as I always thought of the NII as independent.
Volume two of the report is possibly one of the most important volumes. I am sure that most of us will have read the summary of the conclusions, but when one studies the main documents one discovers that some elaborations within the main documents are not touched upon in the summary. That is no criticism of Sir Frank because, obviously, one has to condense things when making a summary. In chapter 8, Sir Frank states:The CEGB's statutory responsibility for the safety of US nuclear stations and the NII's responsibility for nuclear site licensing form a sensible foundation for a system designed to ensure nuclear safety.That is a logical and sensible argument, but:the evolution of the licensing process from those foundations has been unsatisfactory: there has been little or no Parliamentary or Governmental guidance on the basis for safety assessment no[...]on how the licensing process should be carried out.That is a condemnation of this House and the Government rather than anyone else.
Sir Frank states:The lack of a clear division of responsibilities between the NII and the CEGB in relation to the licensing process is an important reason why Sizewell B has been delayed.That is a sad reflection, not only on the way in which we have handled the inquiry, but on the development of the nuclear industry. Parts 9.26 to 9.29 of chapter 8 refer to the relationship between the CEGB and the NII. I find 48 that most disturbing because, in common with all British people, I am dependent on the NII to do its job properly ad efficiently—it appears to be under-resourced to carry out that job—on my behalf. If the relationships between the CEGB and the NII are as bad as suggested in the report, I begin to lose confidence in the entire report.
Last week, the chairman of the CEGB referred to the development of future power stations beyond Sizewell. In a meeting held in the House last week the chairman suggested that the CEGB will still go ahead with Hinkley Point—that is definite—although the advice from Sir Frank was that such power stations should be considered one at a time—Sizewell first, then future power stations. The chairman went further than that, because he stated that the programme is not concerned with the development of one nuclear power station at Sizewell, but a series of anything from three to five stations.
One of those stations is proposed to be developed in my county, in the constituency next to mine, but close to my constituency boundary. It is within the constituency boundaries of the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) and he and I have similar views about the proposal. It is the only greenfield site that is being considered as a proposed power station—the only one listed as such in the CEGB programme—and it is located on an attractive coastal area of the county.
The CEGB has not yet had a response from the Secretary of State about Sizewell, but it is so confident that that station will be built that it has already paid considerable sums of money to buy the land, complete general borings and make a significant investment in the design programme of the proposed station in my county. That displays a super-confidence in terms of the response that CEGB expects from the Secretary of State.
The board claim that the development in my county is necessary to improve the generating resources in the north of England. The location of the proposed station is three miles north of a private power station, which itself is four miles north of a CEGB coal-fired station. In essence, if the board gets its way, there will be three power stations in a line. The other two power stations that I have mentioned are also in my constituency.
The proposed site is on the landward side of a major coalfield that produces about 2 million tonnes of coal a year. The board's dogmatic and occasionally secretive approach to the policy has generated almost total opposition to what appears to be an environmental and economic folly. It is determined to ignore any positive arguments presented by anyone in the area—residents, the county council, district and borough councillors, political bodies of all shades, including Conservatives—and will not recognise the validity of the positive proposal to investigate the possibility of redeveloping and extending the existing CEGB facilities at the Cambois site near Blyth. That site houses a coal-fired station that consists of two units currently coming towards the end of their working lives. It would be logical to refurbish that site and possibly build another station close to it. The CEGB already owns the land and the county council is prepared to sell more land to the board if it is needed. That site, if redeveloped, could consume the coal that is present in large quantities under the North sea close at hand.
That proposition has been rejected out of hand by the board. It will not listen to the argument, nor will it present a counter-argument. We look forward to a change in 49 attitude on the part of the CEGB and hope that it will listen to a little bit of logic. We may get a chance to witness that change once the dust has settled after Sizewell.
I am delighted that the Labour party has made a commitment to reject the Sizewell inquiry. As a consequence, the inquiry into the development of the station in my area will be rejected. I am sure that the public will respond to our proposal and we shall not see the power station built in my constituency or one built at Sizewell.
§ Sir Eldon Griffiths (Bury St. Edmunds)
One of the most difficult tasks of any hon. Member is to strike a balance between what may be in the national interest and what many of his constituents perceive to be against their local interests. The Sizewell debate requires every hon. Member for Suffolk to wrestle with his conscience over the problem. For two of my colleagues, my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer), the Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, who is in his place, and my hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Central (Mr. Lord), who has studied the issue with the greatest keenness, the dilemma is especially acute. Their positions within the Government make it impossible for them at this stage to infonn their constituents of their views on a contentious local issue.
I have had the advantage of discussions with my right hon. Friend and my hon. Friend and I know that they would agree with me if I start at local level and say that we were all concerned to read Sir Frank Layfield's comments in section F of his report. At paragraph 2.207 Sir Frank states:If Sizewell B were built., local people would have to accept serious drawbacks without any corresponding benefits.In an earlier passage, when discussing the site being within the Suffolk heritage coast, he states:The development of Sizewell B would be a massive intrusion into the area.When dealing with the access road, Sir Frank concluded at paragraph 2.187:the CEGB's evidence in support of its case … was weak.At paragraph 2.201—this is my final quotation on local matters—Sir Frank says:The new station would he a totally inappropriate intrusion into the Suffolk countryside … The detrimental visual effect … on the local landscape would be so great that unless the proposal is held to be justified in the national interest, consent should be refused.Any Suffolk Member is bound to take seriously Sir Frank's observations on these matters. I have therefore to say that I would not agree to consent being given, unless I were convinced that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State would impose on the CEGB all the environmental and traffic conditions that are recommended by the Layfield report, together with an absolute requirement to leave no stone unturned to secure the safety of Sizewell inside as well as outside its reactors.
I turn now to the national interest. On behalf of what I conceive to be the majority of our people, I would resist all attempts to deny our country the advantages of nuclear power. I say that for five reasons.
First, nuclear energy is virtually guaranteed to be available for the foreseeable future while fossil fuels are not. The precise economics of Sizewell B remains to be determined and I do not envy my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State his task as he wrestles with the Layfield 50 report's comments on that issue. In the long term, however, it makes no sense to believe that extracting coal from the bowels of the earth or oil from the North sea is a more cost-effective way of meeting our energy needs for the next century than tapping the energy that is available from uranium, and before long, possibly, from hydrogen. Coal and oil are limited fossil resources. Once they are depleted there will be no more. By contrast, nuclear power taps a virtually undepletable resource. There is no foreseeable limit to its availability.
Secondly, I believe that nuclear power is environmentally less offensive than the burning of oil or coal. Having had some responsibility for pollution control as an Environment Minister, I know that the acid rain that British is accused, rightly or wrongly, of pouring onto the forests of Scandinavia does not originate from our nuclear power stations. It comes from the CEGB's coal and oilfired plants. Neither does the carbonmonoxide or lead that can pollute the air arise from nuclear energy. They are byproducts of fossil fuels. Nuclear power is the cleanest energy available to us on a large scale. It makes no contribution to the so-called glasshouse effect that the burning of coal and oil fuels are thought to be creating.
Thirdly, I should not be a party to handicapping British industry and British homes with higher fuel costs, while our competitors can look forward to the comparatively lower costs that they may expect from the PWR reactors that are already in place or being built in virtually all of our main competitor industrial countries. There are about 500 nuclear reactors in operation or being built outside Britain. I have visited some of them and no doubt other hon. Members have done so too. About 308 of these reactors are PWRs. The French obtain 65 per cent. of their energy from PWRs, while the West Germans obtain 32 per cent., the Spanish 24 per cent., the Belgians 60 per cent., and the Swiss 40 per cent. Japan has recently embarked on a gigantic £420 billion programme to expand its nuclear powered production. The Soviet Union, post-Chernobyl, is also building scores of new reactors, despite its abundant supplies of coal and oil.
The high comparative costs of our fossil-based power in Britain could be one of the reasons why our goods, in recent years, have been priced out of some export markets. To that extent, our high-cost power has contributed to a loss of jobs. Our relatively high energy prices also represent a severe burden on the old and the poor. When we face the next perishing cold wave and Opposition Members demand that the Government take action to assist the old and the cold, let no one doubt at that time that the CEGB will be able to meet our extra demands for power only if it keeps on stream the nuclear reactors that now supply 21 per cent. of its base load electricity. I hope that hon. Members will recall, too, that on such occasions we import power from France. Virtually all that power is generated by French PWRs., located on the Channel coast. Decommissioning our nuclear power stations could deal a serious blow to British jobs and to many of our elderly people, who would be deprived of the guaranteed supplies of heat and light that they need if they are to stay alive.
The fourth reason why shall oppose any attempt to deny our people the advantages of nuclear power arises out of a concern, which I understand the Labour party shares, for the well-being of Third world countries. I shall take one example. If over the next 30 years India, in which I declare an interest as chairman of the Indo-British association, were to expand industrially to the level that 51 Korea, Taiwan and Hong Kong have achieved already, the increase in the Indian people's demand for energy will be equal to the whole of OPEC's present oil production.
For the poor and hungry of Afro-Asia, electricity is the key to progress. It alone will enable them to power their irrigation pumps, to provide light for their children to read by, and to warm their elderly people. That is why the Governments of India, China, Pakistan and the rest will not follow the lead of the Labour party in turning their backs on nuclear power. They know that to abandon nuclear power would be to condemn more than half of the world's population to misery and poverty in the century that lies ahead.
Finally, but perhaps most importantly, there is the question of safety. That is paramount. I therefore repeat, I believe on behalf of my hon. Friends from Suffolk as well as myself, that none of us would support the building of Sizewell B unless it is subjected to the most scrupulous and foolproof safety requirements. All else is secondary to that consideration.
But are we really to suppose, following the fears that were sparked by Chernobyl or for that matter Three Mile Island, that our British engineers would be so careless or so criminally negligent as to build into Sizewell B the same design faults as the Russians built into Chernobyl? Are we to suppose that the staff of our nuclear industry, whose safety record is second to none, would ignore the lessons that have been learned by American, Japanese, French and German experience?
No one should imagine that the rejection of Sizewell B, let alone the dismantling of all our nuclear power stations, would somehow magically remove our people from any nuclear risk. The French PWRs, from which we now import electricity into our national grid, are closer to south-east England and the people of Suffolk than many of our big power stations in the north. So if, as God forbid, there were to be a French nuclear accident, most of southeast England is just as much at risk from radioactivity from France, as it would be at risk from fallout from Sizewell. That is why the suggestion of nuclear-free zones is absurd. Like it or not, we are part of a wider European environment in which nuclear power has come to stay. The only question is whether we throw away the benefits of such power while still having to put up with the risks.
I end, as I began, in Suffolk. I ask my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State if not now then in the near future, to give the people who will be asked to put up with the undoubted inconvenience of Sizewell, in the event of its being built, two specific assurances.
The first is that during construction, the wholly inadequate B1122 road will be replaced by a new and better route and that this should be in use before any heavy construction commences. My right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal gave evidence on that point at the inquiry and his views should be taken with the utmost seriousness. Secondly, I ask for this assurance. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will know that many of the local authorities in Suffolk have had to accept, as have their people, the inconveniences of the Sizewell power stations without any of the contributions to the rates that ought to be paid in these circumstances. Therefore, I say, in the words of my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal: 52Justice demands that the locality be properly helped to deal with the pressures imposed by construction.Suffolk county council, the district council and, above all, the town council of Leiston must clearly benefit in rate revenue from any new power station. There is already a real sense of grievance that Sizewell A is the only business in Leiston which can contribute not one penny to the town rates yet it uses the local facilities perhaps more than any other.
I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister who is to reply will say that those points will be firmly made to the CEGB and to our right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment before any decision to give consent arises.
§ Mr. Tony Benn (Chesterfield)
I appeared as a witness before the Layfield commission of inquiry three and a half years ago against the PWR and I believe that the case against now is much stronger than it was then. I find it strange that in the course of speeches in the debate so far, from those favouring the PWR there should have been so little reference to the shift in public opinion that has taken place not only here but in the United States, where no PWR has been ordered for such a long time.
This is an important debate in that it cuts across party lines but I suspect that most people reading it in Hansard or hearing it on the radio will assume that the Government's mind is already made up and that the short statement made by the Secretary of State was for legal reasons, that he did not wish to give a view before he had to give his adjudication on the public inquiry.
Having said that, it is an advisory debate in two senses. First, there is no motion and the House is not being allowed to vote on the matter—
§ Mr. Benn
We shall be voting on the Adjournment but not on a motion.
Secondly, it will be an election issue, however it is put. Many people will determine their view because their attitude to nuclear power will be uppermost in their mind. I do not think that the House or anybody else should be under any illusion about it; the proposal before us today is not only for Sizewell B, but to order other pressurised water reactors and, in addition, such a decision would confirm Britain's commitment to nuclear power.
Most hon. Members will be familiar with the old arguments for nuclear power which were that it was cheap, safe, and peaceful; that there was no alternative; that it was accepted worldwide; and that it was a technology in which Britain led the world. I want to put to the House arguments that will suggest that none of those initial arguments are really true. I say that having had longer experience as a Minister responsible for nuclear power than, I think, anybody else in western Europe. I spent four years as Minister of Technology and Minister of Power and four years as Secretary of State for Energy.
I entered into that task, just after the Dungeness B power station was ordered by my predecessor, Frank Cousins, with all the energy and enthusiasm at my command, believing, like many of my generation, that civil nuclear power was a classic example of "swords into ploughshares" and that, after Hiroshima and Nagasaki, to be able to use that hideous power for constructive purposes was advantageous.
I must confess that my experience over that period persuaded me, in my opinion all too slowly, that none of 53 the arguments was true, and before I left office I wrote to the then chairman of the Atomic Energy Authority, Sir John Hill, just after the Three Mile Island accident, telling him to stop work on the pressurised water reactor. I also raised with him the latest and most serious leak at Windscale.
I shall first turn to the question of economies. I am not dealing with comparative prices but I will in a moment. The cost of nuclear power has never been fully accounted for by the generating board. The research and development, very largely in the early years, and entirely later and throughout, has been paid for in the defence budget. The decommissioning costs have never been included. I shall quote one estimate by the French Atomic Energy Commission's decommissioning director, who said that 40 per cent. of the cost of building a new plant would be the cost of decommissioning an old one. Those figures have never been included when we talk about the economics of nuclear power. We have never had a full and candid account of the outages; that is to say periods when the nuclear power stations have been derated or closed down. When there is the question of comparison with coal, like is never compared with like. If one compares a base load coal station with a base load nuclear station, my Department— I am sure that the present Secretary of State would get even more advantageous figures—would say that there is nothing in it at all, in terms of cost. Comparison is always as between smaller, or peak load, coal stations and base load nuclear stations.
Then, of course, there is the argument that has been fully put forward, that with oil prices first going up and then down, and with currency values changing— one must never forget that they can make a profound difference to energy costs—it would be ludicrous to base a decision of this magnitude over this period of time on any forecast, however conscientiously done. To make this point, I shall look back at the outcome of the Windscale inquiry in which, as Ministers, I and my right hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney, (Mr. Shore) took part in April or May 1978. I shall look at what we said in recommending the thermal oxide reprocessing plant and at what has happened. Since I am criticising myself, I hope that the House will listen.
The capital costs of the head end and chemical plant increased by 60 per cent. in real terms, allowing for the change in prices, over the figure which I confidently presented to the House— from £520 million to—830 million. The total capital cost of THORP escalated from—1.2 billion to £1.65 billion by 1986, according to the same cost levels. The reprocessing charges which I mentioned then rose from £200,000 a tonne to £810,000 a tonne—a real price cost escalation of 100 per cent. It was assumed that the project would be of value to the electricity consumer but the reverse has happened, with the project costing probably £1 billion. As for construction time, we said the project would be completed in 1984, but it did not start until 1984 and will not be completed until 1992. As for waste management aspects, it has been clear that there are other ways of handling waste.
§ Mr. Benn
I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will allow me to finish this point.
I have been—as has any Minister—the recipient of many conscientious forecasts presented by officials for my 54 consideration. The right hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Mr. Steel) gave some vivid examples of generating board forecasts, all of which I requested at the time. Of course, those forecasts were wildly wrong. All I would say in supplementing what the right hon. Gentleman said is that the forecasts were usually very much bigger than the reality, if the CEGB thought that it could get a PWR. But when it was told that it could not, it turned out that the board did not want as much capacity. For many years, the generating board has wanted the American reactor.
§ Mr. Benn
I am not trying to justify what happened. I am merely saying that, even with the best will in the world—I was an enthusiastic supporter of that project and that technology—in the light of experience we must take account of the fact that the best forecasts are wrong.
I raise another point because of the bitter resentment that I feel. Throughout the whole period when I was the Minister no disclosure was ever made to me that the plutonium from these atoms for peace stations was going to America for weapon warheads. That information was denied not only to me as the responsible Minister who had a duty to convey to Parliament and the public what was happening but to the House after I left office. When I was interrogated by Lord Silsoe on behalf of the generating board during the Layfield inquiry, I was rigidly cross-examined and asked three times to withdraw what I then knew to be true, because Dr. Hesketh, who was fired from the generating board for disclosing this information, said that it had happened.
I quote from one passage stating what happened on day 333 of the inquiry when the counsel for the generating board replied to Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament evidence. It states:the basis of the Board's position was to rely on Government statements and assurances that none of its civil plutonium has been diverted to weapons purposes".That was a lie, yet it was said in the House and told to the public. It is on that basis that people still sometimes speak of "peaceful purposes". I am not trying to identify the Minister responsible. I do not suppose that he was told any more than I was, yet, according to the United States Secretary of State of Energy,the United States is required to use for military purposes all the CEGB plutonium received. under the defence agreement".If democracy is to survive, people must be told the truth.
As for safety, nuclear power is a manifestly and inherently dangerous technology. It was born out of weapons and leaves a legacy for the future for which there is no parallel in any other technology. Yes, poisonous chemicals may seep into the ground and cause damage, but leaving high toxic waste— even if it were capable of being stored relatively safely—with a life running into hundreds of years gives rise to a totally different scale of problem from any that Parliament has ever considered. Of course, Chernobly is a reminder of what could happen.
It is not true to say that a nuclear accident could not happen here. That is like comparing one motor car with another driven by a person who was in a smash on a 55 motorway and saying, "It could not happen to a Rolls-Royce—it happened to someone with an old banger." I know from experience that such an accident could happen here. An accident happened many years ago at Kyshtym, but it was covered up by the UKAEA. American intelligence told the authority not to tell British Ministers that there had been a disaster in Russia because they did not want anti-nuclear feeling to feed on a Russian disaster. At the time of Chernobyl, that argument was not used. Two hundred tonnes of uranium were stolen without British Ministers being told.
There is one example which I must put on the record because I am so incensed by the attempts being made to mislead people into thinking that a nuclear accident could not happen here. In 1969, when I was Minister of Technology and Minister of Power, there was corrosion in the early power stations, the Magnox stations. I was so concerned that I asked the chairman of the generating board, then Sir Stanley Brown, to come with me to Bradwell, and I spent the day there. That was 31 December 1969 and I quote from what I wrote on that night about corrosion that might prevent the control rods from going into the reactor. I wrote:If, by any chance, there were any displacement of the graphite blocks in which the fuel elements run, or are situated, or even more serious, of the channels into which the control rods drop, you might lose control of the reactor. The position would then be that one of the fuel elements might melt and if there was, at the same time, a rupture in the heat exchanger circuit, you could get a tremendously overheated reactor with the fuel elements melting and a major nuclear accident that would kill many thousands of people in the area of Bradwell and would send a radioactive cloud that might kill people in London.I deeply resent the suggestion of the pro-nuclear lobby that a nuclear accident could not happen. An accident did not occur at Bradwell. Indeed, because I was so concerned, I called in Sir Alec Merrison, and corresponded when I was in Opposition, with the present Secretary of State for Energy. They found an answer which I think has dealt with a problem. There are many other examples—Three Mile Island, Brown's Ferry, the Windscale leaks and the accidents at Hunterston and at Winfrith. It is very dishonest to tell the British people that it could not happen here.
We are facing in the nuclear business the most powerful lobby in Britain. I have been in Parliament for many years, including 11 as Minister, and I have never come across a lobby with such power as the nuclear lobby. That lobby has known for years what it wanted. I have mentioned Frank Cousins' decision to go for Dungeness B, which was an advanced gas-cooled reactor. At that time, the Ministry of Technology wanted the boiling water reactor, which was in the pressurised water reactor family.
In 1974, the brief given to incoming Labour Ministers was that they should get the PWR, which I think was then called the light water reactor. It was essentially the same reactor. The lobby waited and waited until it could get a Government who would agree to that plan. Lord Marshall, my adviser, told me that he had seen the Shah of Iran, who had offered to buy half the British nuclear industry if we would adopt the pressurised water reactor. In other words, if we ordered it, the Shah would also, and so on.
With Westinghouse, the Ministry of Defence—because of its military interests—and the lobby here, the 56 Government and Parliament are facing a lobby in which American interests are very strong. The star wars contracts allow the Americans to vet our technology if it is exported. What will be the limitations on any possible export of technology deriving from a British purchase of the American reactor now?
I advise the House to reject the pressurised water reactor. I believe that, as the nation is self-sufficient in oil and gas, and will be for a long time, and as our coal will last for 300 years—although the Romans thought that it would run out in about 200 AD—with conservation not fully developed as a possibility and with the alternative sources of energy including the Severn barrage, in which I have had a long interest, we should recognise that nuclear power has realised none of the claims that were made for it. The public, not for the first time, are well ahead of the Government in recogising that fact for themselves. I hope to God that the next nuclear accident—and there will be one—does not happen in Britain. If it does, a heavy responsibility will rest upon all those who advocated it, as I did, and even more upon those who decide to prolong it, if the PWR at Sizewell B goes forward to construction and completion.
§ Mr. David Heathcoat-Amory (Wells)
The story of nuclear power in Britain is one of missed opportunities and many mistakes. I do not absolve any past Minister or Government from those mistakes. It must be clear by now that we are on a branch line with nuclear energy.
The first generation of nuclear power stations— the Magnox series—is performing reasonably well, but the successor stations—the advanced gas-cooled reactors—are a major disappointment. No amount of misguided patriotism can disguise that fact. It is a sad reflection on our decision making that we have struggled on with the wrong technology from year to year in the belief that somehow or somewhere somebody will get it right. With each new advanced gas-cooled reactor nearing completion, we are told, "No, it's late: it may not perform up to specifications but perhaps next time we will get it right."
The French started with the same gas-cooled reactors that we had, but in 1969 they faced up to the fact, against all their political instincts, that they should have chosen the American Westinghouse design of pressurised water reactors, and they have never looked back. We must do the same. For us to plough on with the advanced gas-cooled programme would be an exercise in futile pig-headedness.
Why do we need nuclear energy at all? I think that that was the question posed by the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn). My answer is simply that the world cannot do without it. The population of the world will at least double or even triple before it eventually stabilises. Demand for energy and power will continue to increase much more and much faster than that. The best analysis that I have seen shows that world demand for energy will more than double in the next 25 years. Most of the demand comes from the poorer developing parts of the world.
How will those countries cope? Are we telling them to cut down more trees, burn wood and dung and to use windmills or are we saying that they should compete against the richer countries for the diminishing reserves of fossil fuels, such as gas, coal and so on? That is a narrow and selfish view. It would be better to accept our wider responsibilities and leave the fossil fuels by and large to the 57 developing and poorer countries and that our country, and countries like it, should contribute through nuclear energy. Physics gives us the opportunity to close the energy gap. It is a sad reflection on the anti-technology bias in the country and on the Opposition Benches that they refuse to face up to those facts.
§ Mr. Frank Cook (Stockton, North)
The hon. Gentleman refers to anti-technology bias and yet he displays that same bias by refusing to acknowledge the developments in renewable alternative fuels. Does the hon. Gentleman accept that to impose a nucler energy source on Third-world countries will in fact impose a sort of technological imperialism?
§ Mr. Heathcoat-Amory
I am not imposing any technology on any country. The estimates that I have already mentioned take full account of the increase in renewable energy and conservation programmes. However, those estimates still come up with one answer. They show that there will be an energy gap by the end of the centry unless we find ways, other than burning fossil fuels, to contribute towards the world's energy needs. As this country has the means we must develop nuclear energy and leave the fossil fuels to the developing world.
I shall refer to one or two more specific arguments against the Sizewell B PWR proposal. It has been claimed in the debate that the recent fall in the world prices of coal somehow undermines the case for Sizewell B. The inspector, in his report, warns against using short-term fluctuations as a guide to the future. That point was well made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Mr. Howell).
More importantly, the inspector assumed in his report that any alternative coal-fired power station would be able to import its coal freely at world prices. I understand the need for that assumption in the report in assessing the economics of Sizewell B. I do not criticise the inspector on that ground, but in practice the assumption is unrealistic. Even under this Government, the CEGB has to pay up to 40 per cent. more for most of its coal than is obtainable on the world market. I am sure that the right hon. Member for Chesterfield will be in the forefront of Opposition Members who are against the import of foreign coal.
Therefore, under every conceivable scenario the inspector's assumption is unrealistic. If coal at the higher British prices were used, the case for coal would collapse completely. I hope that right hon. and hon. Members who follow me in this debate will touch on that point. I have read carefully the 100 or so pages of the inspector's analysis about future fossil fuel prices. Because he assumes, unrealistically, that the CEGB will be able to import cheap coal at world prices, I believe that he overestimates the case for coal. He gives it too great a degree of benefit. I await comments from those Opposition Members who are most vociferous in preventing the closure of the gap between domestic and foreign coal prices.
§ Mr. Dalyell
I think that the Secretary of State, in his short and careful speech, should have produced the latest assumptions and forecasts, on which his Department was acting, for the years 1990 to 2000. The Department has those figures and the House of Commons should have a copy of them.
§ Mr. Heathcoat-Amory
When the hon. Gentleman makes his speech I am sure that he will pursue that point.
58 However, it does not detract from my argument, which is that, even though coal prices abroad may temporarily drop, it does not mean that the inspector's evaluation of the case for coal is anything less than valid. Indeed, it may be too generous.
People who want a complete as surance about the safety of Sizewell B are asking for the impossible. There are risks attached to every human activity and every industry. The inspector's analysis is about as rigorous as anyone could want. If the same searching techniques were applied to other industries we might conclude that they were too dangerous to tolerate.
There have been criticisms during our debate of the inspector's attempt to evaluate the risk in economic terms. He has had to try to balance risks against economic benefit. How else do we allocate resources to try to save lives? If anything, we are in danger of spending millions of pounds to try to reduce what is already a small risk, whereas the same amount of money could be spent designing better and safer cars and aeroplanes. In that way we could save thousands of lives. But that is not a criticism. I fully accept that that is the price that we pay for public acceptance of nuclear energy.
I want to refer to waste.
§ Mr. Kevin Barron (Rother Valley)
When we consider costings in relation to any likely danger in the nuclear industry, should we not take into account our indigenous fuel supplies? Our costings might be different from those used in Japan or France, which do not have such indigenous fuel supplies.
§ Mr. Heathcoat-Amory
No doubt the hon. Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Barron) will pursue that point in his speech. His argument in no sense invalidates the inspector's analysis or my remarks. If the hon. Gentleman is saying that we must accept expensive coal and that that is the end of the argument, I. must part company with him.
Of course people are concerned about waste. But I believe that a far more potent threat lies in the millions of tons of toxic industrial and chemical waste that we pump into the atmosphere and pour into landfill sites every year. The pollution of underground aquifers is the long-term threat to our water supplies. Unlike radioactive waste, which gradually decays, many chemicals and poisons do not break down but continue to be a threat for all time. Opposition to nuclear power on environmental grounds is misconceived. When properly managed and designed, nuclear power stations are less damaging to the environment than many other industries.
The CEGB has announced that it intends to apply for planning permission for Hinkley Point C in Somerset. Some allege that the Severn tidal barrage is the preferable option. I cannot comment on the advisability of such a barrage, as we still await a further study. However, it is certainly not clear to me that a barrage is to be preferred on environmental grounds. Criticisms about the potential threat to the coastline, wildlife and ecology must be taken on their individual merits.
If demand for electricity continues to grow at its present rate, we may well need both Hinkley C and the Severn barrage. Whether or not that is so I ask my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to heed the inspector's comments about the need to benefit the local community through the rating system. Somerset does very badly out of the existing system of local government finance. and its 59 rate support grant is very unsatisfactory. I endorse the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Sir E. Griffiths) that both Somerset and Suffolk should be allowed to retain some of the additional rate income generated by either or both of these large projects.
The inspector's report is formidable and deserves to be taken most seriously. I am not convinced that the right way of mapping out the future of Britain's energy policy was chosen, but no one can doubt the intelligence and application brought to bear on the problem by Sir Frank Layfield. I am amazed that Opposition parties, including the Liberal party, should have closed minds about the report. They have rejected Sir Frank Layfield's conclusions out of hand before even reading it.
It is well known that the inspector recommends a PWR at Sizewell. I hope that in due course we shall have a series of PWRs. The siting of each one will, of course, be subject to the due planning process, but if we replicate the standard design, future stations will be cheaper than Sizewell B. That decisively tilts the economic argument in favour of the PWR. The inspector was able only to cost Sizewell, but Hinkley Point C and other successor stations would be at least £200 million cheaper on capital cost. If that means closing off the AGR option, I think that we should do so. We should not raise expectations that we shall fudge the question again by trying to operate two technologies at the same time. Above all, let us give our scientists, engineers and technicians a clear agenda so that, as a nation, we can face the future with a clean, safe and efficient source of energy and, in so doing, make our contribution to solving the world's energy problems.
§ 6.5 pm
§ Mr. Kevin Barron (Rother Valley)
I should like to discuss the recommendations about safety in the Layfield report. If Chernobyl and Three Mile Island have taught us nothing else, they should have acted as a warning that technology does not exist in a vacuum, but functions in tandem with the human beings who design and operate it. We should bear in mind that 80 per cent. of all major nuclear accidents have involved human error. The designers of the complex systems involved in a nuclear power plant try to engineer out the possibility of humans doing stupid things that will ruin the plant, but experience has shown that that is not always possible.
Much has been said about the accident at Chernobyl in the USSR. I should like to comment on what was said by the leader of the delegation sent by the British trade union movement to Chernobyl. Mr. John Edmonds, the general secretary of the General, Municipal, Boilermakers and Allied Trades Union and a number of his colleagues went to Chernobyl to meet the operators of the plant and the engineers responsible for the tests that were carried out. It was clear from their discussions that the operators themselves had carried out to the letter every order that they had received from above—except one.
I remind the House that a large number of GMBATU members are involved in the nuclear industry, and could hardly be classified as belonging to the anti-nuclear lobby. It is therefore significant that GMBATU is now calling for a moratorium on the construction of further nuclear power installations until the full lessons of the dreadful accident at Chernobyl have been absorbed in this country.
60 There is a belief within the nuclear industry, which is dutifully trotted out by the industry's supporters, that it is possible to design a nuclear plant that can operate regardless of human error. We should recognise that that is a fallacy. Sir Frank Layfield accepted that human error was an important factor, and the NII said that it was apotentially significant contributor to the risk from Sizewell BLayfield admits that the effect of human error on safety is "potentially large". Those conclusions should not be ignored.
I believe that both the CEGB and the NII have ducked the question of human error. I hope, before any decision is made, that consideration is brought into play. We should ask whether the Sizewell B plant will be safe both for workers and for the public. No one who has read the Layfield report can truthfully answer yes to that question. The CEGB says that at the Sizewell plant, the first PWR ever built in this country, it will reduce the exposure of workers to radiation to a level lower than that to which they are exposed in any other country in the world operating PWRs, apart from Switzerland, which has only three PWRs. To his credit, Layfield was not impressed by the CEGB's argument on this issue. He regards the plans for operator exposure as "ambitious", which is a barrister's way of saying that he does not believe them. Layfield also concludes thatthe risks to workers at the station may be higher than risks to most other industries considered to have high standards of safety".That is another way of saying that, if we build a PWR plant, it will be a backward step for the safety of the operators who work there.
One of the major weaknesses of nuclear power revealed by the Chernobyl disaster was the emergency planning around nuclear plants. Women and children were evacuated as far away as 90 km from Chernobyl. We seem to have a great deal of optimism. Our emergency evacutation zones extend, at most, to two and a quarter miles from plants. After Chernobyl, we should ask questions about emergency planning. After the Chernobyl disaster, the Government recognised that there was a need to review the emergency planning arrangements, but, despite a gap of 10 months, the interdepartmental working party has yet to give us the fruits of its deliberations, despite their being promised on many occasions. We have a right to hear the conclusions of its work and to establish whether any changes are required before any decision is taken on the Sizewell proposal.
§ Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)
Does my hon. Friend think that it is high time that the Government also made a detailed and considered assessment of the likely cancer effects of the Chernobyl fallout in Britain and Ireland, as has been done in other countries in Western Europe?
§ Mr. Barron
That is certainly true at this stage, in view of what has happened in agriculture in north Wales and Cumbria. Nothing conclusive will be produced for a long time about fallout from the plant. Some hon. Members have said that, if Sizewell does not go ahead, we still have facilities in France. Indeed, facilities in Russia could be a danger to public health in this country. It would be wrong to go ahead with this proposal until all the proper decisions have been taken.
When one considers that planning emergency exercises are carried out once a year at every plant, one becomes a 61 little worried. I have tabled a number of questions on this matter to the Minister in the past few months since the Chernobyl incident. Taking into account the number of shifts at each plant and the number of people on leave, who are sick and so on, we might find that operators are involved with annual emergency evacuation plans only once every six to 10 years. Bearing in mind what is happening in the nuclear industry, that is quite feasible. It is worrying. It smacks of our saying that we would regard a factory fire drill once every 10 years as acceptable to people who are in danger of fire. I do not believe that that is the case.
The Secretary of State spoke for just six minutes when he opened the debate. I wish he had examined further what was stated in the Layfield report. Perhaps we shall find that his mind has been made up. Indeed, I suspect that the Cabinet's mind has been made up. In fact—I could be more accurate—perhaps the Cabinet's mind was made up on 23 October 1979, when, at a Cabinet meeting at Downing street, presided over by the Prime Minister, decisions were taken in relation to PWRs. I have a document marked "Secret". It is the Cabinet ministerial minutes for that meeting. The right hon. Member for Guildford (Mr. Howell) is mentioned in the report as saying that the construction of such a reactor— meaning, obviously, the PWR— would be conditional only on safety clearances from the nuclear inspector.
Perhaps that is a good thing. I refer Conservative Members, who are nodding their heads, to chapter 108.12 in the conclusions of the Layfield report. It states:many matters were examined only briefly if at all, and much work remains to be done on aspects of the safety case which were examined in evidence. Furthermore, the design was incomplete and not yet susceptible of a final assessment of its safety.I should have thought that the right hon. Member for Guildford would not have been pleased, in view of what he said at the Cabinet meeting in 1979, they were to go ahead.
The Cabinet minutes refer to the Prime Minister's comments in relation to the nuclear industry and how she saw the nuclear industry going in the future. After talking about achieving a sizeable nuclear programme that should also include prospects of PWR, she also mentioned that "satisfactory clearances" should be obtained before she would be happy with the situation. Nobody can be happy with Sizewell. As Frank Layfield and many other serious, responsible people admit, there have been grave omissions from the inquiry into the safety and, indeed, the basic design of the PWR that is presently proposed. On safety grounds, we should not go ahead with Sizewell.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Salford, East (Mr. Orme) referred to the report from the Cambridge Energy Research Group, which did the initial costing of the Sizewell inquiry for the CEGB. The report, published this month, states:The report highlights the economic risks associated with pursuing the nuclear option, particularly with regard to capital cost overruns, exchange rate fluctuations"—obviously, we all realise that we do not know what those will be over the next 12 months or the next 25 to 30 years—and upward pressure on discount rates.
That is, in relation to the cost of the PWR. At present, one could say that the latter case is likely to be 5 per cent. a year in terms of its total cost. Bearing in mind Conservative Members' designs for selling off publicly owned industries and so on, I do not think that, in all 62 honesty, we could say thai keeping the 5 per cent. level for now and the next 30 years would be attractive. I question whether 5 per cent. is the level at which we should look.
There is also the matter of capital cost overruns The first magnox stations and the first AGRs that were built in this country had an average construction cost overrun of over two and a half years. The last three AGRs—Dungeness B, Heysham and Hartlepool— had a construction overrun cost of 10 years. The nuclear industry does not have a good record for providing planned electricity generation on time. It is farcical for anybody to stand firm, as Conservative Members do. and say how good Sizewell will be, and how we need it because we need electricity generation. If it is anything like its forerunners in the nuclear industry, there can be no guarantee that, in 10 years' or even 15 years' time, we shall generate electricity on the coast at Sizewell.
The right hon. Member for Guildford mentioned the report recently brought out by the Cambridge Energy Research Group. One of its conclusions directly relates to what the right hon. Member said. It states:Future coal prices are uncertain and we do not know what the price of coal will be during the 30 years life or the Sizewell station from 1995, any more than we did in the early 1980s when the Sizewell evidence was originally presented.Of course that is true if the same parameters that were used to assess the cost of Sizewell in the early 1980s are used today. It cannot be wrong. Nobody can dismiss this month's report in relation to likely costs. The report. goes on to state, that, as far as the one in 40 chance that Frank Layfield reported is concerned, an economic case could be made for coal against nuclear power. It is certainly a lot less than that.
Bringing in coal by the CEGB at world prices has two implications for the nation. One is a balance of payments implication, as any imports have. It might be too big for us to bear. It also has the other cost, which my right hon. Friend the Member for Salford, East mentioned—that is, the cost to the nation of further running down the industry. For example, I refer to the coal industry, the social costs and many other matters. Many of these can be put to the rundown coal industry in my constituency. The loss to the Exchequer through unemployment benefits, national insurance and income tax for my constituency alone is between £34 million and £36 million a year. Those are the costs that would have to be taken into consideration before we said that world coal should be brought in.
For about 10 of the past 16 weeks, British miners have broken the productivity record. A coal mine in which I used to work in my constituency has been consistently good for many years. It consistently breaks records every other week at present. There is nothing to say that, with the right investment at that colliery, that cannot go on for ever. It is wrong for anyone to jump to the conclusion, even on the present costs of British Coal, that those costs will no go down over the next five years.
§ Mr. Heathcoat-Amory
How does the hon. Gentleman answer the point that the Sizewell inspector dismisses the case for coal, even assuming that we would be able to import coal freely at world prices? Now that the hon. Gentleman has conceded that British coal would be more expensive, how can he say that the case for coal is stronger than outlined by the Sizewell inspector?
§ Mr. Barron
I thought that I had attempted to explain that. The same parameters were used in the early 1980s as 63 were used in the Cambridge Energy Research Group report. The same people who did the costing for the CEGB and the Layfield report have costed that report.
§ Mr. Barron
Yes, on world prices. I thought that I had explained that.
We do not know what the position will be in five years' time for the coal industry, nor do we know what the position will be for the nuclear industry. We do not know what will happen in 10 or 15 years' time, and whether any PWRs will be generating electricity at that time. No one can say that. Of course, many questions have to be asked. Given that the same criteria are being used now as in the early 1980s, I cannot see how one can come to any conclusion other than that it looks better now for coal than it did then.
I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) will refer to the risks to the environment. The effects on the environment and so on will have to be costed, too. It is said that it would take 50 to 100 years to decommission such a power station. If it was costed in the same way as a coal-fired power station, which takes five years to decommission, the economics of the PWR at Sizewell would be impossible.
Questions have to be asked. I believe that it is better not to go for the PWR. This country should not go for nuclear generation in view of our indigenous fuel supplies. In the report to which I referred, it is asked:Do the results of the study confirm the view often held by senior planners in both government and utilities that nuclear power will inevitably offer significant economic advantages over coal? We believe the answer is 'no'.That is what the report concluded. Those are the same people who gave evidence four years ago to the Layfield inquiry. To use the argument that is often used now that there is a 40:1 chance that nuclear power will be better is wrong.
The House would be wrong to accept the Sizewell proposals. It would be much better to have a programme of building coal-fired power stations as urgently as possible. We need such a programme. Eight years have elapsed since there has been an order for any type of power station. The industry, NEI and others are crying out for us to go ahead as soon as possible. It is my opinion that this Government, for their own reasons, have decided to hold back on coal-fired power stations while they squeeze out of this country by any means that they can a PWR at Sizewell that this country could well do without.
§ Mr. Robert Harvey (Clwyd, South-West)
I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State on the characteristic respect and modesty that he has shown in consulting the House before making a decision on Sizewell B.
There are so many Conservative Members who, like myself, so passionately reject the Labour party's unilateralist stance on nuclear weapons and so dislike the coalition of forces assembled behind the proposition that anything nuclear is bad that sometimes I think that we are all in danger of confusing the issue of nuclear weapons with that of nuclear power. For example, I am wholly committed to the retention by Britain of nuclear weapons 64 for as long as our potential adversaries retain theirs. The nuclear balance has preserved peace in western Europe since 1945, and negotiation from nuclear strength may soon lead to the most far-reaching arms control agreement since the last war. But the issues are entirely different when it comes to the civilian use of nuclear power and there are many like myself who consider that it poses a greater potential threat than any posed by nuclear weapons.
In his exhaustive and admirable report on the proposed PWR at Sizewell B, Sir Frank Layfield has answered all the questions within his terms of reference. He has not gone outside those terms to answer the wider considerations. That is the task of the House. Those wider considerations will not go away. The main consideration is the debate on nuclear safety which, all over the world, has frozen the development of nuclear power. In the United States, the programme has long been at a standstill; in Italy and Brazil, likewise; in West Germany, it has slowed; in Austria, it has all but been abandoned. Only France and the Soviet Union are still pushing full ahead. It is true that the CEGB's record in Britain has been excellent, with not a single fatality resulting from a nuclear accident, but the safety doubts remain.
he first doubt concerns those working in and living around nuclear power stations. It is impossible to establish a direct link between radiation and the higher rate of leukaemia that appears to exist around power stations. That has not been finally confirmed, and we await the report on it, but the probability is high and it is a legitimate cause for public concern.
The second main area of concern is the potential danger to the public of a major accident. There are those who consider such accidents to be part of the inevitable price of progress. For example, how many people would have advised against the development of the jet aircraft if they had known in advance how many would die in air crashes over the years? But there is a difference. First, it is the task of Government not blindly to accept progress, but to help to direct progress where it can be of benefit to mankind. Secondly, those who fly in aeroplanes do so voluntarily; those affected by nuclear disasters have no choice. The nuclear industry's remarkable safety record so far is such that it is easy to minimise the danger. However, what is unique about the nuclear industry is that one accident could have such horrifying consequences.
The danger which, thankfully, failed to materialise at Three Mile Island in the United States came appallingly to life in the Chernobyl disaster, which was outside the terms of reference of the Layfield report. The awesome nature of that disaster has not sunk home to most people because it took place in an authoritarian and secretive nation. Suffice it to say that the official Soviet report showed that as much radiation was released at Chernobyl as in the atomic attacks at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the death toll of 31 to date seems likely to rise to 5,000 as a result of cancer caused by radiation exposure. Additional radiation effects were felt as far away as the hills of my constituency of Clwyd, South-West. One can react to Chernobyl by saying, "It couldn't happen here," and it is a good deal less likely to happen here because we have far higher safety standards and a more open society, but that is quite different from saying that it could not happen—and heaven help us if, on this overcrowded island, it does.
After Chernobyl, for any major country to proceed with an expansion of its nuclear programme, an overwhelming case has to be presented, either that it is the 65 most cost-effective form of energy generation today, without which we would be at the mercy of those of our competitors who have nuclear power, or that impending shortages of coal and oil mean that nuclear power would be hugely cost effective in the long term.
The Layfield report makes a recommendation that, on balance, a nuclear plant would be cheaper than a coal-fired plant, but even that judgment has been cast into doubt by the subsequent fall in the price of oil and coal. I recognise that the long-term judgment is more difficult. Certainly, oil prices could escalate again and as our North sea reserves dwindle, the Government must begin to think in terms of maintaining a strategic reserve or stock for this country well into the next century. However, other forms of energy may have become feasible by then—not the absurdly expensive and environmentally damaging forms such as wind generation, but the safe production of power through fission. If the economic case for Sizewell is overwhelming, the power station project should proceed, but an overwhelming economic case for Sizewell B has not been made in the Layfield report. The only countries sold on nuclear power at present are France and the Soviet Union. If we join the ranks of the doubters— the Americans, the Germans, the Italians and the Austrians—we may affect public opionion in France one day.
While not abandoning nuclear technology and the possibility of its improvement to a degree of safety that might one day allow it to proceed. I urge the Government to gradually phase out the existing nuclear power stations that show signs of age and to phase down the Sellafield reprocessing plant in parallel as the number of leaks and operational difficulties at that plant continue to mount. I also urge the Government not to proceed with Sizewell B in the near future. I believe that the lid of hell itself was briefly blown off in the Chernobyl disaster before being sealed by a massive concrete casing. The more nuclear power stations there are at the existing stage of technology, the more likely it is that that ghastly episode will some day he repeated somewhere else.
§ Mr. D. E. Thomas (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy)
I have the unexpected pleasure of agreeing with my neighbour the hon. Member for Clwyd, South-West (Mr. Harvey) who has spoken sensitively and has reflected the feeling within the farming community and the community generally in North Wales, where there are two Magnox stations. The area is faced with the aging station at Trawsfynydd in Meirionnydd Nant Conwy and the decision as to whether there should be a second generation of nuclear power stations. I believe that most people in that part of Wales would agree with the sentiments and the sensitive speech of the hon. Member for Clwyd, South-West. However, I suspect that the hon. Gentleman may not receive much response from the Government Front Bench.
I want to concentrate on the issues that affect my constituency and to highlight three of the issues raised by the Layfield report. The report raises more questions than it answers. As a process of public inquiry, which has been carefully judged and balanced the report provides a massive amount of evidence which, as it is reassessed in the period since publication, shows clearly that the balance of evidence is different from that judged by the inspector.
It is important that we get away from the notion that the report is a once-and-for-all determination of a programme for nuclear power stations. The Layfield 66 report stresses that each fresh application must be considered on its merits. It is essential for those of us who are concerned in Somerset and South Wales, about the possible application for Hinkley Point C and the site at Druridge bay which was referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Wansbeck (Mr. Thompson) and other sites in England and Wales which may be targeted by the CEGB for development, that each of those applications will be a fresh application in the context of the energy requirements at the time and particularly in the light of other emerging technologies. The House should firmly reject the notion that we are considering a final decision today.
I want to consider the aspects of radiological and environmental protection arising from the report and the interface of civil and military plutonium. I also want to consider the impact of power stations and energy policy on local communities.
Any assessment of the future development of the nuclear industry—as we are trying to assess tonight—must be based on our experiences of the way in which the industry operates. I am particularly concerned about the principle of the discharges from power stations— the principle of "as long as reasonably practicable" or ALARP as it is called— and its application to the Magnox station at Trawsfynydd. That station came on line in 1965. It is now more than 21 years old and still awaiting the report from the nuclear installations inspectorate which is reviewing Magnox stations.
I want to place on record my highest regard for the professional quality of the work of the staff at the station, most of whom are my constituents and at least some of whom are still my friends. They do as good a job as possible of running the plant up to a level of safety. Clearly those of us who live next to those power stations or who have public responsibility for them, must be concerned about the safety of the current generation of Magnox stations. We must assess the future of any further development on the basis of our understanding of that safety record.
It is my responsibility to raise questions about the safe environmental operation of the Trawsfynydd station. The figures to which I shall refer this evening are well documented and are publicly available from the CEGB. the Welsh Office, and the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. It is clear from the figures of environmental discharge that the principle of "as low as reasonably practicable" has not applied to discharges from Trawsfynydd. Trawsfynydd is an inland station, cooled from an inland lake and it is quite exceptional in that respect within the United Kingdom nuclear plants. However, the figures of discharges between 1977 and 1981 show that cobalt-60 levels rose by 400 per cent. The caesium discharges over the period from 1982 onwards reveal a substantial increase. The figures of discharge revealed in the mud and silt in the lake up to 1982 and the figures for a further three-year period show an increase from a relatively low level of five and 12 bq/kg of fish up to 36 bq. There is a more serious increase in caesium 137, with levels of around 1,500 bq/kg to 3,000 bq/kg in mud which has increased suddenly over the past three years to a level of 8,000 bq/kg.
If the principle of "as low as reasonably practicable" has been applied, how can such massive increases in discharge have occurred? Monitoring by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and others has shown a 67 massive increase in contamination in the lake. It is right that the board and the monitoring authorities should respond and give reasons for that contamination.
We can speculate whether fission products such as cobalt-60 have been flaking off from the tubing of the reactor as a result of thermal shock from rapid shutdown. We can speculate about the causes of such discharges. However, speculation is not good enough. We need to know the reasons for such increases. Any substantial increase in discharges from Magnox stations is unacceptable. That is why the local authority, Gwynedd county council, has recently set up an independent monitoring system and I am looking forward to the publication of all independent monitoring reports on the levels of discharge from the station.
If the board is serious in its commitment to openness and maintaining public confidence in the nuclear industry, it is important that the precise reasons for those discharges should be made plain.
That is not the only example of lack of information or secrecy in the industry. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) said earlier, we still have not had a clear statement from the Government or the nuclear industry on the precise relationship between civil and military plutonium. In paragraph 105.70 of the report, Sir Frank Layfield stresses the need for the reprocessing of spent fuel from Sizewell B or later stations to be carried out in buildingsseparate from those used for military reprocessing.I assume from the Government's decision on co-processing that this is what will happen from now on at Sellafield, but we still have had no information about what has happened to military and civil plutonium in the past. Layfield recommends that a specific designation of civil or military plutonium should be applied to its origin and destination.
Nor have we been told what has happened to plutonium from Magnox stations. I have corresponded extensively on the subject with the Secretary of State and his predecessors. I have asked many parliamentary questions, but the Government's view is not clear. The Prime Minister tells me one thing and the Secretary of State tells me another. Apparently the official position is still as was set out by the previous Under-Secretary of State for Energy, who said on 4 February 1983:No plutonium produced in any of the CEGB's nuclear power stations has ever been used for military purposes."—[Official Report, 4 February 1983; Vol. 36, c. 206.]
Is that still the Government's position? From information that has come to light since then and from independent calculations, it is clear that that cannot be true. Yet the Government stick to that line and the CEGB, in its public pronouncements, hides behind misleading answers that have been given to the House. If the Government accept the principles of Layfield as they apply to the future separation of civil and military plutonium, the entire record must be made clear to the House. Statements made by Ministers in the House have misled the public, and the Government are obliged to make the matter entirely clear.
The third aspect with which I wish to deal is the impact of nuclear power stations on the local community. It is clear to those who have read the report in detail, especially the sections dealing with the local impact, and it was clear 68 from the speech of the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Sir E. Griffiths) that the building of a nuclear power station brings little benefit to a community. Indeed, the report shows that there is a disbenefit in terms of environmental impact and dislocation of the local economy. Yet the main argument of supporters of nuclear power in my constituency is that it is the only way to create jobs in a rural area. But we know the sort of employment that is generated. A boom and bust syndrome is created by high employment during construction, lower employment during operation and even lower employment during decommissioning. The only long-term employment created by nuclear power stations is in the security guards who must maintain the core for 100 years. That will be a job for generations to come.
The net effect of a major construction project on a rural community is a diseconomy of scale in terms of permanent employment. The report brings out that fact clearly.
The Government have an obligation to communities that have hosted nuclear plants and are now faced with decommissioning not to look for new major nuclear construction projects in those areas but to provide public funding large enough to create alternative jobs. The county council, Mid-Wales Development and the local authorities in my constituency are seriously considering alternative employment. The Government have an obligation to those of us who have lived with the first generation of nuclear power stations. If they are serious about their obligation to the community, they should commit themselves to providing alternative employment for those who have provided energy from the present generation of Magnox stations.
§ Mrs. Anna McCurley (Renfrew, West and Inverclyde)
It is generally recognised that all forecasts about future demand for energy have been wildly under-estimated. With that in mind, I urge the Government to support the British nuclear energy programme to the hilt and to go ahead with Sizewell B.
The capacity of Sizewell B would in no way impede the contribution of other forms of energy, including fossil fuels, to the ever-growing demand. Indeed, I should be the first to suggest that alongside a decision to go ahead with Sizewell, the Government should think seriously about speedily commissioning two coal-fired power stations. Experts agree that there is a need for a balanced fuel policy. I admit to having a constituency interest in both camps, as many of my constituents are employed by Babcock Power and would assuredly be involved in the construction of Sizewell and probably in the construction of coal-fired power stations. As employment has been a problem in the industry, the decision to go ahead with Sizewell, for which contracts amounting to millions of pounds have already been signed and to which many hundreds of man hours would be committed, would stabilise Babcock's employment figures. More jobs would also be created if the Secretary of State ordered two coal-fired stations, but I hesitate to make the need for jobs in Renfrewshire the paramount consideration in a debate of this kind.
Safety is, of course, of the greatest importance. There was a practical and positive approach in the Layfield recommendations. Chernobyl has happened since that report and has perhaps altered our perceptions, but we must not over-emphasise it. Since Chernobyl, we have put 69 the perspective right on nuclear accidents. We now know what was previously the unknown. The Russians have admitted the design faults specific to the RBMK, where the onus of care was left not to technology but to the operators. The design and characteristics of the Sizewell PWR are completely different from those of the RBMK 1000, and safety standards here are much higher than they have been so far in the USSR. More important, until recently, the USSR did not have an independent nuclear inspectorate, although there are proposals to have one now.
I noted with interest that within weeks of the Chernobyl accident the Russians announced proposals to expand their nuclear power industry. That is probably because the extent of a nuclear accident is much better understood. For us in Britain, it is just as well to know the effects, as we live within a 350-mile radius of nuclear power stations operating in Europe. If Sizewell went ahead within 150 miles of London, we would have only 29.8 per cent. of operating capacity. The French make up the rest within 350 miles. including every United Kingdom station except Dounreay. We should have only 24.8 per cent. of capacity because the French, Dutch, Belgians and Germans have the rest, so we are under more threat from existing stations in Europe than we would be from Sizewell.
The radiation dose in the United Kingdom from Chernobyl amounted to 0.3 milliSieverts in Wales, Cumbria and my part of Scotland. That should be compared with background radiation of between 0.8 and 1.7 mSv per year in the United Kingdom, between 5 and 80 mSv a year in India and up to 125 mSv a year in Brazil. People are known to thrive in atmospheres with high background radiation. Perhaps I can put the figures in perspective by saying that the effect of the 0.3 mSv experienced in the United Kingdom from Chernobyl is equivalent to living in Aberdeen for four months. Some might say that there is a greater danger to health from living in Aberdeen. The dose can also be compared with drinking an extra bottle of wine or smoking one cigarette every 30 months. Such is the effect of radiation from Chernobyl in Britain. Moreover, the level at the Chernobyl site was never so high as the cases that I have cited.
We might compare that nuclear accident with the accident at Bhopal, where 2,000 people died. Another 100,000 at least are suffering severe after-effects, and the after-effects of Seveso are still not quantifiable. Bearing those accidents in mind, Chernobyl seems much less dramatic. We must keep that in mind. After all, if we had not had a balanced attitude to safety and innovation in the past, we should never have proceeded with coal mining or car driving. So long as we can guarantee that, with a PWR, there is no departure from operating procedures to carry out experiments such as were conducted in the USSR—believe that that would not be possible here—so long as it is clearly understood that other United Kingdom and Western reactors are designed to much higher standards, and so long as there is close security, unlike Chernobyl, we can be reassured. Even if operators ignored their instructions, United Kingdom reactors would not go what is called "prompt-critical".
I am not a nuclear scientist or physicist, but I know that a positive void coefficient is not acceptable. That was considered on the SGHWR, and displacer tubes were fitted in the core to make the void coefficient significantly negative. Although the inspector's report in no way denies 70 the possibility of accident, I believe that the probabilities are well dealt with. In this regard, we have to consider and understand the principle of acceptable level of risk.
The Government and the industry have a proud safety record. No other country devotes so much time and money to safety. In those circumstances, and provided that they prevail in the future, I urge the Government to go ahead with a positive decision.
§ Mr. Peter Hardy (Wentworth)
I hope that the hon. Member for Renfrew, West and Inverclyde (Mrs. McCurley) will forgive me if I do not follow her, but I do not wish to make a long speech, although it will he a little longer than the Secretary of State's graceful and proper introduction. He reminded the House that he had been here 25 years but that he had never before been in the situation in which this debate puts him.
I hope that the Secretary of State will think back to the day when he first entered the House. He need not even think back that far. He might think back only to the early 1970s when hon. Members could take parties around the House without difficulty and when access to all manner of public buildings and travel through airports was a great deal easier. People who wanted to see their Member of Parliament were able to do just that, and we took them around the Palace without their having to go through X-ray machines and metal detectors. We did not suffer what I experienced last week. I was taking respectable people around, who probably would not recognise a bomb orgun if they saw one, but they had toqueue in the bittercold morning outside the Norman porch t o get in. That did not happen when the Secretary of State first entered the House. The difference is the result of serious and dreadful changes on our planet as terrorism and international crime proliferate. That gives rise to a serious reservation about the growth of nuclear power.
Conservative Members should understand that one result of the development of nuclear power in France has been a strengthening of the rather more positive— if that is the correct word— and vigorous policing that is practised there. People in France may be a little less enthusiastic about nuclear power than some Conservative Members seem to believe as a result of the way in which their protests might be dealt with. That is not a condition that any of us should wish to see here if we are to remain, as many hon. Members believe that we are, a free country and a bastion of liberty. The dangers of nuclear power assisting terrorism could be substantial. I believe that security would be maintained, but that we would be maintaining the growth of employment in the security industry, which is at present about the only growth industry in the United Kingdom.
§ Mr. Hardy
It is all very well for the hon. Gentleman to shout "Rubbish", but I have heard more rubbish from Conservative Members on this subject in the past seven years than on any other. Some hon. Members might recalll that there was a "Nuclear Forum" three or four years ago when Lord Marshall spoke of the advantages of cheap French nuclear power. I intervened on the Secretary of State and on the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Sir J. Osborn) to talk about that.
I hope that the Secretary of State will ensure that the Minister confirms what I am about to say. Electricité de 71 France's debt has now reached $33 billion, or 220 billion French francs, because is has spent a great deal more than it needed to spend on PWRs, with the result that the French have such an obscene surplus of electicity that they are selling cheaply in France, although that is changing rapidly, and at a dumped price through Sellinge.
What are we paying for French electricity? Does the Secretary of State think that it is fair trade? Does he believe that it complies with GATT? Does it comply with the treaty of Rome? It is a tremendous subsidy. If we reflected it by exporting coal to France, I calculate that we would sell at £6.50 a tonne. That would be absurd, but it would be equally absurd for us to allow the French to export their unemployment to us on the present scale.
The French have done in nuclear power, perhaps more expensively, what they did with eggs, turkeys, and golden delicious apple production, but this is a very much more serious matter. I hope the Minister will be able to deal with the anxieties expressed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Salford, East (Mr. Orme) and others about EDF's enormous deficit and confirm that the speeches that we have heard from Conservative Members and others for the past six years were not so well founded as was initially thought.
That is not the only thing that worries me. In January I chaired part of the nuclear hearing in Paris organised by the Council of Europe. It was quite obvious there that a number of people in Belgium, West Germany and Luxembourg were extremely unhappy about developments in France. They were worried that they, as close neighbours, had not been told all that they should have been told about the condition of the French nuclear industry. I was therefore especially worried when I saw that in 1979 at Gravelines the safety valves controlling cooling circuits showed the same faults as those which occurred at Three Mile Island.
I spend much of the year in Yorkshire, which is twice as far from the House as the Gravelines nuclear power station. The Government seem to be rather more concerned about the south-east of England than they are about areas such as mine, but are they concerned enough to ensure that all the faults which have occurred or might occur in French PWR reactors are properly notified to the United Kingdom? Gravelines, Chinon, Grenoble, Les Choux, Brenelis, St. Laurent, La Bugey and Cottenom are all French nuclear power stations where things have gone wrong, and we are a lot closer to them than we are to Chernobyl.
I do not want to get involved in scare talk and I am prepared to accept that it would be foolish to say for all time that there should never be any nuclear power. I think that the Secretary of State will agree that future generations will face the prospect of desolation if we do not hand on to them an adequate energy base, but there is no need for us to devote a huge part of our capital expenditure capacity to this particular form of power. Through a proper conservation programme we could save as much energy as the output of at least two of the five PWRs that the CEGB needs. We should ensure that we invest rather more quickly in the clean combustion of coal than we seem to be doing—and as an environmentalist I make no apology for insisting that it should be clean.
There is no need for us to surrender, as it were, the heritage of the nuclear research which has culminated in the AGR and which may in due course see the development of fusion, but at this stage there is no need 72 for us to invest the amount of money which is currently in mind for PWR purposes. Last week some people made the preposterous claim that PWR reactors and nuclear power today had a clean bill of health. I hope that before the Secretary of State makes his decision he will not only take careful note of Sir Frank Layfield's reference to the need to study leukaemia in relation to Sizewell A but will look at the various references to the need for the studies and investigations recommended in the document about nuclear power and lukaemia.
I accept that, apart from the matter of liver cancer, the CEGB locations have been given a clean bill of health, but several of those stations are comparatively recent and proper weight should be attached to the situation in pre-1955 nuclear establishments. I do not want to labour the point because it would be wrong to indulge in sensational comment, but in those studies there are at least six references to the need for further investigation. If the scientists can produce a positive record of incidence and mortality from cancer, leukaemia and lymphoma, the House should insist that before any firm decision to have a family of pressurised water reactors the investigations mentioned in this document should be carried out.
I trust that the Secretary of State will pay heed not only to the arguments about energy, but to those about the need to maintain liberty in our societies and to ensure the health of future generations.
§ 7.4 pm
§ Sir Trevor Skeet (Bedfordshire, North)
I should say one thing in fairness to Electricite de France. At present EDF is not proceeding on the basis of capital contributions from the state, nor is it receiving any subsidies. The hon. Member for Wentworth (Mr. Hardy) mentioned leukaemia, which had not been mentioned before in the debate.
The United Kingdom has a population of over 50 million and our nuclear programme produces between 18 and 19 per cent. of our total electricity. France produces 76 per cent. of its total electricity by nuclear power and it has a population of 55 million. In Belgium, electricity generated by nuclear power is roughly 60 per cent. of the total, and the population is 9.8 million. In the United Kingdom we are disturbed by small cells of leukaemia appearing all over the country particularly in the vicinity of nuclear stations. Nobody in France or in Belgium is concerned about that, and those countries have substanial nuclear programmes and one has a bigger population.
I shall read a small extract from a report called "Cancer Incidence and Mortality in the Vicinity of Nuclear Installations, England and Wales, 1959–1980". The Opposition demanded that this should be brought to the House and it has now been brought here in draft form.
That report says:These values suggest the majority of positives occur by chance and that the presence of the nuclear installations is not a contributory factor.That is on the first page of the report. Further on, the report says:the results for control locations strongly suggest that the positive results for nuclear installations are predominantly due to data biases and to random fluctuations rather than to local environment.When we hear anything about this subject we will be able to say authoritatively that there is nothing at all in it at this stage.
73 The Secretary of State is perfectly right to suggest that safety is the prime consideration. Several hon. Members have also said that. It is important to bear in mind what is in chapter 2 of the Layfield report. It says:the safety record of the CEGB is outstanding by any standards; … the CEGB and NII both possess a sufficiently high degree of engineering and managerial competence to ensure plant safety;".Those are remarkable commendations from a report which took about four years to compile. That committee adduced erudite evidence, not merely from people from Britain but from abroad. Certain matters were reserved by the Layfield inquiry and were identified by the Nil as requiring clarification before a site licence could be issued. Of the 79 issues that have so far been identified 76 have now been resolved leaving only three outstanding. A number of matters were raised by the NII the protesters and other people and Layfield stated that these matters should be considered in depth. All but three have been resolved.
One matter worries me and my constituents. It is about Chernobyl, the RBMK reactor. However, at the Vienna conference Professor V. A. Legasov said that the type of damage caused by a faulty Chernobyl type reactor could not occur in the United Kingdom or in any of the West's reactors. It is interesting to note that the Russians have gone ahead with their nuclear power programme and want substantially to advance its capacity by 2000 AD. They have resorted to their own version of PWR for future construction.
The Chernobyl reactor is also different from the ones in the West because of its sudden injection of reactivity. My hon. Friend the Member for Renfrew, West and Inverclyde (Mrs. McCurley) referred earlier to the positive void coefficient that may make that reactor go supercritical. That is not possible with reactors in the United Kingdom. In fact, several years ago some of us went to look at the Canadian reactor system to see whether it was applicable to the United Kingdom. We came back and suggested that that system should not be accommodated here.
The steam-generated heavy water reactor, which is the nearest equivalent to the reactor in the Soviet Union, was accepted temporarily but was later rejected. We have therefore adopted the right course and not pursued a reactor design that could lead to disasters. I am perfectly satisfied with the safety arrangements outlined in the report and also that the CEGB and nuclear installations inspectorate can get together and lay down the appropriate conditions to safeguard the public.
Since the nuclear programme was commenced in the United Kingdom, the record of the CEGB has been remarkable, such has been the nature of the safety regulations imposed on the industry.
On economics, the first argument to which I give great weight relates to the diversification of fuel sources. At present coal-fired plants dominate the CEGB system, but prudence demands a broader fuel base. There is also a need to prevent the demise of an important technological industry in the United Kingdom, because the teams could disperse if Sizewell is not ordered. It is important to establish a new line of PWRs with the most up-to-date technology. Such reactors could be exported at a much later date. The Kraftwerk Union borrowed its ideas partly from France and partly from Westinghouse in the United States. EDF in France borrowed its ideas from 74 Westinghouse. It has added its own ideas, and ultimately has arranged for valuable disposal on the export market. That has been attractive. I have no doubt that once we have more experience of this type of reactor, we shall be able to do the same.
In my judgment the economics still favourable to Sizewell. In part, economics will be determined by the movement of prices in competitive fuels. The calculations require that such prices will have to be accurately gauged over the life of the plant—from 1995 to 2035—but not on the basis of immediate market trends.
The right hon. Member for Salford, East (Mr. Orme) said that because of two years of falling oil and coal prices he could project forward accurately over the next 40 years. That is absurd. In other words, the right hon. Gentleman is now drawing conclusions as to why we should not go ahead with the building of a nuclear power station in 1988 so that it can be ready for commissioning in 1995.
It is important to bear in mind that the capacity is warranted and that it must be available in 1995. The right hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Mr. Steel) asked why we should not consider the Severn barrage. While that might provide its full power, it would not do so until the year 2000 or 2005. Therefore, it would not be able to provide the additional capacity that the CEGB require at the right time.
According to chapter 70 of the Layfield report, international coal prices are accepted as the proper basis for economic appraisal in national resource terms, but it should not be forgotten that British coal prices are controlled by a variety of domestic factors. The CEGB pays £42 a tonne for its coal, but gets its third tranche at world prices. Yet that amounts to only 12 million tonnes. Therefore, it is almost totally insulated from the world market. Furthermore, British Coal is subsidised to the tune of £6 a tonne. If we delve even deeper, we will see that it is subsidised even more heavily, and that disruptive factor will cause great difficulty when making any realistic comparisons.
It is useful to calculate on the basis of world prices, as that avoids going into the complications of the coal industry, but those of us in the House who have been brought up on coal Bills know that the problem is much more complicated.
It has also been said that the price of nuclear power stations has escalated from,£1 billion to just over £1.5 billion. I agree that that is a considerable sum, but we should bear in mind the fact that the coal industry has also been subject to escalating costs and expensive outlays. The desulphurisation of flue gases is very expensive indeed. No decision has yet been taken on the removal of NOx, and until that problem is solved no new coal-fired power stations can be brought into operation. NOx may act as a catalyst with sulphur dioxide, causing destruction of fish and trees.
§ Mr. Barron
I agree with what the hon. Gentleman is saying, but is not that an easier problem to solve than the dumping of nuclear waste in Bedfordshire?
§ Sir Trevor Skeet
I am glad that the hon. Gentleman' has raised the problem of nuclear waste. I have never advocated that it should go to Bedfordshire—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] Obviously the hon. Gentleman did not hear me when I last spoke on the subject. The Layfield report says that nuclear waste can be kept at Sizewell B 75 throughout the entire life of the power station. If that is correct, the waste would never come to Bedfordshire. I also recommended Bradwell and Fulbeck as two places to which the waste could go. However, I do not want to deviate too much from my main argument.
Carbon dioxide remains an environmental problem with fossil fuels. That has been partially explained, and in time, if there is to be increased coal-burning across western Europe, we shall have to find some way of containing its emission.
In addition, the recommendations of the Waddilove report on compensation for subsidence have never been faced. In underground mining, that could be desperately expensive, and I dare say that costings will have to be reflected in the price of coal. Even with substantial mechanisation, mining is still labour-intensive, high-cost, and liable to disruption.
As the Secretary of State will no doubt remind the House if he has the opportunity, last year we had great difficulties with miners in certain parts of the country, and had it not been for nuclear and oil-fired power stations, all the lights of the country would have gone out.
§ Sir Trevor Skeet
The hon. Gentleman knows that it is the truth. If only Labour Members faced the facts of life, they would not in some cases be such idiots. I hope that I have not been too disrespectful, but if I have, I willingly withdraw what I have just said.
Another factor that adds to the price of coal is the increase in underground mining costs due to safety arrangements. However, I pay tribute to the miners for the way in which they have increased productivity. I have come to the conclusion that, while oil prices are to some extent a determining factor for coal, the real price of coal on the world market could be affected by increases in supply which would unsettle prices, albeit temporarily. The price on the United Kingdom market during the life of Sizewell, that is 1995 to 2035, which is the key matter, is likely to be on the upward grade. That is all that we have to establish.
The performance of exchange rates, which is also crucial to turning dollar prices into pounds, will be totally unpredictable during that 40 years. No one, apart from Layfield, would venture to conjecture on that. Between 1995 and 2035 the price of crude oil, and hence that of petroleum products, specifically fuel, will probably also be upwards as supplies diminish.
Having examined the Sizewell report carefully, I came to the conclusion that, fuel-wise, Layfield has made out a strong case and that the Central Electricity Generating Board, while it has been a bit too optimistic, has nevertheless reached a satisfactory position.
I reflect once again on the French. The Electricité de France nuclear construction programme could remain profitable for the French, right down to the price of $5 a barrel, never mind the fact that their programme is substantially based on the PWR. We are not likely to find that in the United Kingdom.
I do not wish to take too much time over this, but I shall finish by mentioning one or two points. Today we have been told by some hon. Members who are against the recommendations for Sizewell B that the nuclear industry is totally unsafe. We have been told by a Welsh 76 Conservative Member, my hon. Friend the Member for Clwyd, South-West (Mr. Harvey) that he does not wish to see Sizewell B brought into operation.
In 1986, 21 power reactors were completed in eight states. Today, the world total is 394 nuclear plants. If the International Atomic Energy Agency figures—
§ Sir Trevor Skeet
Nuclear is providing 15 per cent. of world electricity. There were cancellations in the United States due to interest rates and over-ordering. I shall not deal with those factors today. Twenty-six countries generate electricity by nuclear power plants in which the PWRs predominate. That is the world scene. Twenty-six countries the world over use nuclear power. PWRs is the system in vogue and it is the one that we may accept in the United Kingdom. The French, under Electricite de France, the Germans under their Kraftwerk Union, and Westinghouse of the United States have all made improvements. If we accept this model, we shall accept it with all those improvements vested in it.
It is important that we consider that. Yes, in the United States high interest rates and over-capacity in the days when they ordered too many nuclear reactors has affected matters, but between 1953 and 1979 orders for fossil fuel power stations were cancelled in the United States in exactly the same way as those for nuclear power stations. However, since Three Mile Island, 62 new nuclear power stations have been ordered in other countries and 113 of those were under construction in 1979 and have now been completed.
Finally, the Liberals tell us that we must turn to other methods. Will they have us put up some windmills to get a power station the size of Sizewell B? Three thousand of these windmills would be required, 500m apart. The ground coverage would be 27 sq km. What an environmental eyesore that would be! It would be totally unacceptable.
§ Sir Trevor Skeet
It is interesting that the right hon. Gentleman mentioned the Severn barrage. I told him that it would not reach full power until after the year 2000, and that the power was required by 1995. Therefore, it would pass the peak time when it was required. That is why it is essential to get going now, well before 1990, so that it can be commissioned by about 1995.
The most practicable solution of the lot is that we should import more electricity from France. A 2,000 MW line could be doubled to get more electricity. Layfield recommends that course. Chapter 62, paragraph 19 states:the possibility of further links, with France in particular, should be actively reviewed … the cheapness of some electricity generated in France might make it economic to construct further interconnection capacityOne might consider that, but the miners have cause to reflect that the French can market electricity in the United Kingdom at costs below that of our production. Would they suggest that that course should be followed? If we took any of the other alternative methods, even if money were spent on them, we could not produce the electricity that we require to keep the lamps burning and to keep 77 industry productive on the scale required. None of that could be produced by 2000AD and the hon. Gentleman knows that.
§ Mr. Frank Cook
The hon. Gentleman has referred to the fact that the French can supply electricity at a lower cost than that produced by fossil fuels in this country. Will he tell us whether he is privy to cost figures that are not available to Labour Members in referring to the cost of electricity here?
§ Sir Trevor Skeet
I must be careful, because I have spoken for some time. I am prepared to talk with the hon. Gentleman on some other occasion. I am interested in the price of French electricity. I have been over to France and I have seen their network. It is most admirable that they have kept it. A Socialist Government came into power in France and promised to close it all down, but they kept it all going. That must be good and so must be the PWRs that we are seeking to get for the United Kingdom.
§ Mr. Frank Cook (Stockton, North)
I have seen that we are destined to conduct our exchanges this evening under three shadows. Those shadows are three refusals. The first refusal was that of the Secretary of State to comment on the Layfield report or to answer questions upon it and, in fact, his refusal to speak for more than six minutes on it which, doubtless, was easy for him, as he had said that he had yet to make his decision. I am yet to be convinced that a decision is not yet made.
The second shadow is the refusal of the Government to heed the plea of my right hon. Friend the Member for Islwyn (Mr. Kinnock) when he begged the Leader of the House to table a reasoned and considered motion that could be subject to reasoned and considered amendment. Doubtless that tactic could be excused rationally by the Secretary of State's already recorded statement that he had yet to make his decision. However, I remind the House that it is also an excuse that allows hon. Members anywhere in the House, but particularly, it would seem, Conservative Members, to talk about any particular aspect of nuclear energy that they choose to seize upon.
I remind the House that tonight we are discussing the Layfield report and particularly the pressurised water reactor that is supposedly destined for Sizewell. Even that is not the biggest shadow. I suggest that the biggest shadow was the refusal of the head of the Central Electricity Generating Board, Lord Marshall, himself to present the CEGB's case at the inquiry. I am not one of those who would suggest that there was any conflict of interest between the principal procurer and the potential provider of this particular type of reactor—far be it from me to do so—but I find it astonishing that the noble Lord, who is acknowledged as one our foremost authorities on nuclear energy in all its forms, should refuse to present his case at an inquiry of this nature and thereby refuse to submit himself to examination.
Tonight we have a major responsibility which we should not shirk, even though it may go against party political lines. That responsibility is for the safety of the British public. We must decide whether to go ahead with a completely different type of nuclear reactor, the PWR. This step marks a major shift away from designs which we have previously used. Nuclear reactors generate electricity, but they are unlike any other power stations in that they 78 contain within the reactor core a colossal amount of radioactivity which poses particularly difficult problems for both the designers of the plants and the engineers who build and operate them.
I used to work in the nuclear industry, so I speak with some knowledge of the truth about the safety and the design of plants. Some hon. Members would like to label me anti-nuclear. I reject that label because I am in favour of technology so long as it can be proven to be safe and to bring benefit to human beings. Hon. Members will recall that I denied the anti-nuclear label and said that it was as silly to refer to me as anti-nuc as it would be to refer to me as anti-food because I happened to be against food poisoning. Nevertheless, I remain unconvinced by nuclear power plants, in particular by the PWR.
Few people have seen a PWR and understand what is going on in its core. At the heart is a massive steel pressure vessel about 35 ft high and 15 ft in diameter. Inside there are about 40,000 fuel elements which produce a power density in parts of the core as high as 250 kW per litre during operation. That is like the heat from 140 single bar electric fires coming from a pint milk bottle. The amount of heat is colossal, which is why the whole reactor must be pressurised up to 150 times atmospheric pressure and why the reactor must be kept cool at all times. About 20 tonnes of water must pass through the core every second. The PWR is an engineering challenge, if nothing else.
The PWR is designed in that way because, originally, it needed to be compact to fit inside a submarine. Some senior people in the nuclear industry have pointed out that what is good for a submarine in not necessarily good for an electrical power plant on land. Indeed, Sir Francis Tombs, the managing director of Rolls-Royce, which makes PWRs for our submarines, made that very point in a letter to a certain publication printed at Wapping. The late Professor Ned Franklin, former managing director of the National Nuclear Corporation, also criticised the PWR. I hope that Conservative Members who have been giving us a blizzard of bland assurances tonight will listen to this. In November 1986 he wrote that he opposed the construction of PWRs in the United Kingdom because they werenot sufficiently operator friendly under accident conditions … This view is based on a lifetime's experience which indicates that when operators are subject to conditions of extreme emergency … they will react in ways which lead to a high risk of promoting accidents rather than diminishing them. This is materially increased if operators are aware of the very small time margins available to them. What is definitely intrinsic for water-cooled systems is that the drive for economy leads to high fuel ratings and to an extremely rapid sequence of events, given an initiation such as a loss of coolant accident. The times available for intervention are such that the reactor has become a 'fly-by-wire' device rather than piloted one.I remind the House that that comment comes from a man who spent a lifetime in the nuclear industry and who supported nuclear power to the end. His remarks relate specifically to the PWR. So much for the blizzard of bland assurances.
The PWR places major demands on the engineers in order to get the core cooling emergency systems right. Frankly, human operators cannot react sufficiently quickly. Instead of the minutes and hours that operators have at their disposal to react to accidents at AGRs and Magnox reactors, only seconds are available with the PWR. If human reaction is too slow and we do not feel that we can ask for such a rapid response from the 79 operator, we must lock him out of the system. Then we become wholly dependent on a computer-guided system which can never possibly be acquainted with all the sets of circumstances that may arise. Therefore, in the light of all those extra demands on safety, how well, in the eyes of Layfield and others, does the PWR do?
Like most people from time to time I have taken my car in for an MOT test. When I do so, I do not say, "I am sorry but this is not the final design of my car. I want you to MOT it. Test what you have there and let me know whether the rest of it is in good shape too." With Sizewell B, that is exactly what the CEGB has done. As Layfield himself said:I was not able to base my conclusions on a final safety case"—why not?—as none was submitted.Nobody has seen the final design for Sizewell B, apart from the CEGB and the NII. Indeed, design modifications are still going on. Did Sizewell B pass its MOT test at the inquiry? The answer is no, it did not and never could have done. Layfield admits that the design wasincomplete and not yet susceptible of a final assessment of its safety.That is an extraordinary state of affairs when the design work for the proposal started back in 1979 and when we were promised that a final design for the reactor would be available before the start of the inquiry in January 1983. If anybody is under an illusion that Layfield passed Sizewell B on safety grounds, let me put them straight: what he did was to pass the buck to the CEGB and the NII to sort the matter out afterwards.
I do not suppose that many hon. Members have gone through the full details of the Layfield report and I would not expect them to. I suspect that most have read about it in the newspapers or glanced at some of the recommendations and conclusions. Close scrutiny of the report, particularly of the safety of the plant, does not give the real confidence needed to vote yes to Sizewell B at this stage.
Let me take up one or two aspects of the safety issue. Let us take the reactor pressure vessel which, if it fails, would have catastrophic consequences. Nobody would dispute that. Did the CEGB's evidence prove that it could meet the safety standards of an accident once in 10 million years of reactor operation? The answer is no. Layfield called on an independent assessor, Professor Kletz, who pointed out that, on a strict statistical basis, the absence of a failure so far could only support the conclusion that the true annual failure probability was less than 6.4 per million per year. Sir Frank, in his ultimate wisdom—or otherwise—decided that he was impressed by the work that the CEGB had done and that as far as he was concerned the CEGB could be trusted to achieve the safety standards which it had set.
Let us turn to the steam generators, which are a fundamental part of the cooling system. Layfield admits thatit is impossible to say whether the model F steam generator as proposed by the CEGB for Sizewell B, will prove to be reliable or not.What is his solution to this? It is simply to turn yet again to the CEGB, the credentials of which he accepts and regards as adequate to reach the required safety standards.
80 What about fuel clad ballooning? There can be swelling of fuel elements which restricts cooling and can lead to melting of the fuel itself. Layfield admits that the nuclear installations inspectorate was not satisfied at the end of the inquiry and that some matters still remained unsolved.
Let us consider loss of coolant accidents, the biggest of which we saw at Chernobyl. That happened after March 1985. Layfield admits that there were major uncertainties in the CEGB's analysis of LOCAs—loss of coolant accidents. The nuclear installations inspectorate regarded the CEGB's work asa significant advance towards an adequate safety case, but was not yet entirely satisfactory.Time and time again Sir Frank has ducked his responsibilities on safety, with all the major uncertainties outstanding, by simply passing the buck to the NII and the CEGB.
§ Mr. Forman
The technologies which the hon. Member is discussing are, almost by definition, impossible to be totally sure about because of their complexity and safety. Does he not see the strength of Sir Frank Layfield basing his judgment on the best expertise available at the time?
§ Mr. Cook
I take the point without reservation, but allow me to tell the hon. Gentleman about the scientists on both sides of the Atlantic and around the globe who have stated categorically that research and development finished too soon and that production started too early. We have not advanced the technology to the stage where we can safely put it into operation. If the hon. Gentleman listens further, I shall continue to prove just that.
One of the fundamental issues at the Sizewell inquiry was the question of risk. What level of risk is acceptable to hon. Members, to me or to the general public? The CEGB thought that one in a million was an "acceptable" level of risk. What does one in a million really mean? It is intended to tell us that an accident simply could not happen. Well, the accident at Three Mile island—TMI as we are told to refer to it—did happen. The clean-up costs are estimated at $1 billion—about $300 million more than the plant cost to build. The accident at Chernobyl did happen. So far 31 people are dead, over 200 people are still seriously ill and between 10,000 and 50,000 long-term cancers are expected. Clean-up costs in Russian are already over £2.5 billion, and over £3.5 million has been paid to sheep farmers in the United Kingdom.
There have been two major accidents in seven years—one in a capitalist country with a PWR, the other in a Communist country with a pressure tube reactor. Even if we believe all the CEGB's risk estimates, one in a million is still not acceptable. We cannot afford a single such accident. Such an accident would devastate the United Kingdom and our continental neighbours and have appalling consequences for the national economy.
The industry's assertion, and the Government's response to all this, is to say that such an accident could not happen here. What arrogance. What misguided belief in the supremacy of technology and the ability of humans to be perfect.
At the post-Chernobyl conference in Vienna last August, Dr. Morris Rosen of the International Atomic Energy Authority was a damned sight more honest than many of our own scientists. He told reporters:I might say that one of these accidents could happen once every ten years. I might say it could happen every year. If you 81 did the figures you might still find nuclear safer. You're going to have to tell me whether that's acceptable or not. All I can say is that there were two accidents in seven years.I ask the House to think about that for a moment. Rosen was saying that a major nuclear accident every 10 years might be acceptable. "Acceptable", or, in the words of Layfield, "tolerable"? I do not think so and I doubt whether my constituents do.
The CEGB has to convince me and my constituents that an accident like Chernobyl or Three Mile Island could never happen in this country. We have a right to demand this because a nuclear reactor is not like coal-fired station, a gas turbine, or a wind or wave generator. Coal miners, like uranium miners, suffer illness and death. The safety record has improved and it must continue to improve.
Comparing the complete coal and nuclear fuel cycles, Layfield concluded that the risks appeared to be of a similar magnitude. However, nuclear reactors have the potential for catastrophic consequences. That is what makes them so different. They have a capacity not just to harm workers, or people living near a plant, but to harm people living hundreds of miles away, and future generations through genetic disease and the exposure of children in the womb.
Three Mile Island and Chernobyl are warnings to us that we have not yet tamed this technology. Layfield has not been able to prove that we have tamed it. Arguments about jobs, the price of electricity and France are, frankly, incidental compared with safety. From the CEGB we are offered only one thing—surised water reactor, plus a lot of delay in order plant for future coal-fired stations— delay designed, perhaps, to exert pressure towards acceptance of the PWR proposals.
In regard to that, I should like to record the concern of the national organiser of the engineering union, TASS, Mr. Keith Sneddon, who said:While the nuclear debate continues, the industry is spiralling downwards, causing even more job losses in areas of already massive unemployment. Without the orders, Britain will soon find itself having to rely on imported power equipment.I commend national organiser Sneddon of TASS for those thoughts.
I remind the House that today we not only put ourselves in prospect of importing power equipment, but we debate our intention to rely on imported power technology.
Sir Frank stated that he was impressed by the confidence of the CEGB and the NII Does the performance of those organisations justify that confidence? Let us take the NII I have a great deal of respect for the NII and for the difficult job it must do. However, it is seriously under-staffed, with 23 fewer inspectors than it requires. Even at full strength, we have far fewer inspectors per nuclear plant than many other countries. Less than four weeks ago, in giving evidence to the Select Committee on Employment, senior representatives of the Health and Safety Executive confessed the difficulty they had in obtaining staff with appropriate qualifications of acceptable standards. The NII is under-funded and underpaid.
Until recently it worked hand in glove with the nuclear industry. As John Rimmington of the Health and Safety Executive admitted, some of his inspectors may have "gone native" in the past and not been sufficiently rigorous in their oversight of the plants. The Health and Safety Executive's extremely critical report on BNFL at 82 Sellafield, which was published last year and which threatened closure of the plant, was an indictment of its performance. Having made many criticisms of BNFL's safety standards in 1981, the Health and Safety Executive allowed it to get away with things for a full five years before public outcry, after a spate of accidents at Sellafield forced the Executive to act. That critical report was as much an admission of its failure on safety matters as BNFL's. I consider that the NII is still on trial as to whether it is to be regarded as truly independent of the nuclear industry and standing up for public safety.
Future generations will not thank the House for lacking the courage of its convictions tonight. It is not enough for hon. Members simply to troop through the Division Lobbies tonight like a bunch of radioactive sheep— 300,000 of which are still banned from human consumption in this country, 10 months after Chernobyl.
The House should reject the Sizewell proposals and get started with tackling the real energy problems in this country. Sizewell B is nothing more than an enormous white elephant, which the CEGB, like a spoilt child, does not want to give up even when every reason for building it has disappeared.
In relation to the bland assurances that we have received tonight, Conservative Members should listen to the words— it is fitting that they should be the final words— of the man who was the father of the PWR, Admiral Hyman Rickover. In 1962, when he addressed the House of Representatives and confessed his fatherhood of the PWR, he said:I'm not proud of the part I played in it— the most important thing we could do now is to start having an international meeting where we first outlaw nuclear weapons then we outlaw nuclear reactors too.Our meeting is hardly international, but let the House heed Admiral Rickover today as it ponders the proposals for the adoption of his bastard child.
§ Mr. Nigel Forman (Carshalton and Wallington)
In one respect I aim markedly to depart from the hon. Member for Stockton, North (Mr. Cook), in that I shall not seek to emulate his rather disagreeable tone.
The purpose of this debate is consultative. It is an opportunity for hon. Members on both sides of the House to make brief, perhaps well-chosen remarks of benefit, one hopes, to Ministers and the Government.
In the first place, was Layfield asked to address the right questions? If one considers the terms of reference, originally given in a written answer on 21 July 1981 in column 126–127 of the Official Report, it is fairly clear that, essentially, Layfield was asked to involve himself in something in which he already had considered expertise— a detailed and extensive planning inquiry. However, right from the start, according to the terms of reference, inadequate attention was paid to the broader issues of energy policy and their possible impact upon the wider political and ecological environment.
Secondly, one needs to ask whether Layfield gave satisfactory answers within the terms of reference as stated in that written answer. I believe that the honest response to that must be "Yes, but" and "but" is the important word. Having listened to various hon. Members, it is clear that the economic argument and the economic conclusion reached by Layfield depend critically on three factors: first, the future cost of other fuels and other energy 83 technologies; secondly, the future level of interest rates and the appropriate discount rate that would be connected to those interest rates; thirdly, the ability of the constructors to build such reactors as Sizewell B to time and to cost. The "but" in the affirmative is therefore almost as important as the affirmative itself.
When one considers the safety aspect, it is clear that the conclusions reached by Layfield depend on three equally important factors. The first—this was brought out by the hon. Member for Stockton, North who is no longer in the Chamber—is the degree to which it is appropriate for Layfield to have placed such trust in the CEGB operators and the NII supervisors of this technology. If one reads the summary volume of the Layfield report— I freely admit that I have not had the time, due to my busy parliamentary duties, to read much more than that—it is clear that a process of conceptual narrowing took place in the course of the report. When one studies the concluding volume, it is clear that the focus of attention is on the generating process only. If one focuses on that, different conclusions are reached from those which would flow from the entire nuclear fuel cycle and attendant matters.
The safety argument also depends on credibility and public acceptability. The heroic task undertaken by Layfield was to seek to balance the alleged economic benefits that he thought he saw in such a reactor choice against incalculable safety risks—I am sure that Layfield would admit to that.
With regard to such risks, it is well to remember the remarks of the distinguished Swedish scientist Hannes Alfven, that the real dilemma in the calculus between cost and risk with regard to nuclear power and many other advanced technologies may be summarised in the question: "How do you put an acceptable probability on an unacceptable risk?" That leads me to ask whether there are any other questions that the Layfield inquiry or a wider, similar inquiry should have addressed, but, apparently, did not address in sufficient detail in this inquiry, long though it was. I believe that there are.
The central question that underlay the nine volumes, but which does not seem to have been addressed in sufficient clarity, at any rate in the conclusions reached by Sir Frank, is what would be the implications of going nuclear with a family of PWRs. I know that it was described as a small family and that in the relevant parts of the report it spoke only of four or five other reactors—a small "nuclear family" if you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, will pardon the pun. It is that to which we should address attention.
If, in the light of consultations, the House and the Government go ahead with Sizewell B, no one assumes that it will stop there. Indeed, the CEGB has never said as much. How would such a development, a family of PWRs, affect the economic and safety case and the levels of public acceptability? I would hazard a guess that the economic case would be impoved by going forward to series ordering. That is score one in favour of Layfield. On the other hand, the safety case would move in an unfavourable direction as a result of series ordering, if only for the rather simple arithmetical reason that the more reactors and the more of these complicated processes we have, the more possibility there is for human error and the greater the risks, other things being equal.
84 The third consideration that arises from series ordering is the level of public acceptability. I suspect that the problem of achieving public acceptability would increase when reactors of this sort became more common and were to be found in more places, sometimes sited closer to large pockets of population. The CEGB has been careful over the years to follow a remote siting policy, but on islands such as ours the possibility of following that policy ad infinitum is not all that great. There is a small recommendation in the Layfield report which is worthy of the Government's attention. It is the idea that it might be wise to provide in central Government financial controls on local government for the emulation of that which takes place in France. We know that the Electricite de France subsidises to a considerable extent to make nuclear siting worth the while of local authorities. In areas where French nuclear installations exist, EDF ensures that the authorities receive some direct financial benefit from what is otherwise centralised technology.
There are a number of other issues that, in the interests of time, I can only touch on. These are issues that should have been addressed more fully in the report. For example, I think that the House and the country would like to know more fully the implications for the AGR programme if we are to go ahead with a nuclear family of PWRs. I suspect that it would mean effectively the slow demise of that programme. The House has already considered the implications for the coal programme. One of the strongest parts of the Layfield report is the section that makes it clear that it is possible to run a continuing and modern coal programme in tandem with a small family of PWRs. When it comes to the more fanciful ambitions of some members of the pro-nuclear lobby, they are looking to a future in which coal plays only a small long-term role and nuclear power becomes the dominant factor. I would prefer a more even balance between the two sources of energy.
Finally, there are implications for energy policy generally. In that context it would have been salutary for the report to address to a greater extent than at present the key question of the implications of not going nuclear. The Swedish example, and some of the work done some years ago by Gerald Leach in his excellent book which hon. Members may have read, which is entitled "A Low Energy Strategy for the United Kingdom", should have been brought into play much more.
I do not have time to set out fully my views on energy policy issues in the context of the Layfield report in what must be a short speech tonight. Suffice it to say—I shall put my views in shorthand for hon. Members—that I think we should opt for what could loosely be described as a six-fuel economy. That is the path of prudence and flexibility. This means coal and nuclear power, chiefly for the production of electricity; oil and gas, recognising that they are finite, and alternative sources on a much more advanced and adventurous scale. There should also be a healthy slug of conservation, to an extent that even this Government have not yet managed. If we had a prudent, judicious and flexible policy that used all these mechanisms, acting both on the supply side and the demand side, we would carry public confidence much more readily with us.
My last point is more methodological than previous ones. In spite of the intelligence and hard work of Sir Frank Layfield and all those who worked with him on this lengthy report, I do not believe that a glorified planning 85 inquiry under section 40 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1971 is the appropriate way in which to address such momentous issues. I have come firmly to that conclusion. I know that it is easy to say that now, but it is as well to get this on the record. I think that instead there should have been a full-blown and comprehensive inquiry into future energy needs. That was the key issue. Consideration should then have been given to the costs and benefits of the various ways of meeting those needs. That points much more to the traditional and now out-of-favour institutional model of a Royal Commission than to the course which was followed.
The House is being asked to offer its views on what is a gigantic, but conceptually limited inquiry, which is inspired by what I shall describe as the doctrine of the limited case—in other words, one reactor in one place at one time. None the less, in the fulness of time it will constitute a definitive test for PWR-type approval. Let no one imagine that we shall go through this long rigmarole again. Future Governments of whatever party will say, "PWR type-approval was settled at the Sizewell inquiry and that will be the end of it."
Successive Governments have chosen effectively to demonstrate, first in the Parker inquiry into reprocessing at Windscale and now in the Layfield inquiry into Sizewell B, that, in the lapidary words of chapter 47, paragraph 62 of the report:there is nothing fundamentally secret or sinister about civil nuclear power in the UK.I suggest that, because public acceptability is the crucial test in the end, and because the public do not yet appear to be convinced of or reassured by the statement to which I have just referred, Ministers will be wise to proceed cautiously to what might be predominantly a nuclear electric future.
§ 8.7 pm
§ Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)
This is an important and timely debate. It is worth while to take up the remarks of the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Mr. Forman) for a while, to think about the public inquiry system, and to ask ourselves whether it is a fair way of assessing a decision of major national importance.
Is it right that we should appoint one person, with assessors, to sit for such a long time to prepare such a report? Was Sir Frank Layfield in a position to hear balanced opinion? He had before him representatives of the CEGB and British Nuclear Fuels Ltd. In support of them was the lobby of the electric power industry and the nuclear power industry. Against that representation were the interest groups and pressure groups, which had largely to be self-financing throughout the inquiry. In common with other hon. Members, I received today a letter from Mr. N. O. Ratcliff, the chairman of the Joint Parish Councils Sizewell B Committee. The committee represented Middleton-cum-Fordley, Theberton and Eastbridge, and Yoxford. The letter makes it clear that in making its submissions, the committee was forced to finance all its efforts itself. Having experienced road inquiries in the past, I ask whether it is a fair system of inquiry when objectors are expected to employ their own barristers, call their own expert witnesses and marshal their own evidence, generally in opposition to something that in essence has been decided upon by the Government in advance and promoted by Government agencies.
86 The amount of publicity and propaganda that has been pursued by British Nuclear Fuels Ltd. and the CEGB in support of nuclear power as a concept has been enormous and overwhelming. That pressure, influence and that lobbying leads us on to the research programmes of the Department of Energy, which deliberately underfunds research into possible renewable sources of energy, advanced coal-fired power stations and other options. The result is that we are led inexorably towards the conclusion that only nuclear power can solve our energy problems. This pressure is to be found within the EEC generally and not only within Great Britain. Energy predictions deliberately understate the reserves of coal in Europe by ignoring the coal that is underground in the pits that have been closed. This pushes the EEC more and more in the direction of coming to the conclusion that only nuclear power can solve Europe's energy needs.
Apparently the Secretary of State is listening to the debate and taking notes. That being so, I find it surprising that he has not been in his place for most of the debate. Secondly, it is scarcely credible that he has not made up his mind whether to order the go-ahead for Sizewell, despite the serious reservations that were expressed throughout the inquiry and in part of the report that was prepared and produced by Sir Frank Layfield.
The terms of reference of the report mention the need for a debate about the energy needs of this country and their widest consequences. We are not taking a decision just about Sizewell. Indeed, we are not taking a decision at all. The Secretary of State will be taking the decision at some future date. We are really taking a decision about nuclear power in the long-term future of this country and about energy needs for a long time to come. This is very much a turning point and an awful lot hinges on the decision.
I am one of those people who are extremely sceptical of the claim that nuclear power is inherently safe. I am one of those who are sceptical of the claims that there have been no serious accidents at nuclear power stations in this country or elsewhere. In the case of the Chernobyl accident, as many hon. Members have repeated many times, there have been a large number of deaths already, there are several thousand people seriously ill in hospitals in the Soviet Union and there are unquantified future cancers throughout the whole of western and eastern Europe as a result of one nuclear accident over 2,000 miles away.
It is true that nobody died immediately from the accident at Three Mile Island. It is also true that no one died immediately at Idaho Falls in 1961 or as a result of accidents that happened at Windscale. However, we have seen the storing up of cancers for a long time to come and the inherent secrecy of the way in which the nuclear power industry seeks to operate.
I have before me eight pages dealing with some of the major accidents that have happened at Windscale, now renamed Sellafield. That is supposed to be a safe nuclear plant. All those accidents have been reported and quantified somewhere. If the Minister or the hon. Member for Bedfordshire, North (Sir T. Skeet) or hon. Members from other places say that nuclear power is safe and that leukaemia risks are minimal, I refer them to what Sir Frank said about that. He said:I make the following observations: data on leukaemia in all workers and former workers at Sizewell A should be assembled over as long a period as possible and analysed with 87 a view to establishing whether there are any grounds for suspecting the action of a specific cause associated with Sizewell A power station".He goes on to say that similar data should be assessed in conjuction with all other CEGB nuclear power stations. He also says:if action has not already been taken on the fifth recommendation of the Black Report to arrange coordination centrally for monitoring small area statistics on cancer and hereditary diseases around major installations such as power stations, then the Office of Population Censuses and Surveys and the Medical Research Council should be asked to undertake that co-ordination work as soon as possible.That is a serious recommendation by Sir Frank. It is a serious matter.
The research that has always been done on cancers around the Sellafield plant, pollution of the Irish sea, problems that fishermen and fish stocks have suffered in the Irish sea, leukaema on the Antrim coast of Northern Ireland or the coast of the Republic of Ireland, shows some of the dangers of the nuclear reprocessing industry. People may say, "The nuclear reprocessing industry is not what we are talking about today." In reality, that is very much what we are talking about. If we decide to go ahead with the development of the nuclear power station at Sizewell it will mean development of the reprocessing industry and, in turn, a development of the importation of uranium, the transport of that uranium and a further development of the whole industry and the pollution that automatically goes with it.
We are leading ourselves into a chain reaction. The nuclear chain starts with the exploitation of uranium mining in Namibia, Australia and other countries. It starts with the destruction of the lifestyle of aboriginal people in Australia and the corruption of the political system in those countries by that end of the nuclear industry. It then goes on to the transport of uranium to western Europe, initially as fuel for nuclear power stations. That then goes for reprocessing and some of it eventually becomes nuclear weapons through the development of plutonium. It also leads to a problem of nuclear waste.
I recall, not so many months ago, a group of Conservative Members getting up one after another saying, "Please, no nuclear waste dump in my constituency. Put it some place else." The problem is that it will have to go somewhere if we decide to continue the expansion of the nuclear power industry. Pollution is inevitable. When hon. Members say that the waste can be stored for the lifetime of the power station, I ask the simple questions: what happens when the life of that power station has been spent? What happens when the power station is no longer there? Is it all to be bricked in and concreted over? Is the land to be declared unfit for human habitation for many years to come? We have to assess some of the dangers of nuclear power.
There is another aspect which, perhaps, is not so obvious to many hon. Members. The concern about the nuclear power industry goes far and wide. There is not just the danger of nuclear power stations or what happens to uranium mining sources, but the transport of nuclear waste. A nuclear waste train passes through my constituency three or four times a week. That causes a great deal of worry. The nuclear waste passes playgrounds of the schools in my area and in the constituency of Islington, South and Finsbury and many other 88 constituencies. There is a legitimate concern about the safety of those trains and the transport of that sort of nuclear waste.
There are not just those immediate dangers from the nuclear power industry but the loss of civil liberty that occurs because of the determined secrecy of the nuclear industry, the determination to push through the policies and the determination of that industry to be able to provide plutonium for the development of nuclear warheads. What we have seen in France, where the CRS riot troops have been used to break up the smallest demonstrations against the development of nuclear power stations, and the antics of the police in this country concerning nuclear power, begins to show us what is in store in the long term.
One Conservative Member rather gave the game away earlier. He was talking about nuclear power and the reliability of coal-fired power stations. He and other hon. Members know perfectly well that the problems of acid rain can be largely overcome. They could be overcome if more research was put into coal-fired power stations and if high-temperature burning and more efficient coal-fired power stations could be developed.
There is a political purpose in the development of nuclear power and I believe that that is the determination of the Government, which is well catalogued for a long time, to break the power of organised labour in the energy industry and to break the National Union of Mineworkers during that year-long strike. Opposition Members know what went on during that strike. Conservative Members and the Secretary of State for the Environment know what he was doing in 1978 in his development of the famous Ridley plan to take on and break the mineworkers' union. One of the motives— not the only one— in the development of nuclear power is a way of trying to break organised labour in the mining industry and in any other energy industry.
We have to look at the alternatives for the future. It has been said that there is no alternative other than the development of nuclear power. This country has large reserves of coal. We could use that coal far more efficiently and get a far quicker cost-benefit return if we invested money in the conservation of energy rather than the development of large new power stations immediately. Conservation of energy would be far more useful and of far more immediate benefit to consumers and people suffering high electricity bills at present. We also need far more money to be spent on alternative energy research such as renewables—wind, wave and barrage power. No one of those can solve the problem. More research should be put into the development of solar power in Britain and in other places.
The decisions we are about to take have long-term and worldwide dimensions because the nuclear power industry is a pollutant. It cannot be anything but that. It is inherently a dangerous industry, as we have seen from the accidents at Chernobyl and Three Mile Island and other places and from the cancer deaths that have resulted from those accidents. Therefore, I hope that public opinion, which is increasingly and loudly expressed, concerning the safety of nuclear power stations and the nuclear power industry as a whole will be able to get some voice in the House.
Shortly after the publication of the Sizewell report, an article in The Independent of 28 January 1987 stated: 89Half of Britain's voters believe an accident similar to the Chernobyl disaster could happen at a British nuclear reactor, according to a poll published yesterday.British people are not happy about nuclear power or the nuclear power industry, despite the large sums of money spent by British Nuclear Fuels and the CEGB to convince them that nuclear power is cheap, clean and safe. They are not happy because they know that we do not have the technology to control nuclear power and to provide power safely. We must look to other forms of energy. That is why there must be an immediate increase in expenditure on energy conservation. Immediate expenditure on research into alternatives is important.
We have heard that France depends heavily on nuclear power— that is true— but, even there, expenditure per capita on energy conservation is considerably higher than in this country. The 1980 ratios in European economic units give reasonable comparative figures. Expenditure per capita on energy conservation was: Netherlands, 8.7; West Germany, 5.8; France, 3.5; and the United Kingdom, 0.9. This shows that other European countries are more concerned about the development of conservation measures than Britain.
The need for nuclear power to be developed in Third-world countries has been mentioned. It is true that poor, developing countries need increased energy resources, but I and many people in those countries are not convinced that importing technology from Western Europe or the United States and importing the uranium which goes with it will do anything other than cost those countries a great deal of foreign exchange in immediate development. They will not give them a real return on capital investment for a long time and indeed, might not be appropriate energy sources for those countries.
If western Europe and the United States are concerned about the provision of energy to meet needs in Third-world countries, they would be prepared to spend money on funding research into alternative energy sources rather than trying to foist high-technology nuclear power on those countries, which in many cases do not want it. It is a matter of our relationship with those countries rather than of our determination to shovel those systems on to those people.
A decision will be taken on the expenditure of at least £1.6 billion on the development of this Sizewell nuclear power station. Many people have expressed their fears about the safety of the nuclear industry. Accident records at Sellafield, Chernobyl, Three Mile Island and other places show the dangerous industry with which we are dealing. No amount of political lobbying and pressure will convince people of anything other than that they are dealing with a dangerous industry.
The arguments that we are provided with cheap electricity through nuclear power have been exploded— partly by the reduction in world prices and partly by the rather cock-eyed way in which price comparisons are made. The economic case put forward at Sizewell was one of the flimsiest parts of the inquiry. The authorities know perfectly well that the safety factors cannot be measured against the immediate cost of energy generation. In the more advanced coal-fired power stations which are being developed 2.46p per kilowatt hour is a reasonable figure to assume for the generation of electricity by coal. That is cheaper than for the proposed AGR. It is likely to be cheaper than for many other nuclear power stations which are planned. We must carefully consider those cases.
90 The overriding case must be that Chernobyl happened 2,000 miles away and thousands of people throughout Europe will die of cancers as a result. A nuclear power station accident nearer home in France would kill many people in Britain. We do not have to step up the dangers of that accident by building another nuclear power station so near London. I hope that the popular understanding of the dangers of nuclear power and of the dangers as a result of the development of the nuclear power industry, and nuclear weapons industry which goes with it, will eventually force the Government, whoever they are, not to go ahead with the Sizewell nuclear power station.
It is curious that in Atom, the monthly magazine of the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority, there is a long article quoting the Secretary of State for Energy talking about the opportunity of the 1990s and how Britain's nuclear power industry will be a great success story. A small piece beside that article is headed "Sizewell motors ordered" and states:Sizewell B electric motor orders worth more than£4 million have been won by Laurence, Scott & Electromotors. The two contracts are Westinghouse in the USA and the Glasgow-based Weir Group.The article briefly explains what those orders are. We know that the CEGB is already involved in considerable long lead ordering for the Sizewell nuclear power station, supposedly in advance of a decision by the Secretary of State. Does anyone really believe that the right hon. Gentleman has not already made up his mind that Sizewell will go ahead and that he is going to import this unproven American technology, which even the Americans are not prepared to have in their country, with all the dangers that go with it? We must say no to Sizewell and no to nuclear power and start looking for safer alternatives.
§ Mr. John Hannam (Exeter)
This debate, although technically about the siting of just one nuclear reactor in Suffolk, is reaching out to cover the wider question of nuclear power and whether this country can or should turn its back on 25 years of nuclear electricity development.
Ever since I entered Parliament and became involved in energy matters, there has been a running battle between the coal lobby and the nuclear protagonists, so one would have expected that battle to continue today, although I have never seen the energy arena in that light. 1 have always held the view that both these resources were needed in a balanced energy programme with coal increasingly regarded as a valuable long-term industrial feedstock to replace oil when it runs out. To talk in terms of "either or"—either nuclear or coal—when there is 80 per cent. coal burn in our electricity generation is ridiculous.
The other strand of this debate is the choice of nuclear reactor, given that the decision is going to be made. Here again, as in other aspects of United Kingdom industrial scientific development, we seem to be good at the initial research but inclined to go adrift during the development period, often trying the wrong schemes and thereby losing the lead that we had at the start. During the 1970s we changed our choice of reactors three times and finished up with the AGR, which does not seem to be performing as well as it should.
I must therefore express some scepticism about the methods used in the past by nuclear officials to arrive at these crucial decisions. There has been far too much secrecy and not enough commercial input. However, since 91 Layfield began the inquiry in 1983, a much healthier open debate has developed and, since the ghastly Chernobyl accident, the international nuclear scene has opened up to the advantage of us all. The problem is that nuclear power is such a highly technical subject that it is very difficult for the layman to sort out the detailed, often opposing, information coming at him from the two sides of the nuclear argument— whether it is nuclear versus coal, AGR versus PWR, or both coal and nuclear versus conservation and alternatives, as we have heard today. The argument goes on and people become ever more confused.
Sir Frank Layfield's inquiry has to be regarded, therefore, as a detailed and authoritative attempt to answer the key questions in the United Kingdom debate. The inquiry's findings are clear. The Sizewell B project is justified in terms of cost, safety and national need. Since its publication a few weeks ago, as was expected, a wave of criticism has emanated from opponents of nuclear power who feel that it is their duty to rubbish Layfield's findings. Their main criticisms relate to the price of world coal, the replacement of nuclear power by conservation and alternatives and the inherent safety of the PWR system. The latter two points I shall come on to, but we need to know the facts about coal prices before any decision is taken by the Government. I cannot believe that coal-fired electricity generation can be truly competitive with nuclear power unless we have access to massive supplies of cheap imported coal from the United States, Australia and, indeed, South Africa.
The coal lobby and the Opposition would not buy those options. In any case, we must think of what would happen to world coal prices if we became a major buyer on the open market—all this apart from the problems of acid rain and sulphur pollution. The coal price debate, based on the Cambridge Energy Research Group's report, shows that we would need to have a price of about $50 a tonne to produce a 5 per cent. return. In fact, the CEGB is paying $60 a tonne on current average prices. If we add on the $9 equivalent Government subsidy, the figures add up to the Layfield final decisions.
Some Opposition Members implied that, in some ways decommissioning costs are not included in the capital estimates for the nuclear stations. That is not so. Decommissioning costs are included in the capital estimates for nuclear stations. That point must be made absolutely clear.
This country has been extremely fortunate in having a variety of indigenous energy resources on its continental shelf. They have not been cheap resources, such as middle east oil or United States coal. We have had great difficulty in matching the energy costs of our competitors abroad.
In the world as a whole, the population has increased four times in a relatively short period, and industrialisation is speeding up throughout the developing world. In the foreseeable future, these two factors will place great strains of energy supplies, particularly on our traditional fossil fuels. I shall try to put that matter into some perspective.
This century is the first in the history of mankind when a world crippled by a shortage of energy has become a possibility, but the problems facing the 20th century are as nothing compared with the problems of the 21st century. Oil reserves in Europe are estimated to last about 92 10 years, gas about 38 years, and coal, at economic prices, about 90 years. This is at a time when 35 per cent. of the Community's electricity is produced from nuclear energy. Without the nuclear component, Europe will have to increase its use of alternative fuels by the equivalent of about 3 million barrels of oil a day—far greater than the whole of the United Kingdom's production.
Europe is more dependent on fuel imports than are the United States, the Soviet Union or China. That dependency is increasing rapidly. Japan is in the same situation. It already has 25 per cent. of its electricity supplied by nuclear power. Within a decade, that will increase to 35 per cent. Ninety per cent. of the known reserves of coal are in China, the United States and Russia. Half the world's gas reserves are in Russia, and half of the oil reserves are in the middle east. Without nuclear energy in Europe, the cost of imports will rise by£35 billion a year simply to replace our own nuclear power.
In world global terms, the story is about the same. Oil is expected to run out in about the middle of the next century, gas a few years later, and coal between the years 2066 and 2076—although I would not put any money on betting that that is the exact period when that will happen. Uranium, in its cheap form, is in plentiful supply for years to come. The fast breeder reactor, which is already operating in some countries, will need very little uranium. Our existing stocks of depleted uranium in the United Kingdom would, in fast reactors, represent an energy potential equal to our total recoverable coal reserves.
The 21st century is when the known finite energy resources of the world are destined to run out. Population growth and accelerating industrialisation make the next century—not so far away now—the one in which energy supply will be the great challenge; and with the Third-world demand for electricity energy creating huge increases in imports of energy, the vital need will be for cheap energy. The estimates are that, by the year 2030, 15 to 20 per cent. of the world's energy needs will have to be met by nuclear power. Without it, we will need to discover the equivalent of the North sea oilfields every two years or, in coal, a huge new Colombian coalfield every six months.
Faced with these forecasts and with the Chernobyl accident spreading a degree of fear of the unknown, we understandably have to look at all the alternative forms of energy that we might harness. Japan, nearly totally dependent on imported energy, has poured countless millions of pounds into research and development of alternative forms of energy. Yet the most promising sources of renewable energy supplies— solar, hydro, tidal, wind, waves and geothermal— might, in combination, contribute a proportion of increased electricity demand but could not hope to replace the 20 per cent. of existing demand now met by nuclear power.
We must look at the other alternative— energy efficiency. I totally agree with the remarks made by my hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Mr. Forman) that we can contribute towards filling a large part of the gap with energy savings. We are obviously working in all directions, but we are still lagging behind the increased growth in demand. We could reduce our demand to about 20 per cent. below what it might have been over a period of years, but it is still an uphill struggle. Over the past 35 years, we have improved energy efficiency by 35 per cent., but demand for all energy increased by 37 93 per cent. So we come back to the energy resource to which the world is turning as the only viable source of energy for the future—nuclear power.
Huge investments of £10 billion a year are taking place in nuclear power stations; by the year 2050, the market for nuclear fuel services will be worth £25 billion a year, and capital investment in power stations will average £20 billion a year. Britain has the skills and expertise to share in that expanding nuclear market, and many thousands of jobs will be at stake if we opt out.
The world will continue with nuclear energy now that the true facts of the Chernobyl accident are known. France derives 65 per cent. of its electricity from nuclear power, Belgium 63 per cent., Finland 38 per cent., West Germany 31 per cent. and rising, Hungary 24 per cent., Spain 24 per cent., and Sweden 40 per cent. The United States has 25 stations under construction and 95 operating. Russia is doubling its capacity in five years. China is embarking on a major programme. All this has to be accepted as evidence of the world's inescapable belief in the future of nuclear power as a safe and plentiful source of energy for the 21st century.
The United Kingdom has had nuclear power for 25 years, building up without deaths or any serious accidents to the point at which about 20 per cent. of our electricity requirement is met by nuclear generation and, with the stations to be commissioned in the near future, it will rise to about 25 per cent. Our safety standards, operated by the Health and Safety Executive's nuclear installations inspectorate, are the highest in the world, as borne out by Sir Frank Layfield's report. Having carried out the most exhaustive inquiry ever, he has concluded unequivocably that there is a national interest in building a PWR, that the national interest can best be met by building a station at Sizewell in Suffolk, and that the economic benefits outweigh the risks that are likely to be incurred.
Layfield found that there is only a one in 40 chance of coal being more economic than a PWR, and that there is only a one in four chance of an AGR being more economic.
These findings are all based on a one-off PWR, which will cost £200 million more than any successor of the same design. So, if we are to believe the expert's report, the PWR can be built safely and economically, as it has been and is being built in France, Germany, Japan and other countries. Therefore, do we really need any of these reactors? Do we have enough capacity already? Those are the questions to which we finally come.
Just a few weeks ago, the increase in average demand for electricity reached a peak during the cold weather, and on 12 January demand reached an all-time record of 48,300 MW. Even with imported electricity from France, which we brought in as fast as we could, the CEGB had to shed load with a 3 per cent. voltage reduction. This was followed by two cuts of supplies to industrial customers, and for the first time since the 1960s we were at risk of electricity blackouts in England and Wales.
New power stations take seven to 10 years to build, and with a 1 to 1.5 per cent. increase in demand per year, plus the phasing out of the old Magnox stations, about 10 new stations the size of Sizewell will be needed by the year 2000. That is why plans are ready not only for nuclear stations but for several coal-fired stations to come into operation by the mid-1990s.
The objective for this country, therefore, is not to have the massive French-style nuclear programme— that is 94 necessary because they do not possess other fossil fuels as we do— but to maintain a base load supply of cheap electricity at 25 per cent. nuclear content, to continue to bring our coal prices down through greater productivity in the pits, to develop the alternatives as fast as they become viable and to conserve energy with every effort that we can make. We might then scrape through until the mid-21st century when the next generation of fast reactors will be removing the problems of plutonium waste.
For the other parties to choose the path of what they think is electoral advantage and to "phase out" or fail to expand or replace our 25 per cent. nuclear content is, in my view, an act of reprehensible folly. Our industries would decline as continental energy savings defeated them, our electricity costs would rise sharply, and ultimately the integrity of our supply system would break down. Nuclear power has its challenges and dangers, like most other major industrial processes, but we know that we can meet those challenges; and I trust that in the coming weeks we can carry the country with us on this crucial issue.
§ Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)
Some, although, I am bound to say, not as many as this generous House normally accords to authors of reports, polite tributes have been paid to Sir Frank Layfield and his colleagues. I fear that I am a bad fairy in this debate. 1 believe that it was an expensive fiasco, coming up with wrong, indecisive, late and ill-supported conclusions, many of which have been overtaken by events.
How many Members of Parliament actually went to the Makings at Snape to see and hear what was going on? I did for half a day. It was one of the most bizarre spectacles that I have encountered. Here were these lawyers going on and on, on a stage which really belonged to the late Peter Pears and the late Benjamin Britten. I thought of happier times in that hall.
I ask this question. Should it ever have been a matter for that sort of lawyers' paradise? Here we had distinguished QCs mugging up their technical brief— how long they will remember it I know not— and questioning various witnesses, in the catch-out way that lawyers do.
The terms of reference were deeply muddled and flawed. Part of it was about whether there should be a power station on the Suffolk coast and part of it was about the future of reactor choice. Those two subjects should never ever have been entangled.
I ask my first question of Ministers. What was the cost of all that? I am told that it is not much less than £25 million. The Secretary of State must know. Can he confirm or deny it? He remains silent. I think that the £25 million is correct.
I would listen willingly to Sir Frank Layfield on local income tax, but why should we listen to him particularly on reactor choice? Is a lawyers' bonanza the way in which to settle those matters— clever lawyers rather than a sensible engineering decision from the point of view of the country? Truth in the interests of the country will be achieved not by legal one-upmanship, but by a group of scientists and engineers with a leavering of laymen. That is why 1 was so sympathetic to the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Mr. Forman). It should have been some sort of Royal Commission.
95 I am deeply critical because the set-up of the inquiry took on a life of its own. Doubtless it was agreeable for a lot of well-paid people to go up and down to Suffolk.
It is dangerous to be frivolous about it, but one might well ask how many trees were cut down in providing the sheer amount of bumf that sourrounded the Sizewell inquiry and how many man hours were spent by busy people giving evidence, who surely could have been better employed.
Will this country ever again enter into such an inquiry? I hope to heaven that we shall not.
Nor am I greatly impressed by the consultation that is being apparently accorded to the House of Commons. This is in danger of being a polite farce. If the Secretary of State had been serious about giving consideration to the views of the Commons, he would certainly have given the projections that exist in his Department. I suspect that the House of Commons is paid as much attention as an entity as a rubber stamp on his desk. During the speeches by the Secretary of State's hon. Friends and mine, I have not seen him take a single note. I may do him an injustice—
§ Mr. Dalyell
All right. I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman will take serious notice of what is said.
I interrupted the Secretary of State's opening speech to ask whether the lowest oil and coal prices that the Layfield committee assumed were likely in 1990 until 2000 were higher than those which his Department thinks likely, given the recent fall in oil prices. That is a central question. The figure should have been given to the House, because the updated view of the Department on what is likely to happen in 1990 until 2000 is a matter of considerable importance in the debate.
I wish that this country had decided to take the advanced gas-cooled reactor road. The performance of the South of Scotland Electricity Board's AGR power station at Hunterston over the past three years has been outstanding. Along with colleagues, I have visited Hunterston. I have also scrambled over Torness. The Hunterston B performance over that period has proved that the AGR design has now reached maturity.
The standard measure of a power station's ability to produce power is expressed as a percentage of the full output load factor. In the past three years the Hunterston B reactors have continued to operate at consistently high levels. In the year ending 1984, the declared gross output per unit was 562 MW. In 1985 it was 598 MW and in 1986 it was 623 MW. The load factor as a percentage in unit 1 at Hunterston in 1984 was 891 and in unit 2 it was 69.9. There were planned outages for statutory inspections in those years. In 1985 the load factor was 73.8 per cent. for unit 1 and 91.1 per cent. for unit 2. In 1986 it was 91.5 per cent. for unit 1 and 72.6 per cent. for unit 2, including the outages. The average was 84.9 per cent. for unit 1 and 78 per cent. for unit 2.
I come back to the road of the AGR, which was dismissed. Although the unit rated output capacity is 96 below the design figure of 660 MW, the output per channel in the reactor is greater even than at Torness. My earlier figures are therefore more representative of the expected performance for later AGRs to this design than load factors based on the original design output.
Performance figures for the Western world's nuclear power stations are published in the journal Nucleonics Week, and they are expressed in terms of the gross design output. Even on that basis, the Hunterston B reactors are performing well as detailed—the 1984 output was 71.2 per cent.; in 1985 it was 77 per cent. and in 1986 it was 77.4 per cent. The consistently good performance of the Hunterston B type AGRs together with the construction experience at Torness where the first reactor was completed to the planned six year programme— and work on the second is well advanced—show that these reactors have now reached maturity. That reinforces the South of Scotland Electricity Board's confidence in that design.
The load factor as a comparison for the large American PWRs has been about 55 per cent. over the past three years. The load factor on the two pressurised water reactors of the design similar to that proposed at Sizewell B at Callaway and Wolf Creek was about 70 per cent. last year. The AGR has many advantages over the PWR.
I want to consider the details of the Sizewell inquiry. Paragraph 88.4 of the report states:Those figures are subject to considerable uncertainty. Taking that uncertainty into account, I— that is, Sir Frank Layfield—concluded that Sizewell B was likely to provide lower cost generating capacity than an AGR. There was a probability that the AGR would have lower costs: my broad judgement was that this probability was about one in five.That is a matter of opinion. Is a lawyer's broad judgement to be absolutely paramount in these matters?
In paragraph 88.7 Sir Frank Layfield states:I did not regard the limited experience as justifying the economic appraisal of the AGR on target time and cost estimates which the SSEB suggested should be adopted.We in Scotland are entitled to ask, "Why not?" The figures for improvements in AGR construction and performance are of recent origin and are necessarily based on a small number of stations. Layfield admits that it was too early to be sufficiently sure that the improvements would be maintained for all of them to be adopted when assessing the figure for central estimates. Four years have passed and the record is known and it is a good record.
Paragraph 88.8 of the report claims:Nonetheless the evidence revealed that the construction of new AGRs was running to programme and budget, that the performance of existing AGRs had improved markedly, and that the results of research into plant performance encouraged the belief that further improvements in performance were likely.Progress has been m ade on AGR performance. These improvements have taken place. Paragraph 88.8 continues:Progress in AGR performance should be kept under close review.Is the Department of Energy keeping it under review? That observation was three or four years old. Anyone who considers the review and the figures that I have given must be impressed.
Paragraph 88.8 continues: 97Should that progress be maintained for a few years (after 1984) there may be a firm basis for allowing those improvements to figure in the economic appraisal of a new AGR and in reviewing its comparative ranking.Is that being done? Paragraph 88.10 states:Since the time of the Thermal Reactor Assessment in 1977, it has been argued that because of the large numbers of PWRs operating outside the UK there was a risk that accidents abroad might necessitate design changes or shutdowns of PWRs in the UK. The same risk does not apply to the AGR. The Nil thought there was only a small chance of a serious PWR accident abroad leading to important design changes in possible UK PWRs. But it agreed that accidents overseas would not affect the AGR except when they had features common to both reactor types.The AGR wins on that safety score.
Paragraph 88.13 states:It should be noted that the economic comparisons between small programmes of AGRs and PWRs were made for illustrative purposes only; no firm conclusions can be drawn from them.When we consider the small print, the picture rather alters to coming down firmly on the side of Walter Marshall's prejudice for the PWR. Paragraph 88.16 states:The Board wished to retain an AGR design and engineering capability until at least 1990, by when it would be clearer whether the CEGB or the SSEB was likely to place a further order for an AGR.Are we or are we not keeping the AGR in being?
Paragraph 2.163 of the report states:If the performance of the AGR since the Inquiry has continued to improve, it may well merit a reappraisal of reactor system choice when the figures are sufficiently reliable.Is there to be such a reappraisal? This debate is very difficult because on questions of judgment I can understand that Ministers do not want to reply. I complain that Ministers are absolutely mute on questions of fact about what is happening in their Departments. That does not help the House or the country and I believe that that is an extraordinary attitude.
Paragraph 2.164 states:The evidence did not enable me to determine what effect consent for Sizewell B would have on the UK's ability to build further AGRs. I agree with the Select Committee's comments that there are problems in keeping open two different types of reactor for the UK. Proceeding with Sizewell B would, in my opinion, impair the UK's AGR capability.Sir Frank Layfield can say that again. Is it not possible to go ahead with two reactor types? Is that option open? It is either open or closed, yet again the Secretary of State is silent. That is not helpful to the general argument. Layfield continues in paragraph 2.164:Doubtless the Secretary of State will wish to weigh the AGR's future when considering the CEGB's applicationWhat is the future of the AGR? We are not getting much further in this debate in ascertaining that important technological fact.
I am a Scottish Member of Parliament, the first to speak today from the Opposition Benches. Scotland is proportionately one of the world's leading users of nuclear energy. Currently about 45 per cent. of the electricity consumed north of the border comes from nuclear sources and when the new power station at Torness is fully commissioned, the proportion will reach about 60 per cent. The success of the Magnox and AGR reactors at Hunterston has enabled Scotland to keep electricity prices among the lowest in Britain. It follows that the SSEB has a heavy commitment to the continued success of nuclear power in the United Kingdom. That is the view of a great many of my constituents who are concerned about jobs.
98 After their early teething troubles, the Hinkley Point B and Hunterston B AGRs have operated extremely well. The Heysham and Torness AGR stations based on the Hinkley-Hunterston design began construction in 1980 and are nearing completion. They have confirmed that AGRs can be built to programme and close to budget.
§ Mr. Michael Morris
The hon. Gentleman says that Scotland will have 60 per cent. low-cost nuclear power, yet all afternoon he has been questioning my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, saying that the lower price of coal undermines the basis of the Layfield report.
§ Mr. Dalyell
I have just been asking for the facts. We should argue this on the basis of current knowledge, not knowledge that is three or four years old. The hon. Gentleman is a member of the Public Accounts Committee. As a previous member, I know that there are genuine difficulties in relying on figures that are out of date. Sometimes that has to be done in the work of the PAC and other committees. What is so absurd is that there are projections in the Department, yet the House of Commons is served up with facts that are known to be out of date. Although we may sometimes have to deal with out-of-date facts, why serve them up when more recent ones are available?
Then we come to Dungeness B, Hartlepool, and Heysham. The AGRs are in the early operational phase and teething troubles are being overcome. They are providing useful supporting information. However, assessment of future AGR projects must be concentrated on the successful reactors at Hinkley, Hunterston, Heysham II and Torness. The construction of Heysham II and Torness has proceeded to programme. They are nearing completion, and the main commissioning tests have been commenced at both sites. The experience is there. Why waste it?
In the United States, no PWR station has commenced construction since the Three Mile Island incident; I agree with Zabrowski Rasmussen and others that it was an incident, not an accident. The Sizewell B inquiry sat for 340 days hearing evidence on a PWR proposal. One of my main complaints about the way in which the Layfield committee went about its work was that relatively little attention was paid to the AGR, although the CEGB statement of case concluded that the PWR offered lower electricity costs to the consumer.
The case for the AGR was never properly heard by the Layfield committee.
The inspector asked the SSEB, as the only other operator of AGRs, to give evidence. The SSEB, which was not otherwise a party to the inquiry, concluded that, in the light of current experience, the CEGB's assumptions about a future AGR were unduly pessimistic, and it deduced that the PWR did not offer any identifiable economic advantage and in practice could increase electricity charges.
It is now envisaged that no more than 7,000 MW of new nuclear capacity will be required before the end of the century. In those circumstances, it would not make industrial or economic sense to maintain a capability for building two reactor types. The CEGB effectively acknowledged the latter point towards the end of the Sizewell inquiry by stating its wish to build a family of four or five PWRs. The South of Scotland Electricity Board believes that there is no need to build a PWR in the United 99 Kingdom to establish the option, and it is clear that if Sizewell PWR is built the AGR infrastructure will decay and the AGR option will be foreclosed.
Do Ministers accept that if they go ahead with the PWR, the AGR option will be foreclosed? The Department must have made a judgment on this. It must at least know what it thinks about the matter. It is unrealistic to suggest that, with a PWR at Sizewell, the United Kingdom will have the choice thereafter of building an AGR or a PWR, whichever appears to be preferable.
Now we come to construction times. With the construction of the first Torness unit more than 90 per cent. complete, all the key dates have so far been met on target or earlier, and the original date for starting the main commissioning tests has been advanced by three months. Heysham II is also on programme. Can the same be said of Sizewell? As my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton, North (Mr. Cook) said in a most important speech, we are building a foreign reactor. The idea that we could build a foreign reactor as well as the most experienced American builder—hat his experience would be some years old—is moonshine.
Do hon. Members remember the Spey engine and the problems of putting British engines into American aircraft? There are technological difficulties.
Any suggestion that the AGR is inherently difficult to build is dispelled by experience now available. With major advances in factory fabrication and assembly, the proportions of factory and site work for AGR and PWR plant are at best similar. The advantage may be with the AGR. The present AGR design is well adapted to construction on site. It provides good access and allows manpower to be widely dispersed over many workplaces. The SSEB programme for a future AGR station of 75 months from start of main construction to full load on the first of its two units—the Torness baseliner programme— therefore includes some margin, especially with the scope for streamlining erection techniques further.
What a pity it is not to go ahead, after all the agonies that we have had with the AGR, and to throw British expertise to the winds and suddenly go American. That would be unpatriotic and technological nonsense.
We come next to safety, a point that was importantly put by my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton, North. All types of reactor have to be shown to meet the same numerical safety standards to the satisfaction of the licensing authority. Standards in the United Kingdom are comparable with the most stringent applied anywhere in the world.
The AGR, however, has certain inherent features which reduce its dependence on engineered safeguards. The combination of a single-phase coolant, a large thermal capacity and a relatively low fuel rating makes the shutdown reactor change temperature relatively slowly even should there be a failure of the engineered safety provisions.
I see my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton, North nodding in agreement. He knows from his engineering experience that this is a very important point as it allows the operators several hours for well considered remedial action as compared with the possibility of a matter of minutes available to the operator of a water-cooled reactor in similar circumstances.
100 I also was a close friend of the late Ned Franklin. We owe it to his memory and to the opinion of others to accept that one of the great advantages of AGRs in a crisis is that at least there is time, which was in scarce supply at Three Mile Island. Time is of the essence when dealing with a crunch reactor crisis.
The NII said at the Sizewell inquiry that it would wish to review three aspects of the AGR for any future project. The first—the gas baffle—has since been reassessed in the industry and been confirmed to be of high integrity.
The second, conformity with updated seismic design criteria, can be achieved, and initial assessment suggests that there would not be significant cost implications.
The third, the risk from aircraft impact, is not expected to impose any greater siting restriction on this account than for any other reactor types which might be built in the United Kingdom. The safety argument comes down in favour of the AGR.
As for public acceptability, gas-cooled reactors have achieved significant acceptability; PWRs have not. In 1968, the Minister of Power made a statement to the effect that either Magnox or AGR stations in pre-stressed concrete pressure vessels could be constructed much nearer urban areas than had previously been permitted. Hartlepool and Heysham are examples of semi-urban sites. That policy was reaffirmed by the decision to build Heysham II in 1980 and by the Nil in its evidence to the Sizewell inquiry.
Siting flexibility is an important issue, in densely populated or, by public reaction, not so densely populated areas. A further constraint on siting is the large quantity of cooling water which is required. Due to the higher thermal efficiency of AGRs as opposed to PWRs, some 40 per cent. more capacity can be stored for a given heat release to the environment.
Does the Department in any way dispute these judgments? If so, it will have to say so, and soon. If not 'in the winding-up speech, these questions will have to be answered at least by Ministerial letter as there are many people in Scotland and elsewhere, besides me, who want to know the answers.
I shall now turn to the issue of the impact on industry. The effect which the choice of future reactor will have on British industry is important and three aspects have to be considered. First, there is the impact on the manufacturing sector, secondly the impact on the design and construction sector and thirdly, the impact on the electricity supply industry. The Heysham II and Torness design is repeatable for further AGRs using an industrial infrastructure consisting of existing factory buildings, plant, designs, technical services and training in which the United Kingdom has already invested £250 million.
Industry has the resources and proven capability to build AGRs to budget and programme. Replication of this design standard must lead to further economies in manufacture and construction. It would make one weep if all this British investment were to be thrown to the winds for an American reactor. Make no mistake about it, if we go ahead with the PWR we shall become yet again, as in helicopters and elsewhere, America-dependent. For a country with our record in the development of nuclear power that would be a terrible, crying shame.
With the PWR there is at present no committed plan to create in Britain the infrastructure for manufacturing the reactor pressure vessel and some other specialised 101 reactor components. To establish this with a predictable demand must be very questionable while there is massive over-capacity in other industrial countries.
The foreign exchange element of the Sizewell B PWR design royalties and imports—let us not forget royalties—is expected to amount to about 10 per cent. of the station cost. That 10 per cent. would not affect an AGR. The imports include, and could well continue to include, the most advanced elements of design, engineering analysis and production which will tend to stay to advantage at the high technology end of the British nuclear manufacturing and construction industry.
We must also consider the all-important matter of job creation. The difference in capital cost between the AGR and the PWR implies that a programme of AGRs would create marginally more jobs in the United Kingdom engineering and construction industries than a programme of PWRs—even if no component or service were imported and no royalty had to be paid for the PWR. However, since royalties will have to be paid and components will have to be imported, the advantage of the AGR is overwhelming and the distribution of jobs among firms could differ.
Apart from raw graphite material for the reactor core, the AGR is almost entirely British designed and manufactured. Its total import content is about 10 per cent. The kind of briefings that we have had in the past from impartial shop stewards as well as briefings that my hon. Friends the Members for Stockton, North and Wentworth (Mr. Hardy) have had from manufacturing industry, show that there is an overwhelming case for the AGR.
The choice of a future reactor type is a major national decision. At best, the PWR could do little more than break even in economic terms with the AGR. The reality is more likely to be additional costs and uncertainty, and those difficulties will be faced if the industry is made to carry another British prototype through its learning stage. A decision to discontinue the AGR invites identifiable penalties—
§ Mr. John Powley (Norwich, South)
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. At the start of this debate Mr. Speaker told the House that a large number of hon. Members had said that they wished to speak in it. I was one such hon. Member. Mr. Speaker said that he would be grateful if hon. Members kept their speeches to a modest length. The hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) has been speaking for 33 minutes. Would you care to say that other hon. Members wish to contribute to the debate?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker Mr. Ernest Armstrong)
Some hon. Members have been here for most of the debate and I regret that they will not have an opportunity to speak.
§ Mr. Dalyell
I understood that the Whips' agreement with this side of the House was 9.15 pm.
The operation at Hinkley Point B and Hunterston B and design and construction experience at Heysham II and Torness give confidence that the massive effort put into resolving detailed problems has taken the AGR to maturity. There is opportunity to benefit from this. The 102 design of the AGR now established provides a basis for replication and detailed refinement. Worldwide experience suggests that success stems from a continuing commitment to a well founded, proven design.
I end—at 9.15 pm—with the plea that before it is too late, at the 11th hour and 59th minute, this country goes back to its proven technology that we have developed with our brains and that at this stage does not go American simply because of the prejudices of those at the top of the CEGB. The South of Scotland Electricity Board has been right all along and the CEGB has been wrong. The Scots are just as good engineers and scientists as anyone else south of the border.
§ Mr. Peter Rost (Erewash)
As a member of the Energy Select Committee I have had the opportunity of seeing PWR reactors in America, Japan, Germany, France, Spain and elsewhere. Everywhere they have worked effectively, they have been a cost benefit to the economy, and on the whole they have been built to time and cost. I am satisfied, as was Sir Frank Layfield, that if we are to build a PWR in this country we could and would do so safely.
However, there are doubts, which to my mind have not been satisfied by the Layfield report, about whether we could build PWRs according to the cost estimates presented in the report. There is not much in the record of our nuclear industry—unfortunately a record of indecision, muddle, cost overruns and delays—to suggest, except to the most optimistic person, that we could build PWRs that would result in the cost benefits that are claimed for them. Therefore, there must be an element of doubt and scepticism about the advantages of PWRs.
I hope that those doubts can be resolved. Nevertheless, it is right for the House to express them. Conservative colleagues in particular, like myself, have been waiting all day to contribute to the debate. Unfortunately. it is unlikely that they will be able to contribute. But they have a view which fundamentally disagrees with the view just expressed by the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell). I think in particular of my hon. Friends the Members for Norwich, North (Mr. Thompson), for Norwich, South (Mr. Powley) and for Northampton, South (Mr. Morris). I shall not attempt to make their points for them, but I very much agree that, although the AGR is a British system, and although we have built it. it has not proved the economic merits of nuclear power nor has it exactly been an export success. I certainly have not seen any abroad.
We must accept that if we are to have more nuclear power—and I believe that we should—we must devise a system that can achieve that objective. There are 400 PWRs working in the rest of the world. That is the way that technology has gone. If we are satisfied on safety grounds and that we can do so economically, we should go ahead.
I believe that the pro-nuclear lobby, among which I include myself, would make more impact on the public debate about nuclear power if it did not try to discredit all the alternatives. To some extent that is my main criticism of the Layfield report. I have doubts about the economic viability of the PWR, which, hopefully, we may overcome, but I also have doubts about the way in which the alternative options were discussed in the report. There 103 were one or two serious weaknesses in it. I agree that greater investment in energy efficiency would be highly cost-effective and would, to some extent, reduce the demand for extra electricity. However, I accept that most of the savings that would result from energy efficiency would be taken up in higher living standards and not in reduced energy consumption. Therefore, I do not accept the arguments put by some hon. Members that we can avoid building more nuclear power stations simply by investing in greater energy efficiency.
All the evidence is that people have a dissatisfied demand for greater energy, especially more warmth and heat, and would use greater installation standards by enjoying a higher living standard rather than using less energy. I also agree with the Layfield report that most of the renewables, with the exception of tidal power, cannot make more than a modest and long-term contribution to replacing nuclear power.
The Severn tidal power scheme could produce the equivalent of two or three Sizewells and probably at lower cost per unit of electricity, but unfortuntely not within the time scale within which we may require extra power.
The Layfield report was weakest in its comments on the only viable alternative to nuclear power that it seriously considered but rejected on the grounds that it could not make a big enough contribution in time. That was the alternative of using our power stations for heat and electricity production combined and producing more of our electricity from within industry. Sir Frank Layfield assumed that, because most of our electricity today comes from within the nationalised industry monopoly, or effective monopoly, it will always be so. Chapter 53.12 states:In the UK about 7 per cent. of electricity in 1983 was privately generated.
The assumption is that, because only 7 per cent. of electricity is privately generated in the United Kingdom, that is more or less the only contribution that the private sector can make. Yet, if we look abroad, we see that the private sector electricity industry is where the greatest growth is taking place. In America one of the main reasons why nuclear power stations are not being ordered is because the utilities in America have worked out that it is cheaper to buy in the extra electricity from industry, in other words by co-generation, rather than by building new power stations themselves. That is where the biggest growth in electricity capacity is taking place. There is already the equivalent of 40,000 MW of co-generated electricity in the United States. That is the equivalent of more than 30 Sizewells.
What Layfield has not taken into account is that, if the economic circumstances were even-handed in this country, there would be more private generation of electricity. Since he made his assumption the Energy Act 1976 has changed the rules and has improved the economics for private generation of electricity. Indeed, that is now taking off. Many projects are going ahead within industry which process heat and produce electricity for export. The economics of that are far more robust than the electricity-only power stations proposed by the CEGB. The report should have assessed that as an alternative, as it should have assessed the alternative of large-scale city district heating combined with electricity production as an additional source of electricity capacity.
104 The report dealt with that at great length in chapter 58, but came to the conclusion that district combined heat and power would not develop fast enough to meet the needs for extra capacity.
The report completely fails to address itself to why combined heat and power and city district heating are not likely to expand fast enough in the United Kingdom to meet the demand. In Europe 3,000 cities have combined heat and electricity production and the systems are expanding fast. It is not expanding fast here simply because the ground rules are not even-handed. The Government expect city consortia, such as Sheffield, Leicester, Corby, Newcastle and Edinburgh, to get on with district heating combined with electricity production and to raise the money in the private sector at commercial rates of return without the support of the electricity industry. Yet they say to the electricity industry, "You can build nuclear power stations at a discount rate of 5 per cent." In other words, if the Sizewell project goes ahead, it will be subsidised by public money because a 5 per cent. real rate of return is not a commercial market rate. As the Layfield report acknowledged, the main potential alternative cannot go ahead because it must raise its money in the market place at a commercial rate of return which is higher than that at which the electricity industry can invest.
§ Mr. Barron
Would the hon. Gentleman care to say what the real rate of return should be if 5 per cent. is not big enough?
§ Mr. Rost
The real rate of return should be the market rate of return.
The only way in which the problem can be resolved and we can assess whether there is an alternative to more nuclear power which is viable and, perhaps, has a better rate of return is to put it to the test of the market. Why is it that when we want a Channel tunnel the Government say, "Yes, let us have it, providing it is a good economic proposition. That can be proved only if investors are prepared to put up the money."? Why is it that when we say we want the Severn barrage the Government say, "Fine, providing private investors are prepared to put up the money."? Why does the whole private sector say that in this case, but the Government say, "No, we can have Sizewell and nobody needs prove whether it is commercial."?
The only way to prove whether Sizewell B is a commercial proposition is to put it to the test of the market place in the same way that the Government expect the alternative to Sizewell to be tested by the market place. We should have a privately led investment in Sizewell and a commercial return should be demanded, not a 5 per cent. discount rate. Then we would probably get not only Sizewell and more nuclear power, but other alternative investments—perhaps the Severn barrage and certainly city district heating in many cities—which would produce a higher rate of return and increase the capacity of our electricity production.
Only if we put energy production of new capacity to the market test, as private utilities must do to assess which is the most cost-effective, will we gain savings in the PSBR and test whether we are putting our nation's resources to the best advantage.
That must be the test for Sizewell. I hope that, if that test were applied, the project would go ahead, as would viable alternatives.
§ Dr. David Clark (South Shields)
This debate is unique in the sense that it is the first time that I have taken part when the Secretary of State has been banned by his quasi-judicial responsibilities from addressing us. We understand that. However, it is a pity that we have not been able to draw out the facts of the case as opposed to the judgment. We accept the difficulty for the Secretary of State, but hope that he might reply by letter to some of the factual points put from both sides of the House.
The Secretary of State says that his main role is that of a Trappist. He says that he has to sit and listen. In that spirit we think that it might be useful to give him a further indication of our views by dividing the House so that he has a feel of how the House feels. We shall divide, since that is the only way to register our opposition to the proposed PWR construction at Sizewell, in line with early-day motion 636.
We have had a long debate. That is right because we have discussed a long report produced as a result of a lengthy inquiry. The report might be long, but it is lucid, as hon. Members on both sides have said. Sir Frank Layfield has the facility to translate complicated and technical issues into words which the layman can follow.
The report has about 3,000 pages. I fear that it will have a similar fate to "Das Kapital"—many people will quote from it, but few will read it. That is a pity, because the report is in depth, thorough and well written.
I say that it is a pity for a more fundamental reason. It is a pity because, if one reads the report carefully, one sees that the main conclusions by Sir Frank are not substantiated by the detailed analysis in the report. That has been said by several hon. Members. The tone and tenor of the detailed arguments in the text are often at variance with the general conclusions, as I shall attempt to show.
First, I shall deal with another fundamental shortcoming of the report, for which Sir Frank is blameless. I refer to the way in which he was precluded by statute from referring to any events following the closure of the public inquiry on 7 March. Almost every hon. Member taking part in today's debate has recognised that there has been an event of considerable magnitude affecting our nuclear debate—the Chernobyl accident. That tragic accident in the Soviet Union has reshaped the whole nuclear debate. Sir Frank Layfield was prohibited from discussing that accident, but it is the duty of the House to try to interpret his report in the light of the Chenobyl experience. That is our responsibility.
To ask Sir Frank Layfield to write his report on nuclear power generation without reference to Chernobyl is like commissioning a war historian to write the history of the second world war without any reference to the events following the Normandy landing. It is as simple as that.
The effects of Chernobyl have been truly traumatic. Following it, how many people can seriously accept Layfield's bland assertion:An accident at Sizewell B, if built, would almost certainly have tolerable consequences, at worst requiring measures such as the banning of milk near the station. Theoretically possible accidents which could cause hundreds of thousands of deaths would almost certainly not occur.
§ Sir Trevor Skeet
We are dealing with entirely different reactor systems. One contains a design fault that is extremely serious, but it is most important to state that that fault is not found in the United Kingdom reactors.
§ Dr. Clark
I expected the hon. Gentleman to anticipate my next point. I accept that there is a difference in technology between the Chernobyl reactor and the PWR. I will not call in aid the Three Mile Island incident that involved a PWR system. Has the hon. Gentleman not heard of the debate that is currently raging in the nuclear sector relating to fuel clad ballooning? That is what can happen to the Zircaloy casing surrounding the PWR's fuel elements in an accident in which the cooling water that flows through the core of the reactor is lost. In such an accident the high temperature and stress can cause the cladding to distend and deform. The result is that the cooling system is affected. Released super-heated steam combines with the Zircaloy and produces hydrogen. That is exactly what happened at Chernobyl and that is what blew the top off that reactor. It could also happen to a PWR.
I also wish to remind the hon. Gentleman of the dangerous concept associated with PWR—the China syndrome. That syndrome cannot occur in a heavy water reactor, but it can take place within a PWR. That is what terrifies so many nuclear experts.
Everything is not as simple as Conservative Members would have us believe because every nuclear station has its own design weaknesses. Nuclear scientists recognise that, and the purpose of spending so much time on the design and its safety is to minimise the design weaknesses of the reactor. Conservative Members have tried to minimise the risk, and that is a disservice to the House and the nation.
My fears about safety are supported by such eminent groups as the Nuclear Electricity Information Group—not an anti-nuclear group— that recently issued an information document in which it said:Could there be a major accident in a British nuclear power station? The answer must be `yes'.Those are not my words. I ask the House not to minimise the danger of a nuclear accident in a power station.
The effects of Chernobyl were serious, and they are still with us. The accident affected, not only the Soviet Union and the immediate neighbouring states, but every country in the northern hemisphere. It will continue to affect people for many generations to come. The United Kingdom was not immune from the effects. One school of thought believes that too little information has been released to the public concerning the effects of Chernobyl on the United Kingdom.
In the period immediately before the Chernobyl accident, March 1986, the National Radiological Protection Board published a new recommended upper limit for exposure of the public to artificial radiation. It recommended a level of 1 mSv per year. The existing legal limit is 5 mSv. However, the new level of 1 mSv is still much greater than the level in the United States of 0.25 mSv, or West Germany where the level is 0.3 mSv.
It is estimated that the average dose in Britain for the first year, post Chernobyl, is 0.07 mSv. If that is correct. it is not too worrying. However, in the northern region of the United Kingdom—the: north, the north-west, Scotland, Yorkshire and Northern Ireland— the radiation exposure level for more than 250,000 children under the age of five was close to the 1 mSv level. Such was the danger for the British people, and we must accept that they were in that position.
As I have said, the effects will be felt for years to come. The director of the National Radiological Protection Board said that about 45 people might die of cancer over 107 the next 50 years in the United Kingdom as a result of Chernobyl, and that is widely regarded as a most conservative estimate.
I do not want to go on about Chernobyl, as I think that the point has been taken, but it is a landmark in the history of the nuclear debate. It is worth reminding ourselves that not only human beings are affected. As in so many other instances, we can obtain the first warning signs from animals. It is remarkable that even now, almost 12 months after Chernobyl, the levels of radioactivity in sheep and in grass in some of the infected areas of Cumberland are as high now as they were immediately post-Chernobyl.
The Government have tried to play down the effects of Chernobyl, but the alarm was set off originally when the chief scientist of the radiochemical inspectorate telexed the Department of Energy at 21.30 hours on 5 May 1986. He reported high levels of radioactivity having been recorded in Britain. He added:Alpha emitters have been detected at not insignificant levels.It is little wonder that the chief scientist was worried. At least one reading of caesium-137 in Cumbria was 16,900 bq/kg. That is rather meaningless to most of us, but it becomes meaningful when I tell the House that that was 600 times the normal reading. That was the level of exposure in certain hot spots in Cumbria and other parts of the United Kingdom after Chernobyl. In other words, the reading was serious.
It is interesting that this situation caught our scientists unaware. Even the Prime Minister wrote to me saying that she was surprised at these events.
The problem remains with us. Earlier this month one of the scientists at the Institute of Terrestrial Ecology, based at Grange-over-Sands in the southern part of Cumbria, was reported to have said:The radioactivity was safely locked away from plant uptake when it combined with clay. Unfortunately, these upland soils are very thin and not suited to locking away the cesium. It could be a case of years before it is locked away in the soil. There will possibly be a lot of unlocked cesium available in the soil for uptake this spring. We're not sure exactly how much yet.That is the senior scientist of the ITE speaking about levels of radioactivity on the Lakeland hills. It is no wonder that the farmers, as they approach another lambing season, are worried about the effects of radioactivity. I have made that point at some length because it is important not to underestimate the Chernobyl position.
The section of the report that deals with nuclear waste is one that concerns me. There have been a number of debates on the subject in the House, and the hon. Member for Bedfordshire, North (Sir T. Skeet) he said repeatedly that he does not want nuclear waste to be stored in Bedfordshire. He said that again today, and many others have said the same when talking about their constituencies.
Sir Frank Layfield seems to think that the problem has been solved. In paragraph 41.2, the report states:The Department of the Environment believed that there were no technical difficulties in disposing of waste from any envisaged nuclear programme.As the House knows, there is a world of difference between there being no technical difficulty and an acceptable solution. When it comes to issues such as radioactive waste, there must be a solution that is acceptable to the general public. The storage of nuclear waste under 108 Billingham—that industrial, chemical town— was technically feasible, but it was politically a non-starter. There is no doubt about that.
§ Dr. Clark
My hon. Friend the Member for Stockton, North (Mr. Cook) has made his point on a number of occasions most effectively.
Layfield's failure to appreciate that point leads us to doubt some of his other basic assertions. That is evidenced by his naive statement in paragraph 41–51, which says:Since 1976 a clear strategy for the management of radioactive waste has been established by Government; the means of putting that strategy into practice arc now emerging.With respect, if Sir Frank believes that, he is not living in the real world. However, I am being a little unfair because he was precluded from discussing Her Majesty's Government's ever-changing policy in that respect since 1985. He was not permitted, therefore, to refer to the NIREX initiatives at Bradwell, Elstow, Fulbeck and Killingholme. I hope that those right hon. and hon. Members who protested most strongly about the deposit of nuclear waste in those areas will not go into the Lobby in support of the nuclear industry tonight because they must follow the logic of their arguments and stop the development of an industry that is producing waste that they are not prepared to accept.
In the same reference to nuclear waste, Sir Frank, in paragraph 41.53, says:steps must be taken to ensure that a site is ready early in the 1990s.Is he being realistic, bearing in mind that the test drilling on the four sites will continue for at least another six months, that there will then have to be an evaluation and that then the Secretary of State has promised a public inquiry? I doubt whether that deadline can be met. The House must be convinced that Layfield's deadline is right or we should reject his report because that is a fundamental part of it.
Safety, as Layfield acknowledged,was the most important subject considered at the Inquiry.He goes on to say:Any serious doubts about the fundamental safety of Sizewell B would be sufficient grounds for recommending that consent should be withheld.I think that we would all go along with that viewpoint. In the same chapter he gives general approval to the safety provisions of Sizewell B, declaring:My confidence is founded principally on the quality of the CEGB's and NII's evidence, and the way in which it withstood searching and extensive examination.That crucial statement appeared in volume 3 of the report.
Imagine my utter amazement when I read in volume 4 Layfield's detailed examination of the licences and procedure by which safety standards are set. In paragraph 49.1 he said:evidence showed that there were serious management and procedural weaknesses in the conduct of the licensing process.He goes on to say:those weaknesses are of considerable significance.In paragraph 49.17, he says:The inability of the NII to articulate clearly its responsibilities at the design stage suggests confusion in its thinking.When I make those points I am not being critical of the NII, because it has been understaffed and underfunded and asked to do a job which was far too great for the 109 facilities it has available. Nevertheless, Layfield found major shortcomings in the work of the NII. He goes on with an even more worrying statement:The high level of mutual understanding needed between the CEGB and the NII is not furthered by the lack of sufficiently clear and agreed safety criteria.I was surprised when I went on and read criticism after criticism. Indeed, chapter 49 is riddled with similar criticisms. Therefore, I was not surprised to find that he said:The evidence showed serious weaknesses in the management of the licensing process, but emphasised the inherent difficulties facing the Nil and the CEGB.Layfield started volume 4 with the assertion:Public opinion on the PWR will be affected by the confidence fell in the organisation of safety.He followed that in paragraph 48.2 with the statement:The regulation of nuclear safety in the UK is centred on the licensing process.Layfield is absolutely correct in his fundamental assessments. I put it to the House that, bearing in mind what Layfield repeatedly wrote in volume 4, there can be little public confidence in the licensing and thus the safety question.
Even more amazing is Layfield's statement in paragraph 47.64 that he is satisfied with the safety situation, as he has placeda great deal of reliance on the CEGB and NII to provide continuing assurance of safety.All that contradicts what is written in volume 4.
The House will recall having been given repeated assurances by Secretaries of State that licensing would be completed before the inquiry began. Therefore, it is right and proper for the House to ask: why has that not been done and what is the standing of those numerous assurances today?
As we end this fairly short debate, another point must be made. It is appropriate to note that there is no unanimity of view among nuclear scientists on the safety of the PWR system. Lord Marshall, chairman of the CEGB, does not have it all his own way. My hon. Friends the Members for Stockton, North and for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) quoted Ned Franklin, a former professor of chemical engineering at Imperial college and former managing director of the National Nuclear Corporation, who wrote an article which appeared in The Chemical Engineer of November 1986. I shall quote his comments again because they are vital. Understanding of this point may well change one's whole perspective of PWR.
Ned Franklin, who was a pro-nuclear man, wasopposed to the construction in the UK of pressurised water reactors on the grounds that they are not sufficiently operator friendly under accident conditions. This view is based on a lifetime's experience which indicates that when operators are subject to conditions of extreme emergency arising from a combination of unforeseen circumstances they will react in ways which lead to a high risk of promoting accidents rather than diminishing them. This is materially increased if operators are aware of the very small time margins that are available to them … what is definitely intrinsic is that for water cooled systems the drive for economy leads to high fuel ratings and therefore to an extremely rapid sequence of accident events given an initiation due, for example, to the loss of coolant … to give sufficient statistical assurance that such a device will 'fly' without crashing, large degrees of redundancy in safety systems have to be provided. The consequent increase in complexity makes it even more likely that the operator, if he intervenes, will do something counter productive.This evening, because of the shortage of time, I have not been able to deal with many other points in the Layfield 110 report which we find rather doubtful. We have not even referred to the disastrous effect of Sizewell B on the natural environment and the heritage coast. I have not been able to refer to combined heat and power, district heating and renewable energy, which should be discussed. However, I hope that the Opposition have shown that events have changed dramatically since Layfield's deadline of 5 March 1985. My right hon. Friend the Member for Salford, East (Mr. Orme) has provided irrefutable evidence that the economic case can no longer be substantiated and I have shown how Chernobyl has changed the whole safety perspective.The golden rule of safety is that we must assume the worst that—anything which can go wrong will go wrong".—[Official Report, 23 May 1986; Vol. 98, c. 667.]Those are the wise words of the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Energy, the hon. Member for Eddisbury (Mr. Goodlad), and it is wisdom that Layfield fails to match in his report. I hope, therefore, that the House and the Secretary of State will reject the report.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Energy (Mr. Alastair Goodlad)
I believe that we have had a most useful and constructive debate this afternoon and this evening. My right hon. Friend and I have listened most carefully to everything that has been said, and I know that my right hon. Friend will carefully study the transcript of the debate before he reaches his decision on the Central Electricity Generating Board's proposal. More than 20 hon. Members have spoken in the debate. Other Conservative Members had hoped to speak, but time ran out.
§ Mr. Powley
I draw my hon. Friend's attention to the fact that a number of hon. Members representing East Anglian constituencies wished to make a contribution to the debate in view of their nearness to the Sizewell 13 location. Because other hon. Members have taken rather too much time, they were unable to make what I consider to be valuable contributions.
§ Mr. Goodlad
My hon. Friend is quite right. My hon. Friends the Members for Norwich, South (Mr. Powley), for Norwich, North (Mr. Thompson), for Rochford (Dr. Clark) and for Northampton, South (Mr. Morris) were unable to participate as they wished. My hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Sir E Griffiths) is a Suffolk Member whose constituency is near Sizewell. My right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer) the Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture. Fisheries and Food, in whose seat Sizewell is situated, has been present during the debate.
I should like to take the opportunity to record my deep appreciation for the painstaking and dedicated way in which Sir Frank Layfield approached his task. He faced one of the most demanding tasks in planning history and has discharged it with the most thorough professionalism. He opened the inquiry in January 1983 and heard over 340 days of evidence. This was the longest and most exhaustive inquiry in our history.
Evidence was taken from 195 witnesses on 344 occassions. Two hundred proofs of evidence were presented, supplemented by over 500 addenda, and 14 written statements were read. About 4,330 supporting documents were lodged with the inquiry secretariat. Over 4,000 letters of objection and 112 written submissions were 111 received. The amount of evidence submitted was vast. The 340 volumes of the daily transcript alone are estimated to contain 16 million words. I am sure that hon. Members who have read the inspector's report will appreciate the clarity with which he has handled this amount of evidence. We are all heavily indebted to him for his work.
I also wish to pay tribute, as I am sure does the House, to the four assessors who helped Sir Frank. Sir Christopher Foster assisted the inspector on economic matters, Dr. Vennart on the biological effects of radiation, Professor Hall on engineering matters and Professor Alexander on the transport of nuclear fuel. Each gave considerable time during the inquiry, often sitting with the inspector to hear evidence, and then afterwards devoted even more time to the preparation of the report.
I should also like to thank the staff of the inquiry who ensured its smooth running and gave the inspector the most valuable assistance with the preparation of the report.
As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said earlier, we must recognise the fundamental importance for the future of our decisions on the forms of energy that we seek to develop. We are making decisions that are likely to have a profound effect for decades to come. As my right hon. Friend concluded, the experience of this century and the nature of potential worldwide growth in the next century show that Britain and the European Community have a need to see that they pursue energy policies, in whatever form, that could meet the potential needs of the future.
This has been a wide-ranging and well-informed debate, and I should like to thank the House for the valuable and constructive contributions that have been made today.
§ Question put, That this House do now adjourn:—
§ The House divided: Ayes 0, Noes 191.112
|Division No. 98]||[10.00 pm|
|Tellers for the Ayes:|
|Mr. D. E. Thomas and|
|Mr. Allen Adams.|
|Abse, Leo||Brown, R. (N'c'tle-u-Tyne N)|
|Alton, David||Brown, Ron (E'burgh, Leith)|
|Anderson, Donald||Bruce, Malcolm|
|Archer, Rt Hon Peter||Buchan, Norman|
|Ashdown, Paddy||Caborn, Richard|
|Ashley, Rt Hon Jack||Callaghan, Jim (Heyw'd & M)|
|Ashton, Joe||Campbell-Savours, Dale|
|Atkinson, N. (Tottenham)||Canavan, Dennis|
|Bagier, Gordon A. T.||Carlile, Alexander (Montg'y)|
|Banks, Tony (Newham NW)||Carter-Jones, Lewis|
|Barron, Kevin||Cartwright, John|
|Beckett, Mrs Margaret||Clark, Dr David (S Shields)|
|Beith, A. J.||Clarke, Thomas|
|Bell, Stuart||Clay, Robert|
|Benn, Rt Hon Tony||Clelland, David Gordon|
|Bennett, A. (Dent'n & Red'sh)||Clwyd, Mrs Ann|
|Bermingham, Gerald||Cocks, Rt Hon M. (Bristol S)|
|Bidwell, Sydney||Cohen, Harry|
|Blair, Anthony||Coleman, Donald|
|Boothroyd, Miss Betty||Conlan, Bernard|
|Bray, Dr Jeremy||Cook, Frank (Stockton North)|
|Brown, Gordon (D'f'mline E)||Cook, Robin F. (Livingston)|
|Corbett, Robin||Madden, Max|
|Corbyn, Jeremy||Marshall, David (Shettleston)|
|Craigen, J. M.||Martin, Michael|
|Crowther, Stan||Maxton, John|
|Cunliffe, Lawrence||Maynard, Miss Joan|
|Cunningham, Dr John||Meacher, Michael|
|Dalyell, Tam||Meadowcroft, Michael|
|Davies, Ronald (Caerphilly)||Michie, William|
|Davis, Terry (B'ham, H'ge H'l)||Mikardo, Ian|
|Deakins, Eric||Millan, Rt Hon Bruce|
|Dewar, Donald||Mitchell, Austin (G't Grimsby)|
|Dixon, Donald||Morris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe)|
|Dormand, Jack||Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)|
|Douglas, Dick||Nellist, David|
|Dubs, Alfred||O'Brien, William|
|Duffy, A. E. P.||O'Neill, Martin|
|Eadie, Alex||Orme, Rt Hon Stanley|
|Eastham, Ken||Owen, Rt Hon Dr David|
|Evans, John (St. Helens N)||Park, George|
|Faulds, Andrew||Parry, Robert|
|Field, Frank (Birkenhead)||Patchett, Terry|
|Fields, T. (L'pool Broad Gn)||Pavitt, Laurie|
|Fisher, Mark||Pendry, Tom|
|Flannery, Martin||Pike, Peter|
|Foot, Rt Hon Michael||Radice, Giles|
|Forrester, John||Randall, Stuart|
|Foster, Derek||Raynsford, Nick|
|Foulkes, George||Redmond, Martin|
|Fraser, J. (Norwood)||Rees, Rt Hon M. (Leeds S)|
|Freeson, Rt Hon Reginald||Richardson, Ms Jo|
|Freud, Clement||Roberts, Allan (Bootle)|
|Garrett, W. E.||Roberts, Ernest (Hackney N)|
|George, Bruce||Robertson, George|
|Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John||Robinson, G. (Coventry NW)|
|Godman, Dr Norman||Rooker, J. W.|
|Golding, Mrs Llin||Ross, Ernest (Dundee W)|
|Gould, Bryan||Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)|
|Hamilton, James (M'well N)||Rowlands, Ted|
|Hamilton, W. W. (Fife Central)||Sedgemore, Brian|
|Hancock, Michael||Sheerman, Barry|
|Hardy, Peter||Shields, Mrs Elizabeth|
|Harrison, Rt Hon Walter||Shore, Rt Hon Peter|
|Hart, Rt Hon Dame Judith||Short, Ms Clare (Ladywood)|
|Healey, Rt Hon Denis||Short, Mrs H.(W'hampt'n NE)|
|Heffer, Eric S.||Skinner, Dennis|
|Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth)||Smith, C.(lsl'ton S & F'bury)|
|Holland, Stuart (Vauxhall)||Smith, Rt Hon J. (M'ds E)|
|Home Robertson, John||Snape, Peter|
|Howarth, George (Knowsley, N)||Soley, Clive|
|Howell, Rt Hon D. (S'heath)||Spearing, Nigel|
|Howells, Geraint||Steel, Rt Hon David|
|Hoyle, Douglas||Stewart, Rt Hon D. (W Isles)|
|Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)||Stott, Roger|
|Hughes, Roy (Newport East)||Strang, Gavin|
|Hughes, Sean (Knowsley S)||Straw, Jack|
|Hughes, Simon (Southwark)||Thomas, Dr R. (Carmarthen)|
|Janner, Hon Greville||Thompson, J. (Wansbeck)|
|John, Brynmor||Thorne, Stan (Preston)|
|Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald||Tinn, James|
|Kennedy, Charles||Wallace, James|
|Kirkwood, Archy||Wardell, Gareth (Gower)|
|Lamond, James||Wareing, Robert|
|Leadbitter, Ted||Weetch, Ken|
|Lewis, Terence (Worsley)||Welsh, Michael|
|Litherland, Robert||White, James|
|Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)||Wigley, Dafydd|
|Lofthouse, Geoffrey||Williams, Rt Hon A.|
|Loyden, Edward||Winnick, David|
|McCartney, Hugh||Woodall, Alec|
|McDonald, Dr Oonagh||Wrigglesworth, Ian|
|McGuire, Michael||Young, David (Bolton SE)|
|McKay, Allen (Penistone)|
|MacKenzie, Rt Hon Gregor||Tellers for the Noes:|
|McNamara, Kevin||Mr. Frank Haynes and|
|McTaggart, Robert||Mr. Ray Powell.|
§ Questions accordingly negatived.