§ Lord James Douglas-Hamilton (Edinburgh, West)
When fire was first discovered people must have made it clear that it was extremely dangerous, and they were right to point that out. But if our ancestors had not been prepared to make use of fire, we would probably still be living in caves today.
Vastly larger numbers of people have died from accidents due to fire in the last few years than from accidents due to nuclear power generation, including Chernobyl, which would not and could not have happened here. In the 10 years up to 31 March 1985, there were unfortunately 388 fatal accidents in the coal industry. In the 10 years to February 1987, there were 10 deaths in the nuclear industry in the United Kingdom, and none of those was caused by radioactivity.
The Department of the Environment has confirmed that there has never been any hazard to the public caused by the movement of spent fuel and that the low accident rate of the United Kingdom nuclear industry is second to none. The excellent document which I hold in my hand entitled "Here Be No Dragons" states clearly that the odds of an individual losing his or her life through accident in relations to cars in any one year is one in 8,000 whereas in relation to nuclear accidents it is one in 10 million.
Of course, the generation of power has drawbacks—such as acid rain from coal-fired power stations— but we must generate power or freeze. Basically, we must weigh up the risks and not allow our emotions and fear of all forms of nuclear warfare overcome us and confuse our rational judgment. We need energy, and we need nuclear energy if we are to have any hope of helping with the immense task of enhancing living standards. With the ever-increasing numbers in the world's population, we need all the energy we can get, and that means harnessing nuclear power, which fortunately appears to be a great deal safer than many realise.
As many wish to take part in this debate, I shall speak briefly about three points: jobs, safety, and the environmental case for nuclear power,. First, jobs. In Scotland today 50 per cent. of the electricity is already nuclear. This is likely to rise to 60 per cent. when Torness is fully operational. It was a Labour Secretary of State, the right hon. Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Millan), who gave clearance for Torness to be built.
Recently I have made inquiries, now that it has been built, about the effect of closing down Torness and phasing out nuclear power. I received a letter from the chairman of the South of Scotland Electricity Board on 29 January in which he wrote:The effect on electricity prices can be briefly summarised as follows.It seems from those facts that, if nuclear power were phased out, electricity tariffs in Scotland would eventually increase by 30 per cent. Quite apart from the effects on 279 domestic households, it would certainly greatly increase industry's operating costs, pushing up its prices. An inevitable effect would be that industries would shed labour to pay for increased electricity costs and unemployment would rise. As it happens, unemployment in my constituency is possibly the lowest in Scotland, but, even in my constituency, the threat of higher tariffs would bring with it the prospect of fewer jobs. My constituents want lower unemployment.
- (1) If the Torness station, having been built, were not to be run, this would result in an increase of 10 per cent. in all electricity tariffs throughout Scotland.
- (2) In the absence of Torness capacity, it would become necessary in the early 90s to replace it with additional coalfired capacity—an accumulated increase in tariffs of some 20 per cent.; and
- (3) If eventually all nuclear power in Scotland were to be closed down and replaced with coalfired stations, there would be an accumulated increase in tariffs of some 30 per cent."
It is a matter not just of employment in existing industries but of encouraging new industries to become established in Scotland. Both the Scottish development Agency and the South of Scotland Electricity Board can help considerably in this process. For example, the Roche Products factory at Dairy in Ayrshire recently opened an extension. Apparently, the price of electricity was an important element in winning that project for Scotland in competition with other Roche factories in Europe. To give another example, there was a recent announcement of the Kymmene-Stromberg paper mill at Irvine where, again, the electricity supply on reasonable terms was a substantial part of the operating costs.
As I have already mentioned, nuclear power accounts for 50 per cent. of Scotland's electricity. Our prices would no longer be competitive with those in Europe if nuclear power were phased out. The expertise of the Scottish Development Agency and of the South of Scotland Electricity Board would be to no avail in trying to attract major industrial development to Scotland if there were much higher electricity prices. It would seem that many thousands of jobs in Scotland are dependent on the existence of competitive electricity pricing— electricity which, in turn, is generated by nuclear power.
In Britain as a whole, well over 100,000 persons depend on the nuclear industry for work, either because they are direct employees—there are 44,000 of them—or because their jobs depend in one way or another on the industry. if nuclear power were to be closed down, all these would be lost over the longer term. Perhaps my hon. Friend the Minister will tell the House whether the Sizewell decision will help to guarantee the security of thousands of jobs in Scotland—in Babcock, in Weir and in Howden.
That leads me to the question of safety. Obviously the most rigorous safety requirements are necessary. Recently we have learnt the appalling news of the tragedies at Bhopal in India, at Basel in Switzerland, when the Rhine was poisoned, and, more recently, when there was the extremely serious nuclear accident at Chernobyl. These undoubted tragedies serve to underline the principle that eternal vigilance is the price to be paid not merely for freedom but for all forms of progress which involve technology and the storage of dangerous substances.
I should like to ask my hon. Friend the Minister for reassurances on the subject of Torness. I am, of course, aware that, before it can operate, each nuclear power station has to be licensed by the nuclear installations inspectorate— an independent, expert body, which is part of the Health and Safety Executive. Nuclear reactors are shut down for routine maintenance and examination every two years, and they cannot restart without the consent of the nuclear installations inspectorate. They are therefore subject to a continuous process of review and 280 assessment. I believe that the inspectorate would not accept the operation of any nuclear plant if its safety could not be confirmed.
It will interest the House to know that last year, in my constituency, the Liberals distributed a newsletter with a photograph of Liberals outside Torness together with the caption "Liberals oppose nuclear power", or words to that effect. I was interested by that because I understand that the Social Democrats support nuclear power. Tonight perhaps the alliance will make its policy clear.
§ Lord James Douglas-Hamilton
I will give way in a moment, but I wish to finish my remarks on this matter.
More recently Liberals have distributed a leaflet in my constituency that alleges that Torness is unsafe— the heading of the leaflet says just that. I regard safety matters at nuclear power stations as being of paramount importance and of the utmost significance. I hope that the Minister will confirm that safety at all nuclear powers stations will be treated as a matter of paramount importance.
§ Lord James Douglas-Hamilton
I shall finish this point and then I will give way to the hon. Member for East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson) in whose constituency Torness is located.
I hope that the Minister can give the House the most up-to-date information about Torness and state exactly the facts. I hope that he can confirm that absolute safety requirements will be enforced. I believe that it is in the public interest that the facts should be known. It is right that the nuclear installations inspectorate has recently been to Torness.
§ Mr. Home Robertson
It is not only the Liberals who are unhappy about Torness. I hope that I will not embarrass the hon. Gentleman if I remind him that the hon. Member for Edinburgh, South (Mr. Ancram), now a Minister at the Scottish Office, and at one time the Member for Berwick and East Lothian, is also on record as being opposed to a nuclear power station at Torness.
The economic and social effects of the Torness development have not been entirely happy. Before the hon. Gentleman leaves the question of the Sizewell inquiry and safety, I must remind him that that inquiry specifically recommended the review of evacuation zones around nuclear power stations. In Britain that zone is only two or three km; in the United States it is 16 km; and we are 2,200 km away from Chernobyl. Does he not agree that there is room for improvement in those zones?
§ Lord James Douglas-Hamilton
The hon. Gentleman is making a case for civil defence. We have strongly supported the idea of civil defence in civil matters and natural disasters and there is scope for improvement. I am glad that the hon. Gentleman is thinking along the same lines.
The hon. Gentleman referred to my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, South (Mr. Ancram). I remind him of my hon. Friend's stand in past general elections when he supported nuclear power. Of course, I am aware that all hon. Members are entitled to respond to the needs of their constituents.
281 I refer the hon. Gentleman to the article in The Scotsman today by its industrial correspondent, Alex Wattie, who writes:Safety is also of paramount importance, particularly following the Chernobyl disaster … constant monitoring of the environment, with a regular sampling of milk and locally caught fish, is being carried out by the SSEB".The article concludes—and I quote these words for the benefit of the hon. Member for East Lothian:Its legacy is a nuclear power station, initially manned by 'incomers' to the area, but in the future providing a continuous source of skilled jobs and training in an environment which will foster technical excellence.I hope that those words will prove correct.
§ Mr. Beith
I hope that the hon. Gentleman will read more carefully the alliance's policy statements. They make it clear that, at this time, Britain does not need to embark on a programme of building nuclear power stations. I hope that he will abandon the notion that there is any such thing in the nuclear industry as absolute safety or absolute safety provision. It is a concept that I believe the nuclear industry finds impossible to apply without throwing aside completely the generous cost assumptions that the hon. Gentleman made earlier about the benefits to be to obtained from nuclear power.
§ Lord James Douglas-Hamilton
Stringent safety regulations are absolutely necessary. I am interested to hear what the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) has to say about future power stations, but I am more interested to learn whether he is in favour of closing all existing nuclear power stations. I suspect that he is not; but many of his party are.
In taking up the environmental case for nuclear power, I make a plea for a balanced energy policy that will make use of the massive resources of coal, oil and gas, as well as nuclear power, to ensure a diversity of supply. Nuclear energy has considerable advantages over most other forms of energy generation in its impact on the environment. Emissions from fossil fuels, including sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxide and carbon dioxide, lead to acid rain, and carbon dioxide is the most significant gas in producing the greenhouse effect. Sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxide can be abated, but there is currently no economic, feasible abatement policy for carbon dioxide. Nuclear power generation is almost entirely free of the emission of these pollutants, which have caused so much controversy throughout western Europe, especially in Sweden.
Will my hon. Friend the Minister confirm that Overall the coal-fired power stations emit more radiation than nuclear power stations? I understand that the debate about the greenhouse effect is still in the realms of scientific controversy, but one theory is that the amount of carbon dioxide will lead to a raising of temperature levels in the lower atmosphere surrounding the earth. Ultimately this would lead to a heating of the world's atmosphere to such an extent that the polar caps would melt, with the result that much of the world would be submerged. Scotland might be cut in two and much of Galloway might be submerged. But this is still in the realms of scientific speculation.
We should have the moral courage as a nation to come to terms with scientific developments within an entirely safe framework, but it seems that much more should be learnt about the environmental case for nuclear power. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will encourage research and will give a commitment on this issue. It is 282 highly desirable that Britain and other countries should co-operate effectively, both nationally and internationally, on measures to safeguard the environment for ourselves, our children and our children's children.
§ Sir Trevor Skeet (Bedfordshire, North)
We have listened to an extremely good speech of importance to all concerned. It is good to see the hon. Member for East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson) in his place. I noted with some interest his comment on Torness, which we hope will come into operation shortly. He did not tell us whether the Labour party, if it formed a Government after the next general election, would close Torness and place all those involved in it in unemployment. I notice that the hon. Gentleman is not springing to his feet——
§ Mr. Home Robertson
Having taken part in an earlier debate, I understood that it would not be in order for me to speak again in this debate. I acknowledge that, if Torness is commissioned and the reactors are functioning, it would not be realistic to decommission it. That may be; an answer to the hon. Gentleman's comment.
§ Sir Trevor Skeet
We are beginning to find that the Labour party, the Liberal party, the Social Democratic party and the alliance all have different policies. There are; in fact four different policies. It is the Labour party's policy not to commission new stations. The hon. Member for East Lothian has stated his view honestly and told us that if Torness is commissioned he will utilise its power. How wise he is in the circumstances.
§ Mr. Robert Maclennan (Caithness and Sutherland)
There are many views in all parts of the House about nuclear power. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman would do the House a service by explaining whether he considers the opposition of the Government Chief Whip— a senior member of the Government—to the reception of low-level nuclear waste in his constituency constitutes opposition to nuclear power, or support for it.
§ Sir Trevor Skeet
I am talking about power stations, not about nuclear waste. The hon. Gentleman was wise to intervene, however. He has Dounreay in his constituency, the only fast breeder reactor in the United Kingdom. The station forms part of the Government's policy, and it will be maintained. It is worth reading the document entitled "The Time Has Come", written by two gentlemen— Owen and Steel—in 1987. It says On page 59:Whilst these areas remain our priority for research arid development, we would continue research into nuclear fission power including research into the fast-breeder reactor, which may be needed if renewable resources prove to be less viable than we believe. We remain committed to the Joint European Torus … nuclear fusion project.
Of course, as it is the hon. Gentleman's own station he will not close down the fast breeeder or any of the reprocessing plants— the lot are to remain. Let us examine the Liberal party's policy. The Liberal policy is to close the lot down—not only the power stations but all the reprocessing plants. I am afraid that Liberal party policy was established at the party conference and has come out from time to time.
§ Sir Trevor Skeet
The interesting thing about phasing out all nuclear power stations is that reprocessing facilities will ultimately not be required. Does the hon. Gentleman deny that point?
There are roughly 25 nuclear power establishments and other facilities in the United Kingdom. I have mentioned Dounreay, the fast reactor, which we are proud to have in Scotland. That is one in the SDP constituency of Caithness and Sutherland. Calder Hall, a Magnox reactor, is in the Copeland constituency. The Hartlepool reactor is in the constituency of a Labour Member. I believe that it is an AGR. There is another Magnox reactor in Wales, in a constituency belonging to Plaid Cymru. There is an AGR reactor at Torness near Edinburgh in the constituency of the Labour Member for East Lothian. It is most extraordinary that the policy of the Labour and Liberal parties is to close them down. To so do would cause substantial unemployment.
An honest view was expressed by the hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham). The first decade's work for THORP is already guaranteed, and work for the second decade is being shortened. To break contracts would involve the Government in huge compensation claims. The damage to Britain as a trading nation would be serious. There is no question of a Labour Government embarking on a policy in any industry that would result in wholesale job losses. Sellafield must remain with its processing plant.
The Liberals and others are trying to have it both ways. They are going to do what the French did when the French Socialist Government was formed a few years ago. The French were going to destroy all their nuclear power stations, but when they got into power they wisely reversed their policies. The reason why Liberal Members have followed this route—the green environmental route—is simply to gain more votes. They are more interested in votes than in principles.
I have mentioned many names. I shall go a little further. My hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, West (Lord James Douglas-Hamilton) mentioned some of the employment implications that would be created by the Labour and alliance parties. British Nuclear Fuels Ltd. is well known to everyone. It employees 16,500 people in Britain. If we consider the whole nuclear industry, we realise that about 150,000 people are directly and indirectly employed. The company has a capital investment programme that works out at an average of £1 million a day for the next 10 years. The total is about £3.7 billion. Furthermore, 90 per cent. of this investment is with British firms, and 70 per cent. of it is in regions of high unemployment. Is it not extraordinary that the alliance wishes to destroy part of Britain's industrial base, and that it also wishes to destroy the Government's policy for regions of high unemployment? We seek to create employment, but the alliance seeks to create unemployment.
BNFL has a turnover of £629 million, with exports accounting for approximately a third of that turnover. It has firm orders that are worth over £4 billion for the first 10 years capacity of a plant that is being built, and two thirds of those orders are from overseas customers. It is also the biggest yen earner in the United Kingdom.
It is most extraordinary that this bunch of— I was going to say jackals, but I shall not say it. [HON. MEMBERS: "Withdraw."] No; I did not say it. I said that I was going to say it. It is extraordinary that this bunch of politicians want to destroy all that has been built up 284 over the years. I am referring, not to energy policy, but to the facilities created and the amount of compensation that would have to be paid for the cancellation of orders. The company is servicing both United Kingdom industry and overseas industry.
§ Mr. Home Robertson
Nobody would accuse the hon. Gentleman of being a politician. As he is so concerned about areas of high unemployment and other aspects of energy policy, will he say something about the effects of the Government's policies, which he supports, on the coal mining industry?
§ Sir Trevor Skeet
The hon. Gentleman knows that I am not an amateur. We are talking about nuclear power. I do not intend to be drawn into a discussion of the coal mining industry. However, the coal industry is in great difficulties. The price of United Kingdom coal is very much higher than the world price of coal. The CEGB has to pay on average about £42 a tonne for it. The world price of coal is very much lower than that. I think that we had better keep off coal for the time being.
§ Sir Trevor Skeet
No, I want to make a little progress with my speech. It is so disappointing that the Liberal party has no realistic policy for the nuclear power industry.
§ Sir Trevor Skeet
When the Liberal party gets together with the Social Democratic party the policy is even more disastrous.
As for the nuclear power versus coal argument, the nuclear industry has a clear advantage. I have figures here that show that, taking Hinkley Point B and Drax, the difference between the two prices gives the nuclear industry a very considerable cost advantage. There are seven ways by which this can be assessed. To be fair, one of them favours the coal industry, but all the others favour the nuclear industry. The price is about 2.09p/kw hour, as opposed to Drax, which is 2.26p/kw hour. That was also borne out by the Layfield report, which said that it would be much better to build Sizewell B than to go ahead with the building of coal-fired power stations. However, the alliance wishes us to erect windmills, to go ahead with the Severn estuary barrage and to turn to biomass and all the other alternatives that will be unable to contribute very much to our energy resources by 2000 AD.
§ Mr. James Wallace (Orkney and Shetland)
The hon. Gentleman has just referred to comparative figures. Is he able to say whether the figure that he gave for Hinkley Point B included any element for the decommissioning of that power station at the end of its active life, and whether it also includes the sums that must inevitably be spent on reprocessing waste and ultimately disposing of that waste?
§ Sir Trevor Skeet
I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman. I was just coming on to that point.
I have a letter from the chairman of the CEGB, dated 12 March 1987. It says:The analysis makes full provision for the costs of decommissioning each reactor and for the disposal of radioactive waste.The matters which the hon. Gentleman thought has not been included have been, and if he would like a copy of this letter I shall be only too glad to send him one.
285 I shall mention one or two other matters to be taken into consideration when we are dealing with this important issue of nuclear energy. Nuclear energy is safe, appropriate and many countries have it. It is worth noting that the Japanese obtain 27 per cent. of their electricity from nuclear energy. By 1995 the figure will be 35 per cent., and later on over 60 per cent. In West Germany, since Chernobyl, the government have confirmed that four further power stations will come into operation by 1990. At present 98 nuclear reactors are operating in the United States, with a further 27 expected to come on stream in the next few years. After Chernobyl one would have thought that the Soviet Union would be a little concerned about some of its errors in design, but it has decided to double its capacity over the next decade.
What do we find? People the world over are building nuclear power stations because of the many advantages of nuclear power. We find that in 1986 there were 21 completions of reactors in eight states, making a world total of about 394, and that comprises 15 per cent. of world electricity capacity. I am quite sure that the Minister will mention this. For the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate safety is a paramount consideration and successive inquiries have shown that nuclear energy is a safe way of dealing with these matters.
I give another illustration from France. It has a nuclear generating capacity of about 65 per cent. of total electricity and industry pays about 30 per cent. less for its electricity than it does in the United Kingdom.
§ Sir Trevor Skeet
No; I have given way a lot to the hon. Gentleman. He asks unimportant questions. I hope that he will make his own contribution, I am sure, bearing in mind some of the strictures that I have made with regard to alliance policy, that he would want to say something on this.
France can produce electricity well below the costs of production of the CEGB in the United Kingdom.
§ Sir Trevor Skeet
In the United Kingdom the coal industry is heavily subsidised, as the hon. Gentleman possibly knows. Coal is not sold at world prices; it is sold at special prices in the United Kingdom. The nuclear industry in France is doing remarkably well and it is not being subsidised by the Government. It is beginning to pay off its loans, due to the profitability of the electricity that it is producing. If it is economic for France to produce nuclear energy—it is producing over 65 per cent. of its electricity by nuclear means—why are we being anxious about pursuing this course? We must congratulate the Government on the course that they have taken.
I realise that I should not take up too much time. This is a Consolidated Fund debate and many important matters are being considered. The alliance is in a complete shambles. It does not know where it stands on nuclear power. In 20 years' time the Labour party will awake from its sleep and realise what a mistake it has made. Fortunately, Britain has one saving grace. It has a Conservative Government and is likely to have a further one. I am quite certain that people will back us if we say that we will go ahead with our nuclear policy, which has not only proved beneficial to the United Kingdom but has 286 proved useful to industry. Nuclear energy is also valuable to the consumer, who wants a cheap and inexpensive form of heating.
§ Dr. John G. Blackburn (Dudley, West)
I should like to pay a warm and generous tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, West (Lord James Douglas-Hamilton) who made an outstanding speech. He had the good fortune to open this debate, and his speech reflects the greatest possible credit upon him and on the constituency that he serves with such diligence.
I should like to tell hon. Members how nuclear power affects my constituency. I have a solemn duty to represent my constituents on this subject. My constituency consumes large quantities of energy, because it is in the centre of an area of Britain of which I am immensley proud—the black country, which has heavy engineering and manufacturing industries of all kinds. I draw to the attention of the House the largest employer in my constituency, the hand-cut crystal glass industry which has such wonderful companies as Royal Brierley, Stuart Crystal, Webb Corbett and Wordsley Crystal.
As a conscientious Member of Parliament, I regularly visit the companies in this industry. When I have discussions with the people there, they speak strongly on two points. They say, "In financial terms, Mr. Member of Parliament, because our business is so centred on exports, we must have an exchange rate of about 1.50 because that makes us very competitive."
Their second telling point is related to this debate. They say, "Keep our energy costs low." By doing that we enable those companies to be competitive and they can create jobs. Every hon. Member must be dominated in his constituency work by the creation of jobs. It is a reflection on the Government and, dare I say it, on the efforts that I have sought to make that in the last 15 months that unemployment in my constituency has dropped from 16.4 per cent. to the current level of 12.2 per cent. This did not happen by chance. It happened because positive policies are being pursued that reflect the fact that we are consumers of energy.
The most important thing to which the House should address itself is the end result of nuclear power. The message that I give to the House from Dudley, West is that it means jobs. What is the Government's strategy on energy sources? I quietly and soberly researched the answer to that question and I give it to the Minister who will reply to the debate. We have massive supplies and reserves of coal, oil and gas, but this debate is about something else. We have a long experience of civil nuclear power.
In this uncertain world, it is not possible to predict the future with any accuracy. This country must make full use of all its resources by having complete diversity of supply and not becoming over-dependent on any one fuel. Many questions have been asked in this House about the coal industry.
It is as crystal-clear as the glass that is made in my constituency that the Government invest £2 million per day in the British coal industry with the aim of creating a successful coal mining industry that can offer reliable supplies of coal at competitive prices. The Government, encouraged by the exploitation of the oil supplies surrounding Britain, know that this investment will give 287 operators the confidence to make long-term decisions. In addition, energy requirements can be met if we continue to encourage the safe development of civil nuclear power.
I have established the need of my constituents to have jobs and safe energy supplies. I have conveyed to this House the message that we need critically this competitive supply of energy. It is foolish to stand up in this House and degrade or abandon nuclear power. As my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, West said, to abandon nuclear power would create an undisputed increase of at least 15 per cent. in energy costs.
Such an increase in energy costs would have a dramatic and damaging effect on jobs in my constituency, and responsibility for that would lie at the feet of those who pursue a policy of abandoning nuclear power. Job losses in my constituency would be considerable, and 185,000 jobs would be lost in the nuclear industry itself. I, as a Member of this House, would never subscribe to that. We want competitive energy in my constituency.
I believe that, when the pages of history are written, they will record the decision by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy to go down the avenue of pursuing nuclear power as one of the bravest and most courageous actions—based on common sense, commerce and economic—hat has ever been taken by a British Government.
I speak with some feeling when I tell the House that on 26 April last year I was in Poland. I travelled through Poland and East Germany into east Berlin. When I went through Checkpoint Charlie and came into west Berlin, I was astonished at what happened to me. I was quizzed in considerable detail and given strict medical instructions about the possibility that I might be subject to radioactive fallout from Chernobyl. It is an indictment of the Soviet Union that in that situation the authorities did not tell their own people that that disaster had taken place. It was only when I returned to this country that, I am proud to tell the House, medical supervison was given to all the people who had travelled through that area. That reflected the greatest possible credit on our medical teams, to whom I pay tribute.
This morning, I had a delightful task to perform. I was taken to the Upper Waiting Room, in the corridors of this House, and I had the opportunity, which I counted as a privilege, to introduce my hon. Friend the Minister from the Department of the Environment to open an exhibition on the emissions of waste and toxic fumes from motor cars. I commend that exhibition to every hon. Member, and I applaud the fact that 1987 has been designated as European Year of the Environment. The environment is an important feature in a debate about nuclear fuel. It is critically important that we have not only safer energy, which I have stressed, not only competitive energy, which I have outlined, but energy which will have a limited adverse effect on the environment that we all love so dearly.
I invite my hon. Friend the Minister, from the case that has been presented, to recognise that there is a need for further research—nationally and internationally. I am pleased to say that on the last occasion that the House debated the Consolidated Fund, I was fortunate enough to lead on the first subject, civil defence. If hon. Members are interested enough to look through the pages of Hansard for that debate, they will realise that civil defence 288 is a question not of war but of being able to provide facilities and support for any emergency that may take place, particularly in nuclear energy.
The message from my constituency is simple. We want energy. We consume energy and we want it at a competitive price, and we would condemn the Opposition parties if they ever had the chance of pursuing their policies, because they would increase energy costs by 15 per cent. I wish to safeguard the future employment of the constituents that I have the honour to represent in this House. I salute my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, West for the great service that he has done the House by raising this subject for debate.
§ Mr. Keith Best (Ynys Môn)
My hon. Friend the Member for Dudley, West (Dr. Blackburn) knows my constituency well. I shall say a few words about the effect that this debate will have in my constituency. I speak in the knowledge that I have subject number 35 in the debate. In reasonable anticipation that that subject, the development of north-west Wales, will not be reached before the House concludes the debate, I have packed my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Wales off to bed, and decided instead to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, in this debate.
The debate is relevant to north-west Wales not least because two of the proposed sites for new nuclear power stations are at Trawsfyndd and in my constituency at Wylfa. I am delighted to see my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Energy on the Front Bench, because he knows my constituency well. It was a great pleasure and privilege for me to invite him to my constituency to tour Wylfa recently.
Wylfa can be described as the jewel in the crown of the Central Electricity Generating Board. Indeed, when, after the Chernobyl incident, Greenpeace published a full-page advertisement in leading newspapers stating two categories of nuclear power stations, those it thought should be closed down immediately and those it thought should be phased out over a period, I noted with interest that Wylfa did not appear in either list. I thought that Greenpeace had made a mistake, and I was not going to let that pass. I thought that I would gain some political capital out of it by issuing a press release stating how marvellous it was that Greenpeace has supported the retention of Wylfa because it had not been mentioned in either of the lists. I did Greenpeace a disservice. It was not negligence on its part to have excluded Wylfa from either of the two lists; in fact, it was a deliberate policy. That merely endorses the description I have already given of that power station as the jewel in the crown of the CEGB. Its safety record is second to none.
The important point is that we will be considering whether there should be a new nuclear power station when Wylfa comes to the end of its life at about the turn of the century. Sadly, it has become a party political issue. I have stated clearly, on behalf of my constituents, that I believe that the majority of them want to see a new nuclear power station there, not only in their own interests, but in the interests of the nation as a whole. All three of my political opponents, the Labour party, Plaid Cymru and the Social Democratic party, are against the power stations. I always forget whether it is the Liberal party or the Social Democratic party, because it changes from time to time. I believe that it is SDP at present but as the SDP candidate 289 lost his deposit in the 1983 election and the Liberal candidate lost his deposit in 1979 I am not particularly concerned. They started their lives by saying, effectively, that all nuclear power should be terminated forthwith but now, no doubt in the light of popular demand, they have decided that we should not have a second nuclear power station but that Wylfa should be allowed to see its natural life to its conclusion.
They are short sighted, even from a parochial point of view, because Wylfa represents job opportunities for some 1,000 of my constituents. Over 600 of them are employed directly and jobs in the downstream industries in companies such as Anglesey Scaffolding and others, which are directly reliant upon Wylfa nuclear power station, would disappear if there were not to be a replacement for Wylfa.
Indeed, it goes beyond that. I have recently been in communication with the managing director of Anglesey Aluminium who confirms that, although it would be foolish to pretend that the company would not be put in jeopardy principally as a result of a failure to have Wylfa B, nevertheless, its continuance would be put in greater doubt if there were not to be a nuclear power station there because, in times of difficulty with transmission lines across the water on to the main line, Anglesey Aluminium, which has to operate a 24-hour production line because of its productive method would be inhibited by not having that direct link of power which it presently obtains from Wylfa. That is another 700 or more jobs that could be put in jeopardy.
What is pleasant in the debate we have had so far is that the main arguments in favour of nuclear power have not been put on that parochial level, but on a far wider level of the general benefit to the United Kingdom. That is how I wish to continue my remarks. I believe that we need a nuclear power industry to provide for the future energy needs of this country.
I welcome the fact that the Government have devoted increased resources to research into alternative energy sources. There is a large scheme at Cardigan bay, researching windmill power. However, I believe that photovoltaic cells will probably ultimately provide the most fruitful source of alternative power. Those matters are in the incipient stages of research at present and they will not come fulness for a long time. We need to ensure that this country's competitiveness and the needs of the elderly, who will need heat in cold weather, will not be jeopardised by short-term, foolish ideas based on the foolish belief that they are populist, when in fact they do not coincide with the wishes of the majority of people in this country.
I was heartened by a recent opinion poll that was commissioned by the BBC, which was making a programme about my constituency, which it regarded as a marginal seat—for the life of me, I cannot think why. However, it commissioned an opinion poll to be carried out by Beaufort Research, a professional firm of pollsters in Cardiff. If I may digress briefly, that poll showed that I would obtain 38 per cent. of the vote, the Labour party 30 per cent. and Plaid Cymru 20 per cent. However, I take no comfort from that.
The main reason why I mention that poll is that it showed that, when asked whether they wanted nuclear power to be retained or expanded, the great majority of people replied in the affirmative. That shows the wishes of the majority of the British people, who are far too sensible 290 and who understand far too readily that we need a nuclear power industry to provide a major contribution to our energy, and who are not over-swayed by the problems that may have been indentified about nuclear power in the past.
It is interesting to note that the exhaustive Layfield report on Sizewell contains several note worthy quotations about the safety record. Paragraph 2.124(c), for example, states:the safety record of the CEGB is outstanding by any standards".Paragraph 2.125 states:I am confident that such reliance is justified. My confidence is founded principally of the quality of the CEGB's and the NII's evidence, and the way in which it withstood searching and extensive examination. Both organisations demonstrated an impressive degree of technical competence. No significant shortcomings were revealed.
One can say, with fairness, that we have the safest nuclear industry anywhere in the world, not least because of the independence and the investigative powers of the nuclear installations inspectorate, which is almost unique to this country.
The greatest recent threat or challenge to nuclear power was the terrible disaster of Chernobyl which directly affected my constituency. The radiocaesium levels in the sheep confronted the sheep farmers with grave difficulties; they were unable to take their sheep to market for a substantial period, with all the consequent financial loss. Chernobyl demonstrated, beyond all measure, that even if we relinquished all nuclear power forthwith—if that could be done—we should still be subject to the problems of the nuclear power industry in any other country. Chernobyl proved that we cannot stand in isolation. Unless one increases the powers of the International Atomic Energy Agency, or in some way provides greater safeguards for those countries with safety standards lower than our own, we shall still be subject to their problems. That is noteworthy because, if we do away with our nuclear power in the fallacious belief that that will safeguard our citizens in some way; we do so in the face of Chernobyl, which demonstrated that completely the opposite is the case.
I have already welcomed the additional resources that the Government have made available. When we talk about alternative energy, that includes the Severn barrage. The Severn is generally reckoned to be the most advantageous site in the world for such a barrage. Yet, even if that barrage were miraculously built and operated at maximum efficiency from tomorrow, it could provide no more than 5 per cent. of our total energy needs at today's demand level, not to mention the demand level when the construction would be complete in 15 years' time if the decision were taken now to proceed with the scheme.
The case for nuclear power as has been made without a shadow of doubt. It is conclusive at parochial level for the jobs that depend on it and, more important, at national level as British industry must continue to be competitive with countries which have embraced nuclear power and are now beginning to derive the benefits from it.
The industry can be shown to be inherently safe. Our safety standards are in advance of any other, if not all other, countries. The pollution that emanates from coal-fired power stations and other forms of energy production is absent from nuclear energy production.
§ Mr. Best
If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I have just reached my peroration. I hope that he may make his speech.
Our safety record and the needs of the future demand that we continue to have a significant amount of our energy produced by nuclear power. I compliment the Government on having the courage to determine that that should be the case.
§ Mr. Alexander Eadie (Midlothian)
It would be churlish of the House not to congratulate the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (Lord James Douglas-Hamilton) on his good fortune in having this subject included in this debate on the Consolidated Fund. Nuclear power is an emotive issue and it does not do any good if we challenge the sincerity of individual speeches. We may question hon. Members' judgment, but that is a different matter. I do not challenge the sincerity of any hon. Members, but I question their judgment.
The logic of the hon. Member for Ynys Môn (Mr. Best) is peculiar and perverted. He painted what we in Scotland know as the doomsday scenario: because nuclear power is generated all round the world and is unsafe, if an accident occurs we shall share the full horrors of it. He spoke of doubts about the environmental effect of nuclear power and mentioned recent opinion poll results. He was on dangerous ground there, because in Scotland the polls show 47 per cent. for Labour, 19 per cent. for the Tories, 19 per cent. for the alliance and 11 per cent. for the Scottish National party. If we pursued the hon. Gentleman's logic, we would say that, therefore, the majority of Scottish people are against nuclear power. [Interruption.] I am not seeking to argue with the hon. Gentleman or to offend him; I am pursuing his logic and showing him the danger of calling opinion polls in aid.
The hon. Member for Edinburgh, West made a fair case and tackled the question in three parts: jobs, safety and the environment. He would not expect me to agree with his figures for the cost of electricity, if we do not have nuclear power. He is well aware that the Coalfields Community Council produced a research document. The document considers what would happen if we did not have nuclear power. According to that document, there would have to be an increase of 10 per cent. in generation production in the United Kingdom as a whole and a 19 per cent. increase in Scotland. There is a difference of opinion in these matters. However, that report has been well documented and was produced by Stephen Fothergill, who is an economic lecturer at Reading university, on behalf of the Coalfields Communities campaign.
We must consider safety. Quoting statistics of mining disasters in relation to the number of people who have lost their lives in that industry is not sufficient. Indeed, one of those statistics was my father. I would not agree with an analogy drawn between what happens in a mining disaster and what happens in a nuclear disaster. A mining disaster affects only that particular area. In a mining disaster, that area need not be sterilised for hundreds or even thousands of years. However, if a nuclear disaster befalls us it could affect the whole of Europe.
The hon. Member for Edinburgh, West also referred to the Sizewell decision. I am entitled to answer the hon. Gentleman's points as I see matters. The hon. Gentleman referred to jobs in Scotland. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman read the report of the debate on Sizewell 292 in the House. That was a very interesting debate. Even with his contacts, he would find that if he was to call in aid Babcock Power Ltd. with regard to jobs, he would have to admit that it was on record that Babcock has stated that it would be perfectly happy to build any kind of plant for which it would be responsible if that was a coal-fired power station. The whole question of Sizewell hingeing on the job opportunities of Babcock Power Ltd. according to the company's statement is not valid and does not make the point.
The hon. Member for Edinburgh, West referred to jobs. He must be well aware of the fact that the Scottish coal industry has suffered a significant contraction since the end of the miner's strike. Employment in the industry has fallen from nearly 14,000 at the time of the strike to below 6,000. Capacity has been rationalised in British Coal's so-called survival plan with the closure of Comrie colliery and the merging of operations at Monktonhall and Bilston Glen in Lothian and Barony and Killoch in Ayrshire. I know that the hon. Gentleman is aware of those facts.
The Scottish coal industry, like that in Great Britain as a whole, remains heavily dependent upon one customer—the electricity generation industry. During the early 1980s, this dependence declined somewhat, but in 1985–86 the South of Scotland Electricity Board—accounted for two thirds of British Coal's output sold in Scotland. In turn, the SSEB has traditionally purchased most of its supplies of coal from British Coal. Under the purchase agreement signed in 1985, 90 per cent. of the SSEB's annual coal requirements for electricity generation to Scottish customers would be purchased from British Coal. In 1985–86, 92 per cent. of the SSEB's coal and slurry purchases were supplied by British Coal. Therefore, it is clear that the future of the coal industry in Scotland is heavily dependent upon the policies and decisions of the SSEB in relation to electricity generation. Of particular importance is the impending commissioning of the new nuclear power station at Torness which will increase the degree of over-capacity in the SSEB generation system. It will therefore displace coalburn and decrease coal purchases, which means a decrease in jobs. The SSEB's requirements are estimated to be between 3 million and 4 million tonnes a year. Reduced purchases would be a serious blow to the Scottish coal industry.
In 1983–84, the SSEB bought about 5 million tonnes of coal slurry from British Coal. In 1985–86 it bought about 7 million tonnes, but some of that was to replenish stocks. The SSEB recently agreed to buy only 3.6 million tonnes in 1986–87. The hon. Member for Edinburgh, West talked of the generating capacity in the SSEB. Its characteristics in terms of plant by type can be described as follows: Longannet, coal; Cockenzie, coal; Kincardine, coal; Methil, slurry; Inverkip, which the SSEB proposes to close, oil: Hunterston A and B, nuclear—one Magnox and one AGR. We also have hydro-electric and gas turbines. We have installed capacity of 7,870 MW, but that works out at about 6,160 MW.
The electricity supplied during 1985–86 was considerably below capacity. There is substantial overcapacity. The system load factor for the year was about 56 per cent., while the system maximum demand recorded on 7 January 1986 was 4,237 MW, or 69 per cent. of potential generation. Available capacity exceeds system maximum demand by 47 per cent. With a safety margin of 28 per 293 cent., which is standard, maximum continuous capacity exceeds system maximum demand by 15 per cent. excluding the 1.284 MW in rotational storage at Inverkip.
The SSEB bought 8.7 million tonnes of coal in 1980–81, 7.78 million tonnes in 1981–82, 6.25 million tonnes in 1982–83, 4.95 million tonnes in 1983–84—I shall not give the figure for 1984–85 as it was the year of the strike—and 7.48 million tonnes in 1985–86, which is high because of replenishing stocks.
The Scottish coal industry is heavily dependent on one customer—electricity generation. It bought two thirds of British Coal output in Scotland last year. The Scottish electricity generation system, however, has substantial overcapacity. Commissioning the new AGR plant at Torness will increase capacity in the south of Scotland electricity system by more than 20 per cent. If commissioned, Torness will be used for baseload generation and could produce electricity equivalent to about 4 million tonnes of coal. Its impact on coalburn will depend on the amount of use made by the SSEB of its capacity and the amount of electricity generated for export to the CEGB.
It has been pointed out in the debate that following the Chernybol accident there have been significant pressures on the whole nuclear power programme and on the commissioning of Torness. In considering the environment, we must be aware of certain dangers. One is the risk of a major accident at a nuclear power station, and Chernobyl gave a chilling glimpse of what such an accident can involve. About 50,000 people had to be evacuated from a 19-mile zone around the Chernobyl plant, the radiation was so intense as to be lethal in two hours and many square miles of Soviet earth are now poisoned by radioactive isotopes and will pose a threat to human life for many decades to come.
We must also consider what has happened in other countries. The right hon. Member for the Western Isles (Mr. Stewart) and I visited Norway about a year ago. We learned there that the reindeer herds in the north had to be slaughtered because of radiation. There are great dangers involved in disposing of nuclear waste, which is an unavoidable by-product of the nuclear industry. The problem of its disposal and the dangers of pollution have yet to be dealt with satisfactorily by any country.
Apart from the public response in this country to what happened in Chernobyl, consider what has happened elsewhere. Yugoslavia has cancelled plans for a second reactor; orders in Belgium and the Netherlands have been delayed; Italy's only new reactor project has been halted by the local council; Austria is dismantling a reactor unused; Finland has suspended a decision to build another reactor; Sweden, where nuclear equals about 50 per cent. of electricity generation, plans to phase out nuclear power in under 25 years; and while nuclear power in the United States is planned to increase by 40 per cent. in the next few years, that will come from reactors which were started 15 years ago, there have been no new orders since 1978 and there are no plans for new orders in the foreseeable future. My view, therefore, is that no more civil nuclear power stations should he built and that we should make a start on phasing out the existing ones.
Two measures would provide help to the Scottish coal industry—a moratorium on the use of oil for electricity generation, and the full use of the transmission link for the export of electricity to the CEGB. Any short-term increase 294 in generation costs could be justified, bearing in mind the potential long-run economic and social costs of the loss of deep-mined capacity.
We have in Britain 11 first generation Magnox stations, 10 of which have been operating for 20 years. It was intended that a safety review should he carried out prior to them being permitted to continue beyond that period. Only one such review, relating to Calder Hall, has been published. We have five second generation stations, AGRs, and a further two are under construction. One is Torness, and, based on what we know, it should not be commissioned. In terms of energy demand, we do not need it. There should be more public evidence about whether it could be converted to coal. The commissioning of Torness would have a devastating effect on the coal industry.
Chernobyl illustrated that nuclear power is unforgiving and dangerous. That is the main reason why Torness should be halted and why we should phase out nuclear power.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Energy (Mr. Alastair Goodlad)
I join the congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, West (Lord James Douglas-Hamilton) and should like to express the thanks of the House for the perceptive and knowledgeable way in which he introduced this useful debate on an important subject. My hon. Friend the Member for Bedfordshire, North (Sir T. Skeet) spoke with an expert knowledge on the subject, born of many years of long experience. My hon. Friends the Members for Dudley, West (Dr. Blackburn) and for Ynys Môn (Mr. Best), who has a great constituency interest in this matter, made helpful contributions. My hon. Friend the Member for Tatton (Mr. Hamilton), who takes a great interest in these matters and in whose constituency are the headquarters of the National Nuclear Corporation. and my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, North (Mr. Thompson) were present throughout the debate.
I regret that, apart from the hon. Member for Midlothian (Mr. Eadie), we have not had the benefit of any Labour Members in the Chamber throughout the debate. The hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) has given the benefit of his baleful sincerity in our proceedings and the unanimity of the alliance has been greatly helped by the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) absenting himself shortly after we began.
My hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, West mentioned Torness. I should like to reassure him that modifications to some of the control rods at Torness have been carried out, and it is hoped that that will solve the problem. Rigorous tests on the modifications will be carried out under nuclear installations inspectorate supervision before fuel loading proceeds. I understand that the South of Scotland Electricity Board hopes to commission reactor 1 in the autumn of this year, with reactor 2 coming on stream next year. I reassure my hon. Friend that there is no possibility of commissioning Torness until the nuclear installations inspectorate is fully satisfied that all safety requirements have been met.
I entirely agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, West that the Government and the energy industries are fully conscious of the vital importance of safety. The nuclear power industry's record on both site and environmental safety is nothing short of excellent. 295 There have been only 10 accidents, each resulting in a single death, in the nuclear power industry in the 10 years to February this year and none of those involved radiation.
My hon. Friend is right in saying that radioactive emissions from coal-fired power stations are considerably higher than those from nuclear stations. The collective permitted dose equivalent is about 5 man Sieverts per GW year of electricity generated from coal-fired power stations and for nuclear stations it is less than 2 man Sieverts. It should be stressed that the average annual individual dose from the normal operation of coal-fired stations is less than half the dose that a person would receive from cosmic rays during a holiday flight to Spain.
§ Mr. Goodlad
Or, indeed, to anywhere else involving a similar flight length.
My hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, West mentioned the accident at Chernobyl. It was the result of repeated deliberate non-compliance with the safety procedures by the operators. Sir Frank Layfield in his report on Sizewell noted that the CEGB had a good record in selecting and training staff and had the resources and commitment to deal with human aspects of operating stations. He also praised the technical competence of the nuclear installations inspectorate. The Soviet leadership has recognised that openness and accountability are fundamental to the efficient and proper management of its industries.
It is said that the chief motive of the staff was to complete their tests as expeditiously as possible. The failure to adhere to instructions when preparing to carry out the tests, the non-compliance with the testing programme and carelessness in handling the reactor facility were evidence that the staff were insufficiently familiar with the specialist features and technological processes of a nuclear reactor. They had lost any feelings for the hazards involved.
It is also said that the designers of the reactor facility did not provide for protective safety systems capable of preventing an accident in the combination of circumstances prevailing in unit 4 at Chernobyl. Those circumstances involved the deliberate switching off of technical protection systems coupled with violations of the operating regulations. They considered that the conjunction of events that caused the accident to be impossible. Thus, the prime cause of the accident was the extremely improbable violation of instructions and operating rules committed by the staff of the unit.
There is a stark contrast between that and Sir Frank Layfield's high opinion of the CEGB and the nuclear installations inspectorate's technical and engineering competence. It is also in contrast to the paramount commitment that the generating board and the inspectorate have given to safety and their excellent safety records.
The National Radiological Protection Board has published today its first assessment, under an EC contract, of the effects of Chernobyl on Europe. It puts the accident into a helpful perspective. On average, the extra radiation received was 16 per cent. of that which we receive from natural background sources and about the same as the 296 dose that is received from cosmic rays during a return flight to New York. Because of the restrictions on contaminated food, the effects of that extra radiation of 16 per cent. were greatly reduced. Over the next 50 years, some 30 million people in Europe are expected to die from "natural" cancers. The "extra" cancers due to Chernobyl are predicted to be about 1,000. Thus, there will be one additional Chernobyl cancer for each 30,000 "natural" cancers.
My hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, West rightly emphasised the worries that people have about the environmental effects. I reiterate that the study by the Office of Population Censuses and Surveys, published yesterday, although in the Library of the House for some time, found no indication of any abnormal pattern of leukaemias around CEGB nuclear installations. Therefore, no causal connection has been found between leukaemia and radiation from nuclear installations.
We are all exposed to natural radiation from many sources. Natural sources account for about 87 per cent. of the radiation dose to the population of the United Kingdom. The remainder is due to medical exposure such as the effect of X-rays. Discharges from the nuclear industry account for 0.1 per cent.—that is, one part in a thousand—of the radiation that is received by the British population. That study has been referred to the independent Committee on the Medical Aspects of Radiation in the Environment for advice on the implications of the report and the need for any further work.
My hon. Friend referred to the greenhouse effect; that is a major topic of international research, and the United Kingdom is participating in that research. The evidence suggests that the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is rising slowly, with an increase of 25 per cent. since 1800. The average atmospheric temperature has increased by between 0.5 deg C and 10 deg C over the same period. Fossil fuel burning and deforestation affect the atmospheric carbon dioxide content, although there are many other important factors.
It is too early to predict, with any confidence, what the long-term effect is likely to be on the world climate and environment. Any changes are likely to occur slowly, over many decades. We can be certain, however, that nuclear power stations do not emit carbon dioxide. Increased nuclear capacity can therefore help to contain the level of carbon dioxide emissions that are attributable to electricity generation.
My hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, West referred to employment implications. The jobs of about 150,000 depend directly or indirectly on the continuation of our nuclear industry. New nuclear stations will cheapen our electricity supplies, and about 800,000 people work in industries whose competitiveness depends on cheap electricity. Closing our existing nuclear stations prematurely and not replacing them would put many of those jobs at risk.
Time, alas does not allow a full deployment of the reasons why Her Majesty's Government have taken the decision that the Sizewell power station——
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Ernest Armstrong)
Order. I hope that the Minister will conclude his reply in one sentence. The time for the debate is about to elapse.
§ Mr. Goodlad
Perhaps I should say, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that we are convinced that nuclear power is the 297 safest, cleanest and cheapest form of generation. We think that the parties who have abrogated their responsibility to future generations by forswearing its benefits to Britain, Europe and the world are betraying a great trust.