HC Deb 02 November 1987 vol 121 cc634-5
2. Sir Trevor Skeet

asked the Secretary of State for Energy if he will take into account the environmental damage caused by gaseous emissions from coal-fired power stations when he considers the relative merits of coal and nuclear electricity generation.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Energy (Mr. Michael Spicer)

I take account of the environmental implications of all forms of electricity generation when considering their merits.

Sir Trevor Skeet

Will the Minister give his estimate of the cost of the removal of sulphur dioxide, which is causing so much damage and of nitrogen oxide, which is also causing much damage? What is the cost of the abatement of carbon dioxide which is changing our weather and also of metallic substances, which are going into space? Would it not be a good idea to build more nuclear power stations, which have very much less pollution in them? Would that not solve some of our problems?

Mr. Spicer

Coal-fired power stations do emit quantities of sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxide. That is why the Drax A and B and Fiddler's Ferry power stations are to be retrofitted with desulphurisation plants at a cost of £200 million each and why all future coal-fired stations are to be fitted with desulphurisation plants. It is also why low nitrogen oxide burners are to be installed at the 12 largest coal-fired power stations.

Mr. Barron

I am sure that we are all pleased that such a programme is going ahead. However, does the Minister not think it strange that the hon. Member for Bedfordshire, North (Sir T. Skeet) should ask such a question today when only last year he was arguing for a nuclear-free zone in Bedfordshire in respect of waste from nulear generation?

Mr. Spicer

My hon. Friend has good reasons for asking all those questions.

Mr. Neil Hamilton

Does my hon. Friend agree that opencast coal is very much cleaner than deep-mined coal, and that one way in which we could solve the problems to which my hon. Friend the Member for Bedfordshire, North (Sir T. Skeet) alluded would be by expanding production of opencast coal? Is he further aware that the small private sector of opencast producers is desirous of increasing its production but is being prevented from doing so by British Coal, which is taking such a long time to decide on licence applications?

Mr. Spicer

On my hon. Friend's second point, I shall be discussing these matters with the chairman of British Coal this week, and I shall raise that point with him. It is true that much opencast coal has a lower sulphur content than some of the deep-mined coal. It is therefore true to say that more opencast coal would be to the benefit of deep-mined coal.

Mr. Eadie

Will the Minister confirm that all coal is different and that it does not necessarily follow that opencast coal in one part of an area will have the same sulphur content as that in another part of the area? Will he also confirm the CEGB's claim that sulphur emission has declined by 20 per cent. since 1980 and by 40 per cent. since 1970? Will he also confirm that if flue gas desulphurisation is introduced that could be responsible for a 90 per cent. reduction in sulphur emission?

Mr. Spicer

I can confirm the hon. Gentleman's last point. As for his first point, I think that the figure of 40 per cent, applies to sulphur from all industries. I do not think that it is true of coal plants. However, it is certainly true that desulphurisation plants will markedly reduce the amount of sulphur content. It is also right to say that there is a variety of sulphur content in opencast coal, but in this country it has, on average, a lower sulphur content than deep-mined coal.

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