HC Deb 04 July 1988 vol 136 cc715-6
5. Mr. Alan W. Williams

To ask the Secretary of State for Energy what information he has received from the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate and the Central Electricity Generating Board as to the expected restart date of Bradwell No. 1 reactor and as to this station's expected lifetime.

Mr. Michael Spicer

I am advised that the Central Electricity Generating Board and the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate are in close consultation about the modification and further studies which would be required for continued operation of the station to 1992.

Mr. Williams

As the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate has expressed serious concern about possible cracks in the pressure vessel and the integrity of wells in the coolant gas circuits, is it not dangerous to continue operating this 26-year-old reactor? is it not irresponsible of the Government to be thinking of selling clapped-out reactors? The position is rather like that in the Persian Gulf yesterday, in that there is an accident waiting to happen. The Government should be announcing the closure of these old Magnox reactors before privatisation, rather than risking another Chernobyl.

Mr. Spicer

The Government have complete confidence in the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate, which has full responsibility for ensuring that Magnox stations are safe. There will be no question of their either continuing in operation or being passed as fit and safe unless the NII is convinced that they are.

Mr. John Garrett

Is it not clear that the cost of safety measures required by the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate will mean that Bradwell, Berkeley and possibly other Magnox stations will be closed in the next few years? How do the Government propose to dispose of them to private ownership? Who will carry the cost of decommissioning? Or will the Government just bury them in concrete at public expense?

Mr. Spicer

Whether the Magnox stations continue—if they are passed as fit to continue by the NII—will depend on the commercial judgment of the operating companies. They will no doubt take into account, as they normally do, provision for decommissioning. The inheritor companies, when they are sold to the private sector, will also have to make adequate provision for decommissioning.

Mr. Ian Bruce

First, let me declare an interest. My brother works at Bradwell power station.

We understand that the NII would never allow a nuclear power station to continue if it was unsafe, but we may be going down the path of constantly increasing safety standards well beyond any sensible level. Can my hon. Friend assure me that there is some control over what the inspectorate is likely to require in any of the power stations, and also that it has the resources to make proper checks, rather than simply saying, "We have not the resources to make the checks. so we will say no."?

Mr. Spicer

The Government are determined that the British nuclear industry will be as safe in the future as It has been in the past. The resources available to the NII have been increased considerably. There are now 120 inspectors, and the inspectorate is advertising for more. How long the stations will be kept open is a matter for the commercial judgment of the operators, and it is for the inspectorate to ensure that they are safe.