§ 9. Mr. Matthew Taylor
To ask the Secretary of State for Energy if he will make a statement on the implications for the United Kingdom electricity industry of the recent United States Government Energy Agency report regarding early retirement of nuclear reactors.
§ Mr. Taylor
Does the Minister accept that decommissioning costs are likely to form an increasing part of the cost of the nuclear cycle in the years to come and that the pulling out of the current decommissioning work at Windscale by the CEGB has caused serious delays? Will he give a categorical assurance that the Government will not take over any of the decommissioning costs of the nuclear industry in the years to come, thereby providing a hidden subsidy for nuclear power?
§ Mr. Spicer
We have yet to say publicly what we intend to do about the important issue of decommissioning costs. The report to which the hon. Gentleman referred concerns itself specifically with operating costs and the fact that American operating costs have risen. The operating costs of British nuclear power stations are still considerably lower than those for coal-powered stations in this country.
§ Dr. Michael Clark
Does my hon. Friend agree that British engineers, particularly British nuclear engineers, always over-design for any life expectancy? Does he agree also that the closer a nuclear power station comes to the end of its initially stated design life, the easier it is to assess its future usefulness? Therefore, will he accept that there are many nuclear power stations approaching 20 years of age that might quite safely be given an extension of five, 10 or even 15 years?
§ Mr. Spicer
I bow to my right hon. Friend's great knowledge in these matters, but I have to tell him that the body responsible for and which therefore takes the decisions about the safe life of, nuclear power stations is the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate. The Government have decided to increase the number of inspectors from 120 to 140 this year, bearing in mind the decisions and investigations they have to take on board.
§ Mr. Prescott
Does the Minister accept that the same American report highlights the unforeseen 60 per cent. increase in operating costs that are due to the regulatory controls that the Americans have imposed on the industry 12 and that he has assured the American nuclear industry that such costs will be lower for a privatised nuclear industry? Does he accept also the recent medical report on the link between Dounreay and Sellafield nuclear plants and leukaemia? Since such matters cause deep public concern, will he ensure that the research is carried out and that the conclusions are provided to the Hinkley B inquiry; and, if not, why not?
§ Mr. Spicer
I think that the hon. Gentleman is confusing the two types of regulation, but I stand to be corrected. We have never said that we want our safety regulations to be other than the best in the world. It is true that the Americans have cumbersome and bureaucratic institutions to determine price regulations, and we shall try to avoid such bureaucracy. The issue of Dounreay and leukaemia was raised in COMARE's report. It has prompted the Government to ensure that further investigations are carried out urgently. I assure the House that the report comes to no conclusions about the connection between nuclear plant, leukaemia and leukaemia clusters. [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman says that there are some coincidences. One can argue that leukaemia clusters occur in many parts of the world, notably in New Zealand, which does not have any nuclear power stations. We shall thoroughly consider this issue. If it is germane to the Hinkley inquiry, no doubt the inspector will raise it.