HC Deb 22 May 1989 vol 153 cc750-61

As amended, in the Standing Committee, considered.

Order for Third Reading read.

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

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

We have debated this short Bill on Second Reading and in two sittings of the Standing Committee. Therefore, I will keep my opening remarks short. If the House wishes me to do so, I will respond to the points made in the debate.

One purpose of the Bill is to raise the financial limit imposed on British Nuclear Fuels from its present level of £1.5 billion to £2 billion. That will allow the company to complete its current massive investment programme, in particular in the thermal oxide reprocessing plant, THORP. The House will know that the company has already secured over £4 billion of contracts associated with this plant, £2.8 billion of which are for overseas customers. It will make BNFL, for instance, the largest single yen earner in the country. Investment is also required to the tune of £500 million to reduce the radioactive liquid discharges over the next four years from their present negligible levels virtually to zero. Recent expenditure has reduced those discharges to less than 5 per cent. of the already low levels in 1979.

The Bill also enables the Health and Safety Executive to recover the costs of nuclear safety research from nuclear site licensees and from applicants for licences. Finally, clause 5 makes necessary changes to the law to enable the United Kingdom to ratify the national convention on assistance in the case of a nuclear accident or radiological emergency. Those changes in particular are welcomed by all hon. Members.

The Opposition, although not voting against this Bill, have tended to speak to it with clothes pegs clasped firmly over their noses. The hon. Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Barron) in particular has clearly found the nuclear industry distasteful. He is in line with his party. As we now know, through its policy review, if it were elected to office, the Labour party would ensure that the nuclear industry is brought to a standstill. The relevant paragraph of that document states: In these circumstances, we will not therefore invest in new nuclear stations, nor will we compensate for that by running existing stations beyond their normal life. In practice, this will mean that a majority of existing stations will be decommissioned by the end of the century, and our dependence on nuclear power will therefore progressively diminish". In the context of a Bill related to the nuclear industry, Conservative Members are bound to ask how a party which will rely for its electricity production almost exclusively on coal can possibly be serious about addressing the problem of carbon dioxide pollution of the atmosphere. What is more, what would happen to electricity consumers if Mr. Scargill's influence were ever reincarnated and had the damaging effect on coal that it had in the past, or if oil prices ever went through the roof again? Perhaps that subject is for another day.

8.33 pm
Mr. Kevin Barron (Rother Valley)

The Minister goes from strength to strength, bringing into an energy debate—whether it be atomic energy or electricity—the president of the National Union of Mineworkers, and seeking to avoid questions about Government legislation by referring to the aforesaid gentleman. I am grateful to the Minister for reading the recent Labour party policy review, although it is not a matter for debate today. Perhaps in the future we can debate in greater detail what the Labour party will do in office—I am pleased to say that the time is not too far away—rather than the present Government's plans. Meanwhile, perhaps the Minister will tell us the Government's plans for the nuclear industry.

Although it was considered in only two sittings of the Committee, the Bill has given us an opportunity to debate the future of BNFL and the nuclear power industry as a whole. We have certainly been able to highlight the ever-escalating costs of the nuclear fuel cycle, especially those of decommissioning. Decommissioning costs rose sharply in the recent past and, as the Minister has agreed, they are bound to be unpredictable because we have not been through the process yet and some of it is a long way off. The only prediction that he has been able to make is that decommissioning costs are likely to rise in the future. In Committee I asked the Minister to give a detailed breakdown of the £4.6 million held by BNFL for decommissioning its plant. He said that he could not respond immediately but would see whether he could obtain more information. Has he done that? BNFL has only two reactors—the remainder consists of ponds and chemical plants.

Again in Committee, during the discussion on new clause 1, I referred to the moneys set aside by the Central Electricity Generating Board and the South of Scotland electricity board for decommissioning nuclear plant. We are led to believe that the CEGB and the SSEB have about £4.2 billion for that, but according to a parliamentary answer to a question by the hon. Member for Rochford (Dr. Clark) the CEGB has only £568 billion for decommissioning costs. How much is held by the SSEB for decommissioning costs? Is the balance the cost of reprocessing and the cost of nuclear waste management disposal? It is a substantial amount.

The Minister said that a Labour Government would operate schedule 12 of the Electricity Bill if the time scale for decommissioning nuclear reactors is reduced in future. The Minister knows that schedule 12 covers more than decommissioning. It allows for grants for the storage and reprocessing of nuclear fuel and for the treatment, storage or disposal of radioactive waste. To provide grants for those functions would effectively be to take over the business of BNFL when the Government are allowing the industry to renegotiate its cost-plus contracts. That would be underwriting from the public purse if anything went wrong.

The industry does not have a good record in estimating costs. The Minister has said that costs are bound to be unpredictable. It would be wrong to commit a future Labour Government to such expenditure. Whoever invests in national nuclear power and the Scottish nuclear industry should accept its financial liabilities. We believe that the Government intend to float the nuclear industry. The liabilities should be accepted by those who are to pay.

We should make it clear that we will not bale out the privatised nuclear power industry should it want money in future for its day-to-day business.

The Minister spoke about what the Labour party would do in government, but what are the Government's current plans? They appear to be running headlong towards a new nuclear power programme. On 4 May in committee I asked the Minister whether we were to have a larger family of PWRs than originally intended. He failed to reply to that question, and I assume that it slipped his mind. What is the thinking in Government circles? Is it in favour of a massive increase in the PWR programme on the basis that that will mitigte against the greenhouse effect? The Government seem to be out of touch with reality regarding nuclear fuel. An example of that was the Minister's description of the nuclear waste reprocessing industry as an "environmentally pure" industry. I have never heard anyone who works full-time in that industry use such a phrase.

Greenhouse gases are a new event for the Government and they are using them as an excuse to wield their prejudice against the British coal mining industry. They are not, however, prejudiced against coal mining elsewhere in the world, as I understand that they are encouraging our ever-increasing imports of coal. To describe the reprocessing industry as "environmentally pure" is a giant leap away from the opinion that has been held by most people and by that very industry.

At the Prime Minister's seminar on 26 April, Mr. Currie of the energy technology support unit presented a paper in which he used the quaint phrase for the purposes of this presentation", and then went on to make assumptions about the future based on the use of nuclear power to provide 50 per cent. of baseload electricity. To generate that amount, 24 PWRs would have to be constructed by the year 2020. The Minister concluded by quoting what the Labour party policy review says about the nuclear industry, but I challenge him to answer the question that I posed in Committee. What is the Government's position in relation to the nuclear industry in the future? Does he accept what the civil servants said at the Prime Minister's seminar—that to generate 50 per cent. of baseload electricity would require the construction of 24 PWRs by the year 2020? What do the Conservatives think about the future of the nuclear industry? The Minister knows full well what the Labour party thinks. It is extraordinary that even the Government could contemplate such a massive increase in nuclear capacity, even if it were possible.

As I said in Committee, the nuclear industry is under siege, with its economic and environmental excesses being exposed to a nation which increasingly does not share the Government's complacency about our nuclear future. The astronomic and rising costs of the nuclear fuel cycle have been put on record—from the massive capital cost through to the cost of reprocessing and the unknown but undoubtedly enormous cost of decommissioning and waste disposal.

The nuclear industry recognises that it cannot build on greenfield sites. Its application for four new PWRs are on existing nuclear reactor sites. It now plans to dispose of its waste products in deep disposal sites at Sellafield and Dounreay—existing nuclear sites. Since we have discussed this in Committee, I have heard that those at Dounreay are sceptical of taking on the liability of deep disposal. It may be that the Nuclear Industry Radioactive Waste Executive —Nirex—will be forced to use one site alone in Great Britain which is prepared to accept the legacy of liability represented by nuclear waste.

How many Conservative Members will volunteer to have a PWR in their constituency if the Government go ahead with their nuclear madness? Is the Minister prepared to have a PWR in his backyard, as he seems to want to commit the Government to further nuclear reactors in the future? Alternatively, are we to assume that we shall run out of seaside sites for nuclear reactors? In years to come, will such nuclear reactors take over fossil-fuel power stations? Does the Minister believe that PWRs will be built in constituencies such as that held by his hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, South (Mrs. Currie), which has a number of fossil-fuel power stations currently under threat? Will the new families of PWRs be built in such areas? The Government are in a state of confusion about the nuclear power industry. Perhaps the Minister will explain what their plans are. How big a tab will present and future taxpayers have to pick up for this costly—both environmentally and in money terms—industry?

We accept most of the Bill. We did not oppose it in Committee or on Second Reading, and we do not intend to oppose it today. Nevertheless, if the Government go ahead with the anticipated large-scale development of PWRs in the mistaken belief that that is the answer to the problem of greenhouse gases, exactly where will that development take place and in whose constituency? Who will be asked to accept the extension of the nuclear industry? The Opposition—and, I am sure, millions of other people—would like to know the answers.

8.46 pm
Mr. Alan W. Williams (Carmarthen)

I was not a member of the Standing Committee considering the Bill, but I read the record of its proceedings today, and I found them absorbing. I am decisively anti-nuclear, and I am in tune with the majority of our population. The British people do not want any more nuclear power stations; and, frankly, they do not want to see any more money squandered on the industry.

The first clause of the Bill will increase the borrowing capabilities of BNFL from £1.5 billion to £2 billion. Therefore, the industry will be able to avail itself of an additional £500 million of public funds. In common with the public, I believe that that is throwing good money after bad, because the record of that industry inspires no confidence. BNFL has a history of leaks at Windscale, now Sellafield, and a history of escalating costs. One need only study its accounts for last year to see that the cost of reprocessing Magnox fuel increased by 27 per cent. in one year, or by 35 per cent. in real terms in the past two years.

Poor Sellafield may well feel that its days are numbered because the technology of reprocessing is now unnecessary. I noticed that, in Committee, Conservative Members asked why it was necessary to reprocess nuclear waste. The old justification was that we needed uranium and plutonium, but then we were faced with the embarrassment of the waste. We no longer need uranium, as it is cheap to buy on the world market and there are abundant reserves of it all over the world. We do not need the plutonium, especially as the Government are now winding down their fast breeder reactor programme, about which I am delighted.

What we are talking about is the long-term death of the nuclear industry. We do not need the uranium or the plutonium, nor do we need the waste. The technology of reprocessing merely multiplies the volume of waste by a factor of 100. It creates and adds to the embarrassment and it is expensive to store and dispose of such waste.

It is clear from the advanced gas-cooled reactors and the PWRs that the Government are intent on building that their wastes will not be reprocessed. We shall do as the United States has always done, and store wastes without reprocessing. It is possible to use dry storage for PWRs and AGRs. That involves much cheaper technology than other methods of storing, and it is environmentally much more acceptable than reprocessing.

Where does that leave Sellafield and the thermal oxide reprocessing plant? It is at THORP that the big expansion at the Sellafield plant lies. THORP will be used to reprocess oxide fuel. It seems that too much money has been spent there already. Contracts have been signed that may be expensive to cancel. The costs of THORP will be £1.5 billion, five times the original estimate. The justification for it is that there are orders in the pipeline for £4 billion-worth of waste to be reprocessed over the next 10 years.

The Minister appeared to be proud in Committee that 70 per cent. of the orders are from overseas. Should we be proud that we are importing nuclear wastes? Surely that comes within the same category as the importation of toxic wastes. It is nothing to be proud of. Most of the British people would prefer not to import massive quantities of toxic wastes for landfill and for incineration, and the same goes for nuclear waste. They do not want to see Britain becoming the nuclear dustbin of the world, but that is what THORP is all about. It is only that activity that makes it financially viable.

What will happen to the wastes from Japan and elsewhere after they have been reprocessed at THORP? What happens to the plutonium and, most especially, the long-lived radioactive wastes, the caesium 137 and the strontium 90? Will they be sent back to Japan and elsewhere? Will that happen in five years, 10 years, or in the indefinite future? The British people are fed up with waste importation.

I am disappointed that the Government could not agree that the Bill should be amended so that it became the duty of any private or public company holding or operating nuclear installations to publish annually the current estimated cost of decommissioning such installations. Decommissioning is a critically important cost. Decommissioning nuclear installations could be much more expensive than constructing them. It is fair to ask for annual estimates of decommissioning costs. The facts should be available to the British public. During consideration of the Electricity Bill, we heard calls for transparency in the costs of nuclear power. We want the costs of decommissioning to be transparent. The costs should appear in the accounts of British Nuclear Fuels plc every year and in those of the Central Electricity Generating Board. There should be a detailed explanation of the technology and detailed estimates of the costs.

It is revealing that the nuclear industry used to think that, when nuclear plants became clapped out, they could be disposed of at sea. That view is incredible, now that we know more about nuclear wastes and radiation. At one time, however, the nuclear industry thought that clapped-out reactors and plant at Sellafield, for example, that came to the end of their life could be disposed of at sea. I am glad that we have moved on slightly since then. However, the fact remains that we need accurate estimates of decommissioning costs, and these should be revised annually.

We know that the decommissioning of nuclear power stations is to be deferred to stage 3, to 100 years hence. What if it is possible technically to decommission them within 20 to 30 years? Once it is technically feasable to decommission nuclear installations at the end of their life, they should be restored to green sites as soon as it is technically feasible to do so. That means that the 2 per cent. discount rate becomes much less relevant. The cost of decommissioning multiplies by a factor of two, three or four. We should have reasonable estimates of the costs and they should he prepared annually. The technology and the estimates should be in line with international experience.

8.55 pm
Mr. Frank Haynes (Ashfield)

It appears that the Minister is not living in the real world. He is such a nice chap outside the Chamber, but when he speaks from the Dispatch Box he is as vicious as I do not know what. He becomes really nasty when he talks about nuclear power.

The Minister has spoken about the Labour party's policy. Ministers take every opportunity to attack the Labour party. We are approaching the European elections and the Minister is probably electioneering on behalf of Conservative candidates. The Labour party has never changed its policy on nuclear energy—the Minister appears to be surprised. It seems that he does not do his homework. He should not attack the Labour party for its nuclear policy when its spokesmen are really reiterating what they have said in the past.

Mr. Michael Spicer

That is an extraordinary comment. I am prompted to ask the hon. Gentleman how it was that, when his right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) was Secretary of State for Energy, he launched a massive nuclear building programme. He was a member of the Labour party, and I believe that he still is. The same party is committed now to destroying the programme which he almost invented.

Mr. Haynes

An individual is entitled to express his own opinion. I am talking about Labour party policy on nuclear energy. My right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) may have done what the Minister suggests, but I stand in the Chamber as a Labour Member who believes in the Labour party's policy on nuclear energy. The Minister should come off it and get his facts right before he makes such stupid remarks from the Government Dispatch Box. Mind you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, he makes one or two such remarks on these matters and on others. I know that, as I served as a member of the Committees that considered the Electricity Bill and the Bill that is before us.

The Minister has made other stupid comments. This is really a cover-up. The Secretary of State for Energy and the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Energy often refer to the president of the National Union of Mineworkers. That really is rubbish. I have some news for the Minister. The president of the Union of Democratic Mineworkers has applied to join the Labour party. I hope that the Minister has taken that on board and can understand the feelings about nuclear energy which are prevalent in Nottinghamshire. I am convinced that those feelings are related to the Government's nuclear policy. People are reacting against it. The Minister can come off it and stop referring to the president of the NUM across the Dispatch Box.

In his argument tonight and in Committee upstairs, the Minister has always argued that the provision of fossil fuel for the electricity industry is more expensive than nuclear energy. What a load of rubbish. That is another cover-up. We know that the cost of nuclear power will be way above the cost of fossil fuels.

My hon. Friend the Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Williams) was right to refer to the cost of decommissioning. That cost is in addition to the provision of PWRS. My hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Barron) suggested that the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South (Mrs. Currie) would not have a nuclear power station in her constituency. I will tell the Minister why she would not have one. She would not use the argument that she was against nuclear power. Instead, she would claim that Derbyshire was a nuclear-free zone. She is right; Derbyshire is a nuclear-free zone.

Recently, there were county council elections in Derbyshire and the Labour party took more seats in Derbyshire even though there is a great deal of expenditure on the people, especially on people in need. Of course, there is also expenditure on advertising the fact that Derbyshire is a nuclear-free zone.

In Committee on the Electricity Bill and on the Atomic Energy Bill, the hon. Member for Bedfordshire, North (Mr. T. Skeet) was thrashing the issue. He wanted to make more progress. He did not want four PWRs as planned; he wanted the eight which were decided in the first place.

Mr. Barron

Where is the hon. Member now ?

Mr. Haynes

He is not in the Chamber tonight. He has a problem: I read in the press over the weekend that his constituency party has decided to ditch him.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Miss Betty Boothroyd)

Order. A Third Reading debate is not an easy debate. The hon. Gentleman is extremely experienced and he knows that the debate must relate to what is in the Bill. The matters which the hon. Gentleman has raised now are not in the Bill.

Mr. Haynes

I was about to refer to a PWR being situated in Bedfordshire, North. The hon. Member for Bedforshire, North was pushing for PWRs in Committee, but he made it clear that he did not want one in his constituency.

When we drive down the motorway, we can all see the notices which have been painted on the bridges—all the notices are illegal—stating, "We don't want nuclear dumping here." However, the hon. Member for Bedfordshire, North was pushing like mad in Committee for PWRs, nuclear power, and all the blooming rest of it. However, it seems that he is going to be dumped for pushing for those projects. He has had his come-uppance. He may stand as an independent, but we shall see.

The argument is all about cost. People write to me and attend my surgeries because they are concerned about the Government's nuclear energy programme, particularly their new PWRs. Where will those PWRs go? We do not want one in Ashfield. I can tell the Minister, on my constituents' behalf, "We ain't gonna have one." That is something else that he can put in his pipe and smoke—although he does not smoke a pipe. The people are making themselves heard and I am speaking on their behalf.

Many Conservative Members push like mad for nuclear power and the new PWRs. They support them in the Division Lobbies. However, they do not want them in their own back gardens. It is rather like the planning applications to which the Secretary of State for the Environment says, "Not in my back garden, but they can be in someone else's." I hope that the Minister gets the message. There is no doubt that the Government will get their Bill, but we shall continue to fight it.

The Minister never takes any notice when I am talking to him. He is always doodling. When I was addressing the Minister in a very important debate on mining subsidence recently, my hon. Friend the Member for Jarrow (Mr. Dixon) said, "He's doodling." He was not listening to me.

Mr. Michael Spicer

I am making notes on the hon. Gentleman's points.

Mr. Haynes

If the hon. Gentleman is making notes, that is different. I hope that he will say something that I can enjoy and really take on board, and which I can take back to my constituents.

I repeat: when it comes to the next general election, the Minister will get a shock. Nuclear energy policy will change when my right hon. and hon. Friends and I are on the Government Benches and when Conservative Members are in opposition.

9.5 pm

Mr. Michael Spicer

The hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Williams) asked about repatriation of nuclear waste. As the hon. Gentleman is knowledgeable on such matters, he should know that, since 1976, all contracts with foreign countries incorporate options for the repatriation of nuclear waste arising out of reprocessing. The Government's intention is that those options will be exercised, so I hope that reassures the hon. Gentleman.

I made one or two notes on the interesting speech of the hon. Member for Ashfield (Mr. Haynes), who accused me of not living in the real world because I do not agree with his view that Labour party policy on the nuclear industry has been consistent. The hon. Gentleman's party, which now wishes to destroy the nuclear industry, is the same party that spawned the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn). At the time in question, the then right hon. Member for Bristol, South-East was not just any member of the Labour party and entitled to hold offbeat views on nuclear energy, such as those that some of his right hon. and hon. Friends expressed recently; he was the Secretary of State for Energy. In that capacity, he launched a number of nuclear power stations.

Some of them have not worked as well as he imagined, whereas all those launched during the period of office of the present Government show every sign of doing so. Any shortcomings should not all be laid at the feet of the right hon. Gentleman. Nevertheless, he formulated present nuclear policy and the power stations associated with it.

I say to the hon. Member for Ashfield something that he often says to me: "Come off it." It is nonsense for the hon. Gentleman to suggest that there has not been something of a volte-face by the Labour party. It is extraordinary that, if Labour ever return to government—which most people in this country who think about such matters hope will never happen—they will be dedicated to the destruction of the nuclear power industry.

The Labour party's inconsistency is not confined to the past. I have an invitation to a national conference entitled "Energy for the Future", sponsored by the Scottish Trades Union Congress, at which the speakers making the case for the fast reactor will include the hon. Members for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes) and for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours). There is inconsistency not only between the Opposition's present policies and those to which they have devoted themselves when in government, but within their own ranks. When it suits them, Members of Parliament representing interests that are served well by the nuclear industry appear at conferences supporting its future, while the mainstream element of the Labour party now apparently wishes to ditch its past policies. It is entirely wrong for the hon. Gentleman to suggest that there is any consistency with past policies.

Mr. Haynes


Mr. Spicer

The hon. Gentleman asks me to smile, but the future of the nuclear industry is a serious matter.

The hon. Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Barron) asked me what the Government's policy was on the future of the industry. He claimed that he now had a firm policy, and suggested that the Government did not. The Government's position has been made clear several times: we will ensure through the non-fossil fuel obligation that the nuclear industry is maintained at about its present capacity, which means building four pressurised water reactors to replace the aging Magnoxes.

Mr. Barron

Is the Minister contradicting the paper presented to the seminar held by the Prime Minister on 26 April? That paper, introduced by Mr. Ken Currie of the energy technology support unit, dealt with the options for mitigating the greenhouse effect and suggested the physical possibility of building 24 new PWRs by the year 2020. Is the Minister saying that the paper was wrong, and that the four PWRs that are public knowledge are the only ones that were in the Government's mind either before or after the seminar?

Mr. Spicer

The papers presented at the seminar contained the views of those who presented them. The reason why there is such a thing as collective responsibility—the reason why there are Cabinets, and why policy becomes policy only when Ministers have announced it to Parliament as such—is that discussion must take place, in some cases on the basis of hypothetical material in papers. That particular paper gave the views and the prognosis of one individual, which is all that it claimed to do.

Discussion takes place both inside and outside Government about all sorts of possible scenarios, but the Government's policy is absolutely clear: we need four PWRs if we are to maintain our present nuclear capacity. What is not clear is the Opposition's policy on the environment. They spend a great deal of time talking about the environment, but things are different when it comes to hard practical reality.

Let us assume that what is meant by "impingement" on the environment is the effect of, for instance, carbon dioxide emissions on the atmosphere. The Opposition must explain how they would satisfy what is expected, according to every assumption that I have come across, to be a rising demand for electricity——

Mr. Alan W. Williams


Mr. Spicer

May I just finish this point? There will be a rising demand for electricity, even if conservation measures are taken into account. Perhaps that is what the hon. Gentleman wishes to say. How are the Opposition to satisfy that rising demand with what is essentially a coal-based power station system? Everyone knows that most emissions of CO2 are from coal-fired power stations. How on earth will the Opposition be able to develop an honest policy toward the environment if they maintain their anti-nuclear stance?

Mr. Williams

I am pleased that the Minister corrected himself in mid-paragraph when 1 rose to intervene. I thought that he made it abundantly clear during the proceedings on the Electricity Bill that the Bill said nothing about the environment and conservation, or about environmental pollution. The fact is that four pressurised water reactor power stations would make a very small contribution to environmental protection. If the money that is to be spent on their construction were to be invested in energy conservation, it would make a far greater contribution to environmental protection. It is baffling that the Government and the Minister should be deaf to the pleas of so many people to take an interest in conservation. They will have to take it seriously at some stage.

Mr. Spicer

Everything associated with the Electricity Bill relates to the environment. If one thinks through what the electricity industry does to the environment, it has—[Interruption.] I see that you are growing a little restless, Madam Deputy Speaker, but I have been asked specifically about the environment and I ought to deal with it. The future of the nuclear industry is bound up with the question of whether additional money is to be given to British Nuclear Fuels, plc. One constraint on the future of the nuclear industry, and therefore on the money that is given to it, might be the environment. That is why I was briefly addressing the question, and I hope that I shall be permitted to answer the hon. Member for Carmarthen.

Madam Deputy Speaker

I should be obliged if all hon. Members, whether speaking from the Back Benches or the Front Benches, would deal only with the Bill which is having its Third Reading.

Mr. Spicer

Perhaps I may be allowed briefly to answer the question raised by the hon. Member for Carmarthen about the effect of the nuclear industry on the environment. Clause 1, in particular, deals with the provision of additional money for the industry. That ought to be welcomed by hon. Members. British Nuclear Fuels plc will be making major new investments in cleaning up the pollution caused by the industry. The hon. Gentleman says that it is untrue for the Government to argue that the nuclear industry will benefit the environment. The Electricity Bill requires all companies to have regard to environmental questions. It does not require them to enhance the beauty of the landscape. Unlike the water industry, it is not that kind of industry. However the Electricity Bill and this Bill will ensure that the industry has a multiplicity of sources of supply, in addition to coal.

The fact that the industry pollutes the environment by emitting SO2and CO2 is directly addressed in the Bill. The Opposition grumble about the Bill and make speeches against the use of nuclear power. An industry that was exclusively dependent upon coal would pump even more CO2 into the atmosphere, even allowing for conservation procedures. We consider that the Opposition are hypocritical to adopt that posture when a Bill such as this will provide additional finance for the nuclear industry to protect the environment.

We have never denied that coal will play an essential part in the future, but when considering whether more money should be allowed for investment at BNFL, we think it is essential that nuclear power should be a component of electricity generation. We believe that fervently for many reasons, not the least of which is that which the Opposition always try to cram down our throats—improving the environment.

9.19 pm
Mr. Barron


Madam Deputy Speaker

Order. Does the hon. Gentleman have the leave of the House to speak again?

Mr. Barron


I asked the Minister more than the one question, which he avoided in his attempted answer. I asked about the breakdown of decommissioning costs in the Central Electricity Generating Board and the South of Scotland Electricity Board. If he does not have those figures, I am quite prepared to have them by letter.

Mr. Spicer

I apologise for not giving an answer on the BNFL breakdown, but perhaps I can help by saying that the £4.6 billion covers all the BNFL sites and includes the reactors at Calderhall and Chapel Cross. BNFL estimates that it will cost about £750 million to decommission those reactors—there are four at each site. I hope that that gives the hon. Gentleman some of the information he wants.

Mr. Barron

It goes some way towards an answer. We shall have to go into more detail about the decommissioning costs of each generator, but I am grateful for the information.

We support the Bill. We said at the outset in the debate on the limitation on borrowing powers that we wanted to make specific points about this industry and its expenditure. The growth of nuclear reprocessing costs has been quite astounding. The Government have been very honest in their defence of reprocessing and the disposal of nuclear waste. I am sure that the Minister's phrase about it being an environmentally pure industry will go down for posterity. I know few people who will defend that position.

The Minister went on at some length about the Labour party's stance. Would he accept a PWR in his constituency? Would his constituents accept a waste disposal facility? We have yet to hear where the Government, who seem to be in favour of the expansion of the nuclear industry, will site these reactors. I am prepared to give way to the Minister if he will tell me whether his constituents are prepared to provide an inland site for a PWR. I asked that question throughout the Committee stage and it was unanswered then just as it is unanswered now. Everybody knows it is not environmentally pure. Rather, it is a legacy for future generations.

We shall support the Bill. We are pleased about the international convention which has been brought about because of the accident at Chernobyl. This and any future Government will help if such a disaster should ever befall the earth again.

While we support the Bill, we cannot support this industry, which the Minister believes should be a component of our electricity generation. It is too expensive in terms of the economics of electricity generation, the economics of the nuclear fuel cycle and the cost of the legacy of nuclear waste for future generations.

We support the Bill but we do not support the Government's rush to expand a nuclear power industry that has failed the British people and the people of the world during the last 30 years.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed, with an amendment.