HC Deb 25 June 1990 vol 175 cc6-7
7. Mr. Illsley

To ask the Secretary of State for Energy what is the most up-to-date estimate of the final construction cost of the Sizewell B nuclear power station; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Wakeham

Nuclear Electric has undertaken a thorough review of progress with the Sizewell B project, including the estimated cost to completion. The outcome of the review will be announced soon.

Mr. Illsley

The Secretary of State must be aware that recent estimates have put the final cost of Sizewell B at about £3.8 billion, taking into account the cost overruns, delays and lack of economies of scale due to the cancellation of the pressurised water reactor programme. It was also calculated that £2 billion can be saved by cancelling the project now. Does the Secretary of State agree that the time to cancel Sizewell B is right now?

Mr. Wakeham

I am not prepared to comment on speculation about the costs of Sizewell B. Nuclear Electric has recently reviewed the cost of Sizewell B, and I understand that it will publish its figure tomorrow. However, I shall seek to give the House an idea of the Government's consideration of Nuclear Electric's review during this afternoon's debate, if I should catch your eye, Mr. Speaker.

Dr. Michael Clark

If it is true that Sizewell B is costing considerably more than first envisaged, does my right hon. Friend share my disappointment that the nuclear industry, like so many others, cannot get construction costs right? Does he concede that Sizewell B is more than merely one additional power station? It is the forerunner of a series of power stations that are environmentally desirable, and an insurance policy for the future. When fossil fuel declines we shall still need electricity.

Mr. Wakeham

I am not prepared to confirm the speculative figures that I read about this morning.

Mr. Benn

Is the Secretary of State aware that every penny of the overrun will have to be paid by the taxpayer and that it amounts to a subsidy to nuclear power on a scale that the Government have never accepted in respect of the mining industry? Has the Commissioner with responsibility for energy in the European Community, which has taken an interest in the sweeteners that were paid for the purchase of Rover, asked the Government to make a full disclosure in this case?

Mr. Wakeham

I have clear responsibility for taxpayers' money, of which I am well aware. That is why I am not prepared to comment on or to accept the speculative figures that appeared in this morning's newspapers. We shall make our comments at the proper time and in the proper way. That will be after Nuclear Electric has published its review. As for the coal industry, the right hon. Gentleman once had the honour to hold the position that I now hold. The financial assistance and grants that have been made available to British Coal under this Administration exceed, in real terms, the total assistance from all previous Governments since the industry was nationalised.

Sir Trevor Skeet

Will the Secretary of State bear it in mind that behind Sizewell B is a nuclear industry that must not be allowed to disintegrate? Will he also bear in mind the long-term view that the nuclear industry will be essential to the United Kingdom when coal and natural gas run out?

Mr. Wakeham

Those are some of the many considerations that I have to take properly into account when considering those matters.

Mr. Dobson

Will the Secretary of State make a statement after Nuclear Electric has published its figures and will he confirm now that the figures that he says Nuclear Electric is to publish tomorrow will cover the whole of the extra costs, including those that must fall on Sizewell as a result of the cancellation of the other three pressurised water reactors? Will he also confirm that the costs of the £200 million nuclear research write-off will fall on Sizewell? Finally, can he confirm that if Sizewell is to continue, electricity users will have to pay at least twice as much for their electricity from Sizewell as from any other electricity generating station?

Mr. Wakeham

The hon. Gentleman would have been well advised to accept my advice not to press his questions at this time. I do not believe that the answers that he will receive a little later will be entirely to his liking. The best plan is to allow Nuclear Electric to publish its report and then decide what is the best thing to do.