§ 6. Mr. Simon Hughes
To ask the President of the Board of Trade if he will make a statement on his Department's policy in respect of the potential for extension of the life of the seven Magnox stations.
§ Mr. Eggar
It is for the operators of Magnox stations to assess the practicality of life extensions, taking fully into 254 account the safety requirements of the nuclear installations inspectorate. The review announced by my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade on 21 October will consider the implications of the statutory obligation on electricity suppliers to purchase non-fossil power, including that from nuclear sources.
§ Mr. Hughes
Is the Minister of State aware that Nuclear Electric's latest annual report shows that almost two thirds of the subsidy to the nuclear industry goes to prop up the operations of the Magnox stations, which were described by the President of the Board of Trade in an answer in October as being "old and unsafe", and of advanced gas-cooled reactors? How can the Government justify spending £783 million a year of taxpayers' money to bail out and keep going an old and unsafe nuclear industry, when perfectly up-to-date and safe coal mines are paying the price and being carved out of the electricity supply market?
§ Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman
When considering energy policy overall, will my hon. Friend not allow the very unfortunate events at Chernobyl, which not surprisingly raised considerable anxiety in the minds of the public, to colour our energy policy, and recall that nuclear power is the most enviromentally friendly power source?
§ Mr. Eggar
I am aware that that is a matter for considerable concern to large users, both in the Province and in the rest of the United Kingdom. It is one of the issues that will be covered by the review, and we had received evidence, especially from Northern Ireland interests, by the deadline that expired yesterday.
§ Mr. Mans
Will the Minister confirm that the cheapest electricity on the grid comes from nuclear power stations, and that by keeping them going longer we can spread the decommissioning costs over a longer period? Will my hon. Friend also confirm that the safety standards in nuclear stations are higher than those in coal-fired power stations, and that their accident record is better than that of coal-fired stations?
§ Mr. Eggar
I hear what my hon. Friend says. Of course, safety standards are covered by the nuclear installations inspectorate. With regard to the statistics on the costs, it is true that Magnox stations have low current operating costs per kilowatt hour, but they have high front-end capital costs and high back-end decommissioning costs.
§ Mr. Miller
Is the Minister aware that trade unions representing workers in the nuclear industry have given their commitment in writing to support the future of the coal mining industry in this country, and that they and their coal mining colleagues want a strategic energy review to be published? Members of the House, too, want such a 255 review to be published and want there to be a stated strategy, in the interests of supply from all sources throughout the energy industry.
§ Mr. Batiste
If the seven Magnox stations were closed, and the Government maintained their commitment to controlling atmospheric pollution, would not there be a threat to several coal-fired power stations and the pits that they support?
§ Mr. Eggar
Undoubtedly one of the many issues that we shall have to consider in the review is the interaction between methods of electricity generation and the environmental obligations into which we have entered. I believe that my hon. Friend is saying that if we had less nuclear-generated electricity, and therefore more coal-generated electricity, there would be an impact on emission levels.