HC Deb 17 February 1993 vol 219 cc309-10
8. Mr. Whittingdale

To ask the President of the Board of Trade whether he will make a statement on the future of the Magnox nuclear power stations.

The Minister for Energy (Mr. Tim Eggar)

My hon. Friend will be aware that my Department's coal review is nearing completion. The review is considering, among other issues, the impact of nuclear generation on the electricity market, including the position of the Magnox power stations.

Mr. Whittingdale

As the Magnox nuclear power stations have the lowest avoidable costs of any form of electricity generation, does my hon. Friend agree that it makes sense, economically and environmentally, to keep them in operation for as long as it is safe to do so and that this applies in particular to Bradwell power station in my constituency, which has just passed its long-term safety review with flying colours?

Mr. Eggar

I agree that nuclear stations, including the Magnox stations, offer considerable environmental benefits and, as the recent Ernst and Young study showed, have the lowest avoidable costs. Bradwell has performed particularly well and since the completion of its inspection has been available for 97 per cent. of the time—a high record of availability indeed.

Mr. Cunliffe

As the hon. Gentleman has probably now been convinced by his political colleagues that intervention is necessary to assist the 31 pits that are in jeopardy, does he believe that a genuine transfer of about half the nuclear levy for Magnox stations would help most of the collieries to survive? In the long term, if all the £1,270 million nuclear levy were transferred, it would assist all the 31 collieries to maintain production until supplies were exhausted.

Mr. Eggar

Those issues are among a number that are being considered by the review. The hon. Gentleman's proposition makes sense only if one assumes that the liabilities that rest on Nuclear Electric are not genuine liabilities, which has not yet been established.

Mr. Page

In supporting my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester, South and Maldon (Mr. Whittingdale), may I ask whether my hon. Friend is aware that the avoidable costs of the Magnox stations are the lowest in the nuclear industry and that comparisons with other forms of energy production show that they are considerably cheaper, at 1.2p per unit? Has a calculation been made of the costs of production of CO2, by other sources of electricity and the effect on our environment?

Mr. Eggar

My hon. Friend is right about the avoidable costs of Magnox stations, which are low. Their environmental impact is one of the factors that will be considered in the review.

Dr. Kim Howells

Does the Minister recognise that many of the Magnox stations are situated in some of the most remote areas of the country and are centres of high-paid employment in those areas? If he is going to announce the closure of Magnox reactors, will he ensure that he does not do so with the same ineptitude and thoughtlessness as he announced the pit closures?

Mr. Eggar

I am not sure whether the hon. Gentleman is in favour of or against closing Magnox reactors, but he makes a valid point: employment is associated with nuclear stations in much the same way as it is with mining.