HC Deb 21 July 1993 vol 229 cc338-9
5. Mr. Martyn Jones

To ask the President of the Board of Trade what is the current output from United Kingdom nuclear power plants.

Mr. Eggar

In the first quarter of 1993, nuclear power stations in the United Kingdom supplied 21.8 TWh of electricity.

Mr. Jones

I thank the Minister for that somewhat delayed reply, which I think shows that the amount of nuclear energy, as a proportion of our total energy requirements, that we are using has not really changed for a number of years. Moreover, the fast breeder reactor programme has been shut down. If I am right, surely it is pointless to go ahead with the THORP facility, as it will only increase the amount of bomb-grade plutonium in the world and will not add to our energy supplies.

Mr. Eggar

It is right to pay tribute to the nuclear industry, which has increased output from its stations, particularly from the advanced gas-cooled reactors, by a considerable amount.

There was a debate in the House on THORP, when the House made its view very clear.

Mr. Oppenheim

Will my hon. Friend gently remind Opposition Members that it was part of Labour's great post-war energy strategy to give in to lobbying by industrial vested interests and boffins, and to reject cheaper, proven technologies in favour of complex, untried advanced gas-cooled reactors—the true cost of which was not even known until privatisation? Compounding that by opting for expensive domestic coal instead of cheaper, cleaner gas from which other countries were benefiting surely shows that, although decisions made by markets may not be perfect, they are a great deal less imperfect than decisions made by politicians and bureaucrats.

Mr. Eggar

They are undoubtedly much better than those made by the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn).

Mr. Wigley

Is the Minister aware that, in the wake of the announcement yesterday about the closure of the Trawsfynydd nuclear power station and the loss of 500 jobs, a positive proposal is being put forward for Trawsfynydd to be adapted as a centre for decommissioning skills, which would enable the technology developed there to be exported to other areas? Will the Minister give a commitment that the Government will do everything they can to facilitate this, in order to provide replacement jobs for those that will be lost from our community?

Mr. Eggar

I have spoken to the hon. Gentleman's hon. Friend the Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd) about this, and to Nuclear Electric on a contingency basis, not only about potential plans for the use of the station site but more multi-skilling of the existing work force.

The hon. Gentleman knows that it will be some time before there are any significant job losses, although the details have not yet been released. There will be a phase when considerable numbers of employees will be needed. I know that Nuclear Electric is addressing those issues, and I would urge the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friend to enter into discussions with Nuclear Electric's senior management.

Mr. Dickens

Is it not as sure as night follows day that one day gas, coal and oil will be depleted? It is at that time that we shall thank our engineers and scientists for our reprocessing techniques and dry storage. It is very important for the future that we have a long-term nuclear industry in the United Kingdom, and that we are a long-term player.

Mr. Eggar

I hear what my hon. Friend says. There is an important role for renewables, and we shall shortly embark on a nuclear review, when we will look at the future role for our nuclear industry.

Mr. O'Neill

Does the Minister agree that the announcement of the closure of Trawsfynydd is the first occasion on which the nuclear inspectorate has closed a power station on safety grounds? The safety authority is now clearly willing to take such tough decisions. In future, the debate about nuclear power in this country will revolve around economic questions, and the size of the subsidy that the industry should or should not receive.

Before the Minister starts on the nuclear review, will he say what guidelines he has given to those carrying out the review, so that we can understand how it will proceed? At the moment, as long as the nuclear industry continues to receive its massive subsidy, there will be suspicion about the calculations that are made about its future and economic viability.

Mr. Eggar

Uncharacteristically, I think that the hon. Gentleman is, by implication, being unfair to the nuclear inspectorate. It is true that this is the first time that a station has been closed because of safety considerations, but the inspectorate has always had rigorous standards, and it is recognised around the world for imposing them. There are a number of issues that have to be considered while we are working towards an announcement on the nuclear review, and the issues raised by the hon. Gentleman are among them.