HL Deb 25 May 1965 vol 266 cc793-7

6.58 p.m.


My Lords, with your Lordships' permission, I will now answer the Question addressed to me earlier by the noble Lord, Lord Sherfield, by repeating a Statement which has been made by my right honourable friend the Minister of Power in another place earlier to-day. I shall read the Statement in his own words:

"In accordance with the policy set out in the White Paper The Second Nuclear Power Programme published in April, 1964, the Central Electricity Generating Board issued an inquiry for tenders for the second nuclear station to be built at Dungeness—Dungeness 'B' While inviting tenders for an advanced gas-cooled reactor station, of the kind which has been developed in this country by the Atomic Energy Authority, the Board stated that they were also ready to consider tenders from British industry for water-moderated reactor systems of proved designs such as those developed in the United States.

"The tenders, which were received in February, 1965, included proposals for both advanced gas-cooled and water-moderated reactors.

"The tenders for Dungeness 'B' have now been assessed by the Genera- ting Board, in conjunction with the Atomic Energy Authority, and they have informed me that the advanced gas-cooled reactor shows clear economic and technical advantages over the alternative systems and has a good potential for further development. It will also generate base load power more cheaply than a contemporary coal fired station.

"I have accepted the joint recommendation that an advanced gas-cooled reactor system should be adopted at Dungeness 'B'."


My Lords, will it be in order for me to say that I think this is an occasion for congratulation to the Atomic Energy Authority for a really remarkable technical breakthrough? I hope that this may be conveyed to them.


My Lords, I entirely agree with the noble Lord. This is a great achievement for British industry.


My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that this decision will indeed be very welcome to the scientists and engineers of the Atomic Energy Authority, who have developed this system under a running fire of criticism, and, indeed, even of denigration, from some sections of the Press and from other quarters? Would the noble Lord perhaps not agree that this is a good opportunity to repair the damage which has, I think, been done as a result of this criticism, and the delay which has occurred, to our prospects of selling nuclear products abroad? I am sure noble Lords will agree that premature claims—I will not say exaggerated claims —have been made for atomic energy progress in the past. But that is no reason, I suggest, to undervalue or underrate what is, in fact, a fine British achievement.


My Lords, I welcome the statements made by the noble Lord, who has himself had much to do with this present achievement. I agree with him that the decision now made will greatly enhance our prospects of selling British plants abroad. I am aware that premature claims have damaged the industry, but the British industry has been, by implication, damaged by extravagant claims made overseas for other plant. It is very good news that we now know we can produce a British plant which can lead the world.


My Lords, I should like to add my congratulations to the Atomic Energy Authority. I think ment. Although the technical achieve-this breakthrough is a wonderful achievements of the gas-cooled plants at Bradwell and Berkeley were wonderful, they were not in the ultimate price competitive with the most efficient steam stations. I think this is a wonderful breakthrough, and it will help this country enormously to be able to sell more plant abroad. I should like to associate myself with the congratulations to the Atomic Energy Authority.


My Lords, I think the Statement which the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, has made is very important indeed. At the outset, I should like to say how much we all welcome this decision that a British advanced gas-cooled reactor should be adopted. This is a triumph for British engineers, and it is a matter for great congratulation. Can the noble Lord say how much this is likely to cost? Is he in a position to say when building is likely to be started and when the plant is likely to become operational? It may be that he cannot say at this moment when it will be, but if he can, I think it will be an advantage.

I believe that the most important part of the noble Lord's Statement came at the very end, when he said: It will also generate base load power more cheaply than a contemporary coal fired station. This is of extreme importance, because up to now the generating capacity of a nuclear powered station has always been cheaper to run, but the capital cost has been greater. I understand from the Statement that the noble Lord has made that, taking into account both the capital cost of building the station and the running cost, the result is going to be cheaper than a coal fired system. If this is so, it obviously raises great matters in regard to fuel policy. I wonder whether the noble Lord would consider the Government's publishing a White Paper on their fuel policy, to state exactly how this new breakthrough of atomic energy is going to be co-ordinated into the fuel policy of the country.


My Lords, answering the noble Earl's last question first, the Generating Board intend to make a full statement when the contract negotiations have been completed later in the summer. A contract has not yet been finally agreed, although a statement is being issued to-day which will give rather more details. But it is not at present possible for me to say when the plant will be constructed.

What I said in my original Statement covers all costs, capital and maintenance, on the basis of the rules to which we have been accustomed in this country. If a longer life and higher load factor for Dungeness were to be assumed, this would tend to increase the advantages of A.G.R.


My Lords, I live within seven or eight miles of Dungeness, and I should like to congratulate the Government on this new project. However, I should like to ask the Government to consider the serious question of the shortage of fresh water, and whether they could incorporate in their contract some scheme for converting sea water at Dungeness into fresh water. If we are going to have cheap power in Dungeness, why should we not have some water, of which we are very short, especially on Romney Marsh, where the waterfall is only about 19 inches?


My Lords, I am glad to have the noble Lord's welcome, he living so near the area. It is the case that the site will not involve any planning or amenity problems. With regard to the point put by the noble Lord about water, I think that is another question, although the suggestion he has made will be conveyed to my right honourable friend.


My Lords, is it not the fact that the desalination system is incorporated in the design? I think it is.


My Lords, I do not think the details of that have been finalised. As I said, the contract has not yet been placed. There were six designs, and I did not say which has been selected.