HL Deb 22 March 1983 vol 440 cc999-1000
Lord Orr-Ewing

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government how many serious incidents, likely to cause a significant health hazard, have occurred at nuclear installations since 1979.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Energy (The Earl of Avon)

My Lords, no serious incidents, as defined in the Nuclear Installations (Dangerous Occurrences) Regulations 1965, have occurred at nuclear installations in the United Kingdom since 1979. Indeed, none has occurred since the regulations were drawn up in 1965.

Lord Orr-Ewing

My Lords, will my noble friend accept that those figures are extremely satisfactory, and does it not suggest that those who campaign against nuclear power stations are either ill-informed or deeply prejudiced? Is my noble friend able to tell the House whether minor incidents are large in number, and are they falling in a satisfactory manner?

The Earl of Avon

My Lords, the figures that we have for incidents generally, reported since 1977, started in 1977 with 69 and have gradually declined since 1978 until they reached a figure of 11 in 1982.

Viscount St. Davids

My Lords, will the noble Earl confirm that the amount of radiation emitted by these installations is comparatively small and is, strangely enough, less than that produced by the fumes from the burning of coal?

The Earl of Avon

My Lords, the noble Viscount—as so often—is ahead of me with his comparisons, but I can confirm the former part of his question.

Lord Davies of Leek

My Lords, we thank the noble Earl for his answers. Will he confirm that the Irish Sea is now one of the most radioactive seas and already it is affecting the fish? That is a scientific fact. Can it be denied?

The Earl of Avon

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Leek, asks whether it can be denied. I certainly cannot deny it. But if he likes to put down the question at another time I shall endeavour to answer it properly.

Lord Leatherland

My Lords, will the Minister also tell us whether the state of the Irish Sea will cause any harm to the women bathers from Blackpool?

The Earl of Avon

My Lords, we are straying a little from the subject matter. If the noble Lord would like to talk about wave power, I shall happily answer him.

Lord Orr-Ewing

My Lords, will my noble friend, in view of the Answer that he gave to my original Question, make sure that the Government continue with pressure to plan, develop and produce nuclear power stations? Is he also aware that one of the reasons why French energy is so much cheaper than British energy is because they rely not only on their hydroelectric generation, which is a geographical fact, but very largely on nuclear power stations, which are much cheaper in supplying power to industry and to homes?

The Earl of Avon

My Lords, I agree with my noble friend that that is indeed one of the factors why French electricity prices are more reasonable than our own. I should add that the Government consider that safety is of paramount importance and the nuclear industry has an excellent safety record. The United Kingdom now has a quarter of a century of safe nuclear power and in over 300 reactors has accumulated years of experience in operating commercial nuclear power stations.

Lord Blyton

My Lords, is the Minister aware that any argument for nuclear power stations means the destruction of the coal industry and that there is 350 years of coal under our feet? Is the policy to destroy the coal industry in favour of nuclear energy?

The Earl of Avon

No, my Lords, it is not. I am afraid that I cannot agree with the noble Lord's hypothesis.

Lord Ezra

My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord the Minister whether, in reference to the cheapness of French electricity, he could indicate to us what are the losses made by the French electricity industry compared with the profits made by the British electricity industry?

The Earl of Avon

My Lords, once again I think that we are straying a little from the subject matter and I have not tried to extrapolate the EDF's finances over the past year.

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