§ 4 p.m.
§ Viscount Davidson rose to move, That this House takes note of the Inspector's Report on the Central Electricity Generating Board's application for consent for construction of a pressurised water reactor at Sizewell, Suffolk.
§ The noble Viscount said: I welcome the fact that the House will today be debating the Central Electricity Generating Board's application for consent to build a pressurised water reactor at Sizewell. We have a long tradition in this House of constructive, balanced and informed debates on nuclear matters, and I am sure that today's debate will be no exception. I know that many noble Lords wish to speak, so I shall keep my own contribution brief.
§ I begin by welcoming the fact that the noble Lord, Lord Wyatt of Weeford, has chosen to make his maiden speech in this debate. I am sure that I speak for all your Lordships in saying how much we look forward to it.
§ Parliament has given my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Energy the responsibility for taking the decision on the CEGB's application to build Sizewell B. This effectively places him in a judicial position, and means that it would not be right for me to comment on any of the issues covered in the inspector's report or otherwise related to the proposal to build Sizewell B until the Secretary of State has reached his decision.
§ The purpose of this debate is thus not for me to explain the Government's views, but to enable the Government to listen with care to the views expressed in this House. Following the debate I will report back to my right honourable friend who I know will study the entire report of our proceedings with great care.
§ The inspector and his staff had a tremendous task facing them. The inquiry which opened in January 1983 and continued until March 1985, having heard 340 days of evidence, was the longest and most exhaustive planning inquiry in our history. The inspector, Sir Frank Layfield, was assisted by four skilled assessors and a small but dedicated secretariat. Together they devoted themselves to a painstaking analysis of both the arguments for and against the building of a PWR reactor at Sizewell. It is a tribute to their skill and application that, irrespective of the views that any of us may have of the recommendations or observations made in it, we can all agree that Sir Frank has produced a very readable report despite the vast quantity of the evidence with which he had to deal.
§ I should like now to say a few words about the general energy background against which our debate is taking place today. Whatever decisions are made world-wide about the forms of energy which should be developed, they are decisions which are likely to have a profound effect for decades to come. It is only in recent years that energy problems have come to the forefront of political and economic debate. Nobody in the year 1900 would have predicted that the world's population would quadruple or that industrialisation would proceed to the degree that has now taken place with the resulting pressure on natural resources. There 456 is one thing that virtually all forecasts of energy demand have in common, and that has been that they have to be wrong. It is a striking fact that this has, in most cases, been due to under-estimation both of the growth of population and the spread of industrialisation.
§ It is impossible to predict with any certainty what changes we might see in population or industrialisation into the next century. But what is certain is that the experience of the past and the potential for world-wide growth in the next century show that the western world must pursue flexible energy policies aimed at meeting the potential needs of the future.
§ No doubt some noble Lords will wish to stress not only the contribution that can be made by nuclear energy, if that course is pursued, but also the potential contributions from other forms of energy. Some, like coal, oil and gas, and hydro-power, are already well developed. Others like solar power, wind power, tidal and wave power and geothermal energy, have been researched extensively both here and internationally. Improved energy efficiency provides scope for a very important contribution towards balancing supply and demand.
§ Knowing the interest and knowledge within this House on all aspects of the energy scene, I look forward to listening today to a debate which I know will be of a high quality, and in which I am sure that constructive and creative views will be expressed. I beg to move.
§ Moved, That this House takes note of the Inspector's Report on the Central Electricity Generating Board's application for consent for construction of a pressurised water reactor at Sizewell, Suffolk.—(Viscount Davidson.)
§ 4.5 p.m.
Lord Bruce of Donington
My Lords, the House would wish to commend, as indeed I myself would wish to commend, the stand that the Government have taken on this vital question. It is one in which the future of our country is largely bound up; it is a matter which is going to have a profound effect on sections of our own population. Therefore, one is bound to welcome the quite genuine attitude of the Government—which I sincerely trust it is—that their mind is not made up upon this matter, but that they will in fact listen with open minds to the contributions made in another place and those to be made in your Lordships' House today.
I have to congratulate the Government on a second count—their appointment of Sir Frank Layfield to conduct this inquiry together with his assessors. It is clear from a reading of the report that a prodigious amount of work has gone into it. Sir Frank and his assessors have had patiently to listen to, or read, some 16 million words, I am told, in the course of arriving at their conclusion. I know, having spent only 10 days upon it myself, part time, what a strain this must have been upon all of them, particularly Sir Frank. We, on this side, wish to congratulate him on his efforts and for showing the degree of impartiality and thorough-ness required on a vital question of this kind.
Sir Frank seems to have taken to heart the well-known saying that experts should be on tap, never on 457 top. Although, in many ways, he has been compelled to rely—and quite properly rely—upon the assurances that he has received from the Central Electricity Generating Board, and in particular the noble Lord, Lord Marshall, concerning matters that it would have taken much longer, perhaps years, to bring before him, his report has been done with impartiality.
The report arrives at a conclusion. It is best reproduced in this quotation:In forming my recommendations on whether consent and deemed planning permission should be granted for Sizewell B, I have weighed the advantages and disadvantages of the proposed station. The disadvantages are of two principal kinds: risks to health and safety, and environmental damage to the locality. If consent is to be given, these disadvantages must be outweighed by anticipated economic benefits for the nation".Sir Frank says later:In my judgment the expected national economic benefits are sufficient to justify the risks that would he incurred".Therefore, it is a balancing judgment in which known factors have had to be taken into account both as regards risk and safety, and also unknown factors such as future economic circumstances, and the somewhat ambiguous considerations, I am bound to say, which emerge from what is popularly called cost-benefit analysis, and so on.
My first observation for the attention of your Lordships is to invite you to consider whether these conclusions, which were reached some time ago, indeed prior to Chernobyl and prior to the very considerable decline in the price of both oil and coal, would have today in those circumstances have arrived at the same balance. This is a matter on which there are a variety of views. They have already been expressed in another place and therefore have already been taken into account, or are in the process of being taken into account, by the right honourable gentleman the Minister concerned. I shall not go into further detail here for the purposes of saving time. However, I repeat that I wonder whether this decision would have been the same in current circumstances.
Sometimes we are in danger of forgetting that the report was concerned not only with the pressurised water reactor as a principle and with the engineering and other problems concerned with it but with wider issues. It is common knowledge—indeed it was hinted at in the report—that the decision about this station for which application is made would have certain influences on the extension of the PWR policy as advocated by the CEGB. Perhaps we could concentrate on the proposed station. A broader consideration of the matter involves the question of safety and health risks, and in this instance it raises environmental questions as well.
With your Lordships' permission I should like to reproduce what Sir Frank says about this aspect:The Sizewell site is within the Suffolk Heritage Coast and the Suffolk Coast and Heaths Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty"—and—The development of Sizewell B would be a massive intrusion into the area".The quotation continues:Only proven national interest and lack of alternative sites can justify the construction of Sizewell B".Quite independently of the other and very important questions that arise in the British 458 population as a whole, I shall draw your Lordships' attention to what I call the possible plight of the inhabitants of Sizewell itself, who are few in number; of Saxmundham, which has a population of 2,400; of Aldeburgh, which is well known to your Lordships, which has a population of 2,900 and which is only four and half miles away; and of Leiston, with a population of 5,100 only two miles from the proposed site. There is the broader canvas of Suffolk itself, in particular the eastern part, which has a total population of only 624,200; that is, slightly over 1 per cent. of the population in the United Kingdom.
I invite your Lordships, all other things being equal (I deliberately use the term), to consider whether those of us, perhaps the majority, who live outside the area—particularly those experts so well addicted to the engineering abilities and everything else which are inherent in the Sizewell project—have a moral right to exert authority over the peace, tranquility, way of life, traditions, scenic beauty, serenity and all the other aspects associated with the well-being of those living and working in the area. That is an aspect which I propose to leave to your Lordships for the moment.
The report says that the development can be justified only if the national interest justifies it. We have heard many times the words "national interest". We have seen how that phrase can be widely or narrowly interpreted, as members of various political parties and of none seek to bring before your Lordships their concept of the national interest. But there must be a clearly defined national advantage to validate a decision in favour of a project of this kind. The dangers and the risks on the one hand have to be assessed against the economic advantages, whatever they may be, on the other.
I think there is common ground in your Lordships' House that one of the matters causing worry among not only the inhabitants of East Suffolk and its neighbourhood, but more widely in the public domain, is the danger to health from radiation. Radiation is not a perceived danger in the same sense as fire or tempest. It is silent, it cannot be seen and the effects are not immediately perceptible. Even normal radiation may—and we are still not sure—give rise to cancer of some kind. I think it is common ground that prolonged exposure to radiation can through the development of cancer inflict damage not only to the structure of the body but also to the blood in terms of leukaemia.
I do not want to add to any scaremongering stories, but the state of science is not far enough advanced for us yet to know the exact amount of radiation required to trigger off the onslaught of this dread disease among people of all ages. For some it is quite clear that even the most minuscule addition to radiation is sufficient to trigger it off. Others may be exposed to large doses of radiation but nevertheless do not develop the disease. We do not know; and at the moment medical science does not have a cure for this dread affliction. Once again I am not seeking to scare people or to raise undue alarm about these matters, but there is that danger.
That danger arises from all kinds of leaks. We have had the grim reminder of a large-scale leak at Chernobyl, where, compared with an atomic bomb or 459 a hydrogen bomb explosion, there was a mere puff of smoke which went across the top of Europe, the effects of which we are not entirely sure about because we do not yet know how far the radiation has gone into the food chain. Therefore we are in the realm of uncertainty.
We know that one of the principal causes of accidents of all kinds is the human being—the human factor—however capable he may be as regards mathematical calculation; and I have observed the figures for mathematical calculation put forward by the CEGB. We cannot predict such factors.
Defects may arise in respect of design and construction. Your Lordships will remember that in the case of the appalling incident concerning "Challenger" it was a defect in construction—a very small defect—that resulted in the terrible disaster. It was an error which was to some extent aided by the commercial pressures which are never absent from modern society and which made the achievement of a deadline absolutely imperative.
There are possible human errors in design and construction, as well as the human errors that may arise in operation. Although we have fail-save mechanisms, there may even be design or material defects in those. Certainly there may be defects in monitoring. There may also be human defects and human errors in maintenance and repair. There is scope for human error in waste transportation and disposal. These are the dangers that arise from human error; and who is to say that they are to be impossible? The chances are a million to one, so it is said, or they may be 100,000 to one or 10 to one. Nobody can say for sure, except on statistical projections, which very often have little relevance. Nobody can be absolutely sure about this.
What do we have to set against those dangers? Against those dangers, which are widely acknowledged, we have the results of a cost-benefit analysis which indicate that perhaps now, in the light of modern circumstances, it is more economic—whatever the term may mean—to go over to nuclear energy. There are those—and the trend has been increasing over the past 10 years—who know the cost of everything and the value of nothing. In that connection no economic value is apparently placed upon health and well-being or upon truth, integrity or that degree of personal serenity which ought to be the right of every individual on this planet and certainly the right of people living near Sizewell.
We think therefore that the balance must be in doubt, and I venture to ask your Lordships this. What is the hurry? With the issues so finely balanced—in fact some may think they go the other way and the risks and hazards greatly outweigh the economic benefits put forward—why is there this hurry? It is not as though we are devoid of fuel resources. Coal resources alone on modern estimates will last for 200 to 300 years. There is no absence of fuel on which we can depend. In the hopeful circumstance when the manufacturing economy once again begins to accelerate past its 1979 level there will be need for energy. But why the hurry?
Even on the assumption that the use of coal meant extra expenditure and that it cost more, we seem to 460 have been able over the past few years to have expended thousands of millions of pounds on purposes deemed to be of national importance. For example, we spent £7,000 million on the Falklands war. We spent £5,200 million on winning the miners' strike. We have spent £8,000 million in supporting the European Community and it is likely to cost us a further £800 million to £1,000 million a year. I am not for the moment disputing the purposes behind this expenditure. That would involve me in political argument and I am most anxious not to intrude a party note into this debate. Nevertheless, such expenditure shows a willingness and an ability to spend extra money where extra money is required.
I suggest that the prudent view for this House to take is this. It is for this House to say that we have to take the risks, which are all too apparent, seriously into account until such time as the advance of science, and in particular medical science, has enabled the problem of the causes, treatment and cure of cancer to be solved. I am old enough to remember the time when TB was a killer disease: it was a sentence of death. That has now passed. With the coming of antibiotics and various other drugs that have been invented since, there is reasonable prospect, well within the time when our coal can be usefully expended, for these problems to be solved.
In addition there are the other sources of energy. I invite those Members of your Lordships' House who may be interested in the more non-traditional forms of energy to meditate upon the fact that, for example, there has existed for some time the Joint European Torus project for the production of energy by fusion. This is a long way off yet, but who is to say that in perhaps 50 or 100 years' time we may not be able to produce nuclear energy by means that do not bring about the deadly hazards which people now apprehend and which they ought not to have to fear?
Finally, there is the moral point which I venture to put to your Lordships. Even on the optimistic assumption—I hope not too optimistic—that most of your Lordships will attain the age achieved by the late Lord Shinwell, we are all life-tenants on the face of the earth and our lives are limited. Are we now justified, on the basis of the information that is available before us, in taking a decision the effects of which we shall not feel but which may be felt and possibly endured and suffered by our grandchildren and their children? I mentioned human error, and it may well be that in arriving at that opinion I have made an error as well. But I venture to think not, and I commend my views to your Lordships.
§ 4.30 p.m.
§ Lord Ezra
My Lords, I should like to join with the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, in expressing appreciation to the Government for the way in which they have handled this inquiry. It is unusual for an inquiry of this sort to be subjected to debate in both Houses of Parliament before a decision is reached. That is a good move. Although the right honourable gentleman the Secretary of State for Energy stated that the move was without precedent, I hope that it will in fact become a precedent. I believe that it adds to the democratic way of dealing with our affairs and I 461 welcome this opportunity of debating the matter fully before a decision is taken.
I should also like, along with the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, to pay tribute to the painstaking work undertaken by the inspector on this report. The report is extremely lengthy. However, it is well written, clear and decisive. We could not have expected a better report.
I should also like to add a tribute to the electricity industry of this country. We are fortunate to have an industry which is among the most efficient in the world today. I had to deal very often with that industry in supplying it with a primary source of energy. Those were very tough negotiations. However, I respected the industry's skill.
We are not trying in this debate to diminish in any way the capability of our electricity industry but rather to add to it by coming to the right decision on a major issue. As the noble Viscount, Lord Davidson, said, we are raising a major matter of energy policy. We are not dealing with one single project in itself; we are dealing with the issue of energy policy and how our energy policy will develop in the years ahead.
I have had the opportunity of being involved in the assessment of many major capital projects in the public sector, in the coal industry, and more recently in the private sector. Therefore, if your Lordships will allow me, I should like to look at this project as I would if it were coming to the boardroom of a major energy company involved in a variety of fuels of world-wide importance. I should like to suggest to your Lordships how we might assess the project in those circumstances.
We should obviously start with the very important report prepared by the inspector. We should note that his conclusion, following a painstaking inquiry and carefully prepared report, was that we should proceed with the project for a PWR station at Sizewell. However, as the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, has pointed out and as is well known to all of us, many things have happened since the inquiry was held. The inspector was undoubtedly constrained to take account in his report of what was said at the inquiry itself. But since then, looking at this matter purely on economic grounds and leaving out other issues, the price of oil has virtually halved and the price of coal has also halved.
We must consider, as a body looking at the economic aspects of the proposal before we look at it in a wider context, the extent to which that change has affected our assessment of the project. if we were to develop and extend the current prices of oil and coal in the same way in which the inspector extended the prices he considered to be relevant at the time of the inquiry to the end of the century, we should come to a situation in which it would be very doubtful whether this particular project—I do not speak here of any subsequent PWRs which might be more cheaply produced—was economic.
Taking coal as an example, the inspector discounted the coal price put forward for the year 2000 by the CEGB and by the Department of Energy and took a lower price of 86 dollars per tonne. If the current lower price were taken into account, the general consensus of opinion is that by the year 2000 we could be facing a 462 coal price of something of the order of 50 dollars a tonne of suitable steam-raising coal. I do not pretend that any estimate is correct. I merely project in the same way in which the inspector did on the prices presented to him at the time of the inquiry. If one projected the present price, there is little doubt that the economic case presented in the report is suspect
This is not the conclusion merely of those, of whom I might be considered to be one, who support one form of energy against another. It is the result of very detailed studies made by independent authorities. I should like to quote the Cambridge Energy Research Organisation which as recently as February of this year issued a report which concluded:The once prevalent view that nuclear power is cheaper than coal cannot now be used as a basis for rational decision-making by utilities and governments".That is an independent assessment.
I have worked out the cost of generating electricity on the basis of the projection of present prices of fossil fuels compared with the views taken at the time of the Sizewell report. Given the cost estimates that were presented and assuming that everything went exactly according to plan, I have compared the PWR with the coal costs based on Sir Frank Layfield's estimate. I have then taken the views expressed in relation to what is now expected to be the coal price in the year 2000. On the basis of the PWR figures, the cost in terms of pence per kilowatt hour of generated electricity would be 2.83. On the basis of the figures which Sir Frank Layfield used in his report, costs of generating electricity by coal, with the most up-to-date methods and sulphur free would be 3.80. However, on the most recent figures of coal prices projected in the same way as was done with prices then obtaining, the cost would be 2.66. Therefore, we are comparing 2.66 with 2.83.
That may not appear to be a large margin. However, may I draw your Lordships' attention to another matter which any commercial concern would be bound to consider. In making all these estimates, the inspector based the configuration on a 5 per cent. discount rate. He makes no comment on that; he merely says that that was the figure that he was given. But a 5 per cent. discount rate on a project costing £14 billion is hardly supportable today.
A few days ago in this House we were debating the Channel Tunnel project. The discount rate which they proposed, for which there was not unanimous support, was 17 per cent. Here we are talking about locking in £1½ billion to a discount rate of 5 per cent. If, as would be reasonable, this were increased to 10 per cent., having regard to present interest rates, then the margin between coal and nuclear would be very much wider. So I believe that if we were looking at this quite objectively as a commercial concern at the present time, as to whether we should go ahead with the PWR project with all the costs proposed and a 5 per cent. discount rate or with the new and much lower cost of fossil fuels, we would begin to have very serious doubts.
However, coal is not the only alternative. So I think that any self-respecting commercial organisation would consider all the other alternatives to produce the energy which we require in the country. We have, for example, the possibility of refurbishing the smaller 463 electricity generating stations which would otherwise go out of action. Now there is a large-scale programme for the closure of smaller stations. Should we be closing them? Should we not be refurbishing them with more up-to-date equipment, at a much lower capital cost and much nearer the sources of consumption than these large new stations in remote sites? Should we not be making sure that this might be a way of meeting at least part of the additional load?
Secondly, we have the question of combined heat and power. I am very sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Marshall, who is sitting here will not be participating in our debate, but I can understand why. He was responsible for a very important report on this subject of combined heat and power and what it could contribute to our energy resources in this country. Since his report was published some years ago, very little progress has been made in Britain but there has been substantial progress in other countries. Indeed, this is referred to by the inspector in his report. He said that he could not comment on this issue but he drew attention to the way in which we were lagging behind other countries.
As your Lordships will be well aware, combined heat and power projects generate energy, electricity and heat combined to give much greater efficiency than is possible with one or the other on its own. Then we have, as we were debating only recently in reply to a Question, the possibility of the Severn and the Mersey barrages. Again, the inspector referred to them and thought they were longer term.
But overriding all this is the question of energy efficiency, the way in which we could perhaps, by putting more money into the campaign so effectively launched by the present Secretary of State for Energy, save a very large part of what might be needed by main new power station construction.
I conclude that having subjected this searching inquiry and report to careful consideration in today's circumstances—we are not concerned with what may have been valid yesterday or the day before, or even what may be valid tomorrow—what we must do as a nation is to make an important decision for a major capital project today. In today's circumstances I think the answer is that we must be prudent, we must be cautious about this.
What we ought to do, if I may suggest it, is that if we need the extra generating capacity—and I am satisfied that the CEGB has made out a good case for this—then we should go for a couple of well-tried coal-fired stations with desulphurisation plant. In the meantime, while this is being done and meeting our essential generating requirements, we should ponder further whether we go for a PWR or for an AGR for which a case has again been very elegantly made in correspondence in The Times, or whether we should develop other sources. In other words, we would be wise not to rush this. I realise that to say we should not rush something which has already taken several years might be looked at askance, but we must take things as they are today. I believe that the right thing to do is to take the prudent course, to do this by stages.
I would strongly recommend to your Lordships that the advice we give the Government is that further time 464 for reflection is required, that there are the means for adding to our energy supply without making a major decision which in the years ahead we might feel was premature.
§ 4.47 p.m.
§ Lord Wyatt of Weeford
My Lords, it is nearly 42 years since I made a maiden speech in this Chamber. Your Lordships had kindly lent it to another place after their Chamber had been wrecked by Hitler. I was nervous then. After listening for several weeks to the terrifyingly high quality of the speeches in your Lordships' House, I am much more nervous today. So I crave your indulgence. During my first maiden speech, the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor (as he now is) was unconventionally moved to interrupt me. It was the only lively moment during a dull speech! Today I have been warned not to provoke anyone. I shall attempt to avoid that by trying to stick to generally agreed facts.
Over 30 years ago Calder Hall was the first nuclear power station in the world to supply grid electricity. Now nuclear power provides 70 per cent. of electricity in France, 55 per cent. in Belgium, 45 per cent. in Sweden. The Soviet Union, despite Chernobyl, has one of the largest nuclear power programmes, but of the top industrial nations we have one of the smallest. We produce only 17 per cent. to 18 per cent. of our electricity through nuclear power, yet we were the pioneers.
The noble Lord, Lord Wilson of Rievaulx, practically won the 1964 election with his speech at the October 1963 Labour Party Converence when he commended to us the "white heat of the technological revolution". The Layfield Inquiry into Sizewell B gives us at last the opportunity to catch up in that technological revolution in which we have been left so far behind. It is the longest, most detailed, most thorough, most penetrating and most authoritative inquiry ever made into the economics and safety of nuclear power. It will be a classic for generations all over the world.
I shall take the economics first. Layfield backed a PWR station. He said that the old-fashioned AGR had only a one in five chance of being more economic. Some 350 PWR stations are working already in the world. It is the modern system. It is obvious that if there are to be export orders connected with nuclear power stations that is the system we must have. It is the design that the customer. the CEGB, wants, and that customer is very astute. It is similar to Calloway in Missouri and Wolf Creek in Kansas, which operate far more efficiently and cheaply than our AGR stations.
Layfield showed that Sizewell B will be cheaper to run than a coal-fired station, even if the current and temporarily low international coal prices were 20 per cent. less than they are today and if oil prices never rose. But the CEGB gets only 12 million tonnes of its 70 million tonnes a year from British Coal at international prices. The far higher price of the rest costs the CEGB at least an extra £250 million a year. It is clear that British Coal cannot make coal-fired power stations genuinely compete with nuclear power.
There is another worry. The great new Selby coalfield is already under threat from militants in the 465 National Union of Mineworkers. During the whole of last week they ran a damaging strike at the five pits of Selby without a ballot of the members. British Coal did not take out an injunction to stop this unlawful strike. The militants had organised several one-day illegal stoppages before. They plan more destruction. You cannot say that coal is in secure supply; not even from Selby.
It is intended that Sizewell B will be one of a series of three to five new PWR stations. As Sizewell B will have absorbed £200 million of the launching costs its successors will be still cheaper.
I come now to the safety factors. I have searched for one case of the death of a nuclear power worker directly attributable to a radiation leak. There is none. Thousands of workers in other industries are killed yearly but none through radiation in the nuclear power industry. It is as safe as working in a solicitor's office.
The amount of radiation exposure is less than a half that received by aircrews through cosmic rays. The amount of radiation emanating from our nuclear industry is 0.1 per cent. of all the radiation we are subjected to from natural and other sources. There is far more radiation on the beaches of Cornwall than on the beaches of Sellafield. It comes from the rocks. If the same standards were applied to Cornwall as those that the opponents of nuclear power demand from nuclear power stations, Cornwall would be a prohibited area. As a quarter Cornishman who spent much of his childhood there, I would consider that farcical, just as prohibition on car, rail or air travel would be farcical because people are killed by them.
Attempts are made to show that there are higher than normal rates of leukaemia and cancer near nuclear power stations. But there are higher than average rates in many places nowhere near nuclear power stations. There is no set pattern, however much one tries to prove it. The Office of Population Censuses and Surveys records of 1968 to 1980 that:careful scrutiny shows no indication of an abnormal pattern of leukaemia in locations where CEGB nuclear installations are in operation".But what about Chernobyl? Last August Academician Legasov led the Russian delegation to the Vienna conference. He said that the Chernobyl accident was not possible in any commercial reactor elsewhere. He admitted that Chernobyl had defects in design never repeated outside Russia. That combined with a disregard of and inefficiency in the operating procedures produced calamity.
Sizewell B has a totally different fail-safe design. Unlike Chernoby it will switch itself off if anything goes wrong. You could drop a conventional bomb on it from an aeroplane and still there would be no nuclear fall-out disaster. The Three Mile Island accident killed no one. Nor do the trivial accidents we have in our nuclear installations, though an escape of radiation less than in a luminous watch attracts front page headlines immediately.
The CEGB has complied and is complying with all the Layfield requirements for safety. If that meticulous man, Sir Frank Layfield, is satisfied, I think we can be, too. There are industrial operations far more dangerous than nuclear ones going on around us. There is high risk wherever liquid gas and chlorine are 466 stored. The escape of gas at the Union Carbide Plant at Bophal killed 2,500 people, yet nobody suggested that all such plants should be closed.
Acid rain caused by our coal-fired power stations does immense harm to the environment. The CEGB is having to spend £600 million to make them less of a health hazard. More coal-fired stations will be correspondingly more expensive. Nuclear power plants pollute nothing. Radiation from nuclear power plants is continuously measured. It is invisible to the eye but not to instruments. That is the safeguard.
In a MORI poll in January conducted for Reader's Digest 62 per cent. admitted to knowing nothing about nuclear power and so half wrongly thought that a Chernobyl accident could happen here. Nevertheless 41 per cent. still thought that Britain must use nuclear energy to produce electricity even though the average respondent mistakenly thought that 38 per cent. of our electricity already came from nuclear power. It ought to. If the true facts were widely known I am sure that the great majority would accept that.
Nuclear power is still in the realm of the unknown, with all its primitive fears. If Sir James Frazer were alive he would be able to add an enthralling supplement to The Golden Bough on modern superstitions. In the poll I mentioned only 25 per cent. trusted Government Ministers to tell the truth about nuclear power. They should not be too despondent. Only 21 per cent. would trust senior civil servants on the same subject. However, 52 per cent., strangely, would trust television news programmes. It looks as though the Government have a sizeable job in getting the facts across. When the unknown becomes known, fear disappears.
§ 4.59 p.m.
§ Viscount Torrington
My Lords, it is always a privilege to follow a maiden speaker but it is a very considerable privilege to follow the noble Lord, Lord Wyatt of Weeford, today. In my youth he was partly responsible for my education. As a young boy at Harrow I was rather more of an outdoor persuasion than of a bookish nature. So a good deal of my first impressions of politics and international affairs came from the "Panorama" programme which began at around that time. I believe that the noble Lord was very much one of its creators, along with the late and much loved Richard Dimbleby. Perhaps the fact that his recent career has involved him in being chairman of the Totalisator Board allowed him to canter through a very inspiring and competent maiden speech today. As he said, he has had a little practice in this House, which is somewhat unusual.
I decided to take part in this debate with considerable reluctance. I introduced a debate on the subject only in November. For that reason alone, I would be conspicuous by my absence if I failed to take part today. The second reason for my reluctance is that we still do not know from my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Energy whether or not Sizewell is to proceed. However, so much has already been written about this subject that one is tempted, like the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, to look for another alternative. If your Lordships will forgive the flippancy, perhaps there is scope for a conventional thermal power station which could be fed on the 467 submissions to and the reports from the Sizewell inquiry. That is all that that information and the huge quantity of documentation will be good for if the Minister fails to decide in favour of the PWR.
I shall try to substitute brevity for my reluctance! The birth of the Sizewell PWR will follow a long, hard pregnancy, and I hope that that pregnancy will not prove to have been a phantom one. When I spoke in November, I put in a last and, I suppose, rather half-hearted plea for the AGR. The recent setback at Torness and Heysham over the vibration in the control rods and the considerable delays that that will occasion mean that I, for one, will have to fold my tent and leave the field as champion of the AGR.
The dust of Chernobyl has now settled. I hope that the instant policy-making which was somewhat foreseen in the report of the Select Committee, entitled Nuclear Power in Europe, will be quietly re-examined. When I say policy-making, I mean the policy-making of the parties opposite as it was then expressed. I hope that it can be reassessed today.
What is clear is that a power station which at the time of the Sizewell inquiry was merely desirable is today a necessity if the CEGB is to fulfil its obligations to the electricity consumer. As the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, said, on purely economic grounds, the Sizewell PWR case may be somewhat debatable when viewed against free market fossil fuel prices as they stood in February 1987. However, the very fact that energy prices have dropped so much and so fast suggests to me that it is very dangerous to take today's energy prices as gospel. If oil prices remain as consistently low as they have been for the past few months, exploration in the oil industry for one sector will be greatly reduced. If that happens, in due course prices will have to rise significantly to catch up again. I do not believe that British Coal will be able to avoid jumping on that bandwagon as quickly as possible to get back to some sort of economic cost for mining coal when all the hidden subsidies which have already been mentioned are taken into account. Whatever the economics, as has been said, we need diversity of supply. The Sizewell PWR is an important part of that diversity and security.
Much of the strident opposition to Sizewell has been based on environmental grounds. As a concerned environmentalist I find that hard fully to understand. On the purely local view, nobody relishes a major industrial plant in his backyard. It is an unpleasant and unwanted intrusion, as the inspector said. However, I say as an aside that such intrusion could be made a great deal more palatable to local residents if they were to receive direct benefit from having a major industrial plant in their back gardens. As I understand it, the operation of the rate support grant is such that, even when you have a major new rates contributor in the district, the increase in local revenue is effectively swallowed up by a reduction in RSG.
On the larger environmental scale, a well run nuclear power station emits no gasses to the atmosphere, as the noble Lord, Lord Wyatt, said. By contrast, a thermal station, even with sulphur dioxide and nitrous oxide scrubbing, emits enormous quantities of carbon dioxide. The history of the 468 development of this planet since primeval times is that plants have been fixing carbon dioxide, taking this gas out of the atmosphere and returning oxygen. In the course of this century the average content of carbon dioxide in the earth's atmosphere has considerably increased. If we go on burning fossil fuels at an increasing rate over the next century, the damage to the climate and the ecological system may be horrendous. Therefore, as environmentalists we ought to be looking for an entirely new and—virtually an impossible goal, I know—the safest possible way of generating electricity. Nuclear power may well prove to be environmentally the safest.
I hope—if I may steal a phrase from the Bible—that if the noble Lord, Lord Marshall, felt he could take part in the debate today he would say, "My Lords, let my people go"—and get on with building Sizewell.
§ 5.6 p.m.
§ The Lord Bishop of Birmingham
My Lords, I add my congratulations to those of the noble Viscount, Lord Torrington, to the noble Lord, Lord Wyatt, on his maiden speech. I have always enjoyed reading what he has written and it was a pleasure to hear what he said, even though I did not always find myself in agreement with him. I should also like to tender my apologies if I do not wait for the end of this debate as there are events connected with my impending retirement for which I must return to my see city.
The decision to build or not to build Sizewell B obviously involves many factors. The four grounds put forward by the CEGB concern security of supply, diversity of supply, establishment of the PWR option and cost saving. Since then, there seems to have been an increase in the capital cost of some £100 million in addition to the dramatic reduction in fossil fuel prices to which the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, drew attention. Therefore, it seems that we are left with only three reasons.
Of course there are other factors. In particular, there are issues of safety, local issues, the dangers of nuclear proliferation, energy conservation and what might loosely be called the plutonian economy. Not all those matters were covered at the Layfield Inquiry, and yet that produced from the CEGB alone 40 proofs of evidence, 233 addenda to those, and over 1,300 supporting documents. Clearly in a short speech I can deal only with a few basic matters. However, let me say at the outset how much I appreciate, with others, the attitude of Her Majesty's Government in listening to viewpoints expressed in this House and in the other place before coming to a final decision.
I must say that I hope very much that the Government will decide not to proceed. I realise that this will seem like putting a stopper on technological progress and that that might seem to be a step in a false direction, but in fact the Westinghouse model proposed is an old model which already could be called out of date. I should add that I am not against nuclear power as such. I think that the old Magnox reactors, though now out of date and going out of service, have served us well. However, a decision to go ahead with a PWR in this country would, in itself be a U-turn when one thinks of the AGRs that have been built. It would be so fraught with consequences not only for this country but also for others that I hope that 469 Her Majesty's Government will pause and decide not to go ahead for the moment.
I should like now to refer to safety in addition to what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Wyatt. It was unfortunate that the Layfield Inquiry was unable fully to evaluate matters of safety and had to content itself with what it regarded as sufficient information for a judgment to be made on safety, with the assessment of safety criteria and with the ability of the CEGB and the NII to ensure plant safety.
It was somewhat disturbing to learn that the CEGB at first had proposed in April 1981 what seemed a safer model for a PWR and on grounds of cost had cast that aside in favour of a model that was substantially similar to the original SNUPPS design of Westinghouse. Although impressed by the quality of evidence from the CEGB and NII, Sir Frank Layfield reported that the CEGB's evidence on safety on its own admission was incomplete, partly because it seemed to have developed its plans as the inquiry proceeded. He also said that the NII's initial evidence was disappointing.
Furthermore, objectors at that inquiry were under terrible constraints. They had to raise every penny of their costs compared with the sums available from the very large coffers of the CEGB. Sir Frank Layfield went on to say that their evidence was nonetheless impressive, even though they did not have all the facts before them from the start and indeed some material was withheld on grounds of industrial confidentiality.
Obviously it would be improper to try to go into matters of safety, but in general I wonder whether sufficient attention has been paid to human factors and hazards. After all, the disaster of Three Mile Island happened as a result of human factors, as did Chernobyl; and so did the complete disaster at Brown's Ferry, where a lighted candle disabled almost all the electrical systems at the plant. Much detailed work on the design and safety case remains to be done. I am not convinced that the ALARP (as low as reasonably practical) principle is in accordance with the requirements of the 1965 Nuclear Installations Act. The evidence on pressure vessels given at the inquiry by Rodney Fordham, a former employee of UKAEA, certainly gives one pause for thought, and I am not sure that the computer codes for the loss of coolant accident analysis can really be validated.
Nor am I sure that the social consequences of a nuclear accident have been correctly evaluated. My own daughter, who is living in Moscow, still has her meat sent in from Helsinki by her husband's British employees, post-Chernobyl. The other day on "Farming Today" I heard that caesium in Welsh soil was still posing real problems for Welsh farmers. I think that the official figures for low-level radiation for individuals should be taken with caution. I know that as yet there is no causal connection traced between nuclear reactors and the number of cases of leukaemia that have been found around Sellafield and Sizewell, especially among workers at the site. Nonetheless, prudence suggests that the connection is not just random.
The Layfield Inquiry stated that the onus of proof was on the CEGB to show that Sizewell B would be 470 safe rather than on the objectors to show to the contrary. I quote from the report:much work remains to be done on aspects of the safety case which were examined in evidence".Perhaps if at this moment there were a compelling need for more sources of energy supply and if our industries or indeed our civilisation were in danger of breaking down without new sources of energy, it would be another matter. When I go back to the CEGB's three remaining reasons for building a PWR—to establish the option, and to ensure security and diversity of supply—I must admit that the case seems far less than proven.
However, there is another aspect of the safety case that worries me much more. I refer to radioactive waste. I am not happy about the arrangements made for waste disposal. There is disagreement about the amount of waste that would be produced. Very properly, all dumping at sea has been suspended; also the Billingham site has been cancelled and the Drigg site has less capacity than was stated at the outset. When we turn to high-level waste, the position seems to be even more unsatisfactory. I understand that it will be kept in cooling tanks at Sellafield for some 20 years, then vitrified and kept in dry storage for a further 50 years by means of the new French vitrification method. After that, who knows? Thank goodness there is no longer much talk of shooting it into outer space or dropping it down a geological fault. But where will it go?
The time period is so great that, in the words of the Swedish Beijer report, the problem is transscientific, in the sense that there is no scientific answer to what will happen to the vitrified wastes. Yet I read in the sixth report of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution:It would be irresponsible and morally wrong to commit future generations to the consequences of fission power on a massive scale unless it has been demonstrated beyond reasonable doubt that at least one method exists for the safe isolation of these wastes for the indefinite future".I repeat that last phrase: "for the indefinite future".
I do not believe that has been done. Therefore I must rather reluctantly conclude that the case for the Sizewell B PWR must fall unless, in the words of the report of the Royal Commission, we wish to act in a way that is irresponsible and morally wrong. Indeed, I am convinced that if we were to spend more money on alternatives—a mere £14 million a year is spent at the moment compared with £300 million on fission and £25 million on fusion—we would find other means of providing ourselves with energy. As has been said, we could save vast amounts by combined heat and power and indeed by more efficient electrical technologies.
I have spoken of the wider implications of nuclear energy for posterity, but perhaps one should look more closely to home. As a result of the accident at Three Mile Island, the giant PWR American corporation Westinghouse has not received a single order for a nuclear reactor since 1978. The world has held its breath and paused in its headlong rush to go nuclear. Chernobyl added fresh worries. It is hardly surprising to hear that Westinghouse has been discussing a joint British-based enterprise with the National Nuclear Corporation to make Britain a new international 471 centre for nuclear operations. In that way it might indeed be possible to circumvent the American Nuclear Non-Proliferation Act.
I think that the dangers of proliferation should always be before us. If Sizewell B is to be built it will be only the first in a series of PWRs, the sites of which have already been announced by the CEGB. The Layfield report believes that the go-ahead for Sizewell B will largely cover them too. It will also probably initiate a new phase of building nuclear reactors throughout the world. More uranium and more plutonium will be produced and reprocessing will enable them to be used as weapons material for a nuclear bomb. Only last Sunday we heard that Pakistan probably now has such a bomb. Recently information was received that Israel also has such a bomb. How were those countries enabled to produce a bomb? There can be little doubt. The only way is by enriching material, or reprocessing it from a reactor. Truth to tell, it has not been possible to account for all the plutonium from our British reactors and, despite denials, there is some evidence to suggest that some of it has been used for American bombs.
Apart from that danger I believe that there are others. If there are more reactors, sources of uranium will become scarce and there will be increasing demand for the breeder reactor. I once held a series of public hearings on the breeder reactor which were later published under the title Nuclear Crisis. I believe that if we were forced to have these fast reactors the dangers from nuclear energy would greatly increase. Yet it seems to me that a policy of building more reactors inevitably leads us down that path. It is the only logical outcome of such a policy.
If the world were studded with nuclear reactors we would not only encounter the dangers that I outlined earlier, but also, I fear, a new type of civilisation—a plutonium economy with surveillance and safety precautions redoubled against theft and sabotage or the private construction of nuclear weapons. Around our reactors we already have a security force which functions quite separately from our police force and which is not accountable to it, but that would seem to me to be only the beginning of what may become necessary. I doubt whether in the more distant future we could continue our free and open way of life, and that is something which I have no doubt is very precious to every Member of your Lordships' House.
I fear that is the road down which we are in danger of walking if we have the Sizewell B pressurised water reactor. Surely we do not want to lead the world down that path, especially now that there is a pause for reflection about the world's future energy supplies. I am aware that decisions on these matters are complex. In the end, I believe that cost benefit analysis can only be a preliminary guide in such matters. At the end of the day we need a strategic, political and moral judgment, bearing in mind people's well-grounded fears and the duty that we owe to posterity. Those are the main reasons that I have such grave doubts about the building of a new PWR at Sizewell B.
§ 5.20 p.m.
§ Lord Jenkins of Putney
My Lords, the fact that I agreed with practically every word that the right 472 reverend Prelate said enables me to forgive him for omitting to tell your Lordships that he was not playing leapfrog. I agreed to his request that he should speak before me. One or two of your Lordships have looked a little puzzled and I thought that I had better make that explanation. I also well understand that because of the urgency of his departure he is unable to pay the normal courtesy of staying for the next speaker. I am in total agreement with every word that he said. I fully understand the situation which caused him to leave us a little unceremoniously. That could not be helped.
I also find myself in a little difficulty with our traditions of courtesy when it comes to complimenting a maiden speaker with whom one profoundly disagrees, especially when that maiden speaker has been as excessively non-controversial as the one who has delighted us with his remarks this afternoon. I shall walk the path between courtesy and hypocrisy, which we have to tread on these occasions, by saying that I think this afternoon the noble Lord was true to everything we all knew about him before he came here.
In my political life it has not always been possible for me to agree with every policy that my party has espoused over the years. But this afternoon I am in the happy position of wanting to read and agree with the words Mr. Stanley Orme, uttered in another place. On 23rd February, when opening from the Front Bench, he said:On all the criteria—on economic grounds, on safety grounds—the case against Sizewell B is the strongest—My noble friend tells me that I should not quote. I understand that one can quote Front Bench speakers and I therefore propose to continue. I think that my noble friend is mistaken. Mr. Orme said:For the Government to go ahead would be to fly in the face of all rational assessments of our future needs. We urge the Government to reject the recommendations of the Layfield report. If they decide to go ahead, we shall reverse that decision. To end delays, we will strengthen our electricity generating capacity by giving the go-ahead for a programme of modern, clean, coal-fired stations. That is the case I put before the House on behalf of the Labour party.".-[0fficial Report, Commons, 23/2/87; col. 33.]I agree with every word of that. It seems to be the only sensible policy to pursue in all the circumstances. In addition to the Front Bench speech in the other place, which I followed with great interest, I was much taken by two Back-Bench contributions. One was by Mrs. McCurley, who uttered the only completely enthusiastic support—in which she was vying with the noble Lord, Lord Wyatt, this afternoon—for the building of the Sizewell B generator. It was only when I realised that her constituency was in Scotland that I understood why. If Mrs. McCurley believes that it will be built in any circumstances, she would naturally prefer it to be built in Suffolk rather than in Scotland. Other than that, there was not a great deal of support, even on the Government side.
Another speech which I found interesting—and your Lordships may perhaps be a little less surprised about this than about the previous one—was that by Mr. Tony Benn. With that honesty which is one of his most attractive characteristics, Mr. Benn confessed that he had completely changed his views on nuclear energy. As a Minister, he was responsible for support-ing and encouraging nuclear energy. He says that when he made that decision he was deprived of certain facts 473 by the civil servants who were advising him at that time. In case your Lordships feel that is unlikely, I should say that I was also a sucker for what was called "atoms for peace" in 1954, when that idea started. In the aftermath of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, it was natural to wonder whether nuclear power could be used for peaceful purposes. We all said that if it could be, it was the right way out and was the answer. But as early as 1958, four years later, it had been discovered that under the guise of "atoms for peace", there had been a wholesale proliferation of military nuclear energy. "Atoms for peace" and "atoms for war" were indistinguishable one from the other.
Those of us who believed that it was possible to separate nuclear energy from the nuclear weapon therefore had a rude shock. Mr. Benn's shock and mine were similar. Another point that is perturbing about the development of nuclear energy and nuclear weapons throughout the world since the war is that in every country where that has occurred there has been a record of lies and deceit at every point. Endeavours have been made to conceal from the public what is happening. Information has had to be dragged out from governments. Some have been more open than others. I make no political point about this as it seems to be a tradition of this country, but our government, whoever they were, were among the most secretive of all. Interestingly enough—and this would be in accordance with your Lordships' experience of these matters—the American Government were the most open.
As early as 1958, when the "atoms for peace" idea had already exploded, the American Government were inquiring what was happening about plutonium. They were doubtful about producing it in their own country. As noble Lords will be aware, they do not believe in it. They have not built any Sizewell As, Bs, or any other sort in the United States for a long time. But they need plutonium if they are to keep up their nuclear weapons policy. Where will they get it from if they are not producing it in their own country? They import it. As early as 1958, we were saying in this country that we would not dream of exporting, and had never exported, and so on and so forth. The American Government were importing it. Where were they getting it from? Not only were they importing it, but in their Congressional committees, which are extraordinarily open in these matters, they were discussing whether the British could be relied upon to continue to provide them with it.
Senator Pastore asked this question:What price will the United States pay for plutonium purchased from foreign countries—the military price of 30 dollars or the fuel value of 12 dollars per gram?It is gradually being admitted that we sold plutonium to the United States. It has been gradually emerging that we did so. Did we sell it at the fuel price of 12 dollars or at the military price of 30 dollars per gram thereby breaching the proliferation treaty and getting a substantial reward for ourselves from the Americans by selling it at the full military price? It would be interesting to know the answer.
The Earl of Halsbury
My Lords, will the noble Lord give way? Can he tell us what on earth that has to do with the Layfield report?
§ Lord Jenkins of Putney
My Lords, I can indeed. The point I am making is on the question of secrecy, and whether information on this subject can be trusted. If noble Lords will bear with me a little longer I shall show that we are still not being told the whole truth; that if we were told the whole truth even the Government would probably be taking a different decision about Layfield, and that Layfield himself would have taken a different decision. I rather suspect that without any other information Layfield would take a different decision now merely because of Chernobyl. This is uncomfortable information and I dare say that your Lordships do not like to hear it; but it is there, it is all part of the story and ought to be taken into consideration in making up our minds on this vital matter.
Among the information that has come to my knowledge with a little reading over a period I find that in country after country there has been this endeavour to conceal the facts not only from the public as a whole but even from parliaments in different parts of the world. This is continuing today. It leads governments into some extraordinary positions. Take our own Government, for example. On 4th February 1983 Mr. John Moore—who was then at the Department of Energy—said:No plutonium produced in any of the CEGB's nuclear power stations has ever been used for military purposes in this country and there are no plans to use it thus in the future. Further, no plutonium from the CEGB nuclear programme has ever been exported for use in weapons".This was profoundly untrue, because the Prime Minister, pressed on the matter a little further, varied that statement on 15th April 1986—last year. The Prime Minister said:No plutonium produced in civil reactors in this country has been transferred to defence use or exported for such use during the period of this administration".There is a profound difference there. It is said "during the period of this administration" on the one hand, or "has ever been exported" on the other. In that sentence the Prime Minister was admitting that we have exported plutonium continuously over a period and that we have made no difference of definition on the question of military use.
I should like to know the answer to this question: did we get the higher price which included permission to use it for military purposes? It is asked: what has this to do with Sizewell? It has a great deal to do with Sizewell. Are we going to rely upon nuclear energy? Over the years the story shows that nuclear energy and nuclear weapons have been inextricably linked together. If we have the nuclear weapon then we have nuclear energy; we can be sure of our sources of plutonium. For years I believed that it was possible to separate the two issues and that one could say on the one hand, "Yes, I believe in nuclear energy but on the other hand I strongly and profoundly disbelieve in nuclear weapons". Not without reluctance, it seems to me that the evidence over the years from country after country indicates that one cannot make this separation; that where nuclear energy goes, nuclear weapons go; and that the proliferation of nuclear weapons is closely tied up with the proliferation of nuclear energy.
475 Although the case against nuclear energy has been put extremely capably both in another place and in this Chamber this afternoon, not only do I believe that nuclear energy as such is undesirable and has many undesirable characteristics and would be better replaced by other forms of energy, but I also believe that it is undesirable as the source of the nuclear weapon. It seems to me therefore that those of us who fear the nuclear weapon also have to fear nuclear energy. Perhaps it should be feared in its own right but also on the ground of the hostility which so many of us feel against the nuclear weapon.
I think that the people of this country are against it. I believe that the natural instinct of the people on this question is profoundly right. I join in the plaudits for the fact that the Government have not taken their decision without these debates.
I hope that your Lordship's and the Government will give due consideration to what has been said in both Chambers during these debates and will also recognise that it is possible that the people of this country have a natural instinct to say "No" on this issue.
§ 5.36 p.m.
§ Viscount Hood
My Lords, may I add my words of congratulation to the noble Lord, Lord Wyatt, for his lucid and witty speech, all the more acceptable to me because, unlike the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, I agreed with it. Perhaps I may comment briefly on some objections to the conclusions of the Layfield report, in particular events which have arisen subsequent to the dates of the investigation. It is true that the price of oil has fallen sharply. I do not believe that it has fallen sharply enough to make oil stations economic, but this is surely not the point.
In judging the cost of fuel for a nuclear station a view has to be taken over a span of at least 40 years—the seven or eight years that it takes for the station to be built and the 35 years of its useful life once it is built. I know no friend in the oil industry who will take a view of more than six months ahead on the price of oil. Anything in the region of 40 years is unheard of. Surely, the important matter is that well within the life of a nuclear station the known sources of oil in the western world will have been consumed and, unless extraordinary discoveries are made, we shall become again dependent upon the Middle East with its enormous reserve. For this reason, the countries of the European Community agreed that it was essential that they should become detached from dependence upon Middle East oil, or upon oil at all.
I hesitate in the presence of the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, to comment much about coal. However, it is true that the world price of coal and the price which the noble Lord, Lord Marshall, has to pay are two very different things. I believe that the cost at world prices of getting coal to our power stations with double transshipments is of the order of £30 per tonne. The price now being paid is of the order of £48 per tonne. On top of that, it would probably be sensible or logical to apply the very large deficits of the coal board in producing that coal which works out at another £15 per tonne. Therefore the price delivered to the power station is twice the world price.
476 This is today, and I have been arguing that one has to take a 40-year view. But there are very logical and fundamental reasons why the price of British coal should be higher than the world price. There are social problems. There are areas of high-cost coal where greater difficulties exist than in other parts of the United Kingdom. I believe that the differential will continue. But it is also true that in a nuclear station the basic cost is the capital cost. The French have paid that capital cost on a large number of stations. For that reason, they can and will continue to deliver electricity for export at prices below those of any of the stations owned by the CEGB. They will make contracts at a steadily reducing price over the span of the rest of the century.
The nuclear costs will very largely be paid by 1994, or thereabouts when the station is completed. It is hazardous to speculate on the price of coal in the next century. Surely, another argument is that it is entirely logical and necessary for this country to become less dependent on coal. As I understand it, the policy of the CEGB is not to phase out coal. On the contrary, it will be using more coal in the year 2000 than it is now. However, it is important to have less dependence on coal. At the moment the CEGB is 80 per cent. dependent and its plan, in common with that of all other countries in the Community, is to reduce its dependence in the United Kingdom to about two-thirds. So much for my mild comments on coal.
I should like to touch briefly on the United States. I noticed that in debates in the other place the argument was made which has been made here today: that the United States is no longer building nuclear power stations. That is true. I believe that the United States had over-built by about 1978. The environmental difficulties created by the American states are, I believe, even greater than they are here. Neither of those arguments is fundamental. It is true however that the relationship of coal to nuclear power in the United States is totally different from that in the United Kingdom. There, very thick seams of coal can be extracted by open-cast mining. Coal mines and power stations are owned by private companies which can make deals one with the other so that the power station can be built upon coal, with advantages that show themselves in the price of power. That situation does not exist here where efficient coal mines must pay for the inefficient ones. That leads to the high cost of our coal.
I favour and support Sizewell B for three reasons. First, we need more power, and the quickest way to obtain it is to build Sizewell B promptly. All the necessary planning consents are available; all that is necessary is the Secretary of State's decision. Secondly, I remain convinced, in spite of all that has been said to the contrary, that nuclear power costs are lower than the cost of coal. It is essential for our competitive position in the world that we have power as cheaply as we can achieve it. We are competing with the French but even after many years have elapsed, we shall probably not have power as cheaply as they can produce it. Indeed, that day may never come. But at least let us go some of the way.
Finally, as I have mentioned before, diversification is essential. We cannot remain as dependent upon coal as we have been. Without the nuclear stations the 477 effect of the coal strike on the people of this country would have been completely different. I believe that approval will be given to build Sizewell B and, I hope, further PWR stations, which are essential for the welfare of the United Kingdom. Therefore, I hope that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State will give his approval expeditiously.
§ 5.45 p.m.
§ Baroness Nicol
My Lords, I join with other noble Lords in complimenting the noble Lord, Lord Wyatt of Weeford, on his competent and articulate maiden speech. If his speech was uncontroversial, I look forward to the day when he decides to be controversial. I think that we shall have a lively time.
I also join in expressing appreciation to the Secretary of State for waiting to announce his decision until we had the opportunity of having these two debates. Whether or not he takes them into account, I am sure that he will have heard a good deal of wisdom which may give him pause for thought.
I do not intend to enter into the economic arguments. They have been dealt with very well by other noble Lords. However, it is obvious from listening to the arguments on both sides that there is little to choose between them. It is almost an argument that one ought to leave aside when making the major decision because it seems to vary from year to year.
I should like to say a little about the safety aspects. First, we have heard that Chernobyl could not happen here because the technology is different, the controls are better and so on. However, the effects of Chernobyl—that is, the spread of radioactivity and the difficulty of dealing with it—are common to all nuclear accidents, whatever the technology of the source. That is something we have to bear in mind.
An "accident" is described in the Oxford Dictionary as an:Event without apparent cause or unexpected".To suggest that because we start from a different technologiocal base we are immune from any unexpected event is either arrogant or foolish. There is no activity of any substance in which mankind has involved itself in its whole history which has not sooner or later had an "accident". The difference with nuclear power is that the accident has far-reaching consequences beyond our own borders and into the next generations. That is why we need to have overwhelming reasons for pushing ahead with the nuclear option when there are still so many arguments about which system is safest.
As other noble Lords have said, we have not even solved the problems associated with nuclear waste disposal. Your Lordships will remember the outcry in another place when some sites were put forward simply to be explored for possible use in connection with medium-term waste disposal. That is nothing as compared to the arguments which we shall have to face in the future.
Therefore, the only unaswerable argument in favour of nuclear power would be that we have no alternative. I believe that our modern society is now as dependent on electricity supplies as it is on a supply of pure water. The effects of no supply, or even an insufficient supply, would be dramatic. Lives depend on it. There are 478 many people alive today whose lives would cease within a very short time of being deprived of electricity. I do not think that we should lose sight of that fact. Our whole economy is increasingly dependent on a reliable supply of electricity. Therefore we cannot do without it.
However, I do not believe that we have quite reached the stage where there is no alternative to nuclear option—at least not immediately. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, must have been reading my speech, because he used a number of examples which, if he will forgive me, I shall now repeat because I think that they bear repetition.
There are the interim measures to ease demand. I understand that the CEGB is not averse to future coal-fired stations. I believe it has said that it is looking to a mixed supply in the future, and we must bear that in mind when looking at other options. However, first, we should eliminate waste, and the noble Viscount referred to that in his introduction. We need to build on the Secretary of State's excellent energy conservation programme of last year. I believe that the Secretary of State has indicated that he wishes the programme to be continued into 1987 and beyond.
However, we are wanton in our use of resources, especially of electrical power. For example, all new buildings should be insulated to high standards in order to conserve heat loss. As the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, said so eloquently, we must look again at combined heat and power. We must follow the lead of the Scandinavian countries in recycling waste and in using household waste as an energy source. I understand that that is being done in Sweden with great success. Of course we should step up even more our research into wind and wave power.
None of those things is in itself a solution to the problem, but they would all help us through this interim period, because I believe that we need to think just a little bit more. Above all, we should now set about ordering at least one clean coal-fired power station to make sure that the gap is filled while we resolve the arguments about which kind of nuclear power we should have. I appreciate that it is essential for electricity supplies that action is taken now. It is also essential for the health of the industries that supply equipment that they should be able to plan their production well ahead.
Firms such as Babcock, which has assembled teams of the appropriate skills, should be assured of continuity. I understand from Babcock that it is not so concerned about the nature of the plant to be ordered as about the timing. It would be tragic if further delay were to cause cutbacks and the dispersal of expertise. It has assembled over the years teams of experts who can and will go ahead as soon as orders are placed. We should do everything we can to see that the orders come so that those teams are kept in operation.
I want to turn to the environmental impact of Sizewell B rather than the general impact of nuclear energy. My noble friend Lord Bruce of Donington had quite a bit to say when he quoted from the report, and I propose to make one more small quotation in a moment. The impact on the environment of the building of Sizewell B is described in the report in clear terms.
479 In addition to the quotation of my noble friend, let me read briefly from the concluding comment at paragraph 104.24, where the inspector says:The presumption against development on the Sizewell site is fully merited by the quality of the landscape in the locality, the beauty of the coastal scene, and the high ecological interest and importance of the surroundings. The building of a station would cause damage and disturbance on a formidable scale. Even were there no such presumption the proposals should only be approved if the Secretary of State is satisfied that the national need for Sizewell B is sufficiently great to override local interests in favour of conservation".The area under discussion, as we have heard, is within the Suffolk heritage coast and is an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The neighbourhood includes Sites of Special Scientific Interest and is a national nature reserve. All the designations which we have created for the protection of our natural heritage are here all arrayed in one spot.
The report acknowledges their existence and justifies the designations in very clear and unusually emphatic language. Therefore it is bitterly disappointing that it then proceeds to recommend that all these designations should be ignored. Discouraging the access road, which is one of the recommendations, is only a crumb of comfort. Since there is an underlying assumption that Sizewell C will follow Sizewell B, and that will be irresistible if Sizewell B goes ahead, it seems only a matter of time till the access road is brought back, because it will then become necessary.
Given the strength of the protective designations in the area, we have a right to expect more consideration of environmental matters. It must be remembered that these same designations are currently being offered by the Department of the Environment and by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food as defence against proposed planning relaxations elsewhere in the countryside. If they are to be overturned in this case, how are we to believe that they will not be overturned in every other case? Their apparent ineffectiveness in the context of Sizewell must cast doubt over their value in other situations. Who defines the national interest? Is that a phrase to be used by any individual or group which is protecting its own financial interest? Are we always to assume that environmental protection is not an overriding national interest?
Since the inquiry was closed two years ago much has happened, and public awareness has sharpened in realation to environmental matters. I hope the Government's awareness has also sharpened, but I am beginning to doubt it in view of what has happened in the last few weeks. I believe that any government will ignore these new forces at their peril.
§ 5.55 p.m.
The Earl of Halsbury
My Lords, I commence by adding my congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Wyatt, for a most interesting, well informed and witty speech. He is no stranger to public speaking, and the pleasure that he has given us in the past with his broadcasts will, I have no doubt, be renewed on the various occasions when he addresses us in person in the future.
I am going to start by declaring an interest in the district, where I spend some of my holidays from time 480 to time, and as a past local inhabitant, with a daughter and a clutch of grandchildren who are still local inhabitants.
The noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, and the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, have to some extent on the environmental issue shot the wrong bird. Sizewell A is not a blot on the landscape. When you walk, as I do regularly, from Dunsfold to Sizewell along the coast, with Minsmere bird reserve on your right, Sizewell A is just a little matchbox on the horizon. You do not notice it. When you are around Leiston there are very few places from which you see Sizewell A. From most aspects it is hidden by trees of one kind or another. The real blot is the line of pylons.
I had a weekend cottage at Leiston before Sizewell A was built, and the line of pylons crossing my garden, over which I had laboured so long and painstakingly for so many years, completely ruined the view, and I sold the cottage. My daughter and two grandchildren live at Yoxford, and the whole of the West Midlands traffic will have to come down the road through Yoxford High Street on to the roundabout which is going to be reconstructed off to Leiston. It is going to be a nightmare, because the traffic will have to go up the A12 which is already so congested that you cannot drive out of the drive without waiting about half an hour when the summer traffic is on the road. From my local knowledge of the terrain I worked out a very much better scheme for the approach to Sizewell. I took it to an appropriate contact, the Central Electricity Generating Board, which received it with very great delight and kindness. I was given lunch. The CEGB wrote me a very nice letter saying that probably the local government authorities would not approve of the scheme. Never mind about "probably". I should like to give the local government authorities a push to see whether they can approve it.
On the question of the leukaemias, I would remind those who have spoken of it that there are virus-induced leukaemias known as HTLV I and HTLV II. The probability is that where we get these clusters of leukaemia in the country there is a prior history of infection with the virus, and that is why people co-infect one another. It is not the only cause of leukaemia but it is a very satisfactory explanation. I know it is accepted by distinguished epidemiologists like Sir Richard Doll that it is the most likely explanation for the clusters. The really big clusters in Scotland are not near the nuclear power stations but round Inverness where there are no nuclear power stations at all.
Having said that and declared my interest, I should go on and thank Sir Frank Layfield for the enormous amount of time and trouble that he has been to in preparing what is an admirable survey across the board. The only criticism one can make of the situation in which we find ourselves—not of the report, nor of Sir Frank Layfield's craftsmanship—is that the evidence on most of the figures is anything up to five years out of date. There is no reference to Chernobyl; there is no reference to the recent movements of fuel prices which have been referred to by the noble Viscount, for instance. It would be totally unfair to criticise the report for not doing what the inspector was never asked to do. The proposal was quite distinct and explicit. It was to build a PWR at Sizewell to be called 481 Sizewell B. After due consideration he has given that the go-ahead; the PWR has been given the go-ahead on the evidence. That is a decision ad hoc on a proposal ad hoc. It is not a fuel policy for the country.
There are three immediate urgencies, the first of which is the priority; namely, to build power stations, any power stations, to meet forward power requirements. Last year's spinning reserve was down to 10 per cent., which is 5 per cent. lower than most power station engineers like to see. This winter the requirements were barely met. The second priority is to update the Layfield Report quantitatively and collect statistics representative of the current situation. Thirdly, it is to review the fuel cladding design of the present PWR proposal in order to eliminate zircalloy and revert to the design using stainless steel fuel cladding, which was the design of the early PWR. Zircalloy can react exothermally with water at a high temperature and can run away. It was implicated in both the disasters at Three Mile Island and at Chernobyl. It is much easier to take precautions than to prove that taking precautions is not necessary. You can have stainless steel fuel cladding but you must pay for it by a slight enrichment of the fuel, which can alter slightly the economics of that reactor as opposed to others.
The first of those urgencies, to build power stations no matter what the design, cannot wait on the progress of the other two. Heysham II is likely to be 12 months late. Torness is likely to be six months late. In a previous debate I have already referred to the vibrational trouble with the control rods, which I said was a soluble problem. It was due to an alteration in nozzle design not proved on a test rig. When the trouble occurred a test rig was built and the problem was solved fairly quickly, as I predicted.
This morning I telephoned the South Scotland Electricity Board which told me as far as it was concerned the problem was solved. It expected the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate to approve the modification within three to five weeks. Consequential modification can take two to three weeks to implement. A test run unfuelled would require a similar period and, if trouble free, fuelling could begin and will take two to three weeks. Thereafter, there will be a three month start up with a run up to full load. If that time is added up it comes to six months. Heysham II is already six months in arrears and will be about a year late on the basis of the best figures I have been given.
By next winter we should be equipped with two new stations. However, that will only return us to square one, with a 12-month slippage. The demand for electricity is increasing. As an example of the need to update the figures in the Layfield Report, the estimated load factor for the AGR is estimated at 65 per cent. But the current load factor at Hunterston B in unit one last year was 91.5 per cent. and for unit two it was 72.6 per cent., the lower figure being due to planned outages for statutory maintenance.
During the three years 1984 to 1986 the station average was 81.4 per cent. of the de-rated design output. Why de-rated? It is because the turbo alternators are not giving their design output. Therefore, the station cannot work at its design load. Even without 482 de-rating the performance, the load factor figure published by Nucleonics Weekly in its annual review is still 75.5 per cent., which is 10 per cent. higher than the figure used in the Layfield Report. The only conclusions I can reach are that what we need now is one of the great and good, possibly somebody like Sir Francis Tombs, chairman of Rolls-Royce, to be asked to go through the figures, up-date them and look at figures of comparative performances of different reactors as given in the Sizewell report.
Secondly, the CEGB has become almost a prisoner of its long-term past proposals. It should wait to evaluate the performance in fact rather than on paper of Torness and Heysham II and place orders for two new coal-fired stations to be built as quickly as possible, thereby giving the kiss of life to Babcock's in the North-West and northern engineering industries; that is, Parsons, Reyrolle and Clark Chapman in the North-East. It cannot stand by indefinitely waiting for orders. It is not possible to run a factory without orders. Therefore, new stations must be ordered. That is the message I hope to put across.
§ 6.5 p.m.
§ The Earl of Lauderdale
My Lords, first of all I should like to follow other noble Lords in the pleasurable business of congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Wyatt. He is down-to-earth and courageous,—as befits the victor of that great ETU struggle many years ago—incisive and very welcome to your Lordships' House. We look forward to many contributions in the future. I should also like to congratulate Sir Frank Layfield on his report which as a layman, I can say is beautifully written. There is an awful lot of it but it is a classic. While I am not sure that I can agree totally with the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury in suggesting that the report should now be updated and that we therefore lose more time, I do agree with him that it is urgent to get new power stations built very quickly. That is not only in the interests of creating jobs in the North-East and the North-West but in the interests of our electricity supply. I shall return to that point later.
Six years, 16 million words and £20 million later, where are we? It was not altogether surprising that the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, while donning, which was not meant to be a pun, so perhaps I should say, while putting on, a cloak of non-party political independence and discretion, urged us to caution. That, as I understood it, was his way of presenting the resolution of the last Labour Party conference. That resolution, which called for the total abandonment of the nuclear programme and the phasing out of all existing plants, was passed by almost 3 million votes.
As always, I listened eagerly to the noble Lord, Lord Ezra. I was not quite sure whether he was speaking non-politically, whether he was speaking as a Liberal or, again, whether he was speaking in alliance with the SDP. The policies of those parties are opposed. At their assembly last year the Liberals voted to halt the commissioning of further power stations and to begin what they called a planned phasing out of nuclear power. On the other hand, the SDP conference passed a motion calling for the construction of extra nuclear power plants, subject to safety review.
§ The Earl of Lauderdale
My Lords, I have not known the noble Lord speak other than objectively, aside from the matter of coal. It is not surprising that the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, did go for the coal. But, as the noble Lord, Lord Wyatt said, for virtually the whole of industry to be dependent on one fuel run by a monopoly supplier and manned by a workforce, which, in the past, has been periodically participating in industrial action, makes no sense at all. As to the noble Lord's speculations on the future price of coal and oil, I do not know whether or not he puts money on those speculations but I would not.
I always listen to the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, with great interest, as he knows. I have great respect for his views, even though I do not always agree with them or, perhaps more likely, do not understand them. However, the noble Lord spoke as though there was no great urgency in this matter. That caused me to turn up his book published in 1978 on Coal and Energy. I quote:It is now of vital importance to take such action as may be necessary to avert within the next decade"—that is up to 1988, or so,—what could be a far more serious world energy crisis than was experienced in 1973–4".The noble Lord has perhaps changed his point of view, but then we all do that, and I change mine as well from time to time.
§ The Earl of Lauderdale
My Lords, I am sure that is what the noble Lord intended, but it was not what came across. What came across was caution. And this is more caution after six years, 16 million words and £20 million. I believe there is real urgency in this matter.
Cheap energy is crucial to industry's export prices. Therefore, I say that unless the CEGB can get all its coal at world prices instead of a mere 17 per cent. of its requirements; unless gas can match those prices; and unless oil is sure to be available long term at comparable prices (my noble friend Lord Torrington explained why that was unlikely) then nuclear power must take the lead for base load and, with a family of PWRs, more so. That is surely the message that comes out of the Layfield report.
After the Layfield hearings had stopped and within weeks of Chernobyl, your Lordships' own Energy Committee—that is to say, the sub-committee of the Select Committee scrutinising EC matters in this House—reported, on the subject of nuclear energy, a comparison between coal and nuclear. I refer to paragraph 98 of its report which was debated last November. That was a debate in which I would have taken part had I not been abroad.
484 The report—it is important because it is more recent than the Layfield evidence—referred to nuclear power as being "much cheaper" than coal. It referred also to,a study carried out in 1983, which showed the cost of coal-fired electricity, for power stations entering into service in 1990, as being in all cases higher than that of nuclear electricity, by amounts that vary from country to country within a range from 30 per cent. (Italy) to 88 per cent. (France). The study gave a figure of 43 per cent. for the United Kingdom".Layfield is quite categorical that PWR electricity would be of the order of 20 per cent. cheaper than coal, even coal purchased at the third tranche price, the cheapest coal available to the CEGB, at about £30 per tonne.
The urgency, as I see it, relates to our industrial performance, and inferentially, but in a reverse sense, to our energy demand compared to that in Europe. There is a process known to the clever people, the economists—and I do not pretend to be one but I tag along as well as I can behind them—as decoupling. This is really a statement that as productivity in industry improves so its requirement of electricity per unit of value of output diminishes. It is called a decoupling of electricity demand from gross domestic product. In that regard our British need is urgent because we are lagging behind in such decoupling. Countries attaining faster than average productivity growth all tend to achieve greater than average declines in energy per unit of value. In the EC energy consumption from 1978 to 1983 fell 6 per cent, while gross domestic product rose 18 per cent. There is the decoupling.
The difference between Britain, the OECD, and Europe is shown vividly in the 1985–86 figures. While in the OECD countries overall electricity demand rose by 1 per cent. (gross domestic product going up all the time) in France by 1½per cent. in Germany by 2½per cent., and in Western Europe overall by 3.4 per cent., in Britain the figure was 5 per cent. That is a measure of our failure, as yet, to decouple the rising demand for energy from rising output.
It shows our lag in improvement of productivity and therefore improvement in competitiveness, and our continuing relative failure to compete. With gross domestic product forecast over the next two years—and the forecasters are now rather coming together on this—at between 1 and 14 per cent. up a year, the demand for electricity will grow even more insistent.
In February 1984, this House debated the subject on a Motion that I, myself, by some accident of fate, was invited to introduce. At that time some 61 of our power stations, producing some 40 per cent. of our electricity needs, were not only more than 15 years old but came under the scathing criticism of the Coopers and Lybrand report to the Secretary of State. This had urged that from 15 years of age upwards, stations should be considered for retirement. At that same period, current construction for replacement was not more than 16 per cent.—in fact 10 gigawatts—and at that time Lord Avon, who answered—and whom we all liked so much and miss in this House—replied with the Government's pride, and, I must add, complacency, that that figure was good enough.
I argued then, and I suggest now—and my case is strengthened by the more erudite words of the noble 485 Earl, Lord Halsbury—that unless we tackle this matter quickly and get some new power stations built, whatever they are fuelled by, we could have blackouts in the middle of the 1990s.
Six years, 16 million words, and £20 million later there is urgency. The Sizewell decision, even though it is focused on a particular power station of a particular make, will in fact be a strategic decision, and perhaps not everywhere very popular. The danger is that this year's balance sheet, or votes, will seem very pressing, and increase the temptation to leave decisions on the strategic future until another year.
§ 6.19 p.m.
§ Lord Dean of Beswick
My Lords, I first of all join other noble Lords in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Wyatt, on his maiden speech. It had some political content, but with his long history of controversial views on some subjects one would expect that, and no doubt we shall hear more from him in the future.
I should like to commence my speech by saying what I was going to say at the end. A number of Members of your Lordships' House have indicated that despite what we are debating today and whether or not there may be a delay, there is no reason at all for the Government or the Central Electricity Generating Board not to place an order immediately for two large coal-fired power stations, with the necessary sifting equipment which is now in demand and which the Government have indicated will be incorporated. There is no reason why that should not be carried on and, as the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury, said, it would be a shot in the arm for the power producing industry, GEC and Babcock and Wilcox which have all suffered grievous redundancies and cutbacks in their workforce.
One thing puzzles me a little. In the past, as your Lordships know, I have persistently questioned in this House when the coal-fired power station programme would commence. I have always been told that that was the business of the CEGB. But the Prime Minister in answering a Question in another place last week indicated that her friend and colleague the Secretary of State for Energy was at present studying the problem and would be taking a decision in the near future on what power stations to order. I do not know who does the ordering, but I ask—and I have been asking this for a long time—please get a move on and get two coal-fired stations ordered. That would be of immense benefit.
Normally in debate in your Lordships' House I see eye to eye with the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, but today in some respects he painted a scenario that does not exist. He talked about a moratorium on making a decision on the Sizewell inquiry. When your Lordships debated nuclear energy some months ago I made the point, and I make it again, that it is not a decision that we can consistently defer without certain consequences. Advances in technology are so fast that once we start to opt out there is no possible way we can catch up.
The noble Lord, Lord Ezra, also compared coal-fired with nuclear energy power stations. I am not too sure that one can equate the two at this stage of the game. For instance, is he saying that in the year 2000, 486 if hypothetically he were the chairman of the coal board, he would be able to supply coal at the same cost as now? I doubt it very much. I do not think he would sign his name to any such agreement. When we talk about the cost of coal, do we take into account the cost of miners' early retirement and redundancy? In the past they have been heavily subsidised by the Government, arid that subsidy is now being withdrawn. That cost has to come within the cost of coal.
When I put down a Question some time ago as to who would pay for the new equipment to be installed in the power stations to eliminate the sulphur dioxide emissions, it was made quite clear that the bill would have to be met by electricity users. I stand to be corrected, but I have seen a figure quoted where in Sweden, which is talking about going totally nonnuclear, it has been calculated on fairly current figures that it would increase the price of electricity to the consumers by a minimum of 30 per cent. It is a little difficult when one starts playing with figures. No one would have assumed three or four years ago that we should be getting coal at the price we are getting it now. It would be dangerous to assume that in the year 2000 it will still be the same price perhaps, and oil as well, because the price of oil is very much tied in with political decisions and governments rising and falling in parts of the world over which we have no control whatever.
§ Lord Ezra
I was using figures because figures were used in the report we have before us. What I was trying to demonstrate was that on the assumptions then made they came to certain conclusions. If we were to make those assumptions today, we should come to other conclusions. Therefore there is grave uncertainty about this.
§ Lord Dean of Beswick
My colleagues on the Front Bench may be saying, "Hear, hear", but I am not satisfied with what the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, said. I think he was using a very cloudy crystal ball in his predictions of what may happen in the future, because nobody knows what the costs will be. On one thing I agree with him. I cannot challenge the figures he has given me. I pressed this matter even when I was in another place as regards refurbishing some of the older power stations, as I have been employed in the past in the industry. I was always told, though I have no figures to prove it, that it was not viable economically as against the life of a new power station phased over the defrayment period. I have no figures to challenge that, but those were the reasons given.
The success of Britain's nuclear industry is vital for this country. It is important in its own right, as a major source of employment and industrial investment. I wish people would understand what they are talking about, wiping out jobs with some of the ideas that have been put forward. I am not suggesting for one moment that job provision is the whole argument, but it would have serious consequences if we did the wrong thing at the wrong time. More importantly, the hope of a vigorous manufacturing economy depends upon cheap energy, which can come only if nuclear-generated electricity is allowed to play its part in this country.
487 I have some figures. More than 15,000 people are employed by British Nuclear Fuels and more than 13,000 are employed by the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority. The CEGB and the South of Scotland Electricity Board employ 14,000 people in their nuclear power stations, plus 2,000 support staff. Altogether more than 40,000 people work in the nuclear industry.
The British Nuclear Forum, the industry's trade association, has 60 member organisations directly or indirectly employing 100,000 people in the nuclear industry. The thermal oxide reprocessing plant—THORP, as it is known—is one of the largest construction projects in Europe. The project at Seascale represents an investment of well over £1 billion in the latest technology. At Sellafield the reprocessing using THORP will be an integral part of the fuel cycle. It is significant that France is also developing a reprocessing policy, as are the Japanese and the Germans.
Abandoning THORP would have the following consequences. First, the United Kingdom would lose £4 billion in reprocessing contracts. Secondly, the construction industry would lose more than the £1 billion that will be spent on building THORP. Thirdly, a very large portion of British Nuclear Fuel's programme of investment, valued at £1 million per day, is spent on THORP, and this would be lost to British industry where 90 per cent. of it is presently spent. Current orders for using THORP will cover the cost of building it. We should lose those, effectively throwing away the money already invested.
Orders for uranium enrichment through URENCO will earn Britain well over three-quarters of a billion pounds in the next few years. In the decade to 1995 British Nuclear Fuels Limited will invest £3 billion, supporting about 70,000 jobs, including those people employed directly by British Nuclear Fuels.
Britain has generated nuclear electricity for 25 years. In that time there has not been a single radiation fatality—a previous speaker referred to that—to a member of the public or a worker at any civil nuclear facility. Survey after survey has been done showing that our nuclear power stations fall within internationally agreed limits on radiation emissions. One such survey by the Medical Research Council of Atomic Energy Authority Employees showed that the death rate from cancer was lower than the average for employees in other industries.
Another survey, initiated by British Nuclear Fuels. covering 11,500 employees and former employees at Sellafield looked at 1,600 deaths over a 30-year period. The total number of deaths from cancer was, at 400, slightly lower than the 450 which might be expected among such a group. Fourteen had died from leukaemia, bone and thyroid cancers and multiple myeloma, which are the diseases most associated with radiation. The number of deaths that would be expected in such a group is 16.8. Further, there was no evidence of an increase in the incidence of cancers. When the different sorts of jobs done by the workers were looked at, the employees in the group who were classed as radiation workers had a slightly lower mortality rate than the rest of the Sellafield workforce.
488 The exposure received by the rest of the Cumbrian population is within the variations experienced in background radiation by the rest of the United Kingdom population. The levels of radioactivity associated with the Sellafield discharges are constantly monitored by British Nuclear Fuels and also independently by scientists from government departments. The monitoring shows that the people living there and nearby are well within the maximum limits recommended by the International Commission on Radiological Protection. There are other statistics to show that every time a charge is made by the environmentalists, or the "green people" as they call themselves, that someone is not doing his job in protecting the people working in the industry or protecting the environment, and the charge is knocked down, they dig up another one. So far they have mostly been shown to be without foundation.
I fail to understand the overwhelming concern people have about the environment and about the fact that Sizewell, if it is built, may become a bit of an eyesore. People have to live with eyesores. I have lived with industrial eyesores for the whole of my life; somebody has to tolerate them. That is not the best argument for not building Sizewell—that it may be considered to look unpleasant to some people who happen to live there. It has cost millions and millions of pounds to try to put right the scarring of Lancashire caused by the coal industry over the years. Most of the cost has been borne by the people of Lancashire and not by those outside it. One has to get that argument in perspective.
I end by saying what I said at the beginning of my speech to Members of your Lordships' House who ask for a further delay after the six years spent studying the project. What new evidence is there? There is no new evidence in regard to Chernobyl. The books there have now been completely opened and at the present time we have a delegation of trade unionists over there looking at what was wrong. We were told that the Russians. when they opened the books, were completely open in revealing the facts of what happened. From the technological examination it is apparent that there is no way that a "Chernobyl" could happen in this country with the type of design that we are talking about.
However, at present there are two electrical lines under the Channel from France, and France is 70 per cent. equipped by nuclear energy and has a growing programme. They are selling their electricity in this country 60 per cent. cheaper than we can sell it. What will be the eventual outcome if we delay for much longer and do not catch up? Having worked in industry I can tell your Lordships that for most industries energy costs are a substantial portion of the costs they have to bear in competing in the export markets. I hope the Government will look closely at what has been said. I also hope in the interests of all concerned that they do not delay making a decision one way or the other.
§ 6.34 p.m.
§ Lord Plowden
My Lords, I should like to join other speakers in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Wyatt, on his maiden speech. My only criticism is that he said a great deal of what I wanted to say myself.
489 He reminded us that it is just over 30 years since the Queen opened Calder Hall, the first full-scale nuclear power station, and over the next 10 or 12 years we built sufficient nuclear power stations to generate more nuclear power than all the rest of the world put together. Then, as so often happens in British public life, we began to hesitate and not be able to make up our minds as to what we ought to do. We asked ourselves: did we want this system? Did we want nuclear power? Where should it be?—and so on.
This evening I have been shocked to listen to certain noble Lords apparently suggesting that we should do the same thing again and that we should postpone any decision on Sizewell B because more information has become available and perhaps we could do better, or worse, or what you will. This will always happen in any large-scale technological industry. You can always think again and not always be right.
Last November we had a debate on the basis of the report of the committee of which the noble Viscount, Lord Torrington, was chairman. The report brought out that the standard of living and the basis of modern civilisation depend upon electricity. The committee came to the conclusion that with the exception of Germany, which has large deposits of lignite, all European utilities agreed that nuclear energy was the cheapest source available.
The noble Lord, Lord Ezra, produced a great many figures about coal. My understanding is that they were based on imported coal and therefore if the figures were to be applied to power stations in this country and the coal had to be imported, presumably that would then mean closing down an equal capacity in our own coal mines. I do not know what others of your Lordships think, but I find it difficult to imagine that that would meet with the approval of any government.
One cannot discuss nuclear energy without realising the fear that people have of nuclear power and radiation. The noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, gave us a great deal of information in order to make our flesh creep. But what I am not sure about is this. If it was as dangerous as he said, then presumably he would set out to close down all the existing nuclear power stations; and if that were done either he would have a power problem on his hands or he is behaving rather like St. Augustine, who is alleged to have said:Oh Lord, make me virtuous, but not yet!
Lord Bruce of Donington
My Lords, I trust the noble Lord will forgive me if I interrupt him for a moment. Perhaps I may respectfully ask him to adhere to what I said and not to what he thought I may have said.
§ Lord Plowden
My Lords, I am afraid I cannot remember at this time of the night exactly what the noble Lord did say; but what he is presumably telling me is that he did not mean that we should close down the existing power stations. In that case, I should think that my analogy with St. Augustine is correct. However, I will not pursue that.
I think we must put this fear—and I know it is a natural fear—into perspective. There have been three accidents in power stations. There was the one at Windscale; and so far as I can remember I was at that time chairman of the Atomic Energy Authority. The 490 only actual accident that occurred was when the authority police patrolling the fence were told to put on their gasmasks. One telephoned through to the station and asked what he was to do because every time he put the mask on his dog bit him. The other incident that I well remember is that we undertook to buy all the milk over a very wide area. We poured it down a huge mine. Never had the cows given so much milk as during that period!
As regards the Three Mile Island incident, there were no deaths. Chernobyl was of course the worst nuclear disaster we have had. As I understand it, 31 people were killed, and undoubtedly there are other lives which will be shortened by the radiation people received. However, we must put that in perspective in the world in which we live. In 1985, 4,832 people were killed on the roads of this country. In 1983, 45,800 people were killed on the roads of the United States. In 1984, 581 people were killed in industry. Of course we all know about the casualties of Bhopal.
In the course of that debate, we were reminded by the noble Lord, Lord Swann, of the millions of tons of pollutants which are pushed into the air from fossil-fuel power stations and from motor cars. All of that has harmful effects both on nature and on human health. Any power station which is built must satisfy the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate. That applies to a station whether it is an AGR or a PWR or any other type of station. My understanding is that of the 79 issues that the inspectorate wanted cleared, 76 have been satisfactorily resolved and the others are well on the way to a solution.
A point was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, regarding the inconvenience to the locality involved in the building of nuclear power stations. Of course that point applies to any large installation. It applies to an airfield. I speak with positive knowledge of that matter because I live within five miles of Stansted. Other countries in Europe have found ways of helping localities and local inhabitants to mitigate to some extent the inconveniences. However, the rating system in this country does not permit that. The Germans and the Japanese, as well as the French, have found ways of helping local inhabitants.
I was formerly a Treasury official and I know how much one objects to making exceptions. It mitigates against good administration. However, I urge the Treasury and Inland Revenue to consider whether something can be done through the rating system to assist the people around Sizewell or people in other areas where such building is going on. I may say that I am not expecting to be assisted because I live near Stansted!
In conclusion, I wish to say that we must make decisions. It is no good wanting to inquire again and again as to whether something can be different. Sizewell B meets the requirements of the nuclear inspectorate. I urge the Government to go ahead and build it. The noble Earl, Lord Halsbury, and others have said that the difficulties of the AGR can be overcome. I believe they should be given, say, a year to show whether those difficulties can be overcome. Perhaps a better station than a PWR could be obtained in the end.
We cannot go on postponing decisions. We cannot keep design teams in existence in those circumstances. 491 They must have work to do. We shall once again succumb to the British disease of refusing to come to a difficult decision and the design teams will then disappear. I hope that the Government will decide this matter soon.
§ 6.45 p.m.
§ The Duke of Portland
My Lords, prior to 1965 the UK was clearly the most advanced of the European countries in the field of nuclear power. In that year the pernicious decision was taken to base the UK nuclear power programme on the advanced gas-cooled reactor and not on the pressurised water reactor. Both types of reactor had the support of strong lobbies but that in favour of the advanced gas-cooled rector was by far the most efficient and won the day.
The United Kingdom has been the only country to adopt the advanced gas-cooled reactor. No other country has shown any interest in it, with the result that our nuclear industry lost the lead which it had enjoyed with the Magnox reactors; moreoever, the advanced gas-cooled reactors have proved disappointing. Now we are assured that the advanced gas-cooled reactors at Torness and Heysham will be completely satisfactory, although faults have been found which is causing delay in their coming on stream.
It was with relief that I read in Sir Frank Layfield's report that he favours the pressurised water reactor, giving his reasons. I hope that this, together with the delay which is being experienced in the new advanced gas-cooled reactors at Torness and Heysham, will deter Her Majesty's Government from repeating the folly committed by their predecessors in 1965.
The two serious nuclear disasters that have happened—Three Mile Island and Chernobyl—have both been due to human error and incompetence, and Chernobyl has shown how a nuclear disaster can have serious repercussions hundreds of miles away. In its report on nuclear power in Europe, your Lordships' Select Committee on the European Communities endorsed the concept of an international agreement covering all aspects of nuclear safety—design, construction, operation, training and emergency procedures.
In May last, the European Parliament resolved that member states should initiate negotiations to establish accurate standards worldwide for the design and safe operation of nuclear power stations, for the transport and disposal of nuclear waste and for effective international monitoring of these by the International Atomic Energy Agency. On 26th September last, two conventions were concluded at the IAEA; one on Early Notification of a Nuclear Accident and the other on Assistance in the Case of a Nuclear Accident or Radiological Emergency. However, these can only be regarded as a first step towards the international agreement which I have just mentioned. A further step would be the updating of the IAEA nuclear safety standards and the transformation of those standards into generally binding minimum rules.
There will doubtless be resistance to obligatory international safety inspection of nuclear installations; a pragmatic approach would be actively to encourage 492 an increase in the number of requests to the IAEA for the despatch of international teams to review the safety of nuclear power stations. For some time past the IAEA has been sending out such teams at the request of member states. Governments may wish to have more international verification of the safety of nuclear power plants in order to satisfy both internal opinion and neighbouring countries.
With determined persistence, we shall arrive at the desired international agreement and secure that this agreement will be backed by an international inspectorate with powers at least as wide as those of the inspectors employed by the International Atomic Energy Agency to enforce the safeguard provisions of a nuclear non-proliferation treaty.
§ 6.51 p.m.
§ Viscount Hanworth
My Lords, I do not want to speak at any length on the Sizewell Report itself. All it says, in effect, is that the proposed PWR at Sizewell could be safe, that it will probably—and that was the word used—produce cheaper electricity than the AGR and even cheaper than a coal-fired power station. The report also draws attention to some areas where safety might be further improved. As regards the last point, I am really shocked to learn that the nuclear inspectorate is undermanned and that the pay of its inspectors does not even equate with the opposite numbers in the CEGB. In spite of all this, some penny pinching decision made, I suppose, in the Treasury moved the headquarters up North, resulting in the loss of many very able people. The more able they are, the more easily they find jobs and therefore the greater the loss. The inspectors ought to be paid much more than their counterparts in industry.
As far as the PWR controversy is concerned, I shall confess that I now have a slight bias towards the AGR, but I do not wish to consider this in detail. I must say however that if safety is of paramount importance then inherently the AGR is safer. I say inherently because it has greater thermal inertia, which means that the operators have probably four hours in which to decide what to do. In this time they can inspect and operate valves manually if their instruments prove unreliable—and experience has shown that this can happen.
On the other hand, admittedly in very unusual circumstances, the time for taking action with the PWR can be as little as 20 minutes or even less. It is significant that with some of the latest designs of PWR they are trying to increase the thermal inertia by using a greater quantity of water. Another safety factor in favour of the AGR is that critically a melt-down is impossible because of the physical separation of the fuel rods by the large amount of graphite moderator. I know that on the drawing board and in theory extra engineering safety features of the PWR provide equal safety, but I believe an inherently safe design has much to commend it in a field where so much is speculation.
I should have thought it would be sensible not to make an immediate decision on the PWR/AGR issue and immediately to build a coal-fired power station to meet the CEGB's urgent demands. Perhaps the Government could say what prevents them getting ahead with this now. This course of action would avoid the possibility that if a Labour Government 493 came into power it might cancel—in fact I believe would cancel—any nuclear power station under construction. Moreover, this delay would hopefully allow time to assess the performance of the new Torness AGR reactor and the possibility of going for the Severn barrage scheme. This, of course, would carry the approbation of all those opposed to nuclear power. The barrage scheme would provide about 6 per cent of the country's electrical energy requirement. Unfortunately, its output would not be continuous and therefore it cannot be a direct substitute for all the new power stations which we might require. However, perhaps the back-up could be provided with minimum capital outlay by using gas turbine generators.
Let me say that I myself am in favour of a continuing nuclear programme in the future and I think we should limit our commitment for coal-fired power stations. I say this because there is the acid rain problem and desulphurisation will not prevent the equally noxious nitrous oxides which produce nitric acid. Secondly, if the greenhouse effect from the carbon dioxide emissions is potentially a real danger, as many scientists believe, it could produce devastating effects for future generations, far worse than many Chernobyl disasters.
There are two other matters which are seldom mentioned. In the year 1983 alone coal mining in England produced 400 new cases of pneumoconiosis. Furthermore, the use of coal does not get away from the radioactivity bogy. It is estimated that radioactivity produced by our coal-fired power stations is comparable with that from our nuclear power stations. The total radioactivity in the coal ash from such power stations is 12 million million—that is, 12 times 10 to the twelfth—Bequerels, which is about the same as that in the low level radioactive wastes produced in 1985 by our nuclear power stations, including the Sellafield reprocessing plant. It is interesting to note that although the radioactivity in the coal ash is relatively low, it would, if produced in the nuclear field, require a specific authorisation for its disposal.
As regards removing sulphur and nitrous oxide pollution from coal-fired power stations, West Germany has become a leader in the field. They have a 440 megawatt power unit which removes most of these contaminants. In England, Johnson Matthey have on the market a process equipment for eliminating NOX emissions. They tell me that they are anxious to scale it up for use in larger power stations. It sould seem sensible for the CEGB to order a pilot plant for a standby gas station or to treat a part of the emission in a larger station. We should also give priority and more funds to scaling up fluoridised bed boilers to a size where they could be used in our power stations. They can provide for desulphurisation and reduce NOX emissions. Surely with sufficient effort we could become leaders in this field. I am not satisfied that the effort and the money are sufficient.
I am not trying to knock coal, but only to show that as an alternative to nuclear power it is not the clean and safe environmentally acceptable method of generating electricity which some people imagine it to be. If you think about it, the early cases of pneumoconiosis I have mentioned, if scaled up for 494 Western Europe, equate very closely with the possible 1,200 early cancer deaths from the Chernobyl accident.
I am very anxious that we should establish one combined heat and power (CHP) project for a large or medium-sized city. With CHP, the overall efficiency of a power station can be raised from 35 to nearly 80 per cent. by increasing the temperature of the condenser cooling water and using it in a district heating scheme. This is common practice in many European countries. The two difficulties of doing so are, first, the long lead time before the heat mains are laid and enough consumers decide to be connected to justify the laying of the main to a large and sometimes distant power station; and, secondly, the time-scale for financing the scheme. I cannot understand why, when the Government provide capital for new power stations and accept a 5 per cent. interest rate, they and the CEGB cannot do the same for at least one demonstration CHP scheme. With the 10 per cent. to 15 per cent. interest charge which the market requires, it is very unlikely that a first scheme can be got off the ground without this help.
The Atkins report considered nine cities as possible sites for CHP schemes and concluded that all of them could be economically viable with a moderate rate of interest. A scheme at Leicester is often mentioned but it is a very small one and relies primarily on an industrial heat load, so it is not relevant in this context. In effect, CHP can be thought of as an almost free non-polluting source of energy. There is very little penalty in fitting all our new power stations with turbines which could later be used for CHP. I very much hope that this will be done.
It is unfortunate that the public take such an emotional view of radiation and nuclear power. I must therefore once again give some facts to try to get the matter into perspective. We are surrounded by natural radiation and even people are slightly radioactive, so keep your distance from your neighbours! So also is your house and garden, so have a flat. If you take the background radiation as 1,000 units, radon gas from uranium in our houses gives 400 units or more—much more in Cornwall because of the granite—and radioactivity within our bodies about the same, and a chest X-ray 200 extra units.
I think I can hear the public ask, "What about nuclear accidents?" We ought to see this possibly in relation to the other risks we have to run, which we accept, apparently without too much worry, on what is called a cost-benefit basis. The classic example—and it has already been mentioned this evening—is of course deaths on the road, around 55,000 a year in western Europe and some 12 times that number of seriously injured, some crippled for life. Many other areas could be mentioned. I shall quote only two. The average for a lifetime's work in British industry is four deaths per thousand; and it is still, for men who stay at home entirely, one in a thousand.
I firmly believe that the West should continue with a large nuclear programme, leaving the diminishing oil and coal much more for the developing countries. I believe this for two reasons. First, the techniques for use of natural fuels are relatively simple and easier for them. Much more important is the danger of nuclear proliferation. Any nuclear reactor is a potential bomb 495 factory. I give away no secrets, because the information was given long ago in answer to a parliamentary Question. One suitable 500 megawatt thermal reactor could, if dedicated to the purpose, produce 20 plutonium bombs a year. I here assume eight kilogrammes of plutonium for each bomb. Just think what may—and I am afraid I think will—happen if an irresponsible small nation gets this capability. In parenthesis, it is one of the strong reasons for Britain maintaining at least some effective nuclear capability.
Finally, I make a moral appeal to those who are against the nuclear programme. Accept the uncertainty of life on this planet. With so many starving people and with WHO statistics showing, for example, 12 million people dying of leprosy, is not the emotional ethic which concentrates on opposing nuclear power, with its obvious advantages, both ill-informed and rather craven?
§ 7.5 p.m.
§ Lord Ironside
My Lords, first I should like to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Wyatt of Weeford, on his short and witty speech. I hope that we shall all hear him speak on other subjects in your Lordships' House. I am taking my grandchildren down to Cornwall this summer, and after listening to what he had to say about Cornwall I have no intention of cancelling my plans.
Many of your Lordships know of my interest in the technological world of research and development. It would be hopeless to try to explain away the fact that I have nothing to do with power stations while I am fully employed by a group of engineering companies which makes them, with plants in Wolverhampton, Derby and the North-East. In any case, as a member of your Lordships' Select Committee on the European Communities I have taken part in the inquiries on nuclear power in Europe and air pollution. We have debated both reports and the Government can therefore draw on views expressed in this House at the time of those debates.
We can all draw on the post-mortem at the Vienna Conference where it was clearly shown after the Chernobyl incident that the Russians were, on their own admission, at fault. It is a bitter lesson for them and a serious one for everyone else, and it shows that Sir Frank Layfield's work has not been done in vain.
On the question of air pollution, the Secretary of State has already drawn on the views expressed in debate in this House and has taken action on the sub-committee's opinion that some coal-fired stations should be fitted with sulphur dioxide abatement equipment. In this House we can therefore say that we have a wealth of relevant material to draw on in debating this Motion. From the works of Layfield, I should like to touch on the customer-contractor issues which I think are critical to the government decision-making. We must consider the significance of the Sizewell B application to the electrical manufacturing industry as well as to the electrical supply industry. I pay tribute to the electrical supply industry in the same way as the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, has done. He spoke of the electrical industry, and I hope he was including the electrical manufacturing industry as well.
496 What is decided now will have long-term effects on both. The pattern of consumption is very difficult to predict, as we all know. If we were able to predict demand more easily perhaps then we would not run into all the difficulties we have at the moment which are caused by a fear of running short. Wherever we look this fear exists, and the fact is that there is overcapacity in everything producible—from energy to cereals and wine. The legendary wheat mountains and wine lakes are now compounded by a nuclear pile of surplus generating capacity and what looks like building up into a plaster of Paris slurry pond from the sulphur dioxide abatement plant.
What will happen, following what I hope will be the Government's favourable decision on consent for Sizewell B PWR, will be the start of a programme of investment by the electricity supply industry designed to give a balanced, cost-effective and socially acceptable system to last well into the next century. With the EC Commission's push towards getting member states to invest in more nuclear plant it does not mean the case for coal firing is scrubbed. If anything needs scrubbing it is the flue gases, and I welcome the Government's decision to spend £600 million on sulphur dioxide abatement plant.
The strengths of the electricity supply industry cannot be reckoned without the strengths of the United Kingdom heavy electrical manufacturing industry. The two go hand in hand, and I am concerned about the present position in which the industry has existed since 1979 without power station orders while endeavouring to invest in new plant and ideas. When I say "without power station orders", I mean coal-fired stations as well as nuclear stations. Therefore, a head of steam has been building up all the time in hope; and the industry is ready to roll, not just on building a PWR at Sizewell but in so many other ways. As Layfield himself says, any slack between building to meet the need and building in advance of it has disappeared, and the steam has been building up because the electricity supply industry is known to need an integrated generation and transmission system involving equipment replacements and improvements on a planned basis.
The industry wants to maximise nuclear generation for a start. It is engineering ways of increasing thermal efficiency on high merit fossil-fired stations and extending their lives. It is planning the decommissioning of ageing nuclear power stations at Bradwell and Berkley. It is working towards a design reference for a 900-megawatt pulverised fuel station and doing research into fluidised bed techniques. It is going to introduce flue gas desulphurisation plant at new coal-fired stations and retrofit some six gigawatts of capacity. It is looking at refurbishment and asset replacement of the transmission system and the strengthening of the overhead grid system to avoid saturation. The 11,000-volt lines, though still serviceable, are equipped to obsolete standards and that does not help to maintain the UK capability in the latest technology.
The heavy electrical manufacturing industry has survived to some extent on export orders, which have now dried up. The overseas buyer now demands the latest technology as a matter of course and he expects to see it being used in the supplier's home market.
497 The fact that the Layfield report is concerned with the PWR at Sizewell has not prevented the assessors from reaching their conclusions without looking at alternatives. However, they appear to review options as though they were mutually exclusive, and I think it is important to recognise that planned generating capacity deploys a mix of plant and systems which are interdependent. The CEGB itself recognises that demand is unlikely to be met solely with nuclear plant and that coal-fired capacity will be needed. If that is the case it should not delay application for planning consent for these stations as they will have to include sulphur dioxide abatement plant, which is novel to this country even though it is well known in Western Germany. It will involve millions of tons of fresh limestone feedstock and necessitate calcium sulphate waste-disposal management.
High merit coal-fired plant is destined for the South to correct the North-South divide and the 9-gigawatt saturation limit on the North-South power flow; so we see here, apart from the people wanting to flow South to live, a North-South power flow.
As I understand it, a great deal of work is to be done on planning consents and engineering before hardware contracts can be placed. Applications for new plant always seem to take longer to process than those for replicated plant—if one can ever say that power stations are replicated because in fact they always include elements of new design. I hope that the CEGB can be persuaded to apply early. I do not think I need ask my noble friend on the Front Bench to ask his right honourable friend to give a nudge to the noble Lord, Lord Marshall, because he is here now listening to what I am saying.
Nuclear power is, I believe, an important component of the United Kingdom power programme, but the time has come for comprehensive investment to meet future rising demand. If the PWR at Sizewell B is the trigger for this, then I support it. The PWR is the considered choice of the CEGB and it is also the popular choice of WOCA—the World Outside Communist Areas. There is a strong case for following suit as the bank of technical knowledge round the world is great and we can therefore readily draw upon it for our own requirements if we need to do so.
The thoroughness with which Sir Frank Layfield has done his job must be admired and we are indebted to him. Therefore, I hope that he has laid to rest the phantom of Sizewell. I hope that the Government can now rapidly give their consent for the PWR so that the comprehensive investment programme can start right away.
§ 7.16 p.m.
My Lords, in winding up this fascinating debate on behalf of my noble friends on these Benches, what I personally wish to say on this subject can be said in a few sentences and I will try to limit myself to those few sentences.
It seems that we all agree that the world—and we talk in world terms—faces an ongoing energy crisis. The fact that nuclear fission appeared at one time likely to provide limitless energy in perpetuity seemed to me to be the most helpful development which had 498 happened to the western world since Hitler launched his attack on the Soviet Union. I am bound to say that we were optimistic in those old days. The noble Lord, Lord Wyatt, in his fascinating maiden speech, referred to the opening of Calder Hall. I was there and I shared his optimism at that time. However, it appears that when we solve problems we almost inevitably, and all too often, create new and sometimes bigger problems; and I am afraid that, tragically, that seems to be the case with nuclear power.
I do not for one moment say that we do not need nuclear power. Indeed, I am wholly convinced that we will need it desperately and that, as time goes on, we will become increasingly dependent on it. However, as regards immediate developments I must quote once again St. Anthony, who has been quoted several times in this debate—
I know that it was attributed to St. Augustine but I believe that in fact it was St. Anthony. However, he is not actually here!
I do not wish to embark on any specious arguments about how long our existing energy resources will last; whether our oil supplies will last for 10 years, 20 years or more; whether our coal supplies will disappear or last for 300 years or more; or how long North Sea gas will last. However, one thing is clear: our energy resources are finite which means that sooner or later they will run out. I am utterly convinced that that means we should husband and cherish those resources which we now have with a great deal more care than we do. Many references have been made in debate to that aspect, in particular by the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol. We should be doing a great deal more to husband and cherish those resources which we now have in order to give ourselves more time. Time for what! Time to pioneer and develop alternatives.
Some of the options have already been touched upon. One is tidal power. Certainly, the Severn barrage and perhaps even the Mersey barrage are projects about which I personally—and I speak entirely personally—would be a little more enthusiastic than I am about the Channel Tunnel. However, that is an entirely separate matter. I believe that tidal power has to be looked at, as do the possibilities of wind power on which much work is being done, particularly in my own part of the world in Cumbria where we have plenty of wind and where there are many people at present exploiting it commercially, effectively and efficiently. We need to look further at solar energy. It is even possible that there may be people today—not in your Lordships' House—who wilt live long enough to see the benefits of power derived from nuclear fusion. Whether or not that is a dream, I do not know, but there are alternatives
Nevertheless, I am convinced that whatever we do in terms of cherishing and husbanding our present resources and pioneering and developing these other sources of power, there will be a gap which can only be bridged by nuclear generated power. There are those—not only members of my party but also of my own family—who constantly warn me about the risks of nuclear power. Whatever the risks of nuclear power 499 and it would be foolish to ignore them—I am well aware of them, living as I do within spitting distance of Sellafield—those risks must be measured against the certainty of catastrophe if we were to suffer a total energy failure with all that that would entail, such as failure of water supplies, sewage disposal and the total destruction of energy supplies. However, we must not ignore the fact that many people feel that there are risks and we must carry public opinion with us.
I should like to mention the fascinating maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Wyatt. I heard him often in another place. On those occasions he always seemed to agree with my party and disagree with his own. It now appears that he disagrees with both parties. However, it was a great pleasure to hear him. He mentioned that we were the first in the field of nuclear energy and now we are the last. I think that Calder Hall was first opened more than 30 years ago. I take the view that it is not always so bad to be late in the queue with certain new developments.
Britain has suffered not once but over and over. again through having been in the forefront of industrial development. It happened with coal, the industry with which my noble friend Lord Ezra was involved. We were first in the field in coal mining and as a result many of our coalfields had too many shafts and too much surface equipment for the mining underground; others who developed their coalfields much later were able to profit from our experience. In the same way Japan has overtaken us in certain industrial processes. It has done so without spending a penny on research and development because it has taken advantage of the research and development that we conducted. It is no bad thing that we were first in the field and took the first steps; nor has it been a bad thing that we have had time to reconsider our position and learn a little more about other developments.
The noble Lord, Lord Wyatt, said that he was convinced that there was no real danger from radiation. I accept that. I have said in your Lordships' House that the principal source of irradiation to which British people are exposed derives not from nuclear power stations but from diagnostic X-rays. I believe that to be true, though I know that radiation comes from natural sources as well.
I accept that the record of the nuclear power industry is admirable. I have spent a great deal of time at Sellafield and I believe that its safety precautions are admirable in every way. At the same time I must say to the noble Lord, Lord Wyatt, that although he may believe that all the problems are solved, I do not believe that he can be saying that we have finally and satisfactorily solved the problem of the disposal of radioactive waste. I do not think that that problem has been finally and satisfactorily solved and we must look at it much more closely.
The noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, and the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, drew something of a red herring across the path when they directed our attention to the environmental impact on the Sizewell area itself. That is important of course and has to be considered. But what must be a final consideration is whether we need a PWR now, and not where it should be. If we need it and are to have one, so be it. I accept 500 that all those matters have to be considered, and it is right that they should be brought up, but the real need is to consider the most urgent task here and now.
I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Plowden, will not say that I am asking for more time to be wasted. Certainly, I am not asking for another Sizewell inquiry or another Layfield report. I doubt the extent to which our nation can afford such inquiries, though I hasten to add that that one was admirable in every way. Sir Frank Layfield's report is splendid and very valuable indeed, but I am not sure whether we can go on with inquiries of that kind. We can follow the lines that have been suggested by many people in the scientific world. I agree with the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury, that we need to give ourselves time to learn the lessons which may come from Torness and Heysham. We ought to give ourselves time to make the kind of technical changes in relation to the PWR (and I do not fully understand them) to which the noble Earl referred. Those matters need to be considered.
However, the most important matter—and obviously it would be unwise for any of us to ignore it—is to realise that there is grave public anxiety over the question of nuclear power. That is understandable, and comes in part from something that happened overseas—the Chernobyl disaster. At the moment the Ministry of Agriculture and the Department of the Environment are still taking samples from my garden up in the Lake District, testing my vegetables and my water supply. I know that Sellafield is not responsible. The problem has come from somewhere else altogether. However, that event made people extremely anxious.
With regard to the clusters of cases of leukaemia to which the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury, referred, I have to tell him that I advised my next door neighbour some time ago who asked me about her son, an enthusiastic fell racer who trained every day on the beach and bathed in the sea at Seascale. She asked me, "Is there any danger?" I said, "I think not. I have talked with Sir Douglas Black who conducted the inquiry and I personally am satisfied that there is no real risk". It is a fact that a month later that boy was admitted to the Christie Hospital in Manchester suffering from leukaemia. It is very difficult for me to give the kind of explanation that the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury, has just given to the House, and to say that there are other viruses and other clusters in, say, Essex or Scotland.
If we ignore public anxieties on an issue of this kind, in the long run the power industry as a whole will suffer. We must take the right steps and be satisfied that the public believe that we are taking the right steps. At the moment there are certain things that I believe should be done. In the short term what is needed most urgently is another coal fired power station, for the reasons argued by my noble friend Lord Ezra. If I may say so, the economic reasons that he gave were based on figures given to your Lordships' Select Committee and not based on the import figures, as I think the noble Lord, Lord Plowden, appeared to suggest. On economic grounds I think that case is fully made out. There is a case for dealing with the short-term situation, not postponing matters but giving ourselves time to decide which is the right way ahead. That would be the wisest course to take.
501 I know that my noble friend Lord Hanworth warned us about sulphur dioxide in the atmosphere. As a doctor treating bronchitic patients, I have known all about that for years. I know about the greenhouse effect of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and its effect on the ozone layer, and that the mean average world temperature is increasing by a small amount every year. However, I can assure my noble friend that the polar caps will not melt immediately, though perhaps we should be unwise to take long leases on properties at sea level; but that is another matter.
Nevertheless, I believe that the best option in the short term is to have another coal-fired power station and to take further thought about alternatives before we decide which is the way ahead. I should make it clear that I believe that in the long term the whole world will increasingly rely on nuclear generated power. That should be recognised, but for goodness sake let us go about it in the right way.
§ 7.30 p.m.
§ Lord Ennals
My Lords, first I should like to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Wyatt of Weeford, not only on his presence but on his speech. We first met—I do not know whether he remembers it—in 1943 when he was a staff captain and I was a mere subaltern. It was about a year before the Normandy invasion. He has a lively mind as he has demonstrated today, but he has also discovered that it is difficult to be interesting and non-controversial. Today he was interesting and controversial.
In my view, the Government were sensible to decide to listen to the views of both Houses and to have today a take-note Motion to which they will listen and which they will consider. Then they will take a decision. My advice to them, which I think would be reflected by many noble Lords, is that there is no need to rush into a decision on what has been a most controversial inquiry. The problem remains one of the most controversial. To that extent I agree with the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Winstanley—and many other noble Lords said the same—that two new coal-fired stations are probably needed immediately. There should be no delay on that.
The CEGB seems to have been putting everything on the Sizewell B PWR decision. I do not think that it should allow itself to be rushed into a decision. It must understand, as has been said on both sides of the House, that there is a degree of public anxiety. Some of it may be real, some of it may be exaggerated, but it is there.
When looking at the Layfield Report we have a strange situation. The Government are in a much more fortunate position than Sir Frank Layfield was, in that he could take no cognisance of any relevant development in the past two years. That is not criticism of him. I warmly congratulate him on one of the most readable of reports. We too often receive reports which are full of facts but which do not read well. This one reads well. He was put into a difficult position. The Government are in a better position, and we are in a better position. We know that in the past 24 months economic and safety factors have fundamentally changed.
502 I mention the two factors together because Sir Frank's major conclusion was:There should be good confidence that Sizewell B, if built, would be sufficiently safe to be tolerable."Sufficiently safe to be tolerable" is not a powerful phrase. He continues:providing that there is expected to be economic benefit sufficient to justify the risks incurred".That major conclusion contains three questions. Sir Frank Layfield was not able to consider two vital factors. The first is fossil fuel prices. They are crucial to the economics of Sizewell B. They have dramatically reduced since 1985. Layfield accepted British Coal's price forecasts for coal but today those forecasts are now some 80 per cent. lower. That point was made by the noble Viscount, Lord Hood. Sizewell B will incur a substantial loss of about £400 million over its lifetime, even if everything runs according to plan.
Thus, rising capital cost estimates and plummeting coal prices, regardless of oil—who knows what the movement in oil prices will be; they will probably be upwards—will turn the Sizewell project from what was considered to be a potential £1 billion-saver into a loss-maker of between £300 million and £400 million.
We and the Government now know much more than was known at the time Layfield wrote his report. As my noble friend Lord Bruce of Donington said, there is a strong possibility that had Sir Frank Layfield known those facts his conclusions might have been different. We cannot tell. He is not likely to make a statement on that point.
Today's debate has centred on four major questions. They all relate to Sizewell B. At one moment I wondered whether we were talking about Sizewell B or the whole question of nuclear power. Our view on the broader issues was ably stated by my noble friend Lord Stoddart of Swindon, who unhappily is unwell or he would have been speaking and not I. He is making good progress and I am sure that we would all want to wish him a complete recovery from his illness.
I shall sum up some of the major questions. First, will Sizewell B be an economic proposition? The signs are that it will not. The case for Sizewell B rests heavily on future fossil fuel prices, including coal. Since the end of the inquiry, fossil fuel price forecasts have changed. Layfield rejected the CEGB coal price forecasts as substantially too high. He criticised its evidence as confused, insufficient and one of skilful uncertainty. That is a lovely phrase.
He sided with the National Coal Board, now British Coal, which forecast world coal prices of 75 dollars per tonne. British Coal is now forecasting a world price level of about 40 dollars per tonne, which will increase only slowly, if at all, in the 1980s. Those lower coal prices change a projected saving, as I have said, of well over £1 billion for Sizewell B to a loss of over £300 million; and so we are dealing with a different situation.
In short, since 7th March 1985 the cost of building Britain's first American-designed nuclear power station has greatly increased, while the prices of competing oil and coal have fallen substantially. That is the economic argument. There are of course many other questions.
503 The second question is whether Sizewell is necessary. The CEGB has consistently misjudged—I am sorry to say this in the presence of the noble Lord, Lord Marshall—future electricity demand. In the 10 years before the inquiry, the CEGB's projections for demand for seven years ahead were on average 26 per cent. too high. The CEGB now says that it needs to order five PWRs and four coal-fired stations by 1990 to keep the nation's lights on. I believe that that is excessive. It is probably as excessive as its previous estimates, if not more so. It has merely extrapolated a slight increase in electricity demand over the past two years and assumed that that will continue indefinitely into the future.
If new capacity is necessary, the PWR is neither the only nor necessarily the best way to meet those demands. My noble friend Lord Dean referred to, and I have already mentioned, the coal-fired option, for which I believe many noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Winstanley, have argued. Other options include the refurbishing of existing fossil fuel stations, extending their life for a further five to 10 years, and, as other noble Lords have said, combining heat and power stations, which are twice as efficient as a PWR.
The third question is perhaps a fundamental one which has been thrown across the House. It concerns the safety of the PWR. In the report Sir Frank Layfield said that he was not able to base his conclusions on a final safety case for Sizewell B as none was submitted. That is a powerful negative statement. He was unable conclusively to judge the safety of Sizewell B. He relied instead on the CEGB and the NII to resolve outstanding safety issues after the end of the inquiry.
The safety of Sizewell B has thus not been demonstrated conclusively to the general public or to Parliament. If we look at the risks, Sir Frank Layfield rejects the CEGB's idea of what he calls acceptable risk. He proposes instead the concept of tolerable risk. This is what I quoted from in his major conclusion. This is no more than a cost-benefit way of assessing risks linked to some knowledge of what risks the public will tolerate. All this was before Chernobyl. One cannot take a decision which simply rejects Chernobyl. After Chernobyl it is clear that with regard to nuclear power the public are not prepared to tolerate even supposedly low levels of risk.
Sir Frank Layfield concludes on this by saying that there is no wide, accepted method of risk evaluation. He also said that the quantity assessment of risk from Sizewell B has a high degree of uncertainty. In addition, he said that the CEGB's and the NII's criteria to limit the probability and the consequences of nuclear accidents has not been fully justified. He stated that there has not been sufficient public and political consideration of the basis for regulating nuclear safety. If he has stated all those factors I would submit to your Lordships' House that it would not be responsible for the Government to say, "All right, that gives us the go-ahead for Sizewell B". As I have said, this still leaves out Chernobyl.
The noble Lord, Lord Wyatt, said that he could find no reactor deaths. Let me remind him about Chernobyl. Chernobyl has so far killed 31 people and there are a further 201 who are seriously ill. In the long 504 term between 10,000 and 50,000 cancers have been prophesied. In Britain—over 1,200 miles away, quite apart from the back garden of the noble Lord, Lord Winstanley—between 100 and 500 long-term cancers are likely. The accident occurred in an RBMK reactor which the noble Lord, Lord Marshall, described in 1976 as reliable. Perhaps the noble Lord thought it was; but it was not. Human error cannot be eliminated from the operation of a nuclear reactor. There is no such thing as a fail-safe reactor anywhere in the world. Layfield concludes that the effect of human error on safety is potentially large, and that there are no reliable methods yet for quantifying human error.
I therefore ask myself this question. Quite apart from the rest of the world or the rest of the country, what about the radiation effects on people in the area near Sizewell? One reason I am speaking on this subject rather than on my normal subject of health is that I know the area reasonably well. I certainly know the concerns that exist there. People are worried. It was said by the noble Earl, Lord Lauderdale, that some people are not worried. But many people are very worried.
What alternatives are there to Sizewell B? I believe that there are many options. If we have to produce more power now I have said what I think we should do straight away while we consider further the option that is before us for Sizewell. The most obviously neglected option is that of combined heat and power. Successive official reports have pronounced it cost-effective and have named nine suitable urban areas. There are five consortia waiting to build it. It would create more jobs than Sizewell B, many in the areas of the country that most need jobs. The CEGB did not seriously dispute its superior economic merit at the inquiry.
I think it is time to look at the legal, financial and institutional impediments which are blocking development of this major resource which is well proven in other countries. I believe that the United Kingdom is very fortunate in having unusually rich and diverse renewable energy resources both on and off shore—its large wind and wave energy resource and its major potential for harnessing the tides in the hot rocks beneath the land mass. We have so many advantages which other countries do not have, partly because we are an island and partly because of our climate. These are factors which ought to be explored more vigorously than they are being explored at the moment.
The last question I wish to put is this. What about jobs? Perhaps economically this is the most imporant issue for the public. What about exports? This is a matter which I know concerns the noble Lord, Lord Dean of Beswick. Jobs, my Lords, yes; but exports, no. Jobs will he created whatever kind of power stations are built. All power stations require turbines. Sizewell B is supposed to create 50,000 jobs over eight years, but up to 28,000 more jobs would be created with the same level of investment in a national programme of energy conservation and combined heat and power.
Sizewell B will also destroy jobs. Building Sizewell B will employ about 8,400 people for seven and a half years if the project runs its time, whereas it would take 505 approximately 6,500 people six and a half years to build a coal station of the same capacity. But during its operating phase Sizewell B would support up to 10,000 fewer jobs than a coal-fired station and cause between 5,000 and 8,000 job losses in the mining industry.
On exports, it has been pointed out by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Birmingham, who had to leave us, by the noble Viscount, Lord Hood, and the noble Lord, Lord Ironside, that the export potential of the PWR must be a fantasy. There have been no orders for PWRs since 1978. The world market has slumped since Three Mile Island, and now Chernobyl, due to widespread and justified fears over the safety of all water-cooled reactors. On the environmental question, in a sense there has been a title bit of an argument on our own Benches as to the importance of environmental factors. The noble Lord, Lord Dean of Beswick. said, "I have put up with nasty-looking piles of slag heaps ever since I was a kid", and he went on to say more or less that the forthcoming generation should have to put up with it as well.
§ Lord Ennals
But not intentionally. My noble friend Lady Nicol says that we must look carefully at environmental factors; we must do so. The decision that the Government will eventually take will not just determine the nuclear industry for generations to come but may affect the nature of our life and the lives of people in Britain for generations to come. Since there is so much uncertainty about the economics of it all, I believe that the environmental issues will become vital when the Government make their final choice.
§ 7.48 p.m.
§ Viscount Davidson
My Lords, I should like first to add my congratulations to those already expressed to the noble Lord, Lord Wyatt of Weeford, for his succinct, witty and informative maiden speech. We have had, I believe, a most useful and constructive debate this evening. Many interesting points have been raised by speakers on all sides of the House. I have listened most carefully to everything that has been said and I know that my right honourable friend will study the transcript of the debate carefully before he reaches his decision on the CEGB's proposals.
In opening this debate I expressed my appreciation for the painstaking and dedicated manner in which Sir 506 Frank and his team approached their task. Let me in my closing remarks give the House a few facts and figures which help to illustrate the depth and thoroughness of the way in which the inquiry was conducted.
The formal hearings opened in January 1983 and heard over 340 days of evidence, following preliminary meetings in June, July and October 1982. Evidence was taken from 195 witnesses on 344 occasions. Two hundred proofs of evidence were presented, supplemented by over 500 addenda, and 14 written statements were read. Some 4,330 supporting documents were lodged with the inquiry secretariat. Over 4,000 letters of objection and 112 written submissions were received. The 340 volumes of the daily transcript alone are estimated to contain 16 million words.
I am sure that noble Lords will appreciate the clear and comprehensive manner in which Sir Frank has handled this amount of evidence. We also owe a debt to Sir Frank's four assessors. Sir Christopher Foster advised him on economic questions, Dr. Vennart on the biological effects of radiation, Professor Hall on engineering matters, and Professor Alexander on the transport of nuclear fuel. They had to find substantial amounts of time for this work in addition to their professional and academic responsibilities. I am sure that we are all most appreciative of the considerable contribution made by them, and by the inquiry secretariat, which ensured the smooth running of the inquiry and gave the inspector valuable assistance in preparing the report.
In conclusion, 1 should like to thank the House for the valuable and constructive contributions that have been made today. In introducing this debate, I said that we must recognise the fundamental importance for the future of our decisions on the forms of energy which we seek to develop. We shall shortly be making decisions which are likely to have an important influence on the energy scene for decades ahead. It is against that background that my right honourable friend will consider both what has been said today and what was said last week in another place with the greatest care before taking his decision.
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.