§ 4.43 p.m.
§ Viscount Davidson
My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement on Sizewell B which has been made in another place by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Energy.
The Statement is as follows: "With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to inform the House that I have reached a decision on the application by the Central Electricity Generating Board to construct a nuclear power station using a pressurised water reactor: the Sizewell B station in Suffolk. In accordance with the statutory requirements of the inquiry rules, I am notifying the board, the local planning authorities and the objectors of my decision and my reasons therefor. I am placing copies of my decision letter in the House Library.
"The CEGB's application has been the subject of the most wide-ranging and longest public inquiry carried out in this country. I published the report on 26th January. It was debated by this House on 23rd 1158 February. On that occasion the thoroughness and well-written nature of Sir Frank Layfield's work were generally acknowledged by both sides.
"I can assure the House that before reaching my decision I have carefully considered the points raised during that debate and those made in the debate in another place last week.
"Honourable Members have clearly studied the inspector's report with care. They will be familiar with his conclusion that there is a national interest in building a PWR and that this can best be met at Sizewell. He found that a new power station is required to meet anticipated capacity need; that it should be approved in the near future; and that the proposed PWR is likely to be the least cost means of adding that capacity. The inspector further concluded that there is good confidence that Sizewell B was sufficiently safe to be tolerable and that the national need for the station overrides the local interest in favour of conservation.
"Sir Frank therefore recommended that consent and deemed planning permission should be given for the station, but should be refused for the second access road. He also made a number of detailed subsidiary recommendations.
"The inspector closed the inquiry in March 1985 and properly reported only on the evidence he received before then. In reaching my decision, however, I must consider whether anything has occurred since that date which is material to my decision and, if so, what weight I should give to any such matters.
"I have, in particular, considered the relevance of Chernobyl to the safety of the proposed station. I have also taken into account recent changes in electricity demand and in fossil fuel prices.
"First, in relation to the Chernobyl accident, the Chief Inspector of Nuclear Installations has advised me that the PWR design for Sizewell B is of a different reactor type from the Soviet RBMK design. All nuclear power stations in the UK, unlike those in the USSR, must have engineered control and automatic protection systems. Moreover, our system of regulation, unlike that which applied in the USSR, ensures that there is a proper and reliable procedural framework of controls. All our experience in the UK has demonstrated that there is a superior safety culture to that which apparently existed at Chernobyl and which allowed the repeated deliberate non-compliance with safety procedures. The Chief Inspector of Nuclear Installations therefore advises me that the Chernobyl accident does not call for any reconsideration of the conclusions or recommendations of the Layfield report. I agree with his advice, a copy of which I am placing in the House Library.
"In his report, Sir Frank Layfield also discusses emergency plans in the event of a nuclear accident. My right honourable friend the Prime Minister announced on 18th December that the Government were undertaking a review, in the light of our experience of the Chernobyl accident, of the United Kingdom's emergency plans and procedures in the event of a nuclear accident either in the UK or abroad. The conclusion of the first stage of the 1159 review was that, while planning needs to provide more specifically for an accident outside the UK, existing emergency plans continue to provide a valid basis for the response to any nuclear accident in the UK.
"Turning to the economic case, I have noted that since the inquiry closed, economic activity has risen with associated growth in demand for electricity. Sizewell B, even if started now, is unlikely to be ready ahead of need.
"On the other hand, fossil fuel prices have fallen since 1985. Projecting these forward to the end of the century and beyond is subject to great uncertainty. I have, however, examined the inspector's economic case against a range of coal prices considerably lower than those discussed in the report.
"Even against this lower range, I have concluded that Sizewell B remains the cheapest option for meeting the anticipated need for new capacity. I have also concluded, as did the inspector, that the development of a further nuclear station would be a valuable step in achieving greater fuel diversity in our generating system.
"In view of the inspector's conclusions and recommendations, together with my own consideration of the issues, I agree with his conclusions that Sizewell B is acceptably safe and would meet a national need by providing new capacity at least cost. This outweighs any disadvantage from disturbance to the locality.
"I have therefore decided to give my consent under Section 2 of the Electric Lighting Act 1909 to the CEGB's application to construct the Sizewell B power station, together with deemed planning permission under Section 40 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1971, and the necessary investment approval. In order to minimise disturbance to the locality, I have decided that this should be subject to the detailed local planning conditions proposed by the inspector and should exclude the CEGB's proposal for a new access road, consent for which is refused. In my decision letter, which set out my detailed response, I also accept the substance of the inspector's other recommendations. A number of these recommendations will now need to be actively followed up outside government. In particular, I can say that I agree with the inspector that a study of alternatives to the B.1122 for heavy traffic should be made and am commending this to the Suffolk County Council.
"Sir Frank Layfield also helpfully made a number of observations and informal proposals for further action which he considered desirable. I am not required to reach a conclusion on these for the purposes of my Section 2 consent. I have, however, examined them carefully and, where appropriate, they will be further considered by the Government.
"In reaching my decision I have considered most carefully Sir Frank Layfield's comments on safety. I should make clear that, as a separate process, under different statute, the CEGB also require a licence from the independent Nuclear Installations Inspectorate as well as my consent before they can 1160 start construction. The Chief Inspector of Nuclear Installations informs me that the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate judge that there are now no safety obstacles of substance which would prevent the licensing of Sizewell B in the next couple of months. He has assured me that the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate will consider carefully Sir Frank Layfield's comments and proposals on the safety of the reactor before issuing a licence. Sir Frank Layfield commented that both the CEGB and the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate possessed impressive technical competence and engineering judgment of a high quality.
"I am fully confident that the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate will continue to satisfy itself about the safety of the station throughout the rest of its design, construction, operation and decommissioning. At each major stage in the construction and commissioning process, the approval of the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate is required before the CEGB can proceed further.
"Turning briefly to alternative sources of electricity, I should make clear that the Government are determined that renewable techniques should, in the longer term, make the maximum contribution of which they are economically capable. We are supporting a major research and development programme of which over £100 million has been spent to date. Strong support will continue to be provided for our programmes on wind, tide and geothermal hot dry rocks.
"My decision on Sizewell B reinforces the importance which the government attach to the role already played by nuclear power within the United Kingdom. It now provides some 20 per cent. of our electricity requirements and with those stations due for commissioning in the near future, a quarter of Britain's electricity will come from nuclear power. On any projection of world energy needs there is no way of meeting those needs in the coming decades without the emergence of a substantial contribution from nuclear power. My Sizewell decision today will enable Britain to play its part in that endeavour".
My Lords, that concludes the Statement.
Lord Bruce of Donington
My Lords, the House is grateful to the noble Viscount for having made such a comprehensive and indeed lengthy Statement on this matter. We on this side of the House should like to say immediately that the decision that has been made, involving as it does hazards for the future, is one of the gravest decisions that has been taken by the Government and one that is profoundly disappointing.
If I may say so, in the course of his Statement the noble Viscount has played a little fast and loose with the inspector's report. According to him the inspector,found that a new power station is required to meet anticipated capacity need; that it should be approved in the near future; and that the proposed PWR is likely to be the least cost means of adding that capacity. The Inspector further concluded that there is good confidence that Sizewell B was sufficiently safe to be tolerable and that the national need for the station overrides the local interest in favour of conservation".In view of the fact that the report is now many months old, it would perhaps have been a little more 1161 honest to say that that was likely to be the least cost means, because of course many considerations have arisen since the report was completed. One does not have to repeat the arguments that were put forward at some length from all sides of the House on this aspect of the matter, but it will be recalled that the inspector's decision was made before the accident at Chernobyl and before the drastic fall in the price of oil and other fuels and that his decision in favour of Sizewell was only reached on balance.
The Government have decided—and noble Lords will have an opportunity of reading the Statement in detail—to ignore all the factual contributions arguing to the contrary that were made both in this Chamber and in another place on the question of cost. Nowhere does the noble Viscount refer to having taken account of the views expressed by Parliament, even though he gave a considerable undertaking that he would take all views into consideration. In relation to price he merely says:I have, however, examined the Inspector's economic case against a range of coal prices considerably lower than those discussed in the report. Even against this lower range, I have concluded that Sizewell B remains the cheapest option for meeting the anticipated need for new capacity".That is against the weight of documented evidence that was produced not only in another place but in this House also.
The noble Viscount's Statement goes on to say that the safety factor is regarded as being acceptably safe and that,This outweighs any disadvantage from disturbance to the locality".The balance was not put in those terms by Sir Frank Layfield, who said that only the national interest should outweigh these various considerations. We have today heard a reiteration of the view taken by the Government even before they received the Layfield report. It is an example of how technological and sectional interests have been allowed to outweigh the broader social considerations with which the Government should properly be concerned.
Moreover, and somewhat surprisingly, there is no mention of waste disposal. The Government have been dithering for two years over the whole question of nuclear waste disposal. At the moment they do not have a clue as to how they will be able to dispose of it and have given no indication in any of the reports or during the parliamentary debates that have taken place. That great question, which poses such hazards to the community at large and to society as a whole, still remains unresolved. It is a vital matter that ought to have been taken into account at the time the Government reached their decision.
We are also surprised that the environmental factors, which Sir Frank Layfield indicated should only be overriden in the national interest, have barely been dealt with in this Statement, other than by offering a sop to local opinion with an indication that permission for the access road requested by the CEGB will not be granted. This decision was arrived at by people who live outside Suffolk. One wonders whether the same decision would have been reached if those people had known that they themselves were to live there.
1162 This report and Statement take no account of the broad interests of the country. That is made clear by the last paragraph, which is disingenuous to say the least. The noble Lord said:My decision on Sizewell B reinforces the importance the Government attach to the role already played by nuclear power in the UK. It now provides some 20 per cent. of our electricity requirements and with those stations due for commissioning in the near future, a quarter of Britain's electricity will come from nuclear power".The Statement then cleverly shifts the focus away from the United Kingdom, with which it should be dealing, to the world scene. The Statement says by way of justification:On any projection of world energy needs there is no way of meeting those needs in the coming decades without the emergence of a substantial contribution from nuclear power".The Statement does not deal with the question of whether it is possible to satisfy this country's needs on the basis of our resources. We greatly regret that such a Statement should have been made.
§ 5 p.m.
§ Lord Ezra
My Lords, I should like to join with the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, in thanking the noble Viscount for repeating the Statement. It is of course a matter of great importance. I should like to put three questions arising from the Statement to the noble Viscount. The first concerns the economic case, to which the noble Lord, Lord Bruce, has already referred. The Secretary of State said that he had concluded that Sizewell B remained the cheapest option for meeting the anticipated needs for new capacity, despite the much reduced prices of fossil fuel since the report was prepared.
The evidence that was available to those of us who took part in the debate in your Lordships' House last week did not support that conclusion. There could well be other reasons for going ahead with the project, but that did not seem to be one of them. The evidence, based not only on information made available from British Coal but from a number of independent sources, was that if a projection had been made, similar to that made by the inspector, of the present prices of fossil fuels, the economic argument seemed debatable to say the least.
I should like to ask the noble Viscount—
§ Lord Ezra
My Lords, I should like to invite the noble Viscount to tell us whether he is prepared to let us have the basis on which this conclusion was reached so we can have before us the figuring which the Secretary of State used in reaching his decision just as we had before us the figuring that the inspector used. I do not think that that is an unreasonable request.
Secondly, I should like to refer to the AGR, which is nowhere mentioned in the Statement. A major case in favour of the AGR was put to the inspector at the inquiry. The AGR has been developed in this country 1163 as a result of the devotion of a great deal of resources and engineering skill. It has turned out to be much more effective than at first seemed possible. Is there, in the Government's thinking, any future for the AGR, which is a British developed nuclear station, in view of this decision?
Thirdly, I should like to refer to what strikes me as being almost the most important sentence in the Statement; namely:Sizewell B, even if started now, is unlikely to be ready ahead of need".Does that mean that we will run short of electricity generating capacity while Sizewell B is being constructed, or will measures be taken to introduce additional capacity from other sources to meet that need?
This raises the whole question of coal-fired capacity. I am uncertain whose responsibility—the CEGB's or the Government's—it is to decide that. Answers given in this House have suggested that it is a matter for the CEGB; answers given in another place have suggested that it is the Government's responsibility. Whether it is the responsibility of the Government or the CEGB, it is of great national interest. We should know how this country's future electricity needs are to be met in view of the suggestion contained in the Statement that even if Sizewell B were to go ahead we could still be short of electricity.
§ Viscount Davidson
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lords, Lord Bruce of Donington and Lord Ezra, for their mixed reception to my right honourable friend's Statement. I must tell the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, who seemed to think that it was my Statement, that it was not mine; I was repeating a Statement made in another place by my right honourable friend.
I am not sure how to answer the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, because we are well aware that his party is committed to cancelling Sizewell B, in the unlikely event of it ever having to form a government. We listened to his speech in the debate last Monday week, and all we have had today is a reiteration of that speech. I do not think that I should waste the time of the House by making any comment on it.
The noble Lord, Lord Ezra, asked me about the economics of the matter. The department has carefully considered the implications of the fall in fossil fuel prices which has occurred since the inquiry closed. The department's economic advisers conclude that Sizewell B is still likely to be the least-cost choice for a new main power station although, with lower fossil fuel prices, the gap between a PWR and a coal-fired station will be narrower than Sir Frank Layfield concluded on the evidence available to him.
The Secretary of State has received no applications for consent for a new power station other than for Sizewell. However, the CEGB has made public its view that it will need several more stations by the end of the century. I understand that it is likely to submit further applications for coal as well as nuclear stations in the near future. Each application will of course be treated on its merits.
With regard to the AGR, a new AGR station could not be constructed in time to meet the likely capacity 1164 shortfall. The Sizewell B order does not rule out the possibility of further AGR orders. The CEGB will be keeping design teams in being until at least 1990. The Layfield view was that the AGR was likely to be less economical than a PWR. On the strength of the information before us, my right honourable friend agrees with that.
With regard to the requirement for electricity supply between now and the commissioning of Sizewell B, all I can say is that Sizewell B is the best means we have of meeting that capacity need. The inquiry process is already complete.
§ Lord Orr-Ewing
My Lords, may I congratulate my noble friend on the fact that the Government have made the right decision, one which will help supply electricity at economical prices for British industry and therefore for our exports? Have we gone far enough? France is building 15 new nuclear power stations; Germany is building four; Japan is building 16; and the USSR, after Chernobyl, has decided to double its nuclear power construction programme.
There are 33 countries now using nuclear power stations. There are over 300 PWRs. Of those, 200 are operational and 106 are under construction. How can the Opposition suggest that that is a hazardous operation? Will we have enough power when our oil and gas supplies run down? Shall we always be able to depend on the two French nuclear power stations, which are currently providing us with under-Channel power supplies, until our new nuclear power stations come on stream? Will my noble friend deal with that query?
§ Viscount Davidson
My Lords, I am not sure that I can answer my noble friend's questions. With regard to AGRs, the United Kingdom has not persuaded one overseas customer to order an AGR in the 23 years since 1965. Of course, his figures on PWRs are correct. He should also know that several UK companies have won orders to supply components for PWR stations abroad. We are confident that UK manufacturers can compete on quality, price and delivery. We are competent in this field.
§ Baroness Nicol
My Lords, what reassurance can we be given that the status of conservation designations will not be affected by the decision? We should remember that the area involved is one of natural beauty (with capital letters), a sight of special scientific interest and a national nature reserve. This must surely weaken the status of those designations in the future. Is the Minister prepared to give any undertaking on that?
§ Viscount Davidson
My Lords, I can only say that every application will be considered on its merits. I do not know whether the noble Baroness has been to Sizewell. I have, and I do not think that it affects the natural beauty of that part of the coast at all.
The Earl of Halsbury
My Lords, in thanking the noble Viscount for the information in the text that he has read out, I should like to ask him whether he can confirm two points. First, nothing in the text to which I listened implies anything as to a programme for 1165 constructing PWRs ahead—five is the number usually mentioned—as if the decision were pre-empted. Secondly, does the conditional blessing that the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate has given to the design of the PWR include the modification which I have so often suggested that the fill cladding should not be zircalloy but stainless steel?
§ Viscount Davidson
My Lords, on the second part of the question of the noble Earl, I cannot offhand give that assurance but I shall certainly write to him. I have forgotten the first point.
§ Viscount Davidson
My Lords, the Statement related solely to Sizewell B. Anything further will be considered later.
§ Lord Jenkins of Putney
My Lords, is the noble Viscount aware that there was no reference in the Statement to the question of human error? Is he further aware that there was insufficient reference in the Layfield report to that question? In these circumstances, have not the Government come to this conclusion without giving sufficient weight to that factor considering the various disasters which have occurred since the report was published?
Finally, is he aware that in this matter I prefer to rely on the United States of America, which has built no reactors in recent years, rather than the USSR? Will he not agree that on this matter there seems to be no question at all that the USSA is right and the USSR is wrong?
§ Viscount Davidson
My Lords, the USSA—I beg your Lordships' pardon; I was confused; I thought that the noble Lord had got it the wrong way round. The USA is still building PWRs. The lack of new orders in the USA has more to do with the absence of a capacity need than concern about safety or the economics of nuclear generation. I am completely convinced that my right honourable friend is quite happy on the score of safety.
§ The Earl of Lauderdale
My Lords, will the noble Viscount enlarge a little on his reference to the AGRs? As I understand it, he is saying that the design teams of the AGRs are being kept and that the CEGB does not rule out the possibility of another AGR if the need is shown. Can he enlarge on that? Is the design team to be kept going until 1992 and will it then be sacked, or can it look forward to designing an AGR station?
My second question bears on that. Do I understand from noble friend that he is expecting the CEGB to come along with a programme for further nuclear power stations, probably PWRs, as suggested in Layfield, but that he does not know when it is coming?—Thirdly, does he know when to expect an application from the GECB for another coal-fired power station?
§ Viscount Davidson
My Lords, I can go no further on AGR than I have already. That is to repeat that the Sizewell B order does not rule out the possibility of 1166 further AGR orders and that the CEGB is keeping design teams in being until at least 1990. I can go no further than that. I also said earlier that the CEGB has made public its view that it needs several more stations by the end of the century. I understand that it is likely to submit further applications in the near future for coal as well as nuclear stations.
§ Lord Somers
My Lords, will the noble Viscount give a little more information on a very important point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, about the disposal of nuclear waste? Have any new arrangements been made about this?
§ Viscount Davidson
My Lords, No. The Government are quite happy with the proposals for the waste disposal from Sizewell B.
My Lords, turning briefly to the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, will my noble friend agree that perhaps the best way of protecting the natural habitat on a site of special scientific interest is to build a nuclear power station upon that site?
§ The Earl of Lauderdale
My Lords, may I put one further question to my noble friend? He referred to further studies on renewable sources such as wind, tide and geothermal. Are we to understand from that that no research is intended to be carried out from now on into the matter of wave power?
Lord Bruce of Donington
My Lords, is the noble Viscount aware of the reason certain points emerged in my comments on the Statement of his right honourable friend that he has repeated today? They arose because in the course of the Second Reading the noble Viscount specifically declined to offer any views. Is he aware that I was offering him an opportunity to answer some of those points, quite deliberately and as a matter of impartiality, on which he declined to make any observations in the course of the Second Reading?
Is he also aware that there are two questions which he ought to be in a position to answer? The first is on waste disposal. The answer he has just given is completely inadequate, as well he knows. The second matter is that in the course of the Statement of his right honourable friend which he repeated here there is no indication whatsoever that his right honourable friend has given the consideration that he promised to give to representations that were made in another place and here.
§ Viscount Davidson
My Lords, I do not think that a Statement on Sizewell B is the right moment to continue a debate which we completed last Monday week.