Nuclear Power (Dungeness B Station)

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 25th May 1965.

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Photo of Mr Frederick Lee Mr Frederick Lee , Newton 12:00 am, 25th May 1965

With permission, I should like to make a statement.

In accordance with the policy set out in the White Paper, "The Second Nuclear Power Programme", published in April, 1964, the Central Electricity Generating Board issued an inquiry for tenders for the second nuclear station to be built at Dungeness—Dungeness B.

While inviting tenders for an advanced gas-cooled reactor station, of the kind which has been developed in this country by the Atomic Energy Authority, the Board stated that it was also ready to consider tenders from British industry for water-moderated reactor systems of proved designs such as those developed in the United States.

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

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

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

Photo of Mr Simon Digby Mr Simon Digby , West Dorset

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that this is a very technical question and that we have not had a White Paper since last April? Would he lay another White Paper before the House, going into these details? Would not the right hon. Gentleman also agree that this is a success for the British A.G.R. system, and would he give the House an assurance that it will be developed on its merits regardless of any desire to help the coal industry?

Photo of Mr Frederick Lee Mr Frederick Lee , Newton

The Central Electricity Generating Board will be making a very full statement this afternoon. The hon. Member quite rightly spoke about the technicalities of this matter and I will not try to anticipate the Board's statement now; it will be making a very full statement on all these points later in the day. We will consider the point about issuing a White Paper. Certainly, by now the situation must be different from that which existed when the last White Paper was issued.

Photo of Mr Albert Roberts Mr Albert Roberts , Normanton

Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that costing in the atomic energy industry is far from satisfactory? Is he aware that it is many years since Sir John Cockcroft said that nuclear energy would be produced on a parity with coal in 1965? Will he also bear in mind that it has been proved without doubt that far too much of the taxpayers' money has been spent without giving a true reflection of the cost of its production?

Photo of Mr Frederick Lee Mr Frederick Lee , Newton

I do not want to be pessimistic. I am quite sure that we have hit the jackpot with this. As one looks at the A.G.R. tenders one realises that the longer the life one attributes to the reactor the more the costing comes out in favour of the A.G.R.

Photo of Mr Ness Edwards Mr Ness Edwards , Caerphilly

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the industry will welcome his decision to give preference to the British design? Is he aware that he can be assured that the mothers and wives of those who were killed in the Rhondda last week will welcome this development in so far as it provides new employment in the fuel industry for those who now have to take such risks to obtain the fuel that we require?

Photo of Mr Frederick Lee Mr Frederick Lee , Newton

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that very statesmanlike approach to this problem. We certainly have very much in mind the problems of the mining areas. Just as we rejoice at this greater break-through in two great nationalised industries, so we shall look after those at present employed in the nationalised coal industry.

Photo of Mr John Peyton Mr John Peyton , Yeovil

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that we would expect him, representing a modernising Government, to be a little more forthcoming and enthusiastic? Will not he now give some facts? Can he tell the House how much cheaper this base-load power will be and what are the economic and technical advantages to which he referred? Will he say how this will fit into the national fuel policy and what the effect will be on coal?

In short, will he meet the request which has already been made and issue a White Paper so that the House may judge the full import of what looks like a tremendous development? Will the right hon. Gentleman accept that sympathy is not sufficient on a matter of this kind and that it is not good enough to say that the Central Electricity Generating Board will be giving later the details in which the House of Commons is interested?

Photo of Mr Frederick Lee Mr Frederick Lee , Newton

I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman is in such a tizzy about our great success. He and his hon. and right hon. Friends were worried sick about the nationalised industries not paying. Here we have the greatest break-through of all time. Why does not the hon. Gentleman rejoice with us? As he knows, we are having a long-term review of fuel policy and this will be fitted very closely into it. As we know now, there is something like a 10 per cent. advantage in this development, and it could be greater. I have already said that as yet we cannot tell what the full implications of all this will be until long-term arrangements are made. Certainly, a 10 per cent. saving is involved. When we have been able to do all this we will consider the idea of producing a further White Paper.

Photo of Mr David Griffiths Mr David Griffiths , Rother Valley

Is my right hon. Friend aware that on this side of the House we welcome his statement? Is he cognisant of the fact that as Minister of Power he is doing a far better job than did the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr. Geoffrey Lloyd) and the hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton)?

Photo of Mr Frederick Lee Mr Frederick Lee , Newton

I thoroughly agree with the last sentiment.

Photo of Mr Eric Lubbock Mr Eric Lubbock , Orpington

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that, in its last Annual Report, the Atomic Energy Authority stated that, to bring the costs of electricity generated by the A.G.R. down to 0·35d. per unit, it would be necessary to plan for an installed capacity of 6,000 MW? What plans have the Government for following this up?

Secondly, does the right hon. Gentleman think that there will be room in our programme for a 6,000 MW A.G.R. station before the fast breeder reactor comes into commission, and does the present decision mean that lower priority will be given by the Atomic Energy Authority to development of the steam generating heavy water plant?

Photo of Mr Frederick Lee Mr Frederick Lee , Newton

It is precisely because of considerations like those which the hon. Gentleman mentions in the second part of his supplementary question that we want time to review again the contribution of atomic energy to the programme after 1970. At this moment we are pretty sure that it will break even on economies and, indeed, lead to advance over the coal-fired station.

Photo of Mr Arthur Palmer Mr Arthur Palmer , Bristol Central

Will not my right hon. Friend agree that this decision is a great tribute to the skill and knowledge of the British electrical engineering industry, both publicly-owned and privately-owned, and will be noted with great interest in the export field?

Photo of Mr Frederick Lee Mr Frederick Lee , Newton

I thoroughly agree with my hon. Friend's suggestion. Whether interest is shown or not, it will, we hope, make a very big difference to the possibility of exports in this most important field.

Photo of Sir Edward Boyle Sir Edward Boyle , Birmingham Handsworth

Is there not here not only a major technical break-through, as the right hon. Gentleman said, but also a decision of the greatest importance for the future of the Atomic Energy Authority? If we are thinking of to whom credit is due, is it not due also to the repeatedly expressed faith of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Hogg), when he was Secretary of State for Education and Science?

In view of the economic importance of this question, will the right hon. Gentleman seriously try to give both the House and the country as much information as possible, bearing in mind the widespread interest there will be in both the technical and the economic aspects?

Photo of Mr Frederick Lee Mr Frederick Lee , Newton

I certainly will. I have said today that the principal issue is that the A.G.R. is accepted by the Government, and it will go ahead. I have already said that arrangements have been made for the widest possible technical information to be given through the Generating Board itself, and this will happen during the course of the next hour or two. We shall do everything to ensure the success of such publicity.

Photo of Mr Stanley McMaster Mr Stanley McMaster , Belfast East

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You will have seen that I have Question No. 40 down today to the Minister of Power on this subject, and that it was not reached. In view of the importance of this subject to Northern Ireland, is it possible for me to ask a supplementary question now?

Photo of Sir Harry Hylton-Foster Sir Harry Hylton-Foster , Cities of London and Westminster

I am very sorry that I cannot, on these occasions, call for a question from all those hon. Members who want to ask one. The trouble is that they invariably exceed the time which, doing my best, I conceive to be available. I am sorry that that is so, but it is so.

Photo of Mr David Mitchell Mr David Mitchell , Basingstoke

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I heard the Minister of Power say earlier that he would answer certain Questions in his statement at the end of Question Time. Mine was one of the Questions, No. 32, and he did not answer it.

Photo of Sir Harry Hylton-Foster Sir Harry Hylton-Foster , Cities of London and Westminster

I looked for the hon. Gentleman rising.

Photo of Sir Harry Hylton-Foster Sir Harry Hylton-Foster , Cities of London and Westminster

I regret that I failed to see the hon. Gentleman rise. I ask the House to allow me to go back in his favour, because I had a hard look for him and, somehow or other, I failed to see him.

Photo of Mr David Mitchell Mr David Mitchell , Basingstoke

May I direct the attention of the Minister of Power to Question No. 32 and ask him whether he will be good enough now to answer it and, in particular, the second part?

Photo of Mr Frederick Lee Mr Frederick Lee , Newton

The statement I made included reference to costs, and so on, at Dungeness. This was taken into account in the general statement. If the hon. Gentleman will look at what I said when it appears in HANSARD, he will see that I mentioned the points he raises in his Question.