Orders of the Day — Nuclear Industry (Finance) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 8th February 1977.

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Photo of Dr Jim Marshall Dr Jim Marshall , Leicester South 12:00 am, 8th February 1977

I thank my right hon. Friend and the hon. Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King). When I rose seven minutes ago, I resolved that my speech should be very brief, and now that the big battalions on both sides have entered the debate during my contribution, and while I am very grateful, it is still my intention to be brief.

There are dangers in the nuclear industry, but one must accept that there are dangers in any industry in which one battles against the elements. In the coal industry, for example, when a miner goes down a pit to extract coal from the bowels of the earth he is confronted with danger, and in some cases may even lose his life. The trawlermen who battle against the elements of sea and wind face danger. Similarly—and the analogy is apt—when one battles against chemical elements one also faces dangers. But one attempts to minimise those dangers, and this has been done to a considerable degree in this country.

In this respect the record of the nuclear industry, among the fuel industries, is second to none, and we should be proud of it. It is a shining example to the rest of the world of what British technology can do when allied with good sense. I hope that this process will continue. We have a nuclear industry, and we want it to continue and flourish.

However, the attack on the industry has been helped by the lack of an energy policy. The oil price increase in 1973–74 concentrated the mind beautifully for about six months, and there were some beneficial consequences flowing from it. One of these was the conservation policy, and another was the plan for coal, which I welcome nearly as much as this Bill. These were two good things that came from the oil crisis.

But, despite his well-publicised national energy conference last year, and his recently publicised proposed energy committee, the Secretary of State still has no coherent energy policy in terms of demand for energy over the next 20 to 25 years. How can we determine a coherent policy for supplying that demand when we have no policy for ascertaining the demand? Despite the environmental lobbies, which want to see energy requirements reduced in absolute terms, which means a reduction in the standard of living of everyone in the developed world, all Governments will wish to continue increasing their peoples' standard of living. This implies an increase in GDP, which in turn necessitates an increase in absolute energy requirements.

The recent OECD Report "World Energy Output" pointed out that between 1960 and 1974 energy consumption and economic growth went almost hand in hand. They were practically in a 1:1 relationship. That has since been revised slightly, in view of the oil crisis and conservation policies. Even so, it is now predicted that in future the relationship between energy consumption and growth will be on a 0·84:1 basis. If one is looking forward to a period of continued growth, which most people want to see, one must look to increasing energy resources. In my view, and that of my right hon. Friend, coal will continue to play a big part, and perhaps a bigger part than hitherto. In spite of the platitudinous remarks about the so-called benign sources of energy, I believe that they will make no significant contribution to the country's energy requirements this century—in spite of the so-called breakthrough reported today. So, we shall be reliant on coal, and, to a degree, though a decreasing degree, on oil, and we shall therefore need a nuclear power industry.

I should like to see an expansion of the nuclear power industry. On any realistic and honest assessment, the industry will continue to make a contribution to the energy requirements of this country within my lifetime and, I strongly suspect, within the lifetimes of my children and their children. Whether we like it or not, we have to look forward to nuclear power continuing to make a large contribution to our energy requirements. We must, therefore, accept the logic of that. Reprocessing facilities will continue to be required. Here I should like to quote that eminent physicist Professor Flowers, who, in the company of others, put together the report of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution.

What Professor Flowers says to some degree refutes the assertion that the only need for a reprocessing facility is in order to produce plutonium. That is total nonsense, as is implicit in what Professor Flowers says. In paragraph 130 the report says The extraction of plutonium still provides the main reason for reprocessing fuel: the element is valuable as a source of energy either in fast reactors or as a substitute for extra uranium-235 needed to enrich fuel in thermal reactors. There are other reasons. It would be possible to get enriched uranium from the reprocessed fuel, and this could be fed back into the normal thermal reactors. Professor Flowers indicates beyond any shadow of doubt that reprocessing is required and that it gives enriched uranium which can be used in the present generation of nuclear power stations. It also provides plutonium which might or might not be used in fast-breeder reactors but can certainly be used in the existing reactors to enrich the fuel.