Pressurised Water Reactor

Oral Answers to Questions — Energy – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 11th June 1979.

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Photo of Robin Cook Robin Cook , Edinburgh Central 12:00 am, 11th June 1979

asked the Secretary of State for Energy if he will make a statement on his attitude to the construction of a pressurised water reactor plant, in the light of the recent incident at Harrisburg.

Photo of Mr David Howell Mr David Howell , Guildford

The full facts about the Harrisburg incident are not yet known, and it would be premature to reach conclusions at this stage. The important thing is that the lessons should be learned and the implications fully assessed when we have the facts. I await the considered views of the nuclear installations inspectorate and the other bodies concerned.

Photo of Robin Cook Robin Cook , Edinburgh Central

When the Secretary of State reaches those conclusions, will he bear in mind that 16 pressurised water reactor stations in the United States have been closed on safety grounds? Is he aware that 14 separate American studies are being carried out into the Three Mile Island incident, all of which will be published? Can he give the House an assurance that at least one of the four British studies will be published, especially that from the nuclear installations inspectorate?

Photo of Mr David Howell Mr David Howell , Guildford

I shall consider the suitability and timing of publishing all those studies. I believe strongly that these are centrally important matters which should be the subject of full and open debate, otherwise the safety aspect will not receive the attention that it deserves.

The Government believe that nuclear power has a vital long-term role to play in energy policy. We must take into account all these lessons and all the reports that the hon. Member mentioned when considering our reaction to the Harrisburg incident.

Photo of Sir David Price Sir David Price , Eastleigh

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the experience of Harrisburg shows that the PWR is not as good a reactor as the American industry made out, and that the British advanced gas-cooled reactor has proved to be better, both in results and reliability, than its American competitors?

Photo of Mr David Howell Mr David Howell , Guildford

I do not wish to draw any firm conclusions until I have studied fully the safety aspects of the Harrisburg incident.

Photo of Mr Arthur Palmer Mr Arthur Palmer , Bristol North East

Is the Secretary of State aware that the Central Electricity Generating Board sent a team of experts to the United States to study the Harrisburg incident? That team has now returned. Will he make its report available to the House in a White Paper or in some other way?

Photo of Mr David Howell Mr David Howell , Guildford

I shall consider that suggestion.

Photo of Sir Peter Emery Sir Peter Emery , Honiton

Can my right hon. Friend assure the House that he will do everything possible to bring forward the fast-breeder reactor so that we can move into that era of electricity generation which will be of considerable benefit to everybody?

Photo of Mr David Howell Mr David Howell , Guildford

The Government are committed to a full inquiry into the fast-breeder reactor. I am discussing the matter with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment.

Photo of Mr David Stoddart Mr David Stoddart , Swindon

Is the Secretary of State aware of the great pressure from industry and the CEGB to introduce the PWR into Britain? Will he resist those pressures until the safety aspects have been examined fully? In the meantime, will the Secretary of State urge upon the CEGB and the industry the further development of the advanced gas-cooled reactor? Will he also urge the industry to develop export markets for this excellent reactor?

Photo of Mr David Howell Mr David Howell , Guildford

I am aware of the recent history of this development, including the position that obtained under the previous Government. The Harrisburg incident imposes a period of reflection. That must be used to clarify and to make a right decision on reactors generally.

Photo of Mr Alexander Eadie Mr Alexander Eadie , Midlothian

Will the Secretary of State inform the Prime Minister that she did great damage by what appeared to be ill-informed comments when she visited a French nuclear establishment last week? Will he tell the Prime Minister that the French chose the nuclear power road because, unlike Britain, they have few indigenous sources of energy? Is the Secretary of State aware that to hint that we are involved in a substantial nuclear power programme is sheer irresponsibility?

Photo of Mr David Howell Mr David Howell , Guildford

I know of the hon. Member's major role in the coal industry, but I think that he has this matter out of perspective. In earlier answers I recognised the central importance of coal to our future energy policy. Beyond that, if we are objective, there is a case for low-cost nuclear energy. I do not see that these need to be rivals. The hon. Member's worries are misplaced. His views about the Prime Minister's observations are ill-founded.

Photo of Mr Bob Cryer Mr Bob Cryer , Keighley

Is there not a case for postponing any moves towards further nuclear reactor installations until these safety aspects are clarified? Is the Secretary of State aware of the strong industrial pressures, notably from GEC, about the installation of PWRs? May we have a categorical assurance that the Secretary of State's sole criterion is safety and that neither market considerations nor the multinationals' influence will be taken into account?

Photo of Mr David Howell Mr David Howell , Guildford

The central concern must be safety. But it is wrong to jump to conclusions before receiving the report from the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate and seeing some of the other observations and reports. One cannot reach decisions before one has the facts.