Sizewell B Nuclear Power Station

– in the House of Commons at 4:06 pm on 12 March 1987.

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Photo of Mr Peter Walker Mr Peter Walker , Worcester 4:06, 12 March 1987

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 Library of the House.

The CEGB's application has been the subject of the most wide-ranging and longest public inquiry that has been carried out in this country. I published the report on 26 January 1987. It was debated by the House on 23 February. On that occasion the thoroughness and well-written nature of Sir Frank Layfield's work were generally acknowledged by all hon. Members.

I can assure the House that, before reaching my decision, I have carefully considered the points raised during that debate and those that were made in the debate in another place last week.

Hon. Members have clearly studied the inspector's report with care. They will be familiar with the conclusion that there is a national interest in building a PWR, and that that 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 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 United Kingdom, unlike those in the Soviet Union, must have engineered control and automatic protection systems. Moreover, our system of regulation, unlike that which applied in the Soviet Union, ensures that there is a proper and reliable procedural framework of controls. All our experience in the United Kingdom 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 Library.

In his report, Sir Frank Layfield also discusses emergency plans in the event of a nuclear accident. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister announced on 18 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 United Kingdom or abroad. The conclusion of the first stage of the review was that, while planning needs to provide more specifically for an accident outside the United Kingdom, existing emergency plans continue to provide a valid basis for the response to any nuclear accident in the United Kingdom.

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 that 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. That outweighs any disadvantage from disturbances 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 sets 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 agree with the inspector that a study of alternatives to the B1122 for heavy traffic should be made, and I am commending that 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 those for the purposes of my section 2 consent. I have, however, examined them carefully and, where appropriate, they will be further considered by Government.

In reaching my decision I have considered most carefully Sir Frank Layfield's comments on safety. I should make it clear that, as a separate process, under different statute, the CEGB also requires a licence from the independent nuclear installations inspectorate as well as my consent before it can start construction. The chief inspector of nuclear installations informs me that the nuclear installations inspectorate judges 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 it 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 on 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 rocks.

My decision on Sizewell B reinforces the importance that 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.

Photo of Mr Stan Orme Mr Stan Orme , Salford East

We regret this decision. It sets the wrong pattern for future energy requirements in the United Kingdom for the next decade and beyond.

Sir Frank Layfield laboured long and hard to produce his report, but that report is out of date both on the economics of electricity generation and on safety, particularly as Sir Frank Layfield did not deal with the Chernobyl disaster. We are astonished that those new factors have been dismissed by the Secretary of State. Will the right hon. Gentleman publish the evidence that convinced him on those particular points?

There is no justification for building the imported technology of the PWR in Britain. In view of the right hon. Gentleman's announcement, can he assure the House that that will not lead to the construction of the PWR family throughout Britain, which was recommended by Sir Frank Layfield, and that any further applications for the construction of PWRs will each be judged independently?

When does the right hon. Gentleman expect publication of the pre-construction safety report and the final safety report as recommended by Sir Frank Layfield? In his report Sir Frank Layfield lays considerable emphasis on the responsibility of the nuclear installations inspectorate. What steps are being taken to ensure that the NII is adequately staffed to fulfil its responsibilities?

Sir Frank Layfield makes a series of recommendations throughout the report. He lists 14 that he regards as the minimum that should be done if consent is given. Will the right hon. Gentleman assure us that that minimum is being done, and, indeed, that many more of the recommendations have been accepted and acted upon. In particular, will the right hon. Gentleman ensure that all the elements of Layfield's recommendation 4 on safety criteria will be complied with, including those on parliamentary and public consultation? When will the review of emergency plans in case of nuclear accident be completed and when will the report be published?

It seems extraordinary that the decision has been taken to proceed with the PWR before the Government and responsible agencies have solved the problems of the disposal of nuclear waste. I am sure that many Conservative Members will share my misgivings on that matter and will join me in urging the Government to produce an acceptable solution before proceeding with the PWR.

Finally, in a nation rich in indigenous energy sources, a saner, more economic and safer option would be the construction of modern and clean coal-fired power stations. To meet the nation's capacity need more quickly, and, we would argue, more cheaply, we shall continue to urge that policy upon the Government.

Photo of Mr Peter Walker Mr Peter Walker , Worcester

The right hon. Gentleman ended his question by referring to a nation rich in energy resources, but in the next few decades, as Britain's oil and gas resources decline, the Labour party wishes to eradicate the nuclear industry leaving Britain dependent on only one form of energy. I cannot think of a more irresponsible energy policy than that.

Fortunately, the Soviet Union published in detail for the International Atomic Energy Agency every detail of the Chernobyl event.

Photo of Mr Peter Walker Mr Peter Walker , Worcester

No, it said first, that it was due to a wrongly designed reactor; secondly, to faulty engineering; and thirdly to human error. The chief inspector—the right hon. Gentleman considered the strength of the NII to be paramount—has advised me on the basis of all the evidence available to him and a copy has been placed in the Library.

The right hon. Gentleman referred to the PWR being imported, but I must point out to the House that 93 per cent. of the work done at Sizewell B will be produced in Britain by British firms. As a result of building Sizewell B Britain will, for the first time, have an opportunity in the massively expanding PWR market that is taking place throughout the world. Therefore, in terms of our trade policy, it is a considerable advantage to Britain.

I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that we shall guarantee that the NII is properly staffed. At present, a substantial recruitment programme is taking place in order to meet the requirements.

The right hon. Gentleman referred to the 14 recommendations. I can only say that the Government have accepted all the major recommendations that apply to them. The right hon. Gentleman will see that each of those recommendations is dealt with in the detailed letter that has been sent to the CEGB, a copy of which will be available in the Library.

On the alternative of coal, the right hon. Gentleman knows that it is up to the CEGB to apply to the Government and, as he well knows, it has been looking at the possibility of a number of coal-fired stations. I anticipate that in the near future it will probably be making such an application.

Photo of Mr John Hannam Mr John Hannam , Exeter

I thank my right hon. Friend for making the right decision in this crucially important area, but in view of the importance to Britain in future of maintaining competitive electricity prices, how does his announcement of this nuclear programme today compare with the programmes of our major industrial competitors throughout the world?

Photo of Mr Peter Walker Mr Peter Walker , Worcester

I am afraid to say that I have only announced this afternoon the go-ahead for one PWR station in the foreseeable future. That is a modest contribution compared with our major competitors. France intends to build 15 new nuclear power stations by 1995. The Japanese have embarked on a programme of 16 new nuclear power stations before 1995, and have proposed a much bigger programme to move to 60 per cent. dependence on nuclear energy in the foreseeable future. Germany has reaffirmed its programme of four new nuclear power stations to be built by 1990. The United States has commissioned 12 new nuclear power stations in the past two years and 19 new nuclear power stations are under construction. Since Chernobyl, the Soviet Union has announced that it will double its nuclear power programme.

Photo of Malcolm Bruce Malcolm Bruce Shadow Spokesperson (Trade and Industry)

The Secretary of State will be aware that my colleagues and I much regret and are opposed to today's decision. The Secretary of State's statement has virtually evaded every question associated with the decision.

Will he first explain whether consideration was given to investing the money that the PWR will cost into energy conservation instead? Does he agree that the savings that could be achieved would be greater than the power that will be created by building the PWR? Secondly, will he explain what the procedure will be for building further PWRs, especially as Sir Frank Layfield said that he regarded Sizewell as a prototype to be tested? Thirdly, does he agree with Sir Frank Layfield that a simulator should be built before the final power station is constructed?

Will the right hon. Gentleman explain exactly what the phrase "superior safety culture" means? I hope, for his sake, that it is not a phrase that will come home to haunt him. With regard to the nuclear installations inspectorate, is he satisfied that he will be able to secure the technical staff necessary to honour the guarantees that he has just made?

Photo of Mr Peter Walker Mr Peter Walker , Worcester

The hon. Gentleman said that I would understand that he would be opposed to the decision, and in preparation for this afternoon I studied the policy of his parties. I discovered that one policy of the Liberal party is virtually identical to that of the Labour party. One SDP policy is completely different, and I discovered a new alliance policy that is difficult to comprehend from trying to read it. I presume that is a way of fudging what is now alliance policy. In fairness to the alliance, there is one area of the nuclear industry that they wish to retain—Dounreay—because it is in an area represented by an SDP Member.

As for nuclear inspectors, I am satisfied that we shall be able to recruit nuclear inspectors of the appropriate quality. With regard to PWRs, if I receive another application from the CEGB it will be carefully considered in the light of the factors made known.

Photo of Mr Patrick Jenkin Mr Patrick Jenkin , Wanstead and Woodford

Does my right hon. Friend accept that his decision will be widely welcomed on the Conservative Benches, not least by those of us who have been arguing that we should bring our nuclear industry into the mainstream of the world's nuclear industry? Will my right hon. Friend confirm that, far from being against the interests of the environment, the Royal Commission on environmental pollution recommended a modest programme of nuclear power stations to improve the atmospheric environment?

Will my right hon. Friend assure the House that the further stations in this modest programme will be subject to public inquiry, but that those inquiries will be limited to site-specific issues and will not cover the wide range of the Sizewell inquiry?

Photo of Mr Peter Walker Mr Peter Walker , Worcester

Future public inquiries must depend on the nature of the reactor and the nature of the request from the CEGB. With regard to this type of reactor, the Sizewell inquiry has served to ascertain the full facts and the full arguments on the topic.

My right hon. Friend has occupied posts connected with energy and the environment, and he is absolutely right that the Royal Commission pointed out the considerable environmental advantages of nuclear energy.

Photo of Mr Tony Benn Mr Tony Benn , Chesterfield

Is the Secretary of State aware that his statement will be widely understood as a complete victory for the nuclear lobby that, to my certain personal knowledge, for over 20 years has wanted us to adopt an American reactor? However, the right hon. Gentleman's announcement comes 10 years after the Americans abandoned the very reactor that he has now decided to buy. That is not a credible position to occupy.

Is the right hon. Gentleman also aware that on a decision of this magnitude he should not make the decision; Parliament should decide. It is quite wrong for him to listen like some managing director and then announce his decision. The House should have a debate in which the matter can be voted upon before a decision is finally reached.

Is the right hon. Gentleman also aware that, despite the ceaseless and ruthless campaign by Lord Marshall arid others, public opinion is well ahead of him and the lobby in arguing that the time has come to pause. People want a pause.

Is he aware that this question will arise in the general election? If the reactor is built, there will be a long period before we see the full uncertainty about adopting a reactor that the Americans have abandoned.

Photo of Mr Peter Walker Mr Peter Walker , Worcester

I wish to record the considerable contribution that the right hon. Gentleman made to the advance of nuclear energy in this country when he was Secretary of State for Energy. I know that he now regrets that contribution, but I do not think that many in this House do so.

It is nonsense to say that the United States has abandoned this type of reactor. At present, there is 11 times as much nuclear energy capacity in the United States as in Britain. The figures that I gave earlier to the House show that in the past two years the Americans have completed 12 new PWR stations, and currently 19 are under construction.

As for public opinion, I express my gratitude to the right hon. Gentleman because, over the years, the impact of his views on public opinion has always been to the benefit of my party.

Photo of Mr Trevor Skeet Mr Trevor Skeet , Bedfordshire North

I pay tribute to the Secretary of State for implementing the substantial report. I ask him to lay at rest one of the greatest public anxieties which is that, at nuclear power stations leukaemia cases can arise that can be destructive.

What is the date for commissioning? Is my right hon. Friend prepared to recommend to the Leader of the House that we have a further debate so that these matters can be extensively canvassed?

Photo of Mr Peter Walker Mr Peter Walker , Worcester

Obviously the Leader of the House will take note of what my hon. Friend said about a debate, and that matter was raised by the Leader of the Opposition.

On the question of leukaemia, a most incredibly irresponsible press release was issued by the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher), the shadow Secretary of State for Social Services in which he referred to Sellafield as having "killing fields". I can guarantee that that view was totally and passionately opposed by the shadow Secretary of State for the Environment whose constituents live in that area and work at that station. The manner in which the figures were used in that statement gave a wholly false impression. I would be only too delighted for anybody to study the true evidence that has been produced. It certainly shows that there is no connection between the incidence of leukaemia and nuclear power stations.

Photo of Mr Donald Stewart Mr Donald Stewart , Na h-Eileanan an Iar

I note the right hon. Gentleman's assurances about safety, but in my view they are rather injudicious. These stations are human artefacts and can be subject to human error, faults in design, metal fatigue, and so on. Many people believe that even the Russians do not build nuclear power stations to blow up in their faces. Accidents can happen anywhere, as we have seen in America.

The right hon. Gentleman has given us assurances about support for alternative sources of energy generation, but many of us do not accept those assurances. I am aware that funds have been reduced for the production of electricity from wave power. That has been the pattern followed all along by the Government. In view of the doubts about the cost and the disposal of waste, does he not think that the nuclear programme should be abandoned?

Photo of Mr Peter Walker Mr Peter Walker , Worcester

No. I believe that it has been proved throughout the western world that nuclear energy is an extremely safe form of energy and its safety record compares exceedingly favourably with other forms of energy.

As for Scotland, the continuance of a nuclear power programme has considerable employment implications for Scottish industry. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will remember that.

In every major area of renewable sources of energy the Government have increased expenditure and improved activity. We shall continue to do so.

Photo of Mr Ian Lloyd Mr Ian Lloyd , Havant

May I offer my right hon. Friend my strongest possible endorsement of his decision, which I believe to be realistic, relevant, courageous and long overdue? Will he resist the siren voices that argue generally that because there has been no new order for a PWR power station in the United States, we should not take that route? As my right hon. Friend has said, about 30 such reactors have been built in the United States, and about 60 worldwide. We know that more are under construction and that more are likely to be ordered.

Would it not be true to say that to decide not to build a PWR station because of what happened at Chernobyl would be comparable to refusing to grant an airworthiness certificate to Concorde because a DC3 had crashed?

Photo of Mr Peter Walker Mr Peter Walker , Worcester

I agree very much with what my hon. Friend has said about Chernobyl. It is interesting that all the signs from the Soviet Union are that they will double their nuclear programme, and that they are almost certainly to take the PWR route. They will do so with their great awareness of the problems of safety.

There is no doubt that a great deal of activity is taking place in the United States. Our major industrial competitors, France, Germany, Japan and the United States, are all going ahead with nuclear power programmes that are far greater than ours.

Photo of Mr Michael Morris Mr Michael Morris , Northampton South

Has my right hon. Friend been able to calculate the impact on jobs if the Labour party's proposals to scrap all nuclear industry were pursued?

Photo of Mr Peter Walker Mr Peter Walker , Worcester

The Labour party agreed at its last conference—this has become its policy—to eradicate the nuclear industry over the coming decades by phasing out, first, Magnox and, secondly, the advanced gas-cooled reactor. At that same conference a motion was proposed by Arthur Scargill, which was passed by an enormous majority, that sought to eradicate all nuclear energy during the lifetime of the next Parliament. It needs a move of only less than half of 1 per cent. at the next Labour party conference to cause that to become permanent Labour party policy. If that policy were implemented, the loss of jobs would be massive immediately.

Photo of Mr Jack Ashley Mr Jack Ashley , Stoke-on-Trent South

Is the Secretary of State aware that he is making the biggest mistake of his life and that the consequences of any possible future accident will be suffered by his children and all our children? Will he recognise that the assurances that he has given about PWR being "sufficiently" safe and being "acceptably" safe are a ghostly echo of the sort of assurances that were given in the United States before the Three Mile Island PWR explosion, which was extremely close to a disaster?

Photo of Mr Peter Walker Mr Peter Walker , Worcester

There are Opposition Members who rather share my view on nuclear energy and its safety, and perhaps no one more than the shadow Secretary of State for the Environment, the hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham). His educational background equips him rather well to understand these matters, and he has lived among a nuclear power station work force. Only a few days ago he wrote: What I think the nuclear industry needs to do to widen its public support is expand its existing policy of more openness. This will add to the public's understanding of the issues, problems and advantages which the industry brings. The more open and informed the debate the better it will be for the nuclear industry". I hope that the right hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley) will take note of that.

Photo of Mr Anthony Grant Mr Anthony Grant , Cambridge South West

My right hon. Friend knows the anxieties of some of my constituents in Cambridgeshire, which I have expressed to him. Is he aware that what he has said today will go a long way towards reassuring them? Is it not sensible to reflect, when considering safety, that every year about 5,000 people are slaughtered on our roads and that there is no protest against petrol by the Liberal or Labour parties? As the area most concerned is East Anglia, will my right hon. Friend give a firm assurance that everything possible will be done to preserve the environment in that area?

Photo of Mr Peter Walker Mr Peter Walker , Worcester

I know that my hon. Friend is aware that Sir Frank Layfield took great care to examine the environmental impact of Sizewell B. He eradicated certain proposals that he considered to be environmentally unsound. I can assure my hon. Friend that careful consideration will be given by the Departments of Environment and Transport to any matters affecting the environment of East Anglia.

Photo of Kevin Barron Kevin Barron , Rother Valley

Will the Secretary of State accept that his statement is seen as a reflection of the commitment that the Government have had towards the nuclear industry since taking office? Despite the investment in the coal industry, the right hon. Gentleman's announcement demonstrates the Government's prejudice towards it. The Government have been in office for nearly eight years and during that period there has been no new order for a coal-fired power station. Although the Treasury wins the argument on this occasion, Sizewell B alone will not meet the capacity that will be needed for the production of electricity in the mid-1990s. When will the House be told where sensible energy will come from in the form of new coal-fired power stations?

Photo of Mr Peter Walker Mr Peter Walker , Worcester

If our view were that the coal industry should be eradicated and that the nuclear industry should take its place, I would not approve the investment of £2 billion over the next three years in the coal industry. The Government's investment policies have led to the coal industry's productivity surpassing anything that was even dreamed of by the Labour Government. I believe that in the near future applications will be made by the consideration that has ben given to various sites. I can promise the hon. Gentleman that any such applications will quickly be considered.

Photo of Dr Michael Clark Dr Michael Clark , Rochford

May I congratulate my right hon. Friend on making the right decision for all the right reasons? I wish to ask him a question which I think would be asked by my near neighbour, my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer), the Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, if he were able to ask it. We know that the public at large do not have as much knowledge of nuclear matters as we would like them to have and that this relative lack of knowledge is exploited by those who have anti nuclear feelings. Will my right hon. Friend ask his Department to organise a campaign of public education so that much of their anxiety can be alleviated?

Photo of Mr Peter Walker Mr Peter Walker , Worcester

It is important that the facts are conveyed to the public instead of the distortions, especially in a locality that is involved in the nuclear industry. The industry itself, including the CEGB and the electricity authorities, have a duty to ensure that the facts are circulated.

Photo of Frank Cook Frank Cook , Stockton North

The Secretary of State has asked the House to have regard to the "true evidence." Will he acknowledge that the Layfield report is essentially incomplete? The committee was promised an account of the British design and none was ever presented to it. It remains unfinished. That means that no licensing could ever have taken place. Will the right hon. Gentleman take account of the facts that the working pressure and temperature of a PWR are so high and reaction time so short that human capacity cannot deal with it?

In view of the right hon. Gentleman's exhortation to depend on the nuclear installations inspectorate, and remembering its craven refusal to accept an investigation of weld assurance records at Hinckley Point, how the hell does he expect it to take on board the complex assessment that is necessary for a PWR design?

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that his colleagues have been giving their constituents an assurance that the House would have a second opportunity to discuss this issue on a reasoned and considered motion that would be open to reasoned and considered amendment? Will he have the courage now to leave his decision until the general election so that the British electorate can decide?

Photo of Mr Peter Walker Mr Peter Walker , Worcester

I shall be delighted if, during the next election, the Labour party continues with its policy to eradicate the nuclear industry. If it does so, it will deservedly lose thousands of votes on that entirely irresponsible policy. I have total confidence in the NII It has a fine record, and the inspector said so. The more debates that take place on this issue on the Floor of the House, the more I shall be delighted.

Photo of Mr Patrick Thompson Mr Patrick Thompson , Norwich North

Those who live in my constituency and others who live in the area around it will welcome the extra work and jobs that will result from my right hon. Friend's decision. Will he consider the concern that has been expressed during the winter months about the price of electricity, especially among pensioners and particularly during the harsh weather that we have faced? What will be the effects of the Opposition's policy on electricity prices?

Photo of Mr Peter Walker Mr Peter Walker , Worcester

It depends on which of the Opposition's policies one chooses. If one chooses Mr. Scargill's proposal, which was greeted by a hefty majority, it would cost an enormous amount. If they phased out nuclear power, as is the official policy, at present, it is considered that that would add about 15 per cent. to the cost of electricity. The industries concerned—they employ 800,000 people and have a high use of electricity—will be adversely affected.

Photo of Mr Michael McGuire Mr Michael McGuire , Makerfield

Is the Secretary of State aware that this is a regrettable decision? Is he aware that we have heard comments by my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton, North (Mr. Cook), who outlined a defect in the report? Is he also aware that the coal prices quoted in the report are hopelessly out of date and have been over-exaggerated? They would put a different complexion on the matter if they were brought up to date.

In what way does the proposed design differ from that of the Three Mile Island station? We cannot escape the fact that that station has been closed down for several years, is hardly likely to be opened for a long time and has cost a fortune. Is the Secretary of State further aware that since I have been an hon. Member I have heard Ministers on both sides—the right hon. Gentleman made a fair point—so exaggerate the benefits of nuclear power that the matter has almost become like a fairy story? I remember when we were promised nuclear power that was to be so cheap that it would not be metered. We have also heard the argument today that—

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

Order. Will the hon. Gentleman ask a question, please?

Photo of Mr Michael McGuire Mr Michael McGuire , Makerfield

I shall put it in the form of a question, Mr. Speaker.

Is the Secretary of State also aware, on the matter of export orders, that if future orders are as good as the ones in the past, we shall not sell anything because our nuclear exports have been a disaster? Can the Secretary of State assure us that in the past—if I may use a homely expression—nuclear power advocates have been bragging on a pair of deuces. When shall we have the promised debate—

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

Order. I shall use a homely expression. An important arts debate is to follow this. I ask hon. Members whom I endeavour to call on the statement to put their questions briefly.

Photo of Mr Peter Walker Mr Peter Walker , Worcester

The hon. Gentleman's contribution would have been somewhat shorter if he had been present for the statement. He would have heard the answers to some of his questions. I dealt with the cost of coal and what has happened since. I shall be interested to hear from Opposition Members whether, when they talk about the coal cost equivalent, they really talk about the international coal price. Will they deal with coal at the international coal price? If they did so, they would do immense damage to the British coal industry. Our nuclear industry has achieved massive export orders, of which I hope the hon. Gentleman is proud.

Photo of Sir Peter Emery Sir Peter Emery , Honiton

Will my right hon. Friend accept my congratulations on bringing forward a policy that he and I first started in 1973? Thank goodness it has come to fruition at last. Will my right hon. Friend tell the House quickly what, at the moment, is the estimated total cost for the power station? When does he estimate that it will be completed? Can he assure the House that research is still being carried out into the application of the fast-breeder reactor?

Photo of Mr Peter Walker Mr Peter Walker , Worcester

Work on the fast-breeder reactor is continuing. The latest cost estimate for Sizewell B is just in excess of £1·5 billion. The research programme will certainly continue.

Photo of Mr Robert Maclennan Mr Robert Maclennan , Caithness and Sutherland

Is the Secretary of State aware that supporters of the British nuclear industry, including those within the industry, such as the chairman of the South of Scotland electricity board, have not all been enthusiasts for the PWR? What is the future of the British AGR programme? Will the Secretary of State assure the House that the limited resources of manpower and money that are necessary to develop the fast reactor programme will not be pre-empted by the decision?

Photo of Mr Peter Walker Mr Peter Walker , Worcester

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his question. His views on the nuclear industry differ from the overall view of the party with which he is associated, which makes it clear that, in its view, nuclear power is not safe. Therefore, I suggest that, with his constituency interest, he must examine whether he can continue in alliance with such a party. Of course the AGRs will continue. On the AGR-PWR argument, the hon. Gentleman's party policy of making no orders for the foreseeable future would soon bring to an end the feasibility of going ahead with an AGR. The report clearly states that there is a cost advantage with the PWR and that it is safe. Alas, we have never obtained an overseas order for an AGR during a period in which the world has been building a great number of PWRs.

Photo of Michael Fallon Michael Fallon , Darlington

Is my right hon. Friend aware that, today, he announced the biggest jobs boost for Teesside in 10 years and that it will be warmly welcomed by my constituents who work at Davy McKee, Cleveland Bridge, Darchem, and other companies? Is he further aware that their only nuclear fear is not simply the Labour party's conference resolution but the specific pledge of the right hon. Leader of the Opposition to scrap Sizewell if a Labour Government come to power?

Photo of Mr Peter Walker Mr Peter Walker , Worcester

Certainly the policies propounded by the Opposition will be exceedingly bad for the north-east. As my hon. Friend knows, I was in his constituency and in the north-east about a week or so ago. There was no doubt about their anxiety that we should proceed with the policy.

Photo of Nick Brown Nick Brown Shadow Solicitor General

The Secretary of State spoke of an energy shortfall that Sizewell will not come on stream in time to meet. Will he acknowledge that there will be tremendous sadness on Tyneside at his failure to order coal-fired power stations, for which the power plant industry on Tyneside could have a hope of tendering? Such stations would provide employment on Tyneside for the power plant industry and for the people who work in coal production.

Photo of Mr Peter Walker Mr Peter Walker , Worcester

As the hon. Gentleman knows, the Government have given considerable support in recent years to the procurement of some quite important overseas orders by industry on Tyneside and elsewhere. I am pleased that that has taken place. I have not rejected any application for a coal-fired station. I must wait for the CEGB to make an application. It has been studying the sites. I have reason to believe that it will make such an application in the near future.

Photo of Mr John Osborn Mr John Osborn , Sheffield, Hallam

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his bold and realistic decision, but it relates to one type of reactor in one location. I welcome the fact that he has referred to wind, tidal and thermal energy. I should like him to emphasise that fact, because he also spoke about new coal-fired power stations. Will he bear in mind the fact that consumers of energy want a power programme that will give industrial users prices that are competitive with those in other countries? I hope that he will be in a position to make a statment about further reactors. After his views are put forward, I hope that it will not take five years to reach a decision.

Photo of Mr Peter Walker Mr Peter Walker , Worcester

I certainly share the last hope that my hon. Friend mentioned. Certainly, when further applications come in from the CEGB, they will be carefully and quickly considered. Progress has been made in looking at the potential of such enormous schemes as the Severn barrage scheme and the Mersey barrage scheme. The developments that are taking place in geothermal energy are exciting. Alas, they are unlikely to make any major contribution to our energy supplies for some decades to come.

Photo of Mr Dale Campbell-Savours Mr Dale Campbell-Savours , Workington

Will the Secretary of State refrain from misrepresenting the views of my hon. Friend the Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham), who is opposed to PWRs, and yet, like myself, is a vigorous supporter of nuclear power? Will the Secretary of State accept that the design of an AGR station is inherently safer than that of a PWR station? Do not all previous experiences point to that fact?

Photo of Mr Peter Walker Mr Peter Walker , Worcester

I completely reject that statement.

Photo of Mr Peter Walker Mr Peter Walker , Worcester

On the same basis as it was examined by Frank Layfield, and on all the evidence. A massive number of pressurised water reactors are operating safely throughout the world. I welcome the hon. Gentleman's opposition to the policy of his own party on nuclear energy. He must be very concerned, as is his right hon. Friend the shadow Secretary of State for the Environment, about the Labour party's ghastly policy towards Sellafield, which would absolutely destroy the prospects for that part of the country if the Labour party ever came to power.

Photo of Mr Richard Alexander Mr Richard Alexander , Newark

Do not the protestations that we have heard today come ill from hon. Members who supported Mr. Scargill's strike to the hilt? Was that strike not intended to put the lights out in Britain and to leave the elderly and families with young children in the cold?

Photo of Mr Peter Walker Mr Peter Walker , Worcester

There is no doubt that the Labour party's energy policy is fully supported by Mr. Scargill.

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn , Islington North

Is the Minister aware that millions of people will be deeply angered by the decision that he has at last been forced to announce? For all his alleged understanding of the issue, the Minister cannot solve the problem of nuclear waste, and he knows it. So long as there is a nuclear industry there will be the problem of nuclear waste. Is the Minister further aware that the building of the Sizewell power station will increase the transport of nuclear waste through north London to Sellafield and that that in itself will meet massive opposition? Finally, is he aware that the number of accidents that have been reported at Sellafield and other stations leads people to be very suspicious of chauvinistic claims about the safety of British nuclear power stations compared with others when, in reality, the industry is fundamentally dangerous? The Minister ought to be providing resources for the development of renewable energy sources. Finally—

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

Order. The hon. Gentleman has already asked two questions.

Photo of Mr Peter Walker Mr Peter Walker , Worcester

I believe that nuclear waste problems can be dealt with in total safety I suggest that the hon. Gentleman should ask his right hon. Friend the shadow Secretary of State for the Environment to take him on a visit to Sellafield and then he will be convinced, too.

Several Hon. Members:


Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

Order. A very important arts debate is to follow this statement. I shall endeavour to call all hon. Members who want to ask questions, but I should like to move on to the next business by 5 o'clock. Questions should be directed to nuclear energy not to coal.

Photo of Viscount  Cranborne Viscount Cranborne , South Dorset

I, too, greatly welcome my right hon. Friend's decision in principle. However, he will be as aware as I am that his decision will almost immediately trigger an application from the Central Electricity Generating Board to build one and possibly two PWRs at Winfrith in my constituency, which will involve at least 90 m high cooling towers in the middle of Hardy country. Will he assure me that aesthetic grounds will play a very important part in the decision about whether to allow such a development?

Photo of Mr Peter Walker Mr Peter Walker , Worcester

Any application will involve the appropriate planning procedures. I can only consider a specific proposal when I receive it from the CEGB.

Photo of Mr Allan Stewart Mr Allan Stewart , East Renfrewshire

Following my right hon. Friend's answer to the right hon. Member for the Western Isles (Mr. Stewart), is my right hon. Friend aware that the importance of Sizewell orders has been emphasised as "crucial" by a number of key companies in Glasgow and Renfrewshire? Does he agree with me that his announcement will be warmly welcomed by companies such as Weir and Babcock? Is it not a disgrace that the hon. Member for Gordon (Mr. Bruce) should wholly ignore the interests of heavy industry in the west of Scotland?

Photo of Mr Peter Walker Mr Peter Walker , Worcester

Anybody who examines the list of contracts that will be placed as a result of building this reactor will recognise the considerable immediate advantages to Scotland, the north and other similar areas and the long-term advantage of potential export orders.

Photo of Mr Cecil Franks Mr Cecil Franks , Barrow and Furness

I, too, congratulate my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State on reaching a courageous and bold decision. It will be welcomed particularly in west and south-west Cumbria. It will be welcomed not just in my constituency but also in the Copeland constituency where Sellafield is situated—as the hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) would confirm if he were here—and in the Workington constituency, which the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) would also confirm if he had the courage to do so. Will my right hon. Friend comment on the Government's policy regarding nuclear energy in general and on the prospects for west Cumbria and southwest Cumbria in particular?

Photo of Mr Peter Walker Mr Peter Walker , Worcester

The impact on Cumbria and on Sellafield is very considerable. It is interesting to note that locally the Labour party has one policy but nationally it has another. The Labour party's policy decision to stop processing nuclear fuels from abroad, which is the main reason for the financing of the development there— [Interruption.] As the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) says, he constantly proclaims locally that Labour party policy will never be put into operation. Indeed, a member of the Shadow Cabinet has said that breaking these contracts, worth millions of pounds, would involve the Government in huge compensation claims, as well as damaging our position as a trading nation. He went on to say: I just cannot see a government, which will be looking for every pound that it can get to create new jobs, frittering away money like that. When a member of the Shadow Cabinet says that the Labour party's policy on nuclear power would be to fritter away money, I think that the whole nation should take note.

Photo of Dennis Skinner Dennis Skinner Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

Would not the average voter say that if nuclear power stations were not built coal-fired power stations would be needed to provide energy and that at least an equivalent number of jobs would therefore be needed to provide that energy? Is it not curious that the Secretary of State should say that the Opposition ought to provide estimates of the cost of future coal-fired power stations when he cannot provide estimates for the cost of Sizewell? [HON. MEMBERS: "He has done that."] No, he has not. He has not provided the projected costs. Is not the truth of the matter that the Layfield inquiry was set up in 1979 as a kind of sideshow to siphon off the protests of those who were against it, so that the Tory Government could wait until a time such as today to produce this report, because they are in favour of American technology instead of British coal?

Photo of Mr Peter Walker Mr Peter Walker , Worcester

We are in favour of an energy policy that gives us the same energy efficiency as France, Germany, Japan, the United States and, in future, the Soviet Union. The saddest feature about the hon. Gentleman is that he has only one interest—to see that the energy policy of this country is totally dominated by the National Union of Mineworkers.

Photo of Mr Andrew Stewart Mr Andrew Stewart , Sherwood

I have been listening very closely to my right hon. Friend's answer regarding the need for new coal-fired power stations. When he next sees the chairman of the CEGB, will he remind him that he has a site in Nottinghamshire? We have the coal; we have the productivity; and we have the Union of Democratic Mineworkers.

Photo of Mr Peter Walker Mr Peter Walker , Worcester

I shall certainly draw the chairman's notice to the remarks of my hon. Friend.

Photo of Mr Piers Merchant Mr Piers Merchant , Newcastle upon Tyne Central

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on reaching his decision, but may I ask him to clarify the impact on job creation that his decision will entail? Will he also use his good offices with the CEGB to urge early orders for further power stations, bearing in mind the need for such stations and the impact that they will have on the power station manufacturing industry, particularly in my area of the country? NEI-Parsons is situated in an area where there is already very high unemployment.

Photo of Mr Peter Walker Mr Peter Walker , Worcester

I am very well aware of my hon. Friend's concern, because he has been to see me on many occasions to argue the necessity for assistance in the development in those important industries. As for any application that is made by the CEGB as a result of its investigations of various sites for coal-fired power stations, I shall examine that application quickly and, I hope, effectively. On the job implications, about 13,000 jobs will be involved at Sizewell, but in the nuclear industry as a whole we are talking about 150,000 to 200,000 jobs.

Photo of Mr James Couchman Mr James Couchman , Gillingham

Is my right hon. Friend aware that his decision will be applauded by many people because he has looked to the time when our fossil fuels will begin to run down quite rapidly? People look forward to security of electricity supplies. Does my right hon. Friend not agree that it comes ill from the Opposition parties, who have been whingeing on about the infrastructure and the need to give work to the construction industry, to complain about his decision?

Photo of Mr Peter Walker Mr Peter Walker , Worcester

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I referred to the longer-term implications at the commencement of these exchanges and said that because we shall lose the benefits of our reserves of oil and gas in the North sea it would be incredible to eradicate a form of energy that is providing one quarter of our electricity supplies. Also in the long term, if the world were persuaded to eradicate nuclear energy, the impact on the Third world would be horrific.

Photo of Mr Neil Hamilton Mr Neil Hamilton , Tatton

Is my right hon. Friend aware that his announcement will be greatly welcomed in the north-west, where so many jobs in the nuclear industry are concentrated, and not least in my constituency where the headquarters of the National Nuclear Corporation are to be found? Does he agree that the consequence of a Government accepting the policy of the Labour party, or indeed the policy of the alliance enunciated by the hon. Member for Gordon (Mr. Bruce), to phase out nuclear power would cost up to 1,000 jobs in my constituency and many more thousands throughout the north-west?

Photo of Mr Peter Walker Mr Peter Walker , Worcester

In fairness to the alliance, my hon. Friend should distinguish between Liberal policy, SDP policy and alliance policy. I think that each constituency will get a choice. On the job consequences for the north-west, I agree with my hon. Friend. I am pleased to say that next week I shall be visiting some of the factories concerned with those jobs.