Nuclear Power

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 9:24 pm on 11th May 1987.

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Photo of Kevin Barron Kevin Barron , Rother Valley 9:24 pm, 11th May 1987

The Secretary of State is to be congratulated on his honesty about the need for nuclear power when he opened the debate. He showed more honesty than has been evident in many previous debates. Having listened to the right hon. Gentleman's remarks, we can have no doubt at all that the reason why the Government are determined to go ahead with Sizewell B has little to do with evidence about costs or safety and everything to do with weakening the position of the coal industry and its trade unions.

The right hon. Gentleman made great claims about the activities of our competitors, giving as examples the only two countries to have substantially expanded their nuclear industries in terms of orders over the past 10 years—France and Japan. However, it must be remembered that Japan, which has massively increased its activities in the nuclear industry, has been importing 90 per cent. of its energy for a very long time because it has none of its own and that 90 per cent. of the imported energy has been oil. Obviously, after the oil crisis in the 1970s Japan had to look for an alternative source of energy. In Britain, we have never needed to do that. We have hundreds of years' worth of coal, and the Secretary of State knows that quite well.

There is no doubt that the international price of fossil fuels calls into question the cost argument for going ahead with Sizewell B. No one can move away from that fact. Even those who advised Layfield in the first instance now say that because of the fall in the cost of fossil fuel there may be no justification on cost grounds. There is even less justification on safety grounds. Hon. Members have mentioned Chernobyl, but we have not really discussed the outcome of that accident, even in this country. We have heard recently of an outlay in compensation to sheep farmers in north Wales and Cumbria of £4 million, with a further £1 million spent on monitoring the sheep. There are still thousands of sheep that cannot be moved from one part of the country to another or put on the market because of the Chernobyl accident. It is extremely likely that we do not yet have anything like a proper knowledge of the eventual costs.

The Secretary of State and others talked about jobs in the nuclear industry as affected by Labour party policy. Let me say to hon. Members and to the nuclear industry that there are generations of work in the nuclear industry—in the decommissioning of nuclear power stations when their useful life has ended, and in the disposal of nuclear waste. None of us suggests that we would cut employment in the nuclear industry to the levels that have been suggested today. The Labour party certainly does not want to take on the mantle of the present Government, who have put 3 million people into the dole queues since 1978–79. That is certainly not what we are about. We are here to protect and enhance employment rather than to get rid of it.