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Orders of the Day — Electricity Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 7:43 pm on 13th December 1988.

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Photo of Mr Ian Bruce Mr Ian Bruce , South Dorset 7:43 pm, 13th December 1988

Many hon. Members have said that they have never believed CEGB statistics before, but suddenly believe them when they suggest that nuclear power is more expensive than coal. Perhaps we should examine that a little more closely. I seem to be the only hon. Member left in the House who believes that nuclear power is the most economic form of fuel, let alone that it is the most environmentally safe.

We must consider like for like. This country has opted for 20 per cent. nuclear power and 80 per cent. other forms of power. Across the Channel, France, a country of similar size, has invested heavily in nuclear power. I must take my hon. Friend the Member for Wyre (Mr. Mans) to task for referring to a £20 billion debt; I wish that we had made as large an investment in our nuclear industry. With its 80 per cent. nuclear power, France can boast the cheapest electricity in Europe—far cheaper than ours.

I am also extraordinarily surprised to hear Scottish Members claim that the SSEB will be so terribly disadvantaged. Perhaps they should have gone and listened to its chairman when he was in London a few weeks ago, speaking of the enormous success of its AGRs and Magnox stations. They have demonstrated how even a small nuclear programme can be extremely effective and profitable.

It is strange that the CEGB should tell us that it is having its costing re-examined, particularly on reprocessing. Reprocessing was always very safe when done at Sellafield. We are all flown up to look at the wonderful THORP reprocessing plant and to be told how many extra billions of pounds will be spent on it, but all that is being back-end-loaded on the Magnox stations and the reprocessing. Of course that suddenly looks bad according to the economics of a "tailing off" industry. The CEGB has made a hash of running its AGRs: two of its stations are a disaster. Yet a few months ago, if asked what its AGR stations were doing, the CEGB would have produced the story that they would come right next year or the year after.

Now the chairman of big G, finding that he is the only member of the English generating industry who must have nuclear power on his side, is trying to talk down the value of his assets, like any sensible man wanting to demonstrate in the future what wonderful profits he is making. Yet in the Hinkley inquiry, the CEGB is putting forward the case today that Hinkley C would have even cheaper electricity than the most modern coal-fired stations. We must look carefully at the statistics that are thrown at us, and ask why the CEGB is suddenly producing such a mish-mash.

Many hon. Members are keen to tell us about the alternatives—wind power, barrage power, oil and gas turbines. I say, "Great: this is what privatisation will allow us to prove." It will not be for the CEGB to say, "Wind power is not an efficient way to generate electricity." Opposition Members, or Mr. Porritt from Friends of the Earth, can go out and invest their own money—or other shareholders' money—to create alternative power sources. They know that they will be able to sell their electricity on to the grid and to any number of people who want to use it. If it is economic, we shall see such development very quickly.

The United States has had the same problem of consumers worrying about nuclear power stations on their doorstep, with the scaling down of electricity generation by that method. Much of that has been brought about by the combined heat and power method. It has proved economic for the present, while being produced in small packages. Industrial companies that wish to use the heat that they are creating on site and can also generate electricity. Unlike the CEGB, which says that, as it is the only customer who can buy it, it will pay next to nothing, they can sell it at a competitive price on to the grid.

We must, however, talk about the environment. It is easy to form a view of a nuclear industry that we have constantly loaded with costs to ensure that it is ultra-ultra-safe. Unfortunately, the coal industry has been creating an enormous amount of pollution, and the chickens are now coming home to roost. The amount of CO2, NOX and sulphur being put into the atmosphere has been a constant environmental problem. I was most grateful to the hon. Member for Wentworth (Mr. Hardy), who stated that the Conservative Government would still be in power in the year 2020, and therefore should be worrying about the possible greenhouse effect and any floods in hon. Members' constituencies when considering the Bill. As I live only 50 ft above sea level, I am most concerned about that.

We must look extremely carefully at research, particularly research into nuclear electricity as well as other forms of electricity. Money has been spent on the possibilities of fusion rather than fission reactors. Opposition Members, who seem to be so against nuclear power, are keen to preserve the jobs of fast breeder reactor workers in Scotland. We must also consider the smaller nuclear reactors. I heard a very good presentation about the economics of small nuclear power stations, the speed at which they can be produced and the fact that economically they can be much more effective than very large stations. We will be considering an enormous number of questions in Committee. I certainly welcome the light and fresh air coming into the industry. Clearly, without the privatisation of this enormous monopoly, we should not have had such a sensible and sane debate.