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Orders of the Day — Electricity Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 8:27 pm on 13th December 1988.

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Photo of Michael Jack Michael Jack , Fylde 8:27 pm, 13th December 1988

I will decline the offer of further information as I still have some to give and little time in which to do so.

In 1972 there were rota disconnections to the electricity supply. None of us needs reminding of the events during the miners' strike. To put our dependence on nuclear sources of energy into perspective, it should be noted that only 5 per cent. of the total energy usage in this country —not electricity usage—comes from nuclear sources. I believe that that is almost too low a percentage in a world where our hydrocarbon fuel supplies are always at risk.

I am attempting to advocate the part that nuclear electricity can play in the future of our energy supplies. I am concerned about the Bill because, although, quite rightly, in its later clauses, it reflects the problems of decommissioning our existing Magnox and other nuclear power stations, as drafted, it does not give the same strength of commitment to addressing some of the technical problems particularly associated with the AGRs.

In Committee, it would be good if Ministers could give some consideration to the cost legacy that will be passed on to the large power generating company that tries to bring the Magnox stations and the older AGRs up to power. If we intend to cater for problems at the back end of the industry, it is logical to cater for the problems at the front end of the industry.

In early December on "This Week", a programme on ITV, it was pointed out that Hinkley Point power station generated electricity at 2·64 per kilowatt hour; Drax power station generates electricity at 2·46p. That is a narrow difference, but it does not take into account the environmental consequences of fossil fuel burning to which my hon. Friend the Member for Wyre (Mr. Mans) ably referred.

On 11 December an article in the Sunday Telegraph magazine contained the sentence: The lessons for Earth are frightening. Unless we switch radically from the burning of fossil fuels to nuclear power, temperatures on Earth could double by the 22nd century. We will not be around then, but we have an important responsibility to lay the foundations for an energy policy that is environmentally safe. Nuclear electricity is a safe form of power generation.

My constituents who work for British Nuclear Fuels plc want a chance to play their part. Their company has shown a willingness to modify its procedures and to become efficient. It can also tackle the problems of reprocessing, which is vital to maintaining the security of supply of our uranium assets. It can tackle the problem of decommissioning power stations in an efficient way. It is on record as saying that it welcomes electricity privatisation as it will sharpen up its act. British Nuclear Fuels even has the potential to become a nuclear generator in its own right. That is an exciting prospect, and the Bill affords that chance.

It has been estimated that the cost of removing the oil platforms from the North sea when the oil runs out—nuclear energy can delay that inevitable occurrence—is £6 billion, which is twice the estimated cost of decommissioning our Magnox power stations.

In making a commitment to the role that nuclear power can play in producing electricity for our country, I plead with Ministers to ensure, for the sake of the public, that there is no compromise on safety within the nuclear industry. That would be a folly for which the public would not easily forgive us.

I wholeheartedly support the Bill and the role that nuclear power can play in its objectives.