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Nuclear Power

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 7:47 pm on 22nd October 2002.

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Photo of Vincent Cable Vincent Cable Shadow Spokesperson (Trade and Industry), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Trade and Industry) 7:47 pm, 22nd October 2002

I beg to move,

That this House
notes with concern the decision of the Government to put at risk over #600 million of public funds in order to prevent the bankruptcy of the privatised nuclear power company British Energy;
further notes that several competitor companies in the deregulated market also face financial collapse and that some are petitioning for Government assistance;
believes that nuclear power has been shown in a competitive market to be uneconomic as well as to generate long-term environmental costs in respect of waste disposal and decommissioning;
further believes that it would be wrong for the Government to continue to bail out British Energy shareholders with a massive unplanned injection of public money or encourage new nuclear power projects;
and calls on Her Majesty's Government urgently to bring forward its response to the PIU energy review, with measures to initiate a sustained long-term improvement in energy efficiency and conservation, and to facilitate the more rapid introduction of a variety of new renewable energy technologies as the favoured electricity generating source in the long-term, taking into account the Government's Kyoto targets and the Prime Minister's support for sustainable energy use at Johannesburg.

I shall concentrate on the wide-ranging implications of the Government's intervention in the energy market in the closing days of the summer recess. I shall pose several issues. The first is to register alarm that the Government have now put at risk about #650 million of public money in the form of what appears to be—no doubt we will receive clarification—an unsecured loan to a privatised company that is running serious losses.

The second issue is that slightly over a year after introducing a competitive energy market—NETA—the Government have decided to panic at the first sign that the energy market is doing what it was supposed to achieve: identifying the companies that could no longer compete in an environment of excess capacity.

My third concern is that in intervening to bail out one company but not others—a variety of projects that have failed, some in the renewable energy/combined heat and power sector—the Government have acted in a discriminatory way that may be illegal, although that remains to be tested. They have prejudged fundamentally important issues about long-term energy strategy.

I am partly making debating points, but mainly I am posing questions. It is extremely unfortunate that the Government did not make a statement on the issue. Regardless of how people regard nuclear or other forms of energy, they want to find out what is going on.