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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

The message that I would send to those employees is the same message as I would send to thousands of people across the country, in wards where there are plants with power generation through gas, coal and nuclear, all of which are faced with the loss of their livelihoods. The issue is why the Government have intervened to help one type of plant but not others.

The first ground given for intervention was safety. As I suggested, and I use the word reservedly, I think the Government are being blackmailed into supporting the company. That is a dangerous game. The company could well come back to the Government and say, XYou have given us #650 million. That is not enough. We need more. We need #1 billion. We need #2 billion, and unless you provide it, public safety is at risk." That is a very dangerous argument, if the Government have embraced it.

The second argument that has been advanced relates to the security of supply, which Mr. Hughes raised a few moments ago. It is right that the Government should be concerned that the lights are not switched off—that we do not have a California-style situation. If that is what the Government are concerned about, it is a reasonable preoccupation. However, nothing could be further from the present position. We have, as I said, roughly 30 per cent. spare capacity, despite conditions of peak demand in winter, in an industry where British Energy is generating about 17 per cent. We have a great deal of capacity in the industry. The equivalent of eight nuclear power stations have already received planning consent. As the Government's energy review demonstrated, with reasonable policies the Government could save about 30 per cent. of nuclear output through energy conservation, so the idea that we face a California-style switch-off is ludicrously far removed from the present circumstances.