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Nuclear Power

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 9:20 pm on 22nd October 2002.

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Photo of Michael Jack Michael Jack Conservative, Fylde 9:20 pm, 22nd October 2002

Mr. Robinson made some important points about the way in which the electricity generation market and the pricing thereof has developed over time, but I want to spend a few moments saying a few words on behalf of the 1,500 nuclear energy workers at BNFL Salwick in my constituency. With the exception of the fuel for the pressurised water reactor at Sizewell, they make all the nuclear fuel in this country. If some of them had been in the Public Gallery tonight, they would have scratched their heads in disbelief, particularly at the terms of the Liberal Democrat motion, given that it simply expresses concern, without giving an opinion, about the very proper action that was taken to safeguard British Energy's short-term future.

The Liberal Democrat motion also refers to the so-called competitive market proving that nuclear-generated electricity is uneconomic and also generates long-term environmental costs. Neither in the motion, nor with great clarity in the remarks made by Dr. Cable, was any serious comment made about energy security, carbon dioxide emissions or a proper, sustainable balanced energy policy—all of which are vital to the United Kingdom.

Although the Minister was excellent in his scathing denunciation of Liberal Democrats' equivocation and double-dealing in their policy statements, the Government motion is equally unclear on the industry's future, which affects so many of my constituents. It says that it:

XRecognizes that the future of nuclear power in the UK is a question that has to be addressed on its own merits, not in the light of a particular set of circumstances surrounding a particular private sector company".

At the heart of our nuclear policy lies a publicly owned company—BNFL. It is very much the key to some of the issues involving the disposal of the waste of the nuclear electricity generating business, but there is not much mention of that in the Government motion.

One company's difficulties do not necessarily make a policy, but the Minister touched on the new electricity trading arrangements. That illustrated the important failure in the Liberal Democrat motion to acknowledge that Governments have effectively determined the market for electricity and its price in the United Kingdom since the end of the second world war.

To return to the remarks made by the hon. Member for Coventry, North-West, if the previous market had some failings, one must acknowledge that there may be something wrong with NETA. If a company such as British Energy, which turns over #1.9 billion a year, is effectively on the brink of not making any profit and having to be shored up by a Government loan, given the disparity between the receipts from the sale of the electricity and its wholesale price, there is, as they say, something wrong in the state of Denmark, which ought to be investigated without delay.

Those of my constituents who are involved in the manufacture of nuclear fuel have observed that the current market arrangements lack any serious long-term underpinning. The base load characteristics of nuclear electricity generation are not properly recognised in the present market arrangements.

To put it very simply, we have to decide whether this country wants to enjoy what it has been happy to enjoy until now—a balanced electricity portfolio including coal and nuclear energy, which is under our direct control, and gas, which is questionable because it comes from more volatile and less secure sources of supply, as was mentioned by the hon. Member for Coventry, North-West.

If we want to keep those issues in balance, we had better quickly reach decisions about the future disposal and legacy of nuclear waste, about the right pricing model to ensure that the base load characteristics of nuclear energy are properly recognised and about the need for some long-term assurances to enable planning to take place, for example, with the improved technology of the AP1000-type generator, which would certainly be more economic and efficient in the future.

The nuclear fuel workers in my constituency have striven to improve their operation and to reduce their production costs. They have an excellent safety record. As a company, they have taken full cognisance of their environmental responsibilities, yet their prospects seem deeply uncertain.

Everyone who speaks in the debate will wish to acknowledge the important role of renewables. However, with the kilowatt hour charge for landfill gas of between 2.5p and 3p per kilowatt hour, for wind of between 4p and 5p and for renewable crops of between 6p to 8p, we are considering important economic developments, but at a cost. With energy, we cannot have our cake and eat it.