Civil Nuclear Power

– in the House of Commons at 7:01 pm on 17th January 2006.

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Photo of Sylvia Heal Sylvia Heal Deputy Speaker 7:01 pm, 17th January 2006

We now come to the second debate. Mr. Speaker has selected the amendment in the name of the Prime Minister. I advise all Members that Mr. Speaker has imposed a time limit of eight minutes on Back-Bench speeches.

Photo of Norman Baker Norman Baker Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 7:19 pm, 17th January 2006

I beg to move,

That this House
opposes the construction of a new generation of civil nuclear power plants.

The idea that we might build a new generation of such plants is on the agenda for the first time in about 15 years. We have been told by the Prime Minister and others that the process will require no primary legislation, perhaps not even a vote in the House. The Liberal Democrats are thus happy to provide an opportunity for the House to discuss this important issue—as we did with climate change throughout the last Parliament, when the Government failed to provide opportunities to discuss that important issue, too.

Hon. Members may ask why nuclear power is back on the agenda. The first reason is clearly the concern about climate change and the belief—erroneous, as I hope to demonstrate—that nuclear power is an answer to that problem. The second reason is security of supply. I will deal with those points later.

Let me refer to the poll on nuclear power that was published today and reported by the media. Those who have been desperate for some good news have been keen to point out that a narrow, wafer-thin majority of people have said that, under certain circumstances and if it dealt with climate change, they would reluctantly embrace nuclear power. It is also worth pointing out that, notwithstanding the fact that nuclear power does not deal with climate change, 80 per cent. of those polled thought that renewable technologies and energy efficiency were better ways of tackling global warming. So that poll and the one from the BBC last year, which showed overwhelming opposition to nuclear power, show that the country understands these issues very well indeed.

Photo of Michael Weir Michael Weir Shadow Spokesperson (Work and Pensions), Shadow Spokesperson (Trade and Industry)

I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way so early. As he is talking about polls, is he aware of the online poll on the Sunday Herald website, which shows that 65 per cent. of Scots oppose nuclear power and that only 35 per cent. are in favour?

Photo of Norman Baker Norman Baker Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

That does not surprise me, and the Scottish Executive are taking a rather different position, of course, from the Government in London.

Before I come to the case for new build, such as it is, let me deal with the nuclear legacy and explain why many hon. Members are sceptical about the merits of nuclear power. Let us remember that we have just passed the Energy Act 2004, which has written off a bill of £48 billion—subsequently revised upwards, of course, as they always are, to £56 billion—to clear up the mess that we already have. About £933 for every man, woman and child in the country is needed to deal with the existing mess. The nuclear industry is effectively bankrupt, or it would be if it were not for state subsidy. Of course, British Energy had to be bailed out to the tune of €6 billion by the Government to stop it going bankrupt, with all the European Union involvement in that. The nuclear industry presents massive security hazards—not least with the legacy at Sellafield, which is very serious indeed, as the Minister for Energy recognises.

Photo of Kevan Jones Kevan Jones Labour, North Durham

I note that John Thurso is not in the Chamber, but what would the hon. Gentleman say in response to the point that his hon. Friend made in the Sunday Herald on 11 December, when the party spokesman on Scotland said:

"New reactors could be the least worst option for maintaining security of supply"?

He dismissed as emotional arguments about the controversial policy of building new nuclear power stations and commented that the waste issue would be solved. Does the hon. Gentleman fundamentally disagree with his hon. Friend?

Photo of Norman Baker Norman Baker Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

My hon. Friend John Thurso said before he left the Chamber that Labour Members would raise that issue, because they are desperate to find anything to divide the Liberal Democrats—[Interruption]—and he asked me to make it clear that he is no advocate of nuclear power. Those are the words that he asked me to pass on to the House, so I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving me the opportunity to do so. I wait to hear whether there is unanimity among Labour Members or, indeed, Conservative Members.

Photo of John Spellar John Spellar Labour, Warley

It is a question of unity not among Members, but among Front Benchers. As far as I am aware, John Thurso is the Scottish spokesman on behalf of the Liberal Democrat party. Will he stay as part of the Front-Bench team if he does not agree with the policy of his own party? Who speaks on behalf of the Liberal Democrats—or, as usual, are they saying one thing in one area and another thing in another?

Photo of Norman Baker Norman Baker Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I have already answered that question, but it will be interesting to find out, as the matter unfolds and as we debate it today and later on, whether the Minister for Energy and the Minister for Climate Change and the Environment, who are sitting very close to each other on the Front Bench, share the same view or, indeed, whether Mr. Ainsworth shares the same view as the Conservative trade and industry spokesman. So we will have a fascinating three hours and more, as the debate unfolds.

I want to deal with the waste issue, as part of the nuclear legacy. In fact, 18 million cu m of contaminated soil and rubble have been produced from 30 sites over a period of 60 years. The nuclear industry has been incapable of clearing up after itself; it has simply accumulated waste and hoped that a solution will arrive. We now have the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, which I support, but it has taken a long time to get there. The fact of the matter is that the nuclear industry cannot be trusted to deal with its own waste.

Photo of Tobias Ellwood Tobias Ellwood Opposition Whip (Commons)

May we please have some clarity? I hope that the hon. Gentleman will agree that, when he talks about nuclear waste, he must clarify whether he means high-level, medium or low-level waste. The amount of high-level waste in the United Kingdom would barely fill a large football pitch. [Interruption.] If he is talking about all the waste, yes, the amount is much bigger, but 90 per cent. of that waste comes from hospitals. Is he saying that we should stop allowing that waste to come from hospitals?

Photo of Norman Baker Norman Baker Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

It is perfectly true that, by volume, the majority of waste is low level. Much of it is kept at Drigg, which, by the way, is about to fall into the sea—in about 50 to 60 years, according to the Environment Agency—so whether the existing sites are safe for the storage of waste is an issue, too. On high-level and intermediate waste, I would not want a teaspoon of plutonium in my constituency, but perhaps the hon. Gentleman does.

Photo of David Heath David Heath Shadow Leader of the House of Commons, Shadow Spokesperson (Cabinet Office)

My hon. Friend may recall that I was leader of Somerset county council when we opposed Hinkley C, as a result of which we have had a moratorium on nuclear power ever since. May I put it to him that the arguments that we deployed then were not emotional, as was suggested by Mr. Jones, but hard-headed economic assessments of the value of nuclear power? Does my hon. Friend agree that that hard-headed economic assessment is as true today as it was then?

Photo of Norman Baker Norman Baker Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

It certainly is, and I shall come to the costs of nuclear power, the implications of which are frightening.

The last legacy issue that I want to raise is, of course, the contamination that has been emitted from Sellafield and other nuclear sites. The Irish sea is the most radioactively contaminated sea in the world, as the Irish Government regularly tell Environment Ministers at their meetings, and I am grateful to the Minister for Climate Change and the Environment for acknowledging that fact.

Photo of David Taylor David Taylor Labour, North West Leicestershire

The hon. Gentleman is talking about spent fuel. Does he agree that a reasonable estimate of its half-life may be about 50,000 years—about 1,500 generations perhaps—for a new generation of nuclear power stations that would give perhaps 60 years' power, two generations perhaps? So for two generations of power, we are willing to let 1,500 generations of our descendents pick up the tab. That is like us going back to the ice age in reverse. Is it not correct that John Thurso is guilty of peddling a red herring, promoting white elephants and all the other such things that he has been accused of?

Photo of Norman Baker Norman Baker Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

The hon. Gentleman's point about waste is absolutely right. The half-life of plutonium-239 is 24,000 years. The half-life of uranium-238 is 4,470 million years. In anyone's judgment of intergenerational confidence, that leaves something to be desired.

Photo of David Chaytor David Chaytor Labour, Bury North

The hon. Gentleman said that the current figure for the cost of the waste legacy is £56 billion, but the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority must shortly produce its revised figure—it must do so every year—and does he think that, given previous experience, that figure is likely to increase or decrease? For those hon. Members who are relaxed about football-field sizes of high-level waste, is not the logical consequence of their viewpoint that they should volunteer to have the nuclear waste depository in their constituency?

Photo of Norman Baker Norman Baker Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. Of course the estimate will go up—nuclear financial estimates always go up. There is a taxi meter on overdrive showing the costs that we will face as a country.

We have the energy review, although we might ask ourselves why we have it because we had one a couple of years ago. We had quite a reasonable White Paper, which, by the way, said that nuclear power was unattractive and that energy efficiency and renewables were far more attractive options. I thought that the White Paper was sensible, so I am not quite sure what has changed since it was published, other than the fact that the Prime Minister has changed his mind and wants a mechanism to change Government policy as a consequence. We do not want a dodgy dossier on the energy review like we had on Iraq.

Photo of Lembit Öpik Lembit Öpik Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Northern Ireland Affairs, Shadow Secretary of State for Wales, Welsh Affairs

Does my hon. Friend agree that some of us are at a loss to understand where the Government's creative solutions are coming from? He will know that the Centre for Alternative Technology in mid-Wales, which is based in my constituency, has proved that there are many creative, inexpensive and environmentally friendly ways in which energy consumption can be reduced and in which energy can be produced in a totally clean fashion. Why does he think that the Government take an entirely uncreative approach to such renewable methods and instead insist on plumping for something that obviously has considerable and long-term negative environmental effects?

Photo of Norman Baker Norman Baker Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

To be fair, some members of the Government take a sensible view and others do not. For example, Ministers in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs are sensible about these matters. We are not sure about Ministers in the Department of Trade and Industry, and Ministers in No. 10 and the Cabinet Office are less helpful. It will be interesting to find out who wins the battle on the energy review.

How will this pan out and what is the case for nuclear power? Hon. Members might be astonished to find that when I asked the Minister for Energy what steps his Department was taking to establish the full economic life cycle costs of nuclear fission, he replied:

"The Department has undertaken no research to establish the full economic life cycle costs of nuclear fission."—[Hansard, 14 October 2005; Vol. 437, c. 637W.]

When I asked for an estimate of the total cost of constructing a new nuclear facility at 2005 prices, I was told:

"The Government have not made their own estimates for the construction of nuclear power facilities."—[Hansard, 12 October 2005; Vol. 437, c. 510W.]

There is nothing to back up the case for nuclear power that has suddenly arisen. There is no basis for getting the matter into an energy review, apart from the Prime Minister's prejudices.

Photo of Stewart Hosie Stewart Hosie Shadow Spokesperson (Women), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Treasury)

The hon. Gentleman talks about the Government's inability to provide a price for a new nuclear power station. The World Nuclear Association estimates that the cost of building a new nuclear power station in Scotland would be £2.45 billion over its lifetime. Does he agree that investing in renewables the money that would be spent over the 15 years that it would take to build a nuclear power station would represent a far more sensible approach?

Photo of Norman Baker Norman Baker Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I would indeed. I will now try to make some progress because I will otherwise run over my time, and I know that other hon. Members wish to speak. I have seen an estimate of £17 billion for the construction of 10 new AP1000 reactors. Incidentally, those proposed reactors have not been built anywhere else in the world, so we do not know whether they will work or come in on budget. However, as nothing else has come in on budget, I do not see why they should.

As the Chancellor is not going to pay and private industry clearly will not pay, the householder will have to pay. The only way in which we shall end up with a new generation of nuclear power stations will be if the taxpayer or the householder foots the bill. Indeed, an article in The Timesa newspaper that I always believe, of course—on 27 November had the headline, "New tax may fund nuclear stations". It went on to say:

"Leaked documents reveal proposals by Tony Blair's chief scientific adviser to put a levy on consumers' power bills to pay for up to 20 new nuclear power plants."

The only way in which this dodo will fly will be if it is supported by a nuclear tax on householders and a big increase in electricity bills. I do not think that the public at large will support that when it is explained to them in some detail.

Photo of Jo Swinson Jo Swinson Opposition Whip (Commons), Shadow Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport)

Is my hon. Friend aware of a report in The Herald that said that the bill for cleaning up the sea bed at Dounreay by removing radioactive particles could be as much as £70 billion? Environmental issues aside, nuclear power is simply uneconomic.

N

Absolutely, here here! Well done Jo. It is uneconomic to keep nuclear power as part of our power grid AND it is uneconomic to spend £40 a second in keeping...

Submitted by Neil Scott Continue reading (and 5 more annotations)

Photo of Norman Baker Norman Baker Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

There is a huge legacy problem at Dounreay, as there is at Sellafield and many nuclear sites throughout the country. There is not yet any solution to the nuclear waste problem. We have had eight and a half years of dithering by the Government. The last act of Mr. Gummer before Prorogation in 1997 was to cancel any plans to have a permanent site at Sellafield. No action has been taken since then to provide a solution to the problem of nuclear waste. It is irresponsible in the extreme to suggest building a new generation of nuclear power stations, which would produce a huge amount of waste, when no solution has been identified to deal with the waste that we already have.

Photo of Norman Baker Norman Baker Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I must make some progress.

The industry says that the waste created by nuclear stations will be 10 per cent. of what exists at present. The Government seem to take that on trust, but they take too much on trust from the nuclear industry without carefully investigating the situation. The Committee on Radioactive Waste Management suggests that that is an underestimate by some distance and Nirex says the same. The waste caused by a new generation of nuclear power stations will increase the footprint of waste by 50 per cent., although there is no solution to deal with the waste that we already have. That cannot be condoned under any circumstances.

There are questions about security. Why on earth the Government still seem to be keen to go down the road of reprocessing I do not know because it makes no environmental or economic sense whatsoever, and even many people in the nuclear industry say that. The Minister will know that the thermal oxide reprocessing plant—THORP—has closed. He told me in a written answer on 12 October 2005 that it would not reopen until the Government had taken a view in light of recommendations in the nuclear installations inspectorate report. It is perfectly proper that the Government should take a view on the basis of the report, but we have found out that when the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority was asked whether there would be Government involvement, it said that it thought that it would be possible to start up THORP again without additional ministerial intervention. There is conflict between what the NDA and the Minister are saying. I would welcome an assurance from the Minister that THORP will reopen only with Government support and approval. I do not want THORP to reopen, but if that is to happen, it should be approved by a Minister, not the NDA.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Attorney General, Party Chair, Liberal Democrats

Does my hon. Friend accept that we have argued for 20 years on these Benches against reprocessing at Sellafield? For 20 years we have made the case that going down that road has a huge budgetary implication for Britain, and for 20 years we have been consistently proved right when Governments have refused to accept the financial facts that result from their commitment to the nuclear industry.

Photo of Norman Baker Norman Baker Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

My hon. Friend is absolutely right that that is the historical record. He argued the case consistently when he performed my role. It is a pity that successive Governments have not listened to sane voices on these Benches and elsewhere that have opposed reprocessing.

Photo of Matthew Taylor Matthew Taylor Liberal Democrat, Truro and St Austell

We have successfully made a case on a financial basis for many years because the evidence has proved us right on every occasion. Does my hon. Friend accept that there is now an equally fundamental argument? Government Members try to make the case for nuclear power by saying that it is a way of tackling the energy and climate change problems that we face. What message is being sent to developing countries, some of which are unstable—including Iran—when we argue against them developing nuclear power because of the risk of proliferation, while developed countries such as ours say that that is the only solution?

Photo of Norman Baker Norman Baker Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I think that the Government and the Minister for Energy took steps in December to try to help Russia and Kazakhstan to move away from nuclear power and to encourage decommissioning. They have made the point in international forums that reprocessing can produce plutonium, which, of course, can be used in nuclear weapons. It is odd that we encourage countries to go down one road, but perhaps go down a different road ourselves.

Photo of Bob Spink Bob Spink Conservative, Castle Point

The Liberal Democrats are a Francophile party. What lessons do they take from the fact that France generates 75 per cent. of its electricity using nuclear power? We need a balanced debate, so does the hon. Gentleman accept that nuclear, renewables and energy saving are not mutually exclusive?

Photo of Norman Baker Norman Baker Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

No, I do not accept that, and I shall explain why nuclear power would not address climate change. Nuclear has been described as a carbon-free technology, but it is nothing of the sort. Nuclear power generation and the construction of nuclear power facilities create a considerable carbon footprint. Work done by a university in the Netherlands has suggested that the carbon footprint of a nuclear facility is equivalent to between 20 and 40 per cent. of that of a gas-fired power station over the lifetime of its existence, when one takes account of the mining of uranium, transport and decommissioning.

Photo of Brian Iddon Brian Iddon Labour, Bolton South East

I have some figures that refer to the entire life cycle of Torness nuclear power station that take account of the extraction of ore and decommissioning at the end of the station's life. Some 950 g of carbon dioxide is produced for every kilowatt-hour of electricity generated by coal. The figure for gas is 400 g, but it is only 5.05 g for nuclear.

Photo of Norman Baker Norman Baker Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

That is a different figure from the one that I have, but I accept that it is difficult to pin down precisely. However, the fact is that it is becoming more difficult to mine uranium, which results in a higher carbon impact. The figures that I gave are the latest ones from a university in the Netherlands. Even if we split the difference, we are still talking about a significant carbon footprint.

I was asked by Bob Spink why it was not possible to have nuclear and renewables and energy efficiency. There are several reasons for that.

Photo of David Chaytor David Chaytor Labour, Bury North

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman agrees that the life cycle emissions of nuclear are an important matter. Is not the discrepancy between the two figures that we have heard quoted likely to be the result of the lower figure not taking account of the full nuclear life cycle? It does not take account of the full impact of CO 2 emissions from uranium mining, and it certainly does not take account of emissions from waste management, because we do not yet know how to manage nuclear waste.

Photo of Norman Baker Norman Baker Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I suspect that that explains the difference, but it is not possible to prove that without examining the matter further.

The reason we cannot have the mix referred to is simple: there is only so much money. A new generation of nuclear power stations would be hugely expensive to build and would draw heavily on the public purse. We have seen over the past 20 years that when money is put into nuclear, there is none left for renewables and energy efficiency. They will wither on the vine and the message that will go out to the renewables industry is, "Nuclear is back big time—you can forget about your wind farms, your tidal power and your solar power." We cannot have them all together.

Photo of Susan Kramer Susan Kramer Shadow Minister, Treasury, Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills)

Is my hon. Friend aware that according to Friends of the Earth the amount of electricity used annually in the G8 countries just by appliances on standby is equivalent to the output of 24 full-scale power stations? If we bring that back to the UK level, we can see that the savings that could be achieved through a proper campaign to inform people of what they can do simply by pushing a button would have far more impact than spending a lot of time reviewing the nuclear issue.

Photo of Norman Baker Norman Baker Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The Government could do far more to reduce energy use—for example, they could be pressing for the redesign of appliances. Why do we still have so many fridges that perform so badly? Figures from the Government's performance and innovation unit—they must be accurate—suggest that every £1 spent on energy efficiency secures seven times more carbon displacement than spending £1 on nuclear power.

Photo of Colin Challen Colin Challen Labour, Morley and Rothwell

Before the hon. Gentleman moves on, I want to clarify one point relating to cost. I read an article by his esteemed colleague Dr. Cable, who is the Liberal Democrat Treasury spokesman, in the 29 December edition of The Times. Judging by that article, it seems that one of their party's main objections to nuclear is its cost. The Finns say that they have solved their problem by selling electricity supplies over a period of 60 years to companies, local authorities and others. Has Norman Baker studied that example, and if so, how would he fault it?

Photo of Norman Baker Norman Baker Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Over the years the nuclear industry has come up with various ingenious ways of funding itself, most of which involve public subsidy in some form. That will not change.

Photo of David Howarth David Howarth Shadow Minister, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister

May I help my hon. Friend out? The Finnish example is not an example of private funding. The consortium that is commissioning the nuclear power station in Finland contains one entirely nationalised power company and a number of local authorities, including the City of Helsinki. In addition, the Finnish Government are accepting residual liabilities in respect of both waste and decommissioning.

Photo of Norman Baker Norman Baker Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

That explains the Finnish example very well to those who would argue that it represents the renaissance of nuclear power.

Nuclear will use up the available money. Gordon Mackerron, whom many hon. Members will know from the Committee on Radioactive Waste Management, has said:

"The nuclear industry's proposal for a 10GW programme would have crowded out most other generating investment."

That is what the nuclear industry experts are saying. Most significantly, a major programme of nuclear investment would stifle the opportunity that exists now to decentralise the grid and to facilitate the small-scale, dispersed and highly efficient portfolio of renewables that is necessary to meet the White Paper objectives. We need to work towards a decentralised energy future, not one based on centralised generation in faraway locations and pylons stretching across the country. A different future is possible, but that alternative will be set aside for 20 or 25 years if we go for a new generation of nuclear power.

Photo of David Drew David Drew Labour, Stroud

The hon. Gentleman has not yet mentioned fusion. If he agrees that fusion is one of the future technologies, will he explain how he thinks we could achieve a world in which we can count on fusion without nuclear understanding?

Photo of Norman Baker Norman Baker Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Our proposal is not about nuclear fusion, but we do not oppose continuing scientific investment in nuclear fusion—although I have to say that over the years nuclear fusion has swallowed up a great deal of money and we have little to show for it, whereas if the money had been spent on renewables and energy efficiency we would be in a better position than we are today.

I note that an early-day motion tabled by Labour Members in May last year stated that commissioning

"a new fleet of nuclear generating stations . . . would inevitably involve massive public subsidies which could be used to greater benefit in promoting the deployment of renewable generators and, most especially, the marine technologies of wave and tidal steam exploiting the uniquely rich natural energy resources of the United Kingdom."

There is undoubtedly a strong feeling in the House, not confined to Liberal Democrat Members, that there is an alternative way forward that the Minister ought to grab. We cannot maintain the big tent philosophy that pretends that we can have everything; we cannot. If we have nuclear, everything else will be squeezed out. That is the message that the Government have not accepted, but they need to accept it before the review proceeds much further. There is not enough money for all the technologies. The grid will be designed to serve the nuclear industry and will be counter-productive to the decentralised energy future that I want us to have.

It is worth pointing out that the Government's performance and innovation unit estimates that the unit electricity cost of the new AP1000 will be between 3p and 4p per kWh, that of onshore wind 1.5p to 2.5p per kWh and that of offshore wind 2p to 3p per kWh.

Photo of Robert Goodwill Robert Goodwill Conservative, Scarborough and Whitby

Is it not true that wind power needs back-up for when the wind is not blowing? Denmark relies heavily on wind power and when the wind stops blowing, the Danes have to switch on the cable from Germany. Some of the German power comes from nuclear generators, but much of it is generated by burning lignite—brown coal.

Photo of Norman Baker Norman Baker Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

If the hon. Gentleman is suggesting that we should not rely 100 per cent. on wind power, I agree. That is not possible and I am not suggesting that we do that. We have always advocated a basket of renewable sources, including wind, tidal, solar and decentralised energy such as microgeneration and so on. We do not have to rely on one source. The great problem for advocates of nuclear power is that they have to pretend that the sole alternative is wind power, but that is not realistic.

Photo of Norman Baker Norman Baker Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I will not give way again because I have to bring my speech to a conclusion.

The energy mix that works is one that minimises energy consumption in the first place. We could do a lot more in that respect—without much difficulty we could cut our energy consumption by a third over a period of 25 years. Secondly, we should work to achieve decentralised energy and encourage householders to be part of the generation mix. Thirdly, we should have a basket of renewable sources, not only wind. Fourthly, and importantly, we should give serious consideration to carbon capture and storage and acknowledge that there may be a role in future for fossil fuels if they can be cleaned up. Of course, using fossil fuels and wind power and taking energy efficiency measures would help to meet our security of supply objectives, about which the Government are rightly concerned. A number of commercial sequestration projects are up and running in Norway, Canada and Algeria—the technology has been proved to work.

I could say more but I am conscious that other hon. Members wish to speak. I shall conclude by saying that nuclear is a dodo that does not fly. If I wanted to extend the metaphor, I could say that it is a white elephant and a red herring as well. I ask the House to support the motion.

Photo of Malcolm Wicks Malcolm Wicks Minister for energy, Department of Trade and Industry 7:49 pm, 17th January 2006

I beg to move, To leave out from "House" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof:

"welcomes the recent announcement of an energy review to assess future options on both the supply and demand for energy including the role of civil nuclear power;
and notes the Government's energy policy as set out in the 2003 Energy White Paper, to make progress towards the goal of reducing carbon dioxide emissions by 60 per cent. by 2050, to maintain the reliability of energy supplies, to promote competitive markets in the UK and beyond and to ensure that every home is adequately and affordably heated."

I welcome the debate at this important time for our energy policy. Although I agreed with little that Norman Baker said, I nevertheless congratulate him on securing the debate. In response to some noises on the Labour Benches—I hope that my colleagues will not mind my referring to them as noises on this occasion—the hon. Gentleman said they were seeking to divide his party. With that project, his party needs no help at present.

The House is aware that the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry have asked me to lead a review of UK energy policy, including civil nuclear power. The review is under way and proposals will be made by the summer. We will launch our consultation document with a written statement to the House on Monday. I hope that all Members will study that document and contribute to the important debate.

The question has been raised of why we should have a review now.

Photo of Malcolm Wicks Malcolm Wicks Minister for energy, Department of Trade and Industry

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman was about to ask that question. It would be sensible for me and for the House if I took one or two interventions, but not too many, as I know that many colleagues want to join in the debate and I want an opportunity to listen.

Photo of Stewart Hosie Stewart Hosie Shadow Spokesperson (Women), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Treasury)

Can the Minister confirm that when nuclear power is reviewed, there will be a direct comparison with other options so that, for example, a new nuclear power station at Hunterston may be compared directly with a wind farm with a biomass element to it for when the wind is not blowing? Will the Minister give a commitment that such direct comparisons of nuclear and other options will be put together in the review?

Photo of Malcolm Wicks Malcolm Wicks Minister for energy, Department of Trade and Industry

We will want to look at the cost comparisons, as well as other comparisons.

Why have a review? The situation has moved on since we set out our energy policies in 2003. Our own energy output in the North sea has declined faster than anticipated and we have moved to being a net gas importer earlier than envisaged. We could become a net importer of oil, too, by the end of this decade. There have been changes beyond our borders—we have seen slower than expected liberalisation in the EU, leading to exposure to higher, more volatile prices. Global demand for energy has increased massively as economies such as China's have boomed. China's energy demand is increasing by about 15 per cent. each year.

There are lessons to be learned from these changing circumstances and from what we have already experienced this winter, both in the UK and overseas. The energy review is not a reaction to this winter, but a planned response to the lessons that we have learned and the changes that we have experienced since 2003. We are taking action now in order to keep us on track, or in some cases to put us back on track, for our long-term energy goals.

Key questions need to be answered. How do we ensure affordable energy in the future? How do we deliver a 60 per cent. reduction in our carbon targets? How do we manage our reliance on imported gas? In a nutshell, how can we make sure that we have a fully fledged energy market that provides energy that is secure, affordable and clean? Those are big questions and they raise vital issues that are, of course, complex, intricate and interrelated. There are important links between any decisions that we make as a result of the review, including decisions on civil nuclear power.

It will not come as a surprise when I say that we are not looking for simplistic yes or no responses to complex issues, particularly on civil nuclear power. The Liberal Democrat spokesman said a few moments ago that if—and it is a big if—we go down the nuclear path again, there will be room for nothing else. With all due respect to the hon. Gentleman, that is total nonsense. The name of the game is not to talk about enthusiasm for renewables, nuclear, biomass or wind turbines, but to ask a duller but perhaps more sensible question about how we build up 100 per cent. of energy supply, not the contribution that this or that technology might make—30 per cent., 5 per cent. or 20 per cent.

Photo of Phil Willis Phil Willis Chair, Science and Technology Committee (Commons)

We accept that, in a liberalised energy market, it will be the suppliers of energy who make many of the significant decisions, and it will be for Government to create a framework within which those decisions can be made. Can the Minister give the House an example of any company that has asked the Department for support to build a new nuclear power station since the last energy review?

Photo of Malcolm Wicks Malcolm Wicks Minister for energy, Department of Trade and Industry

No, I cannot do that. However, a number of companies have said to me that, just as in other nation states, it would need a lead from Government to provide a framework for companies to come forward. That is the political reality when it comes to civil nuclear energy.

Photo of David Hamilton David Hamilton Labour, Midlothian

Is it not the case, however, that many companies running coal-fired power stations have already alerted the Department to the fact that if they do not get investment now, they cannot change to clean coal technology? There must be changes and decisions must be taken now.

Photo of Malcolm Wicks Malcolm Wicks Minister for energy, Department of Trade and Industry

Certainly, massive investment is required in infrastructure and power plants over the next 10, 20 or 30 years. People are looking forward eagerly to the results of the review on a wide range of topics. It is not a nuclear review, but as the Prime Minister made clear, in reviewing our energy policy and in the context of securing a diverse—I emphasise "diverse"—energy mix, we need to consider the future role of civil nuclear power.

Nuclear is already part of the mix. Nuclear energy accounts for about 19 per cent. of our electricity generation, but the current generating plants are ageing and most are scheduled to be decommissioned over the coming 15 years or so, as we have heard. As things stand, it is estimated that by 2020 only about 7 per cent. of our electricity might come from nuclear. From an international perspective, there are several countries showing interest in new nuclear build. China and India have a building programme under way, with more new reactors planned or at the proposal stage. Closer to home, Finland has started construction of a new plant, and France also has proposals for new plant.

Nuclear might provide some of the answers going forward, but there are major factors to be considered, such as management of waste, costs and safety. We also need an evidence-based look at what new nuclear technologies can offer. Even if, and I emphasise that it is a big if, new nuclear could provide some of the answers, it could never be the whole picture. When we look not just at electricity but at UK energy consumption as a whole, including transport, we see that nuclear contributes 8 per cent.—a significant percentage, but only 8 per cent.

The Government are clear that, in making important decisions about energy policy, including nuclear, there should be the fullest public consultation. The document that we shall issue on Monday is part of that process. The Government are not, at this stage, presenting policy proposals. The hon. Member for Lewes rather implied that we were. He needs to wait. Before any decision to proceed with the building of a new generation of nuclear power plants, a further White Paper setting out our proposals would need to be published.

The 2003 White Paper concluded that nuclear power was an important source of carbon-free electricity. It remains so. However, its economics made it an unattractive option then for new, carbon-free generating capacity, and there were also important issues of nuclear waste to be resolved. These issues included our legacy waste and continued waste arising from other sources. However, the White Paper did not rule out the possibility that at some point in the future new nuclear build might be necessary if we are to meet our carbon targets.

The Government are aware that since the White Paper, new nuclear plants are being built in the far east and in Finland and that there have been a number of new studies on the costs of nuclear power. The review will therefore conduct a rigorous analysis and examine all the evidence on the economics of all forms of generation for both fossil fuel and low-carbon technologies.

Photo of Michael Weir Michael Weir Shadow Spokesperson (Work and Pensions), Shadow Spokesperson (Trade and Industry)

Will the review also look at the availability of uranium for the new nuclear stations and the fact that that is also a finite resource?

Photo of Malcolm Wicks Malcolm Wicks Minister for energy, Department of Trade and Industry

When we examine potential scenarios and test the nuclear hypothesis, uranium will require consideration. I understand that we already have a reasonable supply of uranium and that many of the deposits are in Australia and Canada.

On the management of waste, we must demonstrate to the public that the legacy of nuclear waste is being tackled before we contemplate a new generation of nuclear reactors. A clear strategy is in place, and work is under way to tackle that legacy. We established the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, which became effective in April last year, and it is setting a UK-wide strategy for more effective decommissioning and clean-up of its sites. It is responsible for the UK's civil nuclear sites and for setting an overall strategy for their safe, secure, cost-effective and environmentally responsible decommissioning and clean-up, and it will drive improved clean-up performance through the introduction of site management competition.

The independent Committee on Radioactive Waste Management was set up to oversee a review of options for managing the UK's higher activity radioactive waste. CoRWM will recommend the option, or combination of options, that can deliver a long-term waste solution, providing protection for people and the environment. CoRWM is due to deliver its recommendations to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs by July this year, and the UK Government and the devolved Administrations will decide policy and its means of delivery in that light.

The failure of Governments and Parliaments to tackle the waste issue for several decades is a national disgrace and we must reach sensible conclusions to settle that national account. We cannot have a serious debate about ongoing nuclear until we have convinced Parliament and the public that we have implemented strategies to tackle the waste issue, and I think that the NDA takes us halfway there.

Photo of David Drew David Drew Labour, Stroud

My hon. Friend knows that Berkeley, the first nuclear power station to be decommissioned, is in my constituency, and he also knows that exciting moves are afoot to return the Berkeley site as near as possible to a greenfield site. Will he commend the people engaged in that work and support the industry's objective? Perhaps that is one way to address some of the legacy issues, which require answers.

Photo of Malcolm Wicks Malcolm Wicks Minister for energy, Department of Trade and Industry

The way in which we handle decommissioning in terms of not only waste but the local environment is critical.

On skills and research, new nuclear build is not the only issue that we should consider in relation to civil nuclear power. The operation and eventual decommissioning of existing nuclear plant will require a highly skilled work force, which is why the Government have introduced measures to support and develop skills and research. The Cogent sector skills council was licensed last year, and it is taking a strategic view of the nuclear sector, ensuring that the education and training base can meet the needs of nuclear employers. Cogent is also working closely with the NDA and its contractors to ensure that the necessary skills are available and sustained.

The research councils are playing their part in providing prospects for nuclear energy research. Opportunities for fission research are available as part of the initiative of Research Councils UK, "towards a sustainable energy economy", and the UK is participating in the generation IV international forum, which plans a co-ordinated programme of international research into advanced reactor systems.

Safety is a crucial issue, and the UK has an excellent record. Both the Government and the UK civil nuclear industry take very seriously their responsibilities for ensuring the safety of activities at nuclear installations. The stringent regulatory regime provides for the application of high standards of safety aimed both at minimising radiation exposures from normal operations and at preventing accidental releases of radioactivity at nuclear installations.

Photo of Norman Baker Norman Baker Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Does the Minister regard the way in which the nuclear industry has dealt with the legacy problems at Sellafield as demonstrating proper regard for safety?

Photo of Malcolm Wicks Malcolm Wicks Minister for energy, Department of Trade and Industry

As I have said, the way in which Parliaments and Governments have handled the matter over several decades is a national disgrace, which indicates my feelings. The Government and I are determined to tackle those difficult and sometimes controversial issues.

In conclusion, we will, of course, consider nuclear during the forthcoming review. It is a pity that there is not an opportunity to hold a wider debate, but opportunities have arisen—there will be more—to discuss other technologies such as renewables and the need for energy efficiency. Today, we are understandably focusing on one technology, civil nuclear, but we will not consider nuclear in isolation, because we do not see one technology as being a panacea for lowering emissions and ensuring reliable energy supplies. The challenge for serious people is not to advance the case for one technology that can contribute 5 per cent. or 30 per cent. of our supply, but to consider 100 per cent. supply.

Photo of Tobias Ellwood Tobias Ellwood Opposition Whip (Commons)

Will the Minister take this opportunity to spell out the timetable? We hear that the review will report in the summer, but what will be its consequences? In a year's time, will we have a substantive timetable for understanding our energy requirements and how we will meet them?

Photo of Malcolm Wicks Malcolm Wicks Minister for energy, Department of Trade and Industry

Yes, I hope so. The Prime Minister has asked me to report to him and the Cabinet by the summer, so although we must conduct the review rigorously and spend time on it, there is a sense of urgency.

I will not try to second-guess the outcome of the energy review—the Liberal Democrats have already done so—because it would not be sensible. The Government are committed to a full assessment of a wide range of options, and we cannot pre-empt that consideration now. We need a rational, evidence-based, grown-up debate, which must involve experts, people in business, investors, people in the energy industry, scientists and academics.

Photo of Colin Challen Colin Challen Labour, Morley and Rothwell

I am pleased to hear that the review will not be pre-empted. Will the Minister take this opportunity to put it on the record that the Government do not believe, as one of his predecessors said, that uranium is indigenous to this country or, as Lord Sainsbury of Turville said in the other place, that nuclear power is renewable? Neither of those two statements is sensible, rational or grown-up.

Photo of Malcolm Wicks Malcolm Wicks Minister for energy, Department of Trade and Industry

I have indicated my understanding that much of our uranium comes from Australia and Canada—my feel for geography is reasonable, but not advanced, so I can reassure my hon. Friend on at least one point.

Photo of Geraldine Smith Geraldine Smith Labour, Morecambe and Lunesdale

I was pleased to hear my hon. Friend say that the review will have a sense of urgency, because energy reviews have been conducted throughout my eight years in Parliament. When he conducts the consultation and meets a wide range of people, perhaps it would be useful to visit the two nuclear power stations in my constituency and talk to the trade union.

Photo of Malcolm Wicks Malcolm Wicks Minister for energy, Department of Trade and Industry

We will meet so-called stakeholders in every region of the country, and I am developing a programme of more public events. Indeed, my challenge to hon. Members is to lead the debate rationally in their own constituencies.

Photo of Malcolm Wicks Malcolm Wicks Minister for energy, Department of Trade and Industry

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Submitted by raymond Holroyd Continue reading

Photo of Andrew Murrison Andrew Murrison Shadow Minister (Health)

Will the Minister confirm that he will consult industry about increasing the efficiency of existing and future conventional power plants? My information is that Ministers and their officials have stonewalled those who seek to improve efficiency, but there seems to be the potential for some early gains. Will he meet Thermodyne, which is such a company based in my constituency?

Photo of Malcolm Wicks Malcolm Wicks Minister for energy, Department of Trade and Industry

I will certainly give that due consideration, although when I say that I want to meet a wide range of people, I am not saying that I want to meet everyone at the same time.

The debate should not be just an expert debate, a business debate or an academic debate, although we need those dimensions—it must be a wider public debate. Hon. Members can help to lead that debate in their constituencies. I hope that it will be informed, rational and grown up; and I rather hope, against the odds, that the Liberal Democrats may yet choose to join in.

Photo of Alan Duncan Alan Duncan Shadow Secretary of State (Trade and Industry) 8:10 pm, 17th January 2006

Tonight is an occasion on which Conservative Members find themselves in broad agreement with everything that the Minister has said. I approached the debate with a measure of hope and of despair. I hope that the energy review on which we embark on Monday will be a serious process in which both sides of the House will engage in the grown-up manner that the Minister described, but I despair that, as we all try to address this matter, there is one party that has decided to close off the process from the start.

We all have a profound responsibility to grapple with what is one of the biggest, if not the biggest, problems that we face as politicians and stewards of the interests of our country. We live in a rapidly changing world in which our patterns of supply are uncertain, the technologies that govern our energy supply are changing very rapidly, and our growing concerns for the world in which we live, and the one that we will leave behind, are of paramount importance. We have profound responsibilities. Any of us who tries to live without electricity for a mere 48 hours can understand the significance of what energy means to us. We are, if not a nanosecond from, at least—as we saw in New Orleans—only thinly divided from complete chaos. The absence of energy in our working world would lead rapidly to that chaos.

Norman Baker asked, "Why have this review?" We need it because we cannot with certainty see the future, because the issue needs profound thought, and because the technology that governs it, and the world, is changing fast. If we do not engage in this review—okay, we would rather have had it sooner, but none the less the process is now set in train—we will not be fulfilling the responsibilities that we all have. The point about the energy world at the moment is that every single aspect is interrelated. We cannot consider one aspect of energy generation and supply without appreciating its effect on another aspect. We have to consider it overall—gas, electricity, oil, nuclear and renewables—and try to understand how we can best serve the interests of the planet as well as our needs for energy.

Our starting point is that Britain is heavily dependent on gas. The current investment climate in Britain means that the only decision that any private company will take is to build a gas-fired power station. That is not necessarily the best thing for our long-term future. The whole issue of energy efficiency is, rightly, on our political radar in a far more engaging way than it has ever been. That should have happened earlier—perhaps some of us were a bit slow. The effects that CO 2 emissions are having on the world are better understood. Our dependency on certain sources of energy is growing. That could put us in a perilous position if the world is turned on its head with upheaval in one part of the globe. Our starting point has to be one of deep concern about how our energy supplies can be sustained and how the consequences of consuming energy can be acceptable for future generations.

Photo of Russell Brown Russell Brown PPS (Rt Hon Alistair Darling, Secretary of State), Scotland Office, PPS (Rt Hon Alistair Darling, Secretary of State), Department for Transport

The hon. Gentleman is hinting at the question that I want to ask him. For all the eight-plus years in which I have been here, we have had debates about energy provision and how we manage to generate it. We have argued about nuclear and renewables, but the reality is that this is about meeting our own demands as best we can. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the big issue is whether we aim to be as self-sufficient as possible and, in particular, how we deal with the issue of imported gas, which arose earlier this month?

Photo of Alan Duncan Alan Duncan Shadow Secretary of State (Trade and Industry)

The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. There is no cross-party difference in trying to identify the seriousness of the issue.

The hon. Gentleman's comments take me conveniently to the question of what alternatives now exist to the traditional patterns of energy supply that this country has enjoyed for decades. The fact is—this is another compelling reason for engaging seriously in this review—that science is changing very fast indeed. Instead of looking at renewables as a marginal and slightly quirky additional supply to our energy needs, we see that they can increasingly play a significant part in the energy mix that any country should set for itself. Today, my hon. Friend Mr. Cameron and I changed our personal domestic electricity supplies to eco-friendly sources. I am now getting my London electricity from Scottish hydro; my hon. Friend is getting his from a mixture of eco-friendly sources. That shows that science, technology, consumer power and the free choice that we can exercise can dramatically shape the energy market in which we work.

Other technologies are developing. I used to be in the oil business, which was always seen as the demon of the environment, but when we consider carbon recapture and Labour Members, in particular, consider coal, we can see that there are prospects for consuming clean coal. Fossil fuels may enjoy a longer lease of life with which we can happily co-exist than we would ever have expected 10 years ago. Science is changing dramatically. Technological progress in the transfer of emissions and the way in which the bad elements of energy consumption can be captured and stored are changing the whole nature of the debate.

One cannot but ask whether nuclear power has a role in all this. Let me come clean. From about the age of 12, I have had an instinctive hostility to nuclear power. I treat it with profound suspicion. In looking at nuclear technology, the wise course is to apply the precautionary principle and say that the onus is on those who say that nuclear power should be used to prove that it can overcome our doubts and fears, predominantly about its safety. The hon. Member for Lewes made some good arguments, which will have to go into the review, about the doubts that we may have about nuclear power. The first question is whether the economics work. Does the fact that it is expensive to create, almost cost-free to run, and then so expensive to decommission mean that in a private market someone will make the investment, run it, and then skedaddle leaving someone else to pick up the pieces?

That is a legitimate fear, which introduces another element into the debate, particularly in relation to security for the whole country—whether there should be an element of state involvement in the nuclear sector if the private sector cannot, as the hon. Member for Lewes clearly thinks, ever seriously invest in nuclear energy in the long term.

There are debates and doubts about the dangers of nuclear waste. A predominant fear is that great boxes of waste are left glowing for thousands of years, improperly stored and leaking into our atmosphere. There are concerns about security as regards not only the elements needed to generate nuclear power, but the obvious security dangers that we face in the modern world. We must all take very seriously the danger of somebody trying to blow up an installation. There is the question of whether nuclear power will be able to do what it needs to do in the time scale that is required for the energy capacity that we need in the next 10 or 20 years.

The environmental lobby is split on nuclear power. Some believe that it is a godsend for the environment and others think that it is a curse, which we should never touch.

However, my main point tonight is concern about the Liberal Democrats' attitude to the issue. It is a little like Noddy and Big Ears. When Noddy built his house, he said, "Let's put the roof on first so that, when it rains, we don't get wet." The Liberal Democrats have got matters upside down. It is irresponsible to begin a largely cross-party review on the most serious issue that will affect this country for the next 50 years by reaching the conclusions at the start. A prejudicial approach and stance to such a serious issue is deeply irresponsible.

Photo of Tobias Ellwood Tobias Ellwood Opposition Whip (Commons)

It is even more confusing given that last week the Liberal Democrats endorsed research into the use of nuclear energy, yet today they rule it out completely.

Photo of Alan Duncan Alan Duncan Shadow Secretary of State (Trade and Industry)

That is a minor sin compared with some others, with which I should like to enlighten the House.

The speech of the hon. Member for Lewes was backward looking—it was atavistic. It referred only to mountains of waste and the problems of historic power generation. It tackled none of the arguments that the nuclear industry espouses for future generation.

Photo of Norman Baker Norman Baker Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

The hon. Gentleman is wrong. We are dealing with that.

Photo of Alan Duncan Alan Duncan Shadow Secretary of State (Trade and Industry)

If that is the case, why do not the Liberal Democrats engage in the review? Those of us who watch the Liberal Democrats are entitled to examine the genuine nature—as they would have it—of their approach to the issue. The party is riven, even on its Front Bench.

Photo of Alan Duncan Alan Duncan Shadow Secretary of State (Trade and Industry)

Yes, riven. Split, if the hon. Gentleman would like a simpler word.

Photo of Colin Challen Colin Challen Labour, Morley and Rothwell

It is truly depressing to witness the breakdown in the cross-party consensus that was launched last year on climate change, which must affect energy policy. However, is the hon. Gentleman trying to have his cake and eat it? The Conservative party's review will report a year after the Government's. I wonder whether that will give the new Conservative party enough time to shift its stance to whatever public opinion says it should be.

Photo of Alan Duncan Alan Duncan Shadow Secretary of State (Trade and Industry)

As the hon. Gentleman can see, I do not eat much cake.

Let us consider the opinions of John Thurso. In a recent interview in the Sunday Herald, he stated:

"If, as may be the case, the answer were to be nuclear, in those circumstances it would not give me a problem. It would be responsible to consider nuclear as one of the options" .

He added that nuclear could be the "least worst option" for guaranteeing security of supply. He went on:

"If nuclear fulfilled the criteria I set out, it would not give me the level of worry it gives other people. I see no reason to rule it out on emotional grounds. We need honest information."

Indeed, we do. We all seek honest information.

However, it gets worse for the Liberal Democrats. Their—as he terms himself—"shadow Chancellor", Dr. Cable, wrote a good article in The Times on 29 December. It states:

"For politicians to be 'pro' or 'anti' nuclear makes no more sense than to be 'for' and 'against' silicon chips or aeroplanes. The issue is about the relative risks and costs."

That is our view. He continued:

"Yet it is hard to sustain the argument that infant industry arguments still apply to the industrial equivalent of 40-year-olds in nappies. If the nuclear industry becomes fully potty-trained and no longer demands subsidies or guarantees or that taxpayers pay for safe waste disposal and decommissioning, then it merits a fresh look . . . Dogma about new nuclear power is unhelpful, for and against."

One must cast doubt on whether the hon. Member for Lewes is yet fully potty trained.

The motion represents a prejudicial approach to a serious review and the hon. Member for Lewes, who is not the Trade and Industry spokesman for his party, is at variance with his Exchequer spokesman, his Trade and Industry spokesman and the Front Bencher, the hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross. We are witnessing the lot of the Liberal Democrat through the ages: impotence without responsibility.

If the hon. Member for Lewes is so certain that the nuclear option should not be entertained, he was duty bound to tell the House, with the same certainty, how his party would fill the ensuing generation gap.

Photo of Alan Duncan Alan Duncan Shadow Secretary of State (Trade and Industry)

I listened carefully to the hon. Gentleman's speech. I was out of the Chamber for only two minutes, during which I asked someone to ensure that I knew what was happening. The hon. Gentleman said nothing about how the gap would be filled. A sweeping mention of renewables is not the answer because the capacity does not currently exist. He made no comments about whether fossil fuels might become more acceptable, with a new lease of life.

Photo of Alan Duncan Alan Duncan Shadow Secretary of State (Trade and Industry)

If the hon. Gentleman is banking on carbon capture, let him say how we shall get the capacity we need in time to keep the generators going.

Being pro nuclear should not be used as an excuse for not doing other things. We are impelled to consider all alternatives, especially those that are most friendly to the planet, if we are to solve the problem. However, being pro other things should not be used as an excuse not to reappraise the nuclear option. The Liberal Democrats' approach is fundamentally irresponsible at a time when all hon. Members need to tackle the issue with the seriousness that it deserves.

Photo of Michael Meacher Michael Meacher Labour, Oldham West and Royton 8:26 pm, 17th January 2006

As the energy review gets under way, one assumption goes almost unchallenged. It is that renewables alone cannot fill the looming energy gap—a point that has just been made—and that, therefore, a revival of civil nuclear power is inevitable. I believe that to be false.

Before I give my reasons, I emphasise that no satisfactory explanation has been given for the energy review, given that the Government carried out a full-scale, thorough and comprehensive investigation, over two to three years, leading to the energy White Paper of February 2003. Events since then—increasing dependence on foreign supplies of gas and oil and high oil and gas prices—were long anticipated and only reinforced the conclusions that were reached at that time. They do not alter them in any way.

As the Minister for Energy rightly said, nuclear accounts for approximately 19 per cent. of electricity generation and, as the Magnox and advanced gas-cooled reactors are decommissioned, it will reduce to around 7 per cent. by 2020. Let us assume—I am the first to admit that it is not certain—that gas generation of electricity may increase slightly by 2020 and that coal generation may decrease slightly. The main question is whether the gap from the 12 per cent. reduction in nuclear will be filled by a new programme of nuclear build or by renewables. That is the central issue.

The Government already have a commitment to achieving a target of obtaining 10 per cent. of our electricity from renewables by 2010, and an aspiration to reach 20 per cent. by 2020. Of course, it is true that renewables generation is starting from a low base. However, the proportion of electricity that they provide has almost doubled in the past four years, and it is now sufficient to supply more than 2 million households.The argument for relying on renewables alone to fill the gap is very strong, because nuclear power is beset by several severe problems that, in my view, rule it out as a sensible option. I am not against it being considered; I am simply saying that, when we do so, it will be ruled out for very good reasons, if—and this is the big question—an effective alternative is available.

First, there is the question of cost. The Government's own advisory body, the performance and innovation unit, has calculated that the cost of electricity in the UK in 2020 is likely to be about 1.5p per kWh from on-land wind; 2p to 3p from offshore wind; 2p to 2.3p from gas; 3p to 3.5p from coal; and 3p to 4p from nuclear power. I am aware that the nuclear industry is saying that the AP1000 series reactor will be cheaper than that, as Norman Baker pointed out. However, he also made the key point that no prototype has yet been built to prove that assumption. We simply do not know whether it will be the case. We can be certain, however, that the cost of nuclear-generated electricity will be significantly higher if—as should be the case if we are to have a level playing field—the cost of decommissioning the nuclear plant and of the waste management is to be factored into the price. That is a crucial consideration.

I

The AP1000 is a PWR design, with simpler construction and hence lower construction costs and improved safety features. Not a very radical design. http://www.ap1000.westinghousenuclear.com/

Submitted by Ian Eiloart

Photo of David Chaytor David Chaytor Labour, Bury North

In regard to the list of comparative costs that my right hon. Friend has cited, is not a further factor the measure of reliability of estimating those costs? Is not the reliability of estimating the costs of onshore and offshore wind power generally deemed to be higher than the reliability of estimating the costs of nuclear generation?

Photo of Michael Meacher Michael Meacher Labour, Oldham West and Royton

My hon. Friend makes a very fair point; I would endorse that.

The Government's Nuclear Decommissioning Authority has already said that the cost that taxpayers will have to bear from decommissioning nuclear plant—to be fair, this includes military as well as civil installations—will be about £56 billion. That relates to operations over the whole of the past half century. It is an astronomically high cost to the taxpayer, amounting to about 5 per cent. of our entire gross domestic product. If these enormous external liabilities were to be written in to the consumer price—which might be the right thing to do—nuclear power would be nowhere near competitive. Alternatively, they could be left as a huge tax burden for future generations, but would anyone seriously suggest that that was a fair and reasonable option?

Nuclear power has other drawbacks. We already have 10,000 tonnes of highly toxic intermediate and high-level nuclear waste, mainly at Sellafield. That waste has a half-life of tens of thousands of years, and nobody knows how to dispose of it safely. The Finns think that they might have a solution, but that has not yet been proven. An official estimate in a DTI White Paper is that, even without any new nuclear build, decommissioning will increase the amount of waste 50-fold to 500,000 tonnes by the end of this century. Is it rational or responsible to create yet more mountains of dangerous waste before we have found a satisfactory form of long-term disposal for the gigantic quantity that we already have? I am glad that the Minister also asked that question.

We must also take into account the risk of nuclear proliferation and the dangers, post-9/11, of a terrorist attack. A recent US study estimated the health impact of an attack on a nuclear reactor at 44,000 immediate deaths, with 500,000 long-term health impacts, including cancers. It is therefore quite clear that nuclear power should be avoided. As I have said, I am not against looking into the matter, but there seems to be very clear evidence that we should avoid it—if we can. Can renewables realistically fill the gap? The independent consultant, Oxera, recently predicted that the Government will virtually achieve their target of 10 per cent. of electricity generation from renewables by 2010. The EU renewable energy directive already stipulates 22 per cent. electricity generation from renewables for Europe by 2010, so the UK is likely to come under a great deal of pressure, perhaps mandatory pressure, to move swiftly to reach 20 per cent. as soon as possible after that date.

The question is whether that is realistic. The fact that it is realistic is shown by the performance of other states. At a time—I am talking about 2001, when these figures were compiled—when Sweden generated 57 per cent. of its electricity from renewables, including hydro, Finland 33 per cent., Portugal 30 per cent., and Italy, Denmark, Spain and France all between 13 and 19 per cent., the UK managed just 2.7 per cent. It is not that the UK lacks potential; it simply has not been exploited.

The UK has about 40 per cent. of Europe's potential wind power, but we are using less than 1 per cent., so there can be no serious doubt about the fact that the 12 per cent. gap that will be left by nuclear by 2020, and significantly more, can be fully met by renewables alone—without the higher costs, without the environmental and health hazards, and without the terrorist risks of nuclear.

It is equally clear that we do not need nuclear to achieve our Kyoto climate change obligations if there is a better alternative available, as there clearly is. Even AEA Technology, the former research arm of the Atomic Energy Authority, thought that a quarter of Britain's electricity needs could be met by building the world's largest complex of wind farms—

Photo of Michael Lord Michael Lord Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Order. The eight-minute rule is now in operation.

Photo of Andrew Stunell Andrew Stunell Shadow Chief Whip (Commons) 8:36 pm, 17th January 2006

I want to concentrate on issues relating to nuclear waste disposal. Everyone agrees that solving that problem is the precondition for nuclear to go ahead in the future. Mr. Duncan might want to read my two books on the subject, or possibly the Liberal Democrat policy document "Conserving the Future", which was published in September 2004. It will give him the answers he seeks. There are engineering and scientific issues to be dealt with, as well as economic and environmental issues and social and political issues. The hon. Gentleman making attacks in such a way trivialises the issue.

Since the publication of our proposals, plenty has happened in relation to nuclear power. Some of it has been positive, such as the creation of the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, which has separated the generation of waste from disposal. It was absolutely right to do that. Other examples are the free-standing commission to establish the process and the options for dealing with waste, the Committee on Radioactive Waste Management—CoRWM. It was absolutely right to set that up, and I was happy to play a part in the Energy Act 2004, ensuring that it went forward.

We also need to recognise the fact that some negative things have happened as well. British Energy went bust. British Nuclear Fuels Ltd. accidentally released a swimming-bathful of radioactive liquid—never mind a football pitch. The Department of Trade and Industry estimate for managing waste has gone up from £48 billion to £56 billion, and is about to go up yet again, as we have heard. We now know that the British Energy costs taken over by the Government will amount to £3.3 billion, starting with 10 yearly payments of £181 million.

How one adds those figures up and the outcomes that one gets are difficult and controversial matters. One can argue about discounted costs, undiscounted costs and so on, but no one doubts that a huge amount of taxpayers' money has already been committed to the clean-up, and an even bigger sum is to follow. We have not got to the end of it yet. My hon. Friend Jo Swinson referred to the situation at Dounreay and the possible £70 billion extra for clearing up the beaches and the seabed there.

All the enormous costs referred to so far relate to cleaning up, decommissioning and making safe, not to ultimate safe keeping. That is not in the figures we have discussed. What happens to the spent fuel rods, the reactor housings and the contaminated pipe work— and, for that matter, what will happen to the 10,000 metallic radioactive particles on the seabed at Dounreay—is still not known by anybody. Nobody knows how much it will cost and where it will all go.

The Government answer to all such questions is, "We don't know yet, but we are looking for a man who does." Of course, that is through the CoRWM process. I welcome the setting up of CoRWM, which has covered quite a lot of ground. In fact, it has covered more—space, sea and the four corners of the universe to see whether there is somewhere it can send the waste. However, as the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee pointed out in December 2004, CoRWM is in some real difficulty, and there were trenchant criticisms of it in that report. The Government responded last February, and the House of Lords responded again to the Government, rebutting their complacency, in April last year. The report referred to the narrow scientific base of what CoRWM was doing. It also noted with concern the suspension of one member of CoRWM and the request that another be suspended. It went on to say:

"We have already stated our concern as to the level of expertise on CoRWM; it would be extremely unfortunate if this expertise were further diluted through the loss of two members with relevant technical experience."

Have things improved since? No, they have not. In the British Medical Journal, on 10 December, the two suspended members made the point that

"the committee now has less than a year to formulate its advice" and that the

"latest independent review is sceptical that there will be a successful outcome".

I want to hear the Minister confirm that he believes that the timetable of July this year can be stuck to, I want him to tell us why there are no replacements for the experts needed on CoRWM, and I want him to say that the credibility of CoRWM remains intact despite its difficulties.

We are a long way from settling the issue of how to dispose of nuclear waste, let alone of where to dispose of it and how to pay for it. The proponents of a new generation of investment in nuclear now say that that does not really matter, because it is all legacy waste. From now on, they say, there will not be a problem, as the new nuclear industry will be virtually waste-free. Yes, there is an issue with historic waste, they say, but future waste volumes will be so small that we will not even notice them. A few years ago, they used to say that nuclear power would be so cheap that there would be no need to meter it. Now they say that it is so clean that there is no need to clean up after it. Both claims are straight from the fantasy world of pro-nuclear lobbyists.

A few minutes ago, I mentioned that CoRWM might be afflicted by a credibility problem. I am sure that when the Minister replies he will say that CoRWM is a very credible body, which has carried out careful study and has expert advice in its support as well as high-quality research and sound and sustainable facts and figures. I hope that he will say that, because I want to quote some of the figures that CoRWM has brought into the public domain.

CoRWM says that the total of high-level waste if a new generation of nuclear plants is built—its working assumption was 10 nuclear plants—will rise from just over 8,000 cu m to 39,000 cu m. That is five times as much as we would have if those 10 new nuclear plants were not built—a five-fold increase. What does the industry say about that? British Nuclear Fuels Ltd. told the Science and Technology Committee that there would be a 10 per cent. rise—not a five-fold rise—in nuclear waste. It used that dodgy statistic to persuade the committee to say to the House that nuclear waste issues should not be a bar to future building. The nuclear industry now says:

"We're not fiddling the figures. It's just a different way of measuring it."

The difference, however, is between the right way of measuring it and the wrong way of measuring it.

No one yet knows how, where or when this country can safely store its nuclear waste. No one can be sure of the cost, although we know that it will be in the multi-billions and will pose problems for centuries, not just decades. We also know that a new generation of nuclear build will massively increase the amount of high-level waste to be disposed of. My hon. Friend Norman Baker has spelt out the cost, the folly and the risks of new investment in nuclear power. I hope that I have cast some light on the unanswered challenge of dealing with an increasing mound of radioactive waste that nobody knows how to deal with.

Photo of Geoffrey Robinson Geoffrey Robinson Labour, Coventry North West 8:43 pm, 17th January 2006

I am grateful for the opportunity to take part in this debate. I congratulate the Government on their review, and I must take issue with my colleagues on the Government Benches who feel that it is unnecessary. The security and supply of energy is of huge national importance, and we must keep it under regular review. I say that because, in terms of energy supply and security, things have changed dramatically in the short period of eight years since the Government took office.

I can tell my hon. Friend the Minister for Energy, who is conducting the review, that on the basis of some experience I think it might have been better to make it independent, and that there may be a case for regular independent reviews of the security and diversity of energy. I say that I speak on the basis of some experience because in November 1997, shortly after our party took office, we underwent the first crisis of that Labour Government. We suddenly discovered that we were to close half the coal pits, and that coal was finished as an industry. We saw the collapse of the British coal industry. We could look forward to virtually all our energy supply for the next 50 years being delivered in the form of imported gas, mainly from the Transcaucasus, but no one seemed terribly worried about the prospect.

I posed two questions, and expensive consultants were commissioned to consider them. My questions were "What about gas prices?"—at that time, gas was attractive on cost grounds—and "What about security of supply?" The eminent and expensive consultants responded that there had never been an interruption of supply, and that they did not expect one. The confrontation between Ukraine and Russia in recent months put paid to that argument. Their other response was that they saw no great threat to the stability of gas prices, which would remain advantageous in comparison with the price of other energy sources. The situation following the ill-fated intervention in Iraq has put paid to that argument as well.

I do not exaggerate much when I say that, in a nutshell, that was the advice that I was given. It was pursued, and much resulted from the review, not least the continuing argument about where we are today. As I have said, I welcome my right hon. Friend's review, and I ask my hon. Friends to bear in mind that great changes take place. In 1997 there was hardly a mention of renewables, or of their importance. Emissions and the link with energy policy barely got a look in, and energy saving was scarcely considered. The argument was, "Close down coal. Coal and gas-fired plants are finished. Face reality. Sack 5,000 miners, and let us be done with it."

I prayed for a turf war between the Departments in Whitehall at the time. There was not a blade of grass to be seen anywhere. There was unanimity in Whitehall. Over the weekend, I read in the national press that we now look forward to a third, or perhaps half, of the next generation of power stations being coal-fired. So things do change, and I ask my hon. Friends to keep an open mind.

I do not think that the Liberal Democrats are approaching the idea of an energy review in the right way. I do not wish to intervene in the war between parties over who shall come second, but I thought that Mr. Duncan made a very good speech. His tone was right, as was the balance of his argument. This is a cross-party issue. There is no party political divide, as there inevitably is on such matters as social policy, taxation policy and, for that matter, health policy. This issue comes down to an evidence-based, hard-headed assessment of where the national interest lies. I shall return to that shortly.

I also welcome the terms of reference of the review. I hope it will constitute a starting point, enabling us to examine issues in the future. The review that I was instrumental in commissioning in 1997 was intended to deal with the coal crisis. The 2003 review posed a question that it left unanswered. It is no good Labour Members saying that we do not need a review; we must have one, because the last one left the nuclear issue open, and it will not go away.

Unlike the Liberal Democrats—and perhaps even my right hon. Friend Mr. Meacher, who speaks so eloquently and passionately about these matters—I am not prejudging the issue. We must not do that: we must view it in a hard-headed way. I share the instinctive dislike of the negative aspects of nuclear energy that is felt by all Members, but I do not believe that it can be ruled out a priori, particularly on emotional grounds.

What we need from the Government is a review—not every year, but every three to five years—of where we are in relation to our stated objectives. It must start with some really reliable facts and comparative data about the different aspects of production costs. There is no way of avoiding that, although it has not happened so far. My right hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West and Royton mentioned the Cabinet Office performance unit. I doubt whether that is where we get such information from. I am not prejudging the review in any way, but I shall be surprised if it bears out that information. We do not have good figures on which to base our assumptions.

When I said that an independent review would have been much better, I had in mind the Turner review of pensions, which set a good precedent in so many ways. It did not flinch from posing the very difficult questions, or from spelling out the assumptions on which it was working. Nor did it flinch from taking a long-term view, which Governments have an instinctive and understandable dislike of doing. If any issue needs such an approach, it is energy. The decisions that we make now will take effect in 10 or 20 years' time, and if we can, we must look—with some degree of caution, of course—to 30, 40 or even 50 years hence.

The review needs to spell out its underlying assumptions, so that we can test their realism, to look at security of supply in the harsh light of reality, and to provide reliable and generally agreed up-to-date production data for renewables, for example. It needs to spell out the real prospects for renewables. Some Members are confident that we will meet our renewables targets, but some other people are not. However, nobody is making a realistic assessment of the current situation. As has been pointed out, we have only just embarked on the renewables programme; we do not yet know what the outcome will be, which is why we must keep it under review.

I welcome the review and I look forward to debating it in the House. I congratulate the Liberal Democrats on enabling us to debate it while it is still under way, but it is clear that we will need to debate it again when it comes before the House. I hope that, in doing so, we shall make a hard-headed assessment of where our national interest lies, rather than taking a party position based on emotional or other grounds.

Photo of Robert Goodwill Robert Goodwill Conservative, Scarborough and Whitby 8:52 pm, 17th January 2006

I am grateful to the Liberal Democrats for scheduling this debate, which has given the Government and the official Opposition a good opportunity to make a compelling case for a return to two-party politics. With the benefit of hindsight, when the good Lord decided where to allocate the world's hydrocarbon reserves, it was a bad day for Him and not the best decision that He might have made. Mesopotamia was the site of the Garden of Eden, but things have moved on since then. The middle east has become a particularly unstable area, and we do not know what to expect from the former Soviet Union, either. Last week's debate on security of energy supply starkly outlined the worrying prospect of our being in the position of Ukraine—of being held to ransom by another, possibly unstable regime in the former Soviet Union or the middle east. I should at this point draw Members' attention to my entry in the Register of Members' Interests as a Gazprom shareholder. I should also add that President Putin did not consult me before taking action against Ukraine.

It was a better decision of the Almighty to locate the majority of the planet's uranium in Canada and Australia, two stable and friendly countries. The known supply of uranium will last 80 years—

Photo of Michael Weir Michael Weir Shadow Spokesperson (Work and Pensions), Shadow Spokesperson (Trade and Industry)

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that according to the European Union's energy Green Paper, the known uranium resource will last only 42 years—a vastly reduced time?

Photo of Robert Goodwill Robert Goodwill Conservative, Scarborough and Whitby

I am grateful for that question. I was in Canada in the summer with the all-party group on nuclear energy. We spoke to Canada's uranium mining industry, which assured us that it has 80 years-worth of supply. However, it also pointed out that there is no incentive to look for further uranium, given the existing supply, and that many modern reactors can also burn thorium, which there is more of in the world than uranium. Moreover, there is the prospect of a fast-breeder reactor programme when the uranium runs out. So there is no doubt that, if the Government announce a new nuclear build programme, there would be plenty of uranium to fuel it.

We have two responsibilities, the first of which is to ensure that the lights stay on in this country for the sake of our economy, for our hospitals and schools, and for our elderly, who need heat in winter. It is also true that despite increases in fuel efficiency, modern economies such as ours have continued to use more and more energy. We are seeing a move to more air conditioning in the summer, and I suspect that it will not be long before peak demand in this country will not be in winter but in summer. We also have an obligation to meet our Kyoto emissions commitments. We cannot do both without new nuclear build.

In September 2004, I went to Hartlepool, where a by-election was being held. I do not want to take the credit for our coming fourth in that by-election but it was interesting to talk to people on the doorstep about the issues that concerned them, bearing in mind that Hartlepool has an advanced gas-cooled reactor. The biggest environmental issue there was not nuclear, but the ghost ships—the former American navy ships that were being towed to Hartlepool to be decommissioned.

Photo of Tobias Ellwood Tobias Ellwood Opposition Whip (Commons)

My hon. Friend's valid point, which has been echoed in the Chamber, concerns education. Does he agree that some of the best-informed people on nuclear energy in this country are those who live close by nuclear reactors?

Photo of Robert Goodwill Robert Goodwill Conservative, Scarborough and Whitby

That is true. At the Hartlepool nuclear station, there is an energy centre where children can go to learn about nuclear energy, and the same is true at Sellafield. I am sorry to say that organisations such as Greenpeace do themselves few favours in the way that they inform people; in fact, I think they are more in the business of scaremongering than peddling information.

Photo of Adam Afriyie Adam Afriyie Conservative, Windsor

Does my hon. Friend share my alarm at the hysteria radiating from the Liberal Democrat Front Bench and agree that when it comes to discussing energy, we should be calm, considered, logical and robust?

Photo of Robert Goodwill Robert Goodwill Conservative, Scarborough and Whitby

I am grateful for that intervention. Perhaps the Liberal Democrats have being listening too much to Greenpeace and its scaremongering. The worst things in the ghost ships were asbestos, which is found in many buildings around this city and can be dealt with competently, and some PCBs in the electrical wiring. No. 3 on the list of toxic products in the ghost ships was fuel oil.

Casting my mind further back, I recall the Brent Spar. Greenpeace said that that platform was full of nasty products and could not be sunk in the sea, but had to apologise because the platform was basically full of concrete. We must bear it in mind that organisations such as Greenpeace are political organisations and the scares that they peddle in the media translate to people making donations to them. We cannot expect to get a balanced opinion from them. Most people in this country get their opinion on nuclear from watching episodes of "The Simpsons", and we need to make the case for nuclear and not just steamroller it through.

Safety is my primary concern. In 1999, I visited the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine. It was the only place in Ukraine where we saw a statue of Lenin, which, as it was contaminated, was cheaper to leave than to remove. We know of the devastation caused in that part of Ukraine and southern Belarus following the accident in 1986. When we passed through the checkpoint, we were surprised that it took another 20 minutes to arrive at the station, such is the area of Ukraine that is now condemned for many hundreds of years and where people will not live. We visited the deserted town of Pripyat and went into the control room where the unsanctioned experiments were carried out. At Chernobyl, I was most alarmed by the vehicle graveyard. It consists of mounds covering some 250 acres, which our Ukrainian hosts said contained the vehicles used in the immediate aftermath of the accident. In answer to our question about the vehicles' drivers, we were told that they were heroes of the Soviet Union.

We must not allow another Chernobyl to take place, but I do not think that such an accident could happen in the west, as we have a different safety culture and our reactors use secondary containment and core catchers. I believe that our licensing system will ensure that reactor designs sanctioned in this country will be nothing like the ones adopted in the Soviet Union. I used to drive a Lada; it was very unreliable, but my experiences with it did not mean that I never wanted a car again.

Another problem is the way in which the nuclear industry is treated in the media. Last year, two workers were sadly killed in a nuclear power station in Japan. The story was all over the newspapers, but the men were killed by a steam leak in the turbine room. That accident could have happened in any type of power station, but it just so happened that a nuclear power station was involved. The media always get very hysterical about nuclear power, and we must cut through that hysteria and look at the facts.

We also need to deal with the problem of waste. I am sure that you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, will know the old joke about how many nuclear physicists it takes to change a light bulb. The answer is 100—one to change the bulb, and 99 to decide what to do with the old one for the next 10,000 years.

In Canada, it was interesting to meet Liz Dowdeswell, who came to that country's nuclear waste commission with impeccable green credentials. She is not exactly Canada's Jonathon Porritt, but she is along those lines. The Canadians have looked at the waste problem in a very logical way. I am pleased that our radiological waste management committee in the UK will produce a draft report in April, as we cannot go ahead with new nuclear build until we have an adequate answer to the waste problem. Initially, much of the waste will have to be stored at power stations. After that, we will have to find long-term depositories, but the waste will have to remain accessible as we may need to use it again in the future.

I welcome the energy review commissioned by the Government. I reject the Liberal Democrat motion, which shuts too many doors without looking at the possibilities. I really believe that nuclear power will have a part to play in the future, and I hope that the Government come to that decision.

Photo of Joan Walley Joan Walley Labour, Stoke-on-Trent North 9:02 pm, 17th January 2006

I wanted to speak in last week's debate on the energy review, and was sorry not to have had an opportunity to do so. I am therefore very pleased to be able to contribute to this debate, but I have to say that the eight minutes available to Back-Bench speakers is nowhere near enough. The same is true of the four hours available last week.

Photo of Joan Walley Joan Walley Labour, Stoke-on-Trent North

Never mind about that—my plea to Ministers is to ensure that sufficient time is made available in this Parliament for a properly informed debate on all aspects of energy generation and supply and demand in the energy market.

The House needs no reminding about the scale of the challenge. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister was right to make climate change one of the top priorities for our G8 and EU presidencies. We can also be proud of the way in which the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has led the debate, both nationally and internationally, but time is running out. Wake-up calls have come from people such as James Lovelock and Lester Brown, as well as from David King, the Government's scientific adviser, to the effect that the real threat from climate change is greater than the threat from terrorism. We must make sure that this House is involved in the entire debate about the energy review.

Earlier, the question was raised as to whether an energy review is really necessary, but I do not see how things now are all that much different from the position in 2003. I agree with my hon. Friend Mr. Robinson to the extent that things do change, but I maintain that we must set out our route and our objectives so that we can ensure that we remain on target and that we do not go off in another direction.

My fear is that the question of nuclear power may be a Trojan horse. We must not be pulled off course, and that means that a level playing for the review is absolutely essential. We must also ensure that the other Government reviews that are under way, including the Stern review from the Treasury, the climate change review and the review of renewables, are part and parcel of the consultation that will be formally announced on 23 January.

We should put on the record the importance of cutting UK carbon dioxide emissions by 2050 by 60 per cent., with progress made by 2020; of the need to maintain the reliability of energy supplies; of promoting competition and competitive markets in the UK and beyond; and of ensuring that everyone's home is adequately and affordably heated. Those are the key components of our energy strategy and those objectives are as valid today as they were in 2003.

Given that we are now about to embark on a further review, I want my hon. Friend the Minister to respond to some of my concerns. Will he give the House an undertaking that the review will be open and transparent? I have fears about the advisers who will give evidence and provide briefings and written reports. I hope that my hon. Friend will consider whether all the information that he gets could be made available to the House through the Library. We also need to know whether we will have a register of interests for those submitting evidence to the review. It is important to know where they are coming from and whether they have any other motive for the advice that they give to the Government.

Ministers should also consider ways of making regular statements to both Houses of Parliament and ensuring that Members can access all the information, so that we are equipped to invite the general public to take part in the debate. In that way, we can see what can be done at a local level to meet all the objectives that the Government have already set.

We also need a full appraisal of all the costs associated with the energy review. That appraisal must not be flawed. In 1998, for example, the non-fossil fuel levy provided billions of pounds to the nuclear industry, and it was clear that that subsidy helped to support technologies and keep costs low. Therefore, we need a similar calculation of how similar investment in renewables could affect future costs. The same certainty is needed when it comes to the time scales for planning and development. It is interesting that there has so far been no rush to build new nuclear plants. We need to ask where the up-front capital to do so will come from, when revenue streams from a new generation of nuclear power will be many years down the line. Once there are new nuclear power stations, the investors will need long-term guarantees of take-up, but that is likely to mean major problems for the structure of the energy market. Whatever is said about a mix of nuclear and renewables, if the Government choose to pick winners in that way, it could shut off developments in microchip and renewables. Major investment in nuclear power would not necessarily be compatible with renewables. We have to have a level playing field so that we do not rule out all the other options.

I do not have time tonight to address the issues of waste or risk assessment, or the huge opportunities that the Government had in 2003 to ensure that every Department, from the Treasury to the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, did more, in a joined-up way, on energy efficiency, changing building design standards and other issues. So much depends on how the Government undertake the energy review and how they address energy efficiency. Parliament needs to know how we are to be involved. Does the Minister recognise the expertise of Select Committees? Is there a framework whereby Select Committees, perhaps through the Liaison Committee, could have input?

What matters is that we have a full investigation of all the options. There will be no thanks if we get the energy review right, but we shall never be forgiven if we get it wrong. At this eleventh hour, I urge the Minister to ensure that there is a genuine commitment to full disclosure, full public input—

Photo of Vincent Cable Vincent Cable Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer 9:10 pm, 17th January 2006

My name has been called in aid a couple of times this evening, notably by the Conservative spokesman, who rather mischievously tried to generate a split that does not exist. I entirely agree with what my party's spokesman said in his introductory remarks. He made an extremely forceful statement of what he and I believe. It is our common position.

The question we need to address is not why we need a review—because, of course, evidence constantly needs to be reviewed—but why we need a comprehensive review of a review. The Minister for Energy attempted to address that question and advanced a couple of arguments—declining production in the North sea and increased imports of gas—as to why circumstances had changed since 2003 when the excellent report appeared. I am sure that he is aware that both those trends were discussed at considerable length in the 2003 report, so I remain puzzled about why it is regarded as an unsatisfactory basis for discussion and debate.

The report's introduction was by the Prime Minister, who made it clear that the review was not just for three years but until 2050. It mobilised all the resources of the Government, from the dispassionate position of the Cabinet Office. It was in no sense an anti-nuclear document; it argued for keeping the nuclear option open and investing in international collaborative research. It was extremely open-minded. I have been re-reading it to try to understand why the Government are so uncomfortable with it and why they want to take a fresh look at the situation.

Two passages of the report are particularly devastating. In an overall attempt to make a balanced assessment of nuclear power, it refers to the main focus of public concern about nuclear power and what it describes as the

"unsolved problem of long-term nuclear waste disposal", which, as my colleague, my hon. Friend the Member for Hazel Grove (Andrew Stunell), clearly and forcefully set out, is still unsolved. The report is reasonably open-minded about the underlying economics. It states:

"Nuclear power seems likely to remain more expensive than fossil fuel generation."

It does not say that it definitely will be more expensive, and concludes:

"Because nuclear is a mature technology, within a well-established global industry, there is no current case for further Government support."

If a private company is willing, considering the current economics of the world energy market, to put its shareholders' funds into initiating a project, which of course meets the regulatory, safety and waste disposal requirements and the decommissioning costs, I do not think that anybody on the Liberal Democrat Benches would quarrel with that judgment, although there may be somebody who has a fundamentalist objection. However, the 2003 energy review argued that there was no justification, in any circumstances, for the Government to use public money or public guarantees to underwrite such a business decision.

There is, of course, an argument for protecting new industries in certain circumstances. That is why we have the renewable energies obligation; new technologies need a breathing space and the cross-subsidy that they receive. Nuclear power is in a quite different category and does not justify Government support. That is the point made by the 2003 review and it is that conclusion that the Government now find so uncomfortable.

To understand whether there is any intellectual basis for that view, rather than merely political pressure, I turn to the two points made by Mr. Robinson, who was genuinely trying to address the problem. He says that two things have changed. First, we have had a price shock in both gas and oil. Does that change the picture? Secondly, there are new issues that relate to the security of supply. Let us address each of them briefly.

There has been a price shock, which was not anticipated or described in detail. What is the logic of that? What will happen? Anyone who spent years in the energy industry, as I did, trying to anticipate the prices of oil and gas, knows that they cannot be predicted. An awful lot of people have lost a lot of money–perhaps Mr. Duncan is one of them—trying to predict those prices by extrapolation and been terribly wrong.

The logic of the position is that if we are indeed heading for a period of much higher oil and gas prices—we may be for all I know, but I think it unlikely—those entrepreneurs who want to invest in nuclear power now have an added reason for investing their shareholders' funds in that way and in taking the risks involved. However, it is more likely that higher prices will encourage more investment in exploration, which is happening already in the North sea, and the pressure on conservation will increase—a trend that is taking place already. The prices will therefore subside in a few years. I do not know that they will subside, but it seems logical that they could do so. If that were to happen, it would be doubly expensive for the Government to commit themselves now to guarantees and subsidies. Either way, the experience of having had a brief oil shock in no way changes the logic of the 2003 review.

The other point made by the hon. Member for Coventry, North-West related to the security of supply. Of course, we must be prudent. There are genuine political issues to address—they are not just ones of nasty economics and costs. He made the point that Russia and Ukraine have had a dispute about the pipeline through Ukraine. Despite the fact that the Soviet Union never disrupted supplies, those two countries have been arguing about price and behaving in a threatening and rather self-defeating way. Although there was possibly only one day on which supplies were disrupted before those countries came to their senses, that was a worrying episode none the less, and people would be foolish to disregard it.

The conclusion that we must reach—it is the one that the report drew—is that we must have diversity of natural gas supplies, so that we are not exposed to disruption. If my memory serves me correctly, there are two major pipeline systems through eastern Europe and two major pipeline systems through the Mediterranean. In a couple of years or so, when the Isle of Grain project is completed, the diversity of supply will increase substantially with liquefied natural gas. Britain will then have a built-in diversity of supply, as the energy review acknowledged three years ago.

Photo of Vincent Cable Vincent Cable Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer

I only have 45 seconds.

Neither of those considerations therefore changes the fundamentals of the argument. That leads me to question why we must have another review of a review, when the case is very well made. Liberal Democrat Members are not being obstructive or closing our minds. The case has been well made by the Government in their review. There is no reason whatever to reopen the fundamentals of that debate.

Photo of Jamie Reed Jamie Reed Labour, Copeland 9:18 pm, 17th January 2006

Let the record show that the hon. Members for Lewes (Norman Baker) and for Hazel Grove (Andrew Stunell), while talking about my constituency both misleadingly and with impunity, refused to take interventions. That both reflects shamefully on them and embarrasses the Liberal Democrat party.

The parameters of any debate about nuclear power must acknowledge the environmental benefits and the benefits of supply security that nuclear power brings. The debate must not be sidetracked down the outdated and discredited road of developing ways simply to stop nuclear power at all costs. Such a position is no longer credible, and in my view, it never has been.

Given the pressing issues of security of supply, global warming and sustained economic growth, we must press ahead with both a political and a national energy consensus. Such a consensus is readily and quickly achievable and must contain significant renewable generation, coal and gas generation and, inescapably, continued future nuclear generation of at least 22 per cent., which nuclear power currently provides.

I for one did not enter politics to take easy decisions. More often than not, the right decisions require leadership, nerve and vision. It would be easy to denounce the British nuclear industry. It would be easy to listen only to the wilfully misinformed anti-nuclear careerists who have made significant financial sums from telling lies and half-truths about the industry for the best part of three decades. It would be easy to swallow the nonsense that is talked about the industry, but producing energy policy on the basis of wilful ignorance and shameless populism would be tantamount to perpetrating a fraud on the British people.

The myth that this country—or the world, for that matter—can do without nuclear energy has been peddled for too long. In part, I understand the reasons for that: it is hard to drop a prejudice, no matter how illogical it is. However, scientific fact and political opinion, no matter how keenly felt, are separate entities. The fact of the matter is that the political environment that gave rise to the anti-nuclear school of thought has changed as more detailed scientific evidence about the pace and scale of climate change has emerged.

The greenhouse effect is now widely accepted as scientific fact. No serious politician who acknowledges it can afford to disregard the contribution of nuclear generation as part of the urgent measures that are required to combat climate change. To do so would be self-indulgent, if not delusional.

I believe the Government's chief scientist when he says that global warming is a more serious threat than terrorism. I believe James Lovelock when he says that climate change is the greatest danger that human civilisation has faced so far. I also agreed with him when he wrote last year:

"Opposition to nuclear energy is based on irrational fear fed by Hollywood style fiction, the Green lobbies and the media. These fears are unjustified and nuclear energy from its start in 1952 has proved to be the safest of all energy sources."

He continued:

"I am a Green and I entreat my friends in the movement to drop their wrongheaded objection to nuclear energy."

I echo those sentiments—it is never too late to change a habit, no matter how bad it is.

Probably the most disingenuous argument used against civil nuclear power is that of problems relating to the disposal of radioactive waste. There are no technical or scientific barriers to the safe disposal of radioactive waste, only political ones. We know precisely what to do with the waste. There are a finite number of sensible options, and I hope that the Committee on Radioactive Waste Management will make recommendations on the way forward soon.

Energy policy is perhaps the most important political issue facing Britain as a nation today. As such, we urgently need to establish a national consensus that is based on the national interest. As Senator John Kerry said during his bid for the presidency of the United States, American dependency on outside energy sources presented

"a growing threat to national security."

The same can be said of Britain today.

Photo of Alan Whitehead Alan Whitehead Labour, Southampton, Test

Does my hon. Friend accept that of the five major energy sources that might be considered in the review, the only one that has no indigenous raw materials whatever is nuclear power?

Photo of Jamie Reed Jamie Reed Labour, Copeland

I accept that, but although we have talked a lot about indigenous materials, we have not talked about reprocessing. If we wished to reprocess, we would have sufficient resources for our nuclear power stations for decades.

Senator Kerry also called for a "declaration of energy independence" for the United States. Hon. Members should now call for a declaration of energy security for Britain. The current review of energy policy, which I assume the debate is designed to influence, must address not only our energy needs, but, crucially, our environmental, economic, national security and foreign policy needs.

We desperately need to control our energy production and the supply of the resources that we require to produce that energy. The ways in which we do that are well understood. We need significantly increased generation across the board from renewable resources—the massive Government investment in that sector has been far-sighted, bold and necessary. We need to develop clean ways of utilising our own carbon resources, such as coal, gas and oil. We need to ramp up research and development into energy-saving techniques and technologies for energy used in industry and transport and domestically. Fundamentally, we need to acknowledge that nuclear generation forms an integral part of the policy solutions that we all require.

Unless we can control our energy production, we cannot control our economy. If we cannot control our economy, we cannot govern, plan, make necessary investments in public services, ensure that we have a stable economy for private investment, or guarantee the security of our nation and society. Recent events in Ukraine have illustrated precisely that, and it is worth noting for a second exactly what kind of policy effect the episode has had throughout the rest of Europe.

On Tuesday last week, the Moscow TimesI am sure that hon. Members know that that is widely read in Copeland—reported that many European countries are now

"considering going back to nuclear power as they review their energy policies after Gazprom's politically tinged price war with Ukraine".

Both the German Economics Minister and the Italian Industry Minister told the publication that their countries would now review their nuclear generation policies. The Italian Minister was quoted as saying that nuclear energy was required to safeguard Italy from "energy emergencies". In addition, the EU Energy Commissioner has said:

"It is clear that Europe needs a clearer and more collective and cohesive policy on security of energy supply", and that he will present a new EU energy policy in the spring.

It is essential that any new EU policy accommodates future nuclear generation in Britain. I trust that the Government will ensure that that is the case, although I am certain that the nuclear case will be made and, I hope, won by our French cousins. It is inconceivable that nuclear generation will not be part of that policy. The fact is that in Britain and elsewhere, security of energy supply is possible only with a significant element of nuclear generation.

Britain is in a position to manufacture nuclear fuel, enable nuclear generation and recycle the fuel used in electricity production for either reuse or sale. The British nuclear industry—particularly in my constituency—provides this country with a technological and industrial expertise that is the envy of many of our European partners. If we are serious, as I believe we all are, about having an effective and diverse energy policy, we must build on that expertise as part of the energy review and take the necessary steps to facilitate a new generation of nuclear power stations in this country.

Photo of David Chaytor David Chaytor Labour, Bury North

If the nuclear renaissance is inevitable, why has no one yet built a new nuclear power station in Britain? If my hon. Friend accepts that the necessary steps to facilitate that have to be taken by the Government, will he say precisely what those necessary steps are and how much subsidy would be involved?

Photo of Jamie Reed Jamie Reed Labour, Copeland

I am not aware that any subsidy would be needed. I have spoken with energy generating companies that are keen to invest in nuclear technology and nuclear generation. What they need is a dialogue with the Government about establishing a framework in which they would feel able to do that.

Nuclear energy can provide us with the security that we require, the economic benefits that we desire and the environmental gains that we so desperately need and, pending a decision on future generation, it can do all that in a relatively short period. Only 10 days or so ago, the Westinghouse AP1000 reactor received full certification from the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission and, according to the company, it would take only 36 months from the first concrete being poured to fuel being loaded.

What no one has mentioned so far in this debate is the fact that the British nuclear industry employs approximately 40,000 people in this country. Given that west Cumbria is the national centre of nuclear expertise and is, in my opinion, the emerging global nuclear capital, I hope that my constituency is considered as a candidate site for any future nuclear energy generation.

Photo of Tobias Ellwood Tobias Ellwood Opposition Whip (Commons) 9:27 pm, 17th January 2006

Although I agree that we should be debating nuclear power today, I do not agree with the Liberal Democrats' conclusions on the subject. I agree with Mr. Reed that it is most important that we debate nuclear energy and our energy needs now, given the events in Ukraine and Russia.

I also agree with my hon. Friend Mr. Goodwill. His point about Homer Simpson was made in jest, but we should think about the education that we receive on the subject of nuclear energy and ask ourselves where we have learned our facts and figures, whether in the House or prior to our coming here. The education that Britain has received in that difficult subject is tenuous, to say the least. Much of our knowledge is drawn from events such as Chernobyl and—dare I say it?—from watching cartoons on television such as "The Simpsons", in which we see Homer Simpson walking home with a glowing bar in his back pocket. Those images stay with us, and even though people do not believe that that happens, if such impressions are not corrected it is difficult to know what to believe.

In this debate, differing views have been expressed and statistics have been quoted back and forth across the Chamber, but who is right? The debate that we have to have on energy, including the nuclear question, is fundamental, but it must be conducted in an adult, honest and intelligent manner. I praise the Canadians for their approach: they spent two years having an honest debate before deciding on the direction of their energy policy.

Photo of Stewart Hosie Stewart Hosie Shadow Spokesperson (Women), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Treasury)

Honesty is required, so will the hon. Gentleman concede that he was rather glib when he referred to Chernobyl? Those events were extremely serious. Will he also reflect on the fact that radioactive particles are constantly being found on the foreshore at Dounreay—week after week, month after month, year after year? There are serious lessons to learn about the dangers of waste and of nuclear energy.

Photo of Tobias Ellwood Tobias Ellwood Opposition Whip (Commons)

The hon. Gentleman makes a valid point. What happened at Chernobyl? Late one evening, technicians who worked there were playing around with the system. They had switched off safety devices and there was no secondary back-up system. That does not happen any more. The back-up systems that we have in place ensure that Chernobyl can never happen again. Unfortunately, the problems that occurred there remain with us and people believe that they could be repeated. Comment was made comparing Chernobyl with a Lada, but Ladas have changed as well, as have ships. We still build large ships. We did not stop building them when the Titanic went down; we made improvements to them.

The importance of the debate is fundamental, for two reasons: first, it is accepted that we are damaging our planet; and, secondly, we are running out of fuel. The damage that we are doing to our planet is recognised in all parts of the House and by all generations in the House. CO 2 emissions affect our climate. Previous generations created the problem through ignorance, but we compound it through arrogance by doing so little about it.

Kyoto has achieved much. It is a major step in improving the climate, with 180 countries signing up, but not the United States. I encourage the United States to be included in the next round of talks on climate change. The results of Kyoto have been helpful. If we are successful, 483 million tonnes of emissions will be cut by 2012. However, China, India and the USA combined create 2.7 billion tonnes of CO 2 emissions every year. That puts into perspective the amount of work that remains to be done.

Let us consider our domestic requirements. We require 350 TWh of power to keep Britain going, and that requirement will increase by about 500 TWh. One third of that power is produced from coal and more than a third from gas. In my intervention on Norman Baker, I commented on waste. If we are to have an adult debate about our energy needs, let us put into context where the waste is coming from and what we are doing with it. Much of the waste that we create comes from hospitals. High-level waste also comes from military uses, but that is a separate topic from the debate about civil nuclear energy.

Security of supply has been discussed. We have concerns about the fact that we now import coal and gas. We are also concerned that the 14 remaining nuclear power stations are about to be switched off. That means that we require 40 per cent. generating capacity that is not even built yet. Many hon. Members have spoken of our gas requirements, which will rise from the current 40 per cent. to 80 per cent. as we become a net importer.

We had a fruitful debate last week on the problems of gas imports from Ukraine and Russia. It is worth mentioning that Russia and Iran are likely to create a gas cartel. The last time a cartel was formed, in the case of OPEC, there was a sudden rise in the cost of oil. There is a real question about security of supply. The European Union's failure to create a common gas market is causing concern. Had the EU created such a market, we would not be experiencing the problems that we face today.

Nuclear energy now provides 22 per cent. of our electricity supply, but all nuclear power stations will be closed by 2023. Some of the arguments advanced by the Liberal Democrats are based on the technology that has been used and the success that Britain has had in building nuclear plants—I think the Minister said that the UK's construction of power stations was not our finest hour. We are one of the few nations to use gas-cooled reactors—everyone else uses water-cooled reactors. Unfortunately, much of the UK's nuclear industry has moved to Canada and other parts of the world. There were delays in the licensing and approval for nuclear power plants; there were no incentives to get those jobs completed; and the plants were often redesigned as they were constructed. For example, it took 20 years to get a spark out of Dungeness, and it took six years to obtain planning permission for Sizewell B, the last reactor to be built.

We have heard nothing from the Liberal Democrats about new technology. Canada has the third-generation CANDU system, which, unlike UK reactors, allows nuclear power plants to continue running while the rods are changed. South Africa is considering the new pebble-bed reactor system, which is much safer than existing systems and uses helium instead of water. Those systems cost about £1 billion each, which sounds like an awful lot of money, but it is the same price as an oil rig or about double the cost of a gas-cooled plant.

We have not explored fusion and fission. I reckon that we will move into that area in about 60 years, so we need to do some work.

As I have said, I want to see the Minister produce not only a review, but the answers. What is the next step forward? Although I have not made up my mind, I have tried to correct others and have done my best to learn about the subject. I fear that many hon. Members have more passion than knowledge about the issues, which is dangerous.

Photo of Alan Whitehead Alan Whitehead Labour, Southampton, Test 9:37 pm, 17th January 2006

We are conducting an ambitious review, which will report shortly. The issue concerns not only a secure supply for the future, but a diverse supply that is not intermittent and contributes to a 60 per cent. cut in CO 2 emissions by 2050—if we do not reach that target by 2050, climate change will mean that we do not have another chance to do so. The review is taking place against an uncertain series of parameters, but a reasonable conclusion is that we should source as much of our energy as possible for future use from within the UK.

We need a mature and careful analysis of all sources of energy. Tonight, we are discussing nuclear power, so it is reasonable to ask how nuclear power might work as part of the mix—it cannot form the sole power source. I want to raise two issues—timing and cost. Nuclear power is not a short-term fix, because all but one of our nuclear power stations will be closed by 2023, so if we are to maintain our present level of nuclear power generation we must replace all those nuclear power stations. In that case, we would have to invest £10 billion to £15 billion over a 10-year period in capital payments for nuclear power stations before a single kilowatt of nuclear energy were produced.

Tonight's argument has addressed whether direct or indirect subsidy would be required to undertake such a programme. If no subsidies were provided, recent practice suggests that no one would build a nuclear power station, which would take us 10 years down the line with no new nuclear power stations and a greater gap in our energy supply, so the likelihood is that some money will be needed either directly or indirectly. If that money were to be used, the question that we might well ask is what we could get for that money if we did not put it into nuclear. In relation to the outputs that we could get on renewable energy, for example, the figures equate very well.

The other issue relates to security of supply and getting to a low-carbon economy. In terms of the mix that we could have, we stand in a very positive position compared with most industrialised countries. We have huge reserves of coal that we fail to exploit. We will be a net oil and gas importer, but we will still produce some oil and gas. We have Europe's largest supply of wind, tidal and wave energy. We are almost uniquely blessed in the raw materials for renewable technologies. The nuclear argument states that despite all that we must have nuclear as part of the mix.

Nuclear is not CO 2 -neutral. Figures have been produced about what the nuclear footprint is in terms of carbon and the whole-life concerns of nuclear generation. It is relatively low-carbon-emitting compared with oil or gas, but only when its fuel is mined from relatively rich sources. As soon as those sources start depleting in richness, the carbon emissions from the mining rise. Under those circumstances, at half the level of the ores that are currently going into British nuclear energy, the overall carbon emissions rise to roughly those of gas.

It is estimated that at present a 50-year supply of uranium is left. In terms of the uranium used in world nuclear energy, we have a gap, even at present levels, of about 30,000 tonnes across the world. We would have to make that up in future years by mining still more. It is not an indigenous energy supply—it has to be mined from across the world, and it will run out in the not too distant future. We will perhaps commit ourselves to part of our energy supply based on exactly the same arguments about exhaustion of supply that we have faced over the past 50 years. That is not a fundamentally good idea.

I hope that the energy review will consider those aspects of nuclear power as it considers all the possible sources and the mix that is required.

Photo of Norman Lamb Norman Lamb Shadow Secretary of State (Trade and Industry) 9:42 pm, 17th January 2006

This has been an important debate. As my hon. Friend Norman Baker pointed out, it would not have taken place had we not provided the opportunity. I welcome it for that reason.

The arguments in favour of nuclear power have been based on two things: security of supply and global warming. The slightly over-the-top contribution by Mr. Reed generated looks of despair among some of his hon. Friends. We can all agree about the absolute imperative of tackling climate change, but as my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes and others pointed out, we can achieve that without nuclear power. It is not just Liberal Democrats saying that. The Tyndall Centre, in its report, "Decarbonising the UK", said that we can achieve a 60 per cent. reduction in carbon by 2050. That view is shared by the royal commission on environmental pollution in a report that was accepted by the Government. The Carbon Trust believes that we can achieve it, and the Government's own White Paper, which was published just three years ago, also claimed that. So there is no case for arguing that there is no alternative.

We have heard the inevitable attacks on the Liberal Democrats from Labour and Conservative Members, but they seem studiously to ignore the fact that many on their own sides share our analysis. We have had the wonderful spectacle of the Conservatives appointing Zac Goldsmith as an adviser in a desperate attempt to get some credibility with the environmentalists, yet their own spokesman effectively condemned Zac's analysis as "fundamentally irresponsible." I look forward to the debates in the Conservative party. Nuclear power is "a horror story", according to Mr. Goldsmith.

As for the Labour Members who attack us, they are attacking their own Government's White Paper. Our position is remarkably similar to the heading on page 61, which says:

"We do not propose new nuclear power."

We do not have closed minds; we simply accept the Government's analysis of only three years ago. Many Members, including Mr. Meacher, Joan Walley and my hon. Friend Dr. Cable all made the point that nothing has fundamentally changed since that White Paper was published. We were already aware of global warming and that we would become net importers of gas and oil. Either the Government's analysis in the White Paper was flawed or the conclusions hold good today. We take the latter view.

Since the review, the Government have abjectly failed to do anything effective to cut energy waste. Departments are some of the worst offenders and the Treasury is the worst of all. The Government have also failed to develop a broad mix of renewable sources of energy. They will fail miserably to achieve their target of reducing 20 per cent. of CO 2 emissions by 2010.

The debate has examined some of the key anxieties about nuclear power. My hon. Friend Andrew Stunell and many others highlighted the unresolved problem of waste. If anything should give people pause for thought, it is the lamentable record of the industry and successive Governments on dealing with waste. I applaud the Minister for Energy for his honesty in admitting "a national disgrace". That record represents scandalous neglect of a potentially devastating environmental hazard, which remains today. The legacy ponds in particular are an enormous environmental hazard.

Those legacy ponds also pose an enormous security threat. In the age of the suicide bomber, should we discount that fear?

Photo of Jamie Reed Jamie Reed Labour, Copeland

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Photo of Alan Duncan Alan Duncan Shadow Secretary of State (Trade and Industry)

The hon. Gentleman mentioned the subject. It is courteous to give way.

Photo of Norman Lamb Norman Lamb Shadow Secretary of State (Trade and Industry)

Time is short. My hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham made a compelling argument about cost. [Hon. Members: "Give way."] No.

There is a central contradiction in the Prime Minister's approach. The Government amendment argues for "promoting competitive markets" but nuclear becomes viable only with a massive distortion of the market.

Professor Mackerron, an energy economist, highlights the high risk at all stages—construction, electricity market and decommissioning—apart from the political and regulatory risks. That results in an estimated £2 billion per nuclear plant.

Nuclear energy requires certainty, for example, through a nuclear obligation at a minimum price for a long time. However, that undermines the liberalised market that the Government appear so keen to promote. That inevitably results in a high cost to the householder or the taxpayer.

There are two other effects of investment in nuclear. Professor Mackerron and others anticipate the draining away of private investment in other energy sources, both renewable and gas-powered generation. If that happens before a new generation of nuclear energy comes on stream in 2020, concerns about security of supply could get worse.

There is also a risk of the Government losing interest in renewable investment. They have not shown much in any case but we may already be witnessing a reduction in commitment and investment. Clear skies and photovoltaic programmes have run their course. Now the successor programmes provide reduced investment per year compared with previous schemes.

For all those reasons, we choose to stand by the analysis of the Government's energy White Paper of only three years ago. We envisage a very different alternative. We support a genuine commitment to cutting energy waste in the domestic, commercial and public sectors. We know that the potential is there but it needs a commitment to achieve it.

We want investment in carbon capture and storage. According to Professor Haszeldine, a geologist at Edinburgh university:

"Britain is perfectly placed to exploit it".

We need investment in clean coal technology, and in the whole basket of renewables, not just in wind power. Biomass, biofuels, solar, wind, wave and tidal power also need to be pursued. We must also develop innovative and much more efficient local distribution sources of electricity, which could make the traditional centralised grid obsolete.

There must also be investment in microgeneration. According to the Energy Saving Trust—an organisation specifically funded by the Government—by 2050, between 30 and 40 per cent. of the UK's electricity needs could be met by microgeneration—

Photo of Barry Gardiner Barry Gardiner Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Trade and Industry) (Delivery and Efficiency) 9:50 pm, 17th January 2006

This is the first time in almost six years that an Opposition motion has been tabled by the Liberal party without the name of Mr. Kennedy appearing above it on the Order Paper. I regret that it does not appear there, and so should the Liberal Democrats. Whatever disagreements we might have had with the positions adopted by the right hon. Gentleman, at least under his leadership his party tried to engage with the facts before reaching its conclusions. Today, however, his erstwhile deputy and would-be successor has reversed that process. Despite the fact that the country is in the midst of an energy review, and the consultation document is about to be launched, Sir Menzies Campbell has instructed his troops not to listen to any distracting facts that the public or the energy industry might bring forward. Like Jason, he has stuffed wool into his Argonauts' ears so that they cannot hear the siren voices—the voices of fact, investigation and open-minded debate.

The Liberal Democrats have a policy. In the motion on the Order Paper, they commit themselves to opposing

"the construction of a new generation of civil nuclear power plants", come what may. Never mind the facts, never mind the quality of the argument; on this matter, under this leadership, the Lib Dems' minds are closed.

Photo of Menzies Campbell Menzies Campbell Shadow Secretary of State (Foreign Affairs), Acting Leader, Liberal Democrats

Before the Minister gets entirely bound up in Greek mythology, will he tell us how he describes the Members on his own side of the House who oppose nuclear energy?

Photo of Barry Gardiner Barry Gardiner Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Trade and Industry) (Delivery and Efficiency)

The distinction is quite simple. The Government are open to listening to the arguments; the right hon. and learned Gentleman has cut it off and said that he will not listen to the arguments put forward in the energy review.

There is, however, one honourable exception on the Liberal Democrat Benches: John Thurso has apparently refused to sign up to the gagging order. In recent interviews in the Sunday Herald, The Scotsman and just about every other Scottish journal, he has dismissed the emotional arguments of his colleagues, saying that the new nuclear reactors could be "the least worst option" for maintaining security of supply and reducing carbon emissions. He has also very sensibly insisted:

"If, as may be the case, the answer were to be nuclear, in those circumstances it would not give me a problem. It would be responsible to consider nuclear as one of the options".

The hon. Gentleman is, of course, his party's Scotland spokesperson, and with his fine Scots quality of plain speaking, he has counselled, "We need honest information". As Nicol Stephen might say: "Oh no, John; no, John, no!"

I, too, am a believer in honest information, and as we approach the difficult issues that surround energy policy, it is important that we start with a clear and honest appraisal of our position. It is clear that our market-based energy policy has delivered significant benefits to the United Kingdom. The UK is on track to meet the Kyoto target of cutting greenhouse gas emissions. Although we are experiencing some price hikes in the gas market this winter, UK energy markets remain among the most competitive in the EU, on both industrial and domestic electricity and gas prices. The number of households in fuel poverty in the UK has fallen by more than 4.5 million since 1996, and more than 1 million vulnerable households have been assisted by the Warm Front scheme. The renewables obligation and the climate change levy exemption will result in support to renewables of £1 billion a year by 2010. As a result of the renewables obligation, last year saw the largest amount of renewable generation ever installed in the UK.

We have seen many changes to the energy landscape since the 2003 energy White Paper. Evidence on the adverse impact of climate change has continued to grow, and world prices for fossil fuels have increased by more than 50 per cent. over the past three years. Projected prices are now much higher than many people predicted at the time of the 2003 White Paper. North sea gas production has declined more rapidly than many predicted, so the UK has become a net importer of gas sooner than anticipated. We need to consider the risks of relying on imported gas when there is increasing sensitivity in relation to global energy issues.

The goals set out in the 2003 energy White Paper continue to provide the right framework for our energy policy, but as was stated and envisaged in that White Paper, we are keeping our detailed policy under review and are prepared to amend it in the light of experience.

The energy review will examine some extremely complex issues. It will not produce simple yes or no answers, as the Liberal Democrats have. There will be no single solution and no single silver bullet, which is why the review will look right across the energy landscape. On renewables, for example, at present, predominantly wind turbines will play a key role as the renewables obligation delivers increasing new generation capacity. But renewables cannot provide the whole answer, either on generation capacity issues or on our carbon goals.

Other renewables may emerge over time as significant players, such as microgeneration, wave and tidal, but currently only wind can provide meaningful low-carbon capacity at a cost comparable to that of existing non-renewable technologies such as gas, coal and nuclear.

My right hon. Friend Mr. Meacher argued passionately and with great knowledge, estimating that the UK can raise its renewables capacity to European levels, as the Liberal Democrats also propose. I trust, however, that he agrees that it will be difficult to do so if Liberal Members, and Liberal parties up and down the country, continue to oppose wind farms, as they have in North Devon at Fullabrook down; in Ross, Skye and Easter Ross on the Isle of Skye; in Porthcawl at Scarweather sands; in Penrith in Cumbria at Whinash wind farm; and, as their politicians did, at Totnes in south Devon, as well as at Durham and Denshaw in Lancashire.

We are also considering other means to cut our carbon emissions, such as carbon capture and storage. Our carbon abatement strategy includes £25 million of capital grants that, among other options, could be used to support a demonstration of capture-ready technology, not least through clean coal technology. That has been increased to £35 million as a result of the Chancellor's pre-Budget statement of 5 December.

While this is not a nuclear review, it would be wrong for the Government to dismiss that subject out of hand, without first considering the evidence. Nuclear might provide some answers, but there are major factors to be considered first, such as, what would be the implications for our carbon reduction targets of nuclear's share of the energy mix falling? What do the economics of nuclear look like, given the sharp rise in oil and gas prices? Of course, we will also need to consider the issue of waste management. That has been mentioned this evening.

I should stress, however, that the cost of our historic nuclear legacy is not solely a function of nuclear power generation; far from it. It represents the lifetime costs—about £56 billion, which the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority has estimated is necessary to clean up all its sites. That legacy is in part made up of experimental facilities created 50 to 60 years ago and without any consideration being given to future decommissioning and clear-up. It is important to note that some 80 per cent. of the costs relate to pioneering and experimental sites, including Sellafield and Dounreay. Those costs were never predicated on generating capacity. The costs of decommissioning modern nuclear reactors would be built in from day one, which was not the case with the facilities of earlier generations.

In conclusion, I want to make it clear that the dividing line in this debate between those on the Liberal Democrat Benches and those on the Government side is not that they are against nuclear and we are for it. It is that we go into an open and transparent public energy review with an open mind, willing to listen to all the arguments. The Liberal Democrats, in contrast, do not want to engage in that debate because their mind is closed.

However, the Liberal Democrats, having made up their mind and stated in their manifesto that they will replace nuclear power with renewables and energy conservation measures, must explain what—

Photo of Andrew Stunell Andrew Stunell Shadow Chief Whip (Commons)

rose in his place and claimed to move, That the Question be now put.

Question, That the Question be now put, put and agreed to.

Question put accordingly, That the original words stand part of the Question:—

The House divided: Ayes 63, Noes 309.

Division number 126 Civil Nuclear Power

Aye: 63 MPs

No: 309 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Nos: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Question accordingly negatived.

Question, That the proposed words be there added, put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 31 (Questions on amendments):—

The House divided: Ayes 289, Noes 63.

Division number 127 Civil Nuclear Power

Aye: 289 MPs

No: 63 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Nos: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Question accordingly agreed to.

Mr Speaker forthwith declared the main Question, as amended, to be agreed to.

Resolved,

That this House welcomes the recent announcement of an energy review to assess future options on both the supply and demand for energy including the role of civil nuclear power; and notes the Government's energy policy as set out in the 2003 Energy White Paper, to make progress towards the goal of reducing carbon dioxide emissions by 60 per cent. by 2050, to maintain the reliability of energy supplies, to promote competitive markets in the UK and beyond and to ensure that every home is adequately and affordably heated.