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Nuclear Power

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:28 pm on 4th June 2018.

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Photo of Rebecca Long-Bailey Rebecca Long-Bailey Shadow Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee 6:28 pm, 4th June 2018

There is cross-party consensus that new nuclear will continue to play a vital role in the UK’s energy mix, and I am therefore pleased to hear that progress has been made, after some uncertainty, on the Wylfa nuclear plant. Given the well-documented failings of the Hinkley Point C deal, however, I am deeply concerned by the way in which the financing has been, or will be negotiated—namely, the lack of transparency and parliamentary scrutiny thus far.

On 15 May, I wrote to the Secretary of State requesting information about the negotiations and I am yet to receive a response. Until the last few days, we have had to piece together snippets of information from the Japanese press, and titbits from energy and environmental groups. We have finally heard today that a deal will be negotiated with Hitachi, which media reports suggest will include a guaranteed strike price, loan guarantees and an equity stake in the project in exchange for direct Government investment.

I must say that this is a surprising shift from the Government’s ideological position against Government investment in new energy infrastructure, and I wonder whether the shift applies to other renewable technologies, for which support has been repeatedly cut by this Government. I suspect not. I must sound a note of caution. Without sufficient detail and transparency, the House is unable to determine the risks and benefits borne by consumers and taxpayers in the proposed deal.

Last year, the National Audit Office concluded on the Hinkley Point C deal that the Department had

“not sufficiently considered the costs and risks of its deal for consumers.”

The NAO made a series of recommendations, including mechanisms for reviewing value for money and the affordability of the deal; making it clear who is accountable for oversight and governance; ensuring that the cost and timing implications of alternatives are shown clearly; and developing a plan to realise the benefit across local economies and supply chains. Last year, I asked the Government to adopt those recommendations. So will the Secretary of State say whether he has done so and, if not, why not? However, if the Government have done so, will he publish all relevant documentation showing that each recommendation has been followed in relation to Wylfa or, indeed, confirm that they will be followed if they have not been processed yet?

Negotiations between the Government and Hitachi thus far appear to have been conducted behind closed doors. Will the Secretary of State say whether the House will be given time to scrutinise the proposed deal outline, or is this simply a done deal? If so, have any binding commitments been made or, for example, have any preliminary heads of terms or memorandums of understanding been issued? The NAO stated that

“making commitments to investors can limit flexibilities to react to a change in circumstances.”

The implications of that need to be understood and communicated clearly to decision makers. It is important to ensure that the cost and timing implications of alternative funding arrangements are shown clearly—again, that is advocated by the NAO. If such alternatives have been, or will be, examined, can the Secretary of State provide the House with details today?

I move on to safety issues. It has been widely reported in the press that Hitachi is seeking to “reduce or eliminate” its financial responsibility for accidents. Will the Secretary of State say whether that is true? If so, where will such liability lie and what safety impact assessments have or will be carried out from construction and operation through to decommissioning? Indeed, on the issue of decommissioning, will he explain who will bear that liability and how much the cost is likely to be?

Despite the good news for Wylfa, subject to the queries that I have outlined, it appears that further down the Welsh coast the news is not so good for renewables generation. Media speculation suggests an impending negative decision on the much- anticipated Swansea tidal lagoon project after years of planning and campaigning by Tidal Lagoon Power, the Welsh Government, environmental groups and MPs across the House. If that is true, it is outrageous. To assume that Swansea is somewhat redundant, given the plan for investment in Wylfa, is very short-sighted.

I understand that Tidal Lagoon Power has offered to negotiate further, but has not received a response from the Government. Under the plans, there would be a zero-carbon power plant producing energy for over 100,000 homes, creating thousands of jobs across Britain; turbines built in a wall in the sea that harness the power of the tides, so that we can turn the kettle on in the morning; world-leading infrastructure built in Britain using British steel to last more than a century; and the potential to export our expertise and products across the globe. An ambitious, decisive and forward-thinking Government would jump at a project like that, just as they have done with Wylfa. Well, perhaps not. Recently, someone joked to me that the desk of the Secretary of State was where good ideas went to die. I hope that that is not the case with the Swansea tidal lagoon, and I implore the Secretary of State one last time to stop messing about, and to sit down with the company and the Welsh Government to develop a deal urgently.