I inform the House that I have not selected either of the reasoned amendments.
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
I want to start by apologising the House for the fact that I will be unable to stay for all of the debate as I am taking the train to Glasgow to be there for energy day at COP and will therefore miss the wind-ups. I have informed Mr Speaker of this, and those on the Opposition Front Bench. The Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, my hon. Friend George Freeman, the Minister for Science, Research, and Innovation, will be here for the debate and he will respond for the Government.
Two weeks ago, on
I will do so later, but the Minister knows nuclear waste is a key issue. On proven technology working alongside renewables, he will be well aware that pumped storage hydro can provide that. Why will the Government not give the go-ahead for Coire Glas in the highlands, which has been progressed by SSE?
The hon. Gentleman is right, and we are looking at that technology, but I stress what I just said about deployment at scale. We need something that can be deployed at scale to provide the bulk of our electricity when the sun is not shining or the wind is not blowing. We are always open-minded on other new technologies, but the most important thing is what can be deployed at scale. The measures in this Bill are critical for ensuring we have the option to bring forward further nuclear capacity.
Twelve of the UK’s 13 current nuclear reactors, representing approximately 85% of our nuclear capacity, are scheduled to close by 2030. Although Hinkley Point C is under construction, additional nuclear is likely to be needed in a low-cost 2050 electricity system. That is why we have committed to bring at least one further large-scale nuclear project to final investment decision by the end of this Parliament, subject to value for money and all relevant approvals.
I have good news for my right hon. Friend, which is that the regulated asset base model that we are introducing here can be used for further nuclear power plants, including small modular reactors and other key nuclear innovations. He will also know that, in the net zero review, we launched a £120 million fund for new nuclear innovations, which will allow us to increase our nuclear commitments and capabilities beyond the existing commitment to one new plant having its investment case in this Parliament.
Further to the question from my right hon. Friend John Redwood, Hinkley Point C will produce between 7% and 8% of the nation’s electricity needs once both reactors are up and running. A further plant of the same size would perhaps take it to 16%, but surely we need at least 25% to 30% if we are to make sure we have enough power to keep the grid going when the wind stops and there is no sunlight.
My hon. Friend makes a good case for supporting this Bill, which will allow the financing options to expand our nuclear power base. I appreciate his support for Hinkley Point, as the MP for a nearby area.
Is not the problem with the Government’s proposals that the new financing model, which is very favourable, goes towards only one technology? Are the British Government not therefore picking a winner from the available technology options? Does that not go against Conservative ideology?
No, actually. In fact, the ability to add levies or extra payments on to bills is already in place for multiple technologies. It is not there for nuclear alone. The broad concept exists for other technologies, too.
I will make a bit more progress.
The Chancellor’s spending review backs this commitment by providing £1.7 billion to enable the investment decision, alongside a new £120 million future nuclear enabling fund to tackle barriers to deploying new nuclear technology.
I will make a bit more progress.
However, it is clear that we need a new funding model to support the financing of large-scale and advanced nuclear technologies. Under the existing mechanism to support new nuclear projects, the contracts for difference scheme, developers have to finance the construction of a nuclear project and only begin receiving revenue when the station starts generating electricity. That was the right model to use for Hinkley Point C, given that it was the first nuclear project to be built in the UK for a generation.
I am going to make more progress.
But the lack of alternative funding models has led to the cancellation of recent potential projects, such as Hitachi’s project at Wylfa Newydd in Wales and Toshiba’s at Moorside in Cumbria. We have digested the lessons from Hinkley Point C; it is time to provide these alternatives.
I am going to make some more progress.
This legislation will facilitate financing of additional nuclear capacity through implementing a regulated asset base model and additional measures to mobilise private capital into new projects. At this point, I will give way to the very patient Member from north Wales.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman. Does he agree that since the advanced gas-cooled reactor programme, we have not had a programme of new nuclear reactors? We have had very drawn out processes for one-off plants, whether at Sizewell or Hinkley. We need to plan and have new reactors, preferably with the same build. If we look at what the French have done, we see that they can take one part of one reactor and put it in another one. We have always tinkered with reactors, rather than see this as a long-term project.
I think the right hon. Gentleman is a supporter of the Bill and the approach being taken by the Government, because exactly this new financing model will allow us a greater diversity in our nuclear projects. It will allow us to bring in more private sector finance. I know he is a long-standing Labour MP, so perhaps he might want to reflect on Labour’s role in those lost opportunities over the years.
Let me finish responding to the first intervention first. I was reading the 1997 Labour manifesto the other day. We remember those days when they came in as “new Labour”, and their manifesto said:
“We see no economic case for the building of any new nuclear power stations.”
The right hon. Gentleman has been here a long time, so perhaps he would like to say why he was a backer of the 1997 Labour manifesto.
I actually came here in 2001, but I will leave that there. I have been a long-time supporter of nuclear power. I think that the problem, on both sides of the House, is that we have energy review after energy review, we identify what all the problems are and we do absolutely nothing about it. We need a long-term plan, and I am talking about both sides of the House here. I will certainly be supporting this Bill tonight.
The right hon. Gentleman said he was first elected in 2001, but my guess is that he was a supporter of the 1997 manifesto. What says supports what the Government have been doing here for some time, which has been to increase our nuclear capacity and make sure the financing models are in place to support the funds. I am surprised he voted against the Budget last week, with its £1.7 billion made available for new nuclear. Perhaps he might explain to his constituents why he was against that Budget.
Just to carry on the point about Labour’s involvement in this, I should point out that at his final party conference Tony Blair said:
“10 years ago I parked the issue of nuclear power. Today, I believe without it, we are going to face an energy crisis and we can’t let that happen.”
For the first time in my life, I am going to say that Tony Blair was right. The French are reaping the rewards of Messmer’s nuclear legacy. Will my right hon. Friend commit today to his Messmer-style nuclear legacy for the UK?
I, too, do not often agree with Tony Blair, but it was good to see his conversion in the end, albeit that it took him 10 years. I have always been a passionate supporter of nuclear power, right since I was first elected in 2005, which was round about the time of that Labour volte-face. I was a strong supporter of Labour’s changing its view at that time; it is just such a pity that there was a lost decade before it came to that view.
Let me move on—
No, I am going to make some progress. I have already given way to the hon. Gentleman.
The Bill could help to get new projects off the ground throughout Great Britain, including, potentially, the Sizewell C project in Suffolk, which is the subject of ongoing negotiations between EDF and the Government, as well as potential further projects, such as on the Wylfa site in Wales.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on this landmark Bill, which will help us to reach our net zero targets by 2050. Does he agree that it creates an incredible opportunity to replace the soon-to-be-decommissioned reactor in Hartlepool with a new advanced modular reactor, which could create the high-quality, high-temperature steam that we need for hydrogen production in Teesside?
I visited my hon. Friend’s constituency with her two or three weeks ago—in fact, it was my first ministerial visit under my new portfolio—and I was impressed by the commitment to hydrogen in the area and to our new approach to energy overall. The most important thing to understand about this Bill is that it enables future nuclear projects and a diversity of financing models, with greater access to private sector finance in particular, so that we are less dependent on overseas developers as we go forward. That is the most important thing to take away. I would of course be delighted to come back to Hartlepool to see what it has to offer in this policy space.
I think my right hon. Friend is referring to small modular reactors, the technology behind which the Government have put their support. The ability to finance them will start to come in, and I would hope to speak further on that with my right hon. Friend.
My understanding is that eight sites around the UK currently have planning permission for new nuclear power stations. I have two nuclear power stations in my constituency and we would welcome a third; will the Bill help in some way to speed up the planning process so that we can get investment into communities? My local nuclear power stations are supposed to be decommissioned within the next 10 years.
The Bill does not change the planning process, but it does change the investment case and the ability to bring in private sector investment, particularly institutional funds, including British pension funds, that are currently put off or find it difficult. It also affects the ability to bring in private institutional investors from overseas—we have seen the difficulties at Wylfa and at Moorside. In that sense, my hon. Friend will find the Bill of great encouragement in respect of future nuclear builds in his constituency.
I am going to make a bit more progress. I have taken a lot of interventions, and the time for this debate has been a little curtailed.
The Government are introducing this Bill at a time when the cost of energy is on all our minds. We are committed to making the transition to low-carbon power affordable to households and businesses. Nuclear is part of a low-cost future electricity system and helps to reduce our exposure to volatile global gas prices. The measures in the Bill mean that we can keep nuclear in the mix at a lower cost than would otherwise be the case.
Under the Bill, the Secretary of State will be able to designate a company to benefit from a RAB model, provided that it satisfies certain criteria. This will empower the Secretary of State to insert new conditions into the company’s electricity generation licence to permit the company to receive a regulated revenue in respect of the design, construction, commissioning and operation of a nuclear project. A RAB model allows a company to charge consumers to construct and operate new infrastructure projects. It allows the company’s investors to share some of the project’s construction and operating risks with consumers, overseen by a strong economic regulator. That in turn significantly lowers the cost of capital, which is the main driver of a nuclear project’s cost to consumers.
I will make a little more progress.
RAB is a tried and tested method that has successfully financed other large UK infrastructure projects. The introduction of a special administration regime will prioritise the plant’s opening and continuing to operate in the unlikely event of a project company’s insolvency. That will protect consumers’ investment in the plant and ensure that they realise the plant’s benefit. Members should know that this legislation is not specific to one project, as I have already said, and could be applied to nuclear projects across Great Britain.
I will make more progress. I have taken a lot of interventions.
The legislation will also make technical changes to the regime of funded decommissioning programmes, removing barriers to private financing of nuclear projects in support of our nuclear energy ambitions. That section will not apply in Scotland.
Members will be pleased that this new funding model will reduce our reliance on overseas developers for financing new nuclear projects. It will substantially increase the pool of potential private investors to include British pension funds, insurers and other institutional investors.
The funding model will require consumers to pay a small amount on their bills during the construction of a nuclear project. These payments from the start of construction will avoid the build-up of interest on loans that would otherwise lead to higher costs to consumers in the future.
I have given away enough.
Members will be reassured that a project starting construction in 2023 will add only a very small amount to the average dual-fuel household bill during this Parliament, and, on average, less than £1 per month during the full construction phase of the project.
I am very grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. We had many a good exchange at that stage, but I want to take him back a little further to when I was Chair of the Energy and Climate Change Committee. It was pointed out in representations that were made to me that, sometimes, the Government ask the wrong questions. When they say they want nuclear, what they really need are 6 GW baseload. That might be achievable with a mix of technologies and at a cheaper strike price. Hinkley, for instance, is £92 per megawatt-hour, index linked to, I think, 2012 prices. Had that question been asked differently, not stipulating nuclear but asking for 6 GW, the price achieved might have been around £70, saving bill payers, taxpayers and everybody an awful lot. I caution the Government against going down one route and prescribing the technology—the Minister did mention technologies. Perhaps he should say what he needs, which is 6 GW baseload.
As I have outlined, the Bill is about nuclear. Creating a more diverse potential finance base is exactly what it is about. It is not biased in favour of one technology vis-à-vis another, but, as a Government, we have been absolutely clear about the important, growing role that nuclear will play. On Hinkley Point C, we think that that was the right model for the decision at that time. I think the hon. Gentleman’s problem is with nuclear as a whole rather than specific problems at a nuclear plant. The United Nations Economic Commission for Europe said:
“International climate objectives will not be met if nuclear power is excluded”.
I think his policy is to exclude nuclear power in its entirety.
Members will be reassured that a project starting construction in 2023 will add only a very small amount to the average dual-fuel household bill during this Parliament—on average less than £1 per month during the full construction phase of the project. I believe that these bill impacts are proportionate, given the benefits that nuclear offers our electricity system. Ultimately, nuclear power will deliver a lower-cost system for consumers compared with reliance on intermittent power sources alone. The RAB model will make new nuclear projects cheaper. Our analysis has shown that using this funding model for a nuclear project could produce a cost saving for consumers of more than £30 billion, compared with funding projects through a contract for difference.
No, I am going to make more progress.
That saving equates to more than £10 a year for an average domestic dual-fuel bill throughout the life of a nuclear power station, which can operate for 60 years.
The UK has a pioneering history in nuclear energy. We were the first country in the world to set up a civil nuclear programme, back in 1956. There are proud communities—I see many Members who represent them here today—who have been working in the industry for more than 60 years. Creating new nuclear projects will support this important sector and help to level up the UK. The civil nuclear sector is already a major provider of high-value, high-skilled jobs across the entire country. It employs approximately 60,000 people, with nearly 90% of those jobs based outside of London and the south-east. New nuclear projects will be important sources of economic opportunity for the whole country. Hinkley Point C has already created well over 10,000 job opportunities. Future nuclear projects bring with them significant opportunities for training the future nuclear workforce through apprenticeships and training schemes to increase skills.
This legislation will vary in application across the UK. The Government are undertaking close joint work with other stakeholders on the potential options for nuclear at the Wylfa site. The RAB model could play a key role in funding any future project there.
No; I am going to have to finish.
Members will know that the Scottish Government have a different position with regard to new nuclear projects. To be clear: this Bill will not alter the current approval process for new nuclear, nor the responsibilities of the devolved Governments. Nothing in this Bill will change the fact that Scottish Ministers are responsible for approving applications for large-scale onshore electricity-generating stations in Scotland. The steps taken in this Bill will mean that Scottish consumers will benefit from a cheaper, more resilient and lower-carbon electricity system, so it is right that Scottish consumers should contribute towards the construction of new projects.
Taken as a whole, the Bill will ensure that consumers across Great Britain will benefit from a cheaper, more resilient and lower-carbon electricity system that is funded in a fair and affordable way. I hope that Members will agree that this is an important and timely piece of legislation. Recent increases in gas prices have demonstrated the key role that reliable low-carbon power through nuclear has to play in our transition to net zero.
The Bill is a unique opportunity to deliver a trinity of benefits, as it will: help us to create a resilient low-carbon energy system; deliver value for money for consumers; and deliver and create thousands of well-paid jobs across the country. I hope that Members will take the next step towards net zero and levelling up the whole UK. I commend the Bill to the House.
Labour believes that new nuclear has an important supporting role to play in the energy mix, alongside the decisive shift to renewables that we need to deliver the climate transition and secure our energy security. As set out by the Climate Change Committee, we need all the low-carbon power sources at our disposal to deliver the rapid and fair transition that is required.
I am sorry that the Minister, in presenting the Bill, has chosen the partisan knockabout route, rather than giving it the serious consideration that it deserves. If we want to go down that path, we can reflect on the decade of dither and delay on the Government’s part, with mixed messages from the Conservative Government on new nuclear. The result is that, after 10 years, we have one half-finished nuclear plant, which is funded by a mechanism that, as the Minister himself accepts, is quite disastrous in terms of future prices. The record of this Conservative Government on new nuclear is frankly very poor. At last we have a Bill that might rectify some of that poor performance over the last 10 years. We need to support the need to finance new nuclear. We will scrutinise this Bill to guarantee fairness for bill payers, including protecting consumers against any potential cost overruns, protecting the poorest households, and scrutinising the balance between public spending and bill payers.
It is welcome that at long last we are coming to the key issue in nuclear power, which is how we build the power stations that we seek to place in the mix of low-carbon energy for the future. We know how not to do it, as I mentioned. We have already seen from the passage of building Hinkley C, and the disappearance of many nuclear projects and programmes, that the model that the Government have long stood for—that power stations should be built entirely by the private sector, and that private-sector security can be bought by price mechanisms that grossly inflate the cost of energy to the customer in the end—is highly flawed.
We are facing a last-chance saloon for new nuclear build that requires us to throw away those principles and start again, because most of the programme of new nuclear power stations that the Government have been envisaging over the past 10 years has been washed away. As late as 2018, there were possibly three consortia actively pursuing an interest in building five new nuclear power stations. These have progressively fallen by the wayside. Consortia have fallen apart, companies with an interest in financing projects have pulled out, and we are now left with one proto-consortium—effectively just EDF—building Hinkley C and with active plans to build a new power station at Sizewell. It is not only an active interest. Sizewell is designed to be effectively a clone of the plant that is currently being built so that it can start to build as Hinkley completes its construction phase and the workforce currently undertaking construction at Hinkley can transfer to the building of its clone at Sizewell.
We ought to add two other factors that will have a substantial bearing on how we proceed with building plants—or in this instance, a plant, because that is all we have under consideration right now. First, the consortium proposing to build Sizewell is not exactly champing at the bit to finance it. EDF has effectively mortgaged itself to the hilt in financing 65% of Hinkley C and has stated unequivocally that it is not about to do the same with Sizewell C. Secondly, we still have the arrangement in place concluded by the then Chancellor George Osborne to arrange a fast track into the heart of our nuclear programme for the China National Nuclear Corporation via a Secretary of State’s investment agreement to help fund Hinkley C power station to the tune of 35% of the upfront capital; 20% of the second in the EDF consortium’s programme, Sizewell C; and the big prize for the Chinese—control of the financing, build and running of a third nuclear power station at Bradwell in Essex, which is now unlikely, to the point of impossible, to happen.
It is likely that the Chinese will not be able to get their hands on a real nuclear power station all of their own and they will not be investing into 20% of Sizewell—indeed, the Government seem to have set aside £1.7 billion in the Budget to buy out their interest in Sizewell C. Labour has long warned that the Government are playing a dangerous game when they outsource the funding of critical national infrastructure to foreign Governments. We are now seeing the results of a decade of Conservative Governments doing exactly that, and mostly failing to get anywhere. There we have it in terms of the UK’s nuclear programme for the foreseeable future—only one plant in prospect for a start before the late 2020s.
Interestingly, the Climate Change Committee, which has looked into this matter in great depth, considers that in the overall long-term future make-up of our energy mix, about 8 to 10 gigawatts of standby power—therm power—is likely to be required in the shape of new or existing nuclear power stations. That is about the size of the difference with an overwhelmingly renewable but variable economy, with elements of firm power backing it up.
I have mentioned that one plant only that would be included in the suggested 8 GW to 10 GW is in prospect for a start before the late 2020s, because every other proposal has fallen away. However, it is not financed and is probably not financeable by private capital. It is only part financeable by a state financer, with which we do not now want to do business. Let us be clear before we go any further: this Bill is about finding a formula to fund and build Sizewell C power station. Whatever its generic pretensions, that is the issue we should be concentrating on. Even so, getting that plant going would cover most of what the Climate Change Committee considers is the presence in the mix needed.
Before the hon. Gentleman moves on from discussing the financing for Sizewell C, does he agree that it is important, when we are talking about financing, that the financing is not just in place for the build of the power station itself, but for the necessary infrastructure and mitigation measures for the local communities in the area, who will be suffering from construction traffic and the like for potentially a 12-year period?
The hon. Gentleman is right to say that the build cost and financing of a nuclear power station has to include not just the obvious things that we think are associated with a nuclear power station, but all the other infrastructure around that nuclear power station and contributions to decommissioning costs. That is what we are talking about in terms of an overall financing package, and that is why a financing package has to last over the whole life, effectively, of that nuclear power station. I do not intend to move on from the financing of Sizewell C, because that is essentially what this Bill is all about. It is about all those things that the hon. Gentleman mentions, so far as that particular project is concerned.
This plant, if it goes forward—we hope it will go forward with something like this kind of financing—would cover a substantial part of what the Climate Change Committee considers necessary in the mix of low-carbon energy to drive power towards net zero by 2050. I have mentioned that it thinks about 8 GW to 10 GW of new nuclear power would be needed to complement a predominantly renewable power line-up so that firm power considerations are met, without being in such numbers that it puts the development of renewables into jeopardy. That 8 GW to 10 GW includes new nuclear power, but also the one existing power station that will probably last beyond the 2030s in Sizewell B.
Hinkley and Sizewell C together therefore would go a long way towards meeting that assessment by the end of the decade, with two 3.2 GW power stations with reactors in each, and the remaining Sizewell B power station continuing in action. It is not surprising then that we are talking about nuclear financing, which is pretty much all the Bill covers. Exam question: how do we finance an unfinanceable nuclear plant when we know we have got to do it because there is no other option? Even if we did decide to repeat the frankly disastrous device of providing a CfD for the plant at Hinkley, which is likely to produce power at twice market cost, it still would not work, because that does not solve the problem of getting investors into the plant for the lengthy period before production starts. There are ways in which nuclear finance can be sorted out.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for the very considered manner in which he is presenting his case. Is there anything in his mind that would stop the UK Government using this new financing model for other technologies, such as the tidal lagoon in Swansea, or is it blatantly unfair that one technology has a very favourable financing scheme, while another technology that could provide many of the solutions that he seeks is stuck on contracts for difference?
The hon. Member mentions tidal power. Of course, a regulated asset base system can be used for any sort of major infrastructure project—and indeed has been already, as I will come to. I do not see the discussion on that system as being about just nuclear power, but a method of funding a large infrastructure project that has certain requirements that must be met by continuous funding throughout its operation. He is right that infrastructure projects other than nuclear in the energy sector could and should be funded by that system.
The National Audit Office discussed those options when it reviewed the decision making and value for money that the CfD process for Hinkley entailed. The route adopted by the Government, after much internal wrangling and delay, is a regulated asset-based model that is essentially constructed along the lines that it has been used for already in capital projects such as Heathrow terminal 5 and the Thames Tideway project. That is, the whole project is part-funded by the proceeds of a levy on bills. The levy varies in size during different phases of the project and, in the latter phases of production, lowers or even goes negative if the project’s income exceeds the ceiling of allowable costs under RAB.
There are substantial advantages to the RAB model for making the project investable. It provides returns for investors as the project proceeds rather than at the end of it, as does the CfD model, which allows investment to be brought into the frame for the project from sources that might otherwise baulk at the timetable between investment and return. It also reduces the hurdle rate for investment in the project, thereby in theory substantially reducing the overall cost of financing the project and likely resulting in cheaper prices for the energy produced by the plant.
There are also substantial risks with RAB that need to be managed. It places the cost and risk of financing the project on the shoulders of customers, in this instance electricity bill payers, which adds to bill costs through a levy on their bills before anything has materialised. In the event of the plant not being completed, it lumbers them with bill costs without the benefit of the plant for which they have paid producing relatively cheaper electricity.
RAB also adds to the burden of bills unpredictably if the project overruns on cost or time—both of which, as we know, nuclear plant development is rather prone to. The extension of the construction period for a project, when the highest effect is felt on bills, lengthens that higher take period. An increase in cost may also cause revisions to be made to allowable costs ceilings, and hence cause heavier costs on bills.
We are in somewhat uncharted waters with a project such as Sizewell C because of its size, complexity, timescale and investment costs compared with the more modest sums and shorter timescales involved in existing RAB projects. Nuclear power stations elsewhere in the world have been funded along RAB lines, but have simply not been completed, which has left consumers with a huge bill and no benefit.
In short, we need to go into this kind of arrangement with a clear eye about the advantages and risks of a RAB model for nuclear. As far as we can, we should attempt to mitigate the risks and play up the advantages. It is workable, but only if the Government have a serious plan.
The Government have sought to alleviate at least some of the disadvantages by introducing to the Bill a special administrative regime for the project in the event of a failure of the company involved during construction. We will look carefully at those provisions, but they seem to be a useful commitment to ensure the robustness of the overall project, even if its prime developer fails to deliver. We also accept that provisions in the Bill on who may be involved in legacy and decommissioning costs will help to clarify the risks for security trustees and secured creditors.
There is much to agree with in the Bill, given the evident need to secure a mechanism that enables Sizewell C to be developed and come into production at a reasonably early date. There are measures to lower the overall cost of the project so it is investable and less price inefficient than its immediate predecessor, and to ensure that the project stays on track and delivers at the end of it. However, there are still many questions to be answered, particularly on the robustness of the RAB model under circumstances where the inevitable “optimism bias” of project costings—that candid acknowledgement comes from the Bill’s impact assessment—proves to be disadvantageous and costly to consumers who, after all, are supposed to be paying up for a benefit later on. It is important that we look at such matters carefully, with a clear eye on consumer protection, and do not just assume that the mechanism will milk customers for whatever it takes to produce an outcome in the end.
We need much greater clarity about the Government’s intentions on the difficult situation concerning Chinese investment in Sizewell. That may not be central to the Bill and the RAB model, but it is indirectly affected. The project’s overall shape will be affected by whether the Government take over the Chinese share, offer it to other investors or even calculate that RAB is a sufficiently powerful tool to enable investors easily to come in and scoop it up once the Secretary of State’s investment agreement provisions are untangled. We need to know in the Bill’s early stages what the Government will do about that and through what mechanisms.
As the Bill progresses, the Government can expect Labour’s overall support but also a proper, critical eye on aspects of the mechanisms they are adopting and a particular emphasis on protecting the people, who will either stand to benefit from a reliable power station producing needed energy at reasonable cost if it goes right or suffer grievously if it goes wrong. In other words, the customer must be first in our minds in taking such decisions, and we will stand up for them as the Bill progresses.
I welcome the Government’s action to introduce the regulated asset base funding model for the financing of new nuclear power plants. As a former energy Minister, and indeed a former science Minister twice, I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to see at first hand the brilliant services that our nuclear energy industry provides, despite the many compounding hardships that it faces.
Nuclear power currently provides just under 20% of the UK’s energy needs, but almost half that capacity will be retired and lost by 2025. For the UK to achieve its net zero obligations and beyond, expanding our nuclear energy fleet will be paramount as it provides emission-free energy without the need for the wind to be blowing or the sun to be shining. The case for nuclear energy as a clean source of power should be evident. It may have done more for decarbonisation and reducing carbon emissions in the past 70 years than any other industrial sector.
The right hon. Member speaks of the baseload and the constant flow of energy from nuclear. Does he support the tidal energy efforts being made in Scotland? Would he support far more investment in that?
I believe that we do not have a choice. We must look at every form of renewable energy, nuclear energy, carbon capture and storage and hydrogen to reach net zero. We cannot make the perfect the enemy of the good. Equally, in looking at how to decarbonise, there are no good and bad actors; the most important thing is outcomes. We have a target set for 2050 but cannot ignore that we wish to reduce our carbon emissions now. I therefore welcome any technology that can achieve that sooner rather than later.
That depends on the potential for innovation for the future. We have an energy crunch coming down the line with perhaps just a single nuclear plant open by 2030 and, at the same time, we will move from existing nuclear fission reactors through to small modular nuclear reactors, advanced modular nuclear reactors and, ultimately, fusion.
As science Minister, I assigned Government investment for the spherical tokamak for energy production units. We need certainty and a clear strategy for where the nuclear pathway is going beyond the existing reactors and to front-load that investment now. I will come to why the RAB model is so important as it allows that front-loading.
As I mentioned, nuclear power has resulted in an annual saving of 22.7 million tonnes of CO2, the equivalent of taking one in three cars off the road. The Government’s proposal to adopt the regulated asset base funding model for nuclear power is bold and ambitious, but it is also needed. The beauty of the funding model is that it inherently encourages a wider range of private investment in new nuclear projects, reducing the UK’s reliance on overseas funding.
As it stands, developers are forced to provide the finances for construction up front and begin receiving revenue only when the station starts generating electricity. Even in the best of times for energy markets, which we certainly are not in now, that lack of certainty diminishes how investable nuclear power projects are. As we have seen, sadly, with the nuclear projects at Moorside and Wylfa, our current funding model is simply not fit for purpose; 5.8 GW of nuclear energy, just over half our current supply of nuclear power, was lost directly because funding could not be secured. Those locations have both been described as highly desirable sites for new nuclear power plants, but even after the Government offered to take the equity, provide all the debt finance and back a revenue-stabilising mechanism, private investors still had to walk away.
I do not question the hon. Gentleman’s expertise or knowledge on this issue, but perhaps he can help me out. From the Minister’s letter, and from what the hon. Gentleman himself has said during the debate, we know that 12 of the UK’s 13 current nuclear reactors are scheduled to close by 2030. The main argument for large nuclear is the baseload protection it gives that other technologies cannot provide, but it seems to me that it is highly unlikely, even with this new financing model, that a large new nuclear plant will be built before 2030. The question that arises from that for me—I admit that I am not an expert—is, how will that baseload be covered while we are waiting for the new large nuclear plants to be built?
That is a very important question. It is not just 2030 that I am concerned about, but 2025. Nuclear currently accounts for 18% of electricity generation. The current closure rate of plants means that by 2025, nuclear will go from 18% down to 10%, so we will lose 8% of energy supply in the next three years alone. We will not be able to cover that gap; the hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. We are behind the curve here, which is why the Bill is vital. No one should vote against it tonight, because to do so would simply be to kick the can further down the road.
Nuclear also provides a fantastic opportunity to level up. Think of the jobs that it can provide: no one who lives near an area in which there is a nuclear power plant is against nuclear. Hinkley C in Somerset, relatively near my constituency, provides 30,000 jobs, of which 70% are local. It offers enormous potential for creating a sustainable pipeline of skill and talent for the future.
On the RAB funding model, others have asked during the debate, “What about other technologies?” The RAB model has also been established and received strong support from investors in other large infrastructure projects. Indeed, RAB-based funding has provided the funding mechanism for numerous financings of offshore wind transmission cables and infrastructure, as well as Legal & General’s financing for Mutual Energy’s Gas to the West gas network expansion project in Northern Ireland.
Yet the real advantages of this new funding system will come in relation to emerging innovative nuclear energy technologies. As anyone who is interested in reaching net zero will be aware, plans to develop third-generation nuclear reactors are well under way, with British companies such as Rolls-Royce leading the way. Some of those innovations—I have mentioned small modular nuclear reactors—have been designed to be able to be mass-manufactured at one site, powered by an SMR nuclear power plant, and then shipped domestically or internationally, massively reducing the cost. That brilliant technology will have the added benefit, I believe, of helping to power hydrogen electrolysers, which are highly more efficient if they are given a supply of heat. In turn, those will be able to decarbonise sectors that are the most difficult to decarbonise—the hard-to-abate groups that energy cannot touch, which need liquid fuel. The potential for nuclear heat and energy to generate hydrogen I think has the potential, in turn, to generate a clean energy revolution.
Those exciting technologies look to radically shake up the international energy supply system, but it is only through an adequate and appropriate funding model that we can take full advantage of their possibilities. As we have seen with the recent rise in global energy prices, energy security must be at the forefront of all our minds when debating policy. One of the best ways to avoid the situations that the world currently faces is by having a diversified energy supply, nuclear included. Additionally, it is only through the correct development and deployment of innovative technologies that we can both secure our energy supply system and achieve our net zero obligations. Net zero by 2050 is the ultimate mission for our generation and one that we must achieve as quickly, efficiently and effectively as possible. The RAB funding mechanism provides a clear path for nuclear to play its part in that mission.
Not for the first time I think I am going to express a minority view in the Chamber, but I am sure everyone will listen carefully and, once I present my arguments, change their minds and agree with our point of view.
The real debate is whether we need new nuclear or not. I intend to spell out why we do not need new nuclear and, therefore, why we do not need the Bill. Before doing so, I want to highlight the UK Government market failures that have led to the Government scrambling to bring forward the Bill.
We know that Hinkley Point C is currently under construction, but it is under construction as the most expensive power station in the world. There are several reasons for that and how it came about. First, successive Governments seem to have developed a groupthink, following lobbying from the nuclear industry, that somehow nuclear is a prerequisite for our future. Then came the rationale that building a suite of new large-scale nuclear power stations would lead to competition and cheaper costs. However, that philosophy was flawed in that there were not enough competitors to start with and then a piecemeal approach was taken by nominally awarding sites to different preferred bidders. For Hinkley Point C, that meant EDF was the only game in town, so there was no competition when negotiating the contract. EDF had already been beset with problems with its EPR prototypes in Finland and France, so it had to be more cautious in its pricing. It is little wonder then that the UK Government ended up with such a bad deal. They have since tried to tell us that the eye-watering strike rate of £92.20 per megawatt hour for a 35-year contract, while the cost of offshore wind dropped to £40 per megawatt hour for just a 15-year concession, meant that the nuclear deal was a good deal.
In a letter last week, the Minister of State, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, Greg Hands, was effectively saying, “By the way, the Hinkley Point C deal was actually rubbish and poor value for taxpayers, so now we have an alternative funding model and we’re bringing that forward.” Interestingly, it was stated in the letter that the new funding model could potentially save the taxpayer £30 billion to £80 billion. How much money do the Government estimate has been wasted on Hinkley? How many billions of pounds are the Government willing to commit bill payers to if they say they can save up to £80 billion? Logic says that hundreds of billions of pounds would have to be spent to be able to argue that there could be a saving of £80 billion. I will happily give way to the Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, George Freeman, if he can tell me how much money that £80 billion saving is estimated on? The right hon. Member for Chelsea and Fulham would not give way, but I am happy to give way if the hon. Gentleman can tell me how much the Government estimate—[Interruption.] I take it that he will not give us a figure. The Minister will not come forward and give a figure. That does not add confidence. The Government are saying the saving could be between £30 billion and £80 billion. That is a huge range and that does not give confidence to the estimating proposals either.
Just to correct the record, it does not at all mean I am not going to answer the hon. Gentleman’s question. It means that I will do it in the usual way, when I wind up at the end of the debate.
I was so hopeful that I was getting an answer there on the hundreds of billions of pounds that are being committed.
Returning to Hinkley Point C, we hear how advanced the project is and how well it is going, but the reality in terms of cost is that it is £4.5 billion over the initial estimates, which is 25% over budget. On progress, the commissioning date for unit one has now been put back to June 2026, instead of the anticipated 2025, but they also admit there is a programme risk of up to 15 months on top of that. That means that it could be September 2027 before unit 1 of Hinkley is operational and unit 2 will then follow a further year behind. So it is realistic to say that Hinkley Point C will not be fully operational until 2027-28, which is 10 years after we were initially told that Hinkley Point C was required to stop the lights going out. Given that the lights have not gone out, that undermines the original case for Hinkley.
We have to bear in mind that the EPR system has still not been shown to be successful. Flamanville in France is expected to start generating to the grid in 2024, 12 years late. Finland’s project has been delayed yet again, until next year, and it is 13 years late. Both have been crippled with spiralling cost increases.
Further to those costs, we know that the permanent safe disposal of radioactive waste from nuclear power plants has not yet been achieved by any country. A 2018 study from the department of geology at the University of Kansas recently suggested that nuclear waste disposal would be two and a half to four times more expensive than has been estimated. Those costs will be passed on to those who come after us. Is my hon. Friend satisfied that these possibilities have been fully taken into account in the financing model?
It will be no surprise to hear that I have no confidence that the true costs of nuclear waste disposal are actually included. We hear that this is rolled up in the strike rate for Hinkley, but if something happens and EDF goes out of operation, who will pick up the additional costs? It will clearly be the bill payers or the taxpayer. We hear about the fact that nuclear is supposed to be clean energy, but how can it be classed as clean energy when we are burying radioactive waste and having to store it for up to 1,000 years? That, to me, does not mean clean energy.
Taishan in China was held up as an exemplar EPR project when it was commissioned, but it has been offline since June this year due to safety concerns and rod damage. It is clear that the design and construction of EPR nuclear stations has still not been bottomed out properly. As the shadow Minister, Dr Whitehead, said, a reliance on French state-owned EDF and the Chinese state company China General Nuclear kind of undermines the argument about having sovereign energy security. It makes no sense.
Despite the cost and programme issues at Hinkley, we are told that Sizewell C will somehow be different. There will be cost savings from learning on Hinkley. The design will be replicated, saving more money, but the reality is that the site at Sizewell C is bound to have different ground conditions, different environmental considerations and different logistics and site constraints, which affects methods of working, and that means that we cannot build an exact duplicate station the same way.
Even if savings are realised on Sizewell C compared with Hinkley, what does that mean cost-wise? If Sizewell C saves 25% compared with Hinkley, that is still a capital cost outlay of £18 billion. Surely there are better ways to spend £18 billion. We heard from Chris Skidmore about the number of jobs being created. If I was given £18 billion to £20 billion, I am sure that I could create 30,000 jobs —by the way, that is £730,000-odd a job in capital costs alone. That is not a good return.
On costs, we are told that a new deal signed under the proposed new funding model in the Bill will cost consumers only £1 a month during construction, but if we look at a 10-year construction period for Sizewell C, we see that that means that bill payers in 28 million households will pay £3.4 billion before it is operational. That is a further £3.4 billion in expenditure when that money could be better invested elsewhere.
We still do not know with this Bill what the long-term pay-back options will be. Will there be a further agreement on the strike rate or a minimum floor price on the sale of energy? What length of contract will bill payers be tied into once a RAB model for an agreement is signed off?
What else could we do with that amount of money? We could upgrade all homes to energy performance certificate band C. We could have wave and tidal generation. The UK Government are willing to introduce the Bill and commit hundreds of millions of pounds to nuclear—the Budget has £1.7 billion just for developing nuclear to a negotiation stage—but they will not even ringfence £24 million for wave and tidal in pot 2 of the forthcoming contracts for difference auction. The disparity is clear.
It is time the Government took their blinkers off. It will be a real disgrace if they do not provide a pathway for wave and tidal projects to scale up. Scotland is currently leading the world on the issue; the O2 tidal generator is operational and grid-connected in Orkney. I hope that the Minister will reconsider the request to ringfence a small amount of money in pot 2 of the forthcoming contracts for difference auction.
I am a huge supporter of tidal energy, but is it not the case that nuclear, given its energy density, is the most environmentally friendly and low-carbon technology that we have, while tidal has the potential to significantly damage marine ecosystems? I am a big supporter of tidal energy, but we have to be really careful about where we deploy such things. We have a ready-built, proven technology here—the most environmentally friendly and low-carbon technology that there is.
I completely agree with the hon. Gentleman about nuclear being clean—oh, wait, apart from the radioactive waste that we still do not know what to do with. We will ignore that point, but he has a valid point about the need for clear environmental considerations with respect to where we site any marine project. That should be part of a robust, up-front planning process, working with the likes of Marine Scotland. There are regulatory bodies that have oversight of these projects, so it is important that they be involved in the planning process. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that there is still a huge future for wave and tidal.
The hon. Gentleman highlights the value of marine energy in Scotland and elsewhere; he and I are absolutely on the same page on that. Does he agree that one thing it would be very helpful for the Minister to take away is the need to clarify the precise size of the pot that will be available specifically for marine energy in the next contracts for difference auction round, CFD AR4? There is a danger that unless there is a specific pot, the marine energy providers will be rather crowded out by other forms of renewable energy.
I completely agree. I was happy to co-sign the cross-party letter from the all-party parliamentary group on marine energy, which I fully support. I hope that the Minister is listening, because this is a matter that we agree on across parties.
Looking at other technologies that we should be spending money on, I compliment the UK Government on seeing the opportunities that floating offshore wind can bring, but let us start deploying it much more quickly and investing more money, because that is where the real future is. Clearly, the further out to sea the turbines are, the greater the reliability of wind and subsequent generation.
There needs to be much greater investment in carbon capture and storage. The Government need to reverse their disgraceful decision not to have a Scottish cluster as part of their track 1 CCS projects. A Scottish cluster would also deliver hydrogen production, which is vital on the pathway to net zero.
We heard earlier, as we always do, the argument that nuclear is required for when the sun does not shine and the wind does not blow, but as I have tried to point out to the Minister, there is an existing technology that can address that issue: pumped storage hydro, a renewable energy source that utilises surplus grid energy to fill the reservoirs and can then dispatch electricity when required. Pumped storage hydro is the perfect foil for intermittent renewables, rather than big, inflexible nuclear power stations that invariably pump energy to the grid when it is not required. An Imperial College report suggests that there could be system savings of £700 million a year from using pumped storage hydro technology instead of nuclear.
SSE has all the necessary permissions in place, right now, to progress a new pumped storage hydro scheme at Coire Glas in the Highlands. It is progressing the design at its financial risk, and all that it needs is agreement with the Government and a minimum floor price for electricity—not a strike rate and not direct funding, just a minimum guarantee on the sale price of electricity. Then the development can reach the construction stage, and can be commissioned in the same timeframe as Hinkley. I ask the Government to reconsider, and to get round the table with SSE and other developers.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for allowing me to intervene again. I am a big supporter of pumped hydro, which is great for storage, but we cannot neglect the fact that we require a surplus of electricity to pump the water in the first place, up to the point of that storage. It is great to be in control of when we release the water and use the energy, but we have to think about how we get it up there in the first place.
Absolutely. That is my point. This is about utilising spare energy and then filling the reservoirs. That is much more productive than, with nuclear, putting additional electricity into the grid and then making constraint payments to wind farm developers to turn the turbines off. Those turbines could be used to much greater effect for the likes of pumped storage hydro, or generating green hydrogen.
It is clear that there are alternatives to nuclear. The Government have rightly pointed out that the existing nuclear fleet is coming to an end, but they have wrongly concluded that that means we need new nuclear. Dungeness went offline earlier this year, seven years early, because of safety concerns. Hunterston B is about to go offline, and Hinkley Point B will close next summer. Hartlepool and Heysham will follow in 2024. That means that Hinkley Point C will not even replace the lost capacity, and by 2024, 5.3 GW of nuclear capacity will have been lost to the grid.
If the grid can operate successfully without that 5.3 GW of nuclear for three or four years until Hinkley’s 3.3 GW comes on line, that in itself confirms that new nuclear power is not required. In all likelihood, Torness and Heysham 2 will not last until 2030, so all but one of the existing stations will be offline before Hinkley comes online. By not replacing the existing nuclear fleet as it comes to the end of its life, the UK Government are themselves proving that we do not need a nuclear baseload, because the grid can operate without it, unless an energy security crisis arises when all the other stations go offline. The Minister can address that later if he wants.
Although here in the Chamber it is just me saying that we do not need new nuclear, plenty of experts agree. Back in 2015, the then chief executive officer of National Grid, Steve Holliday, said:
“The idea of large power stations for baseload is outdated”.
In the 2019 World Nuclear Industry Status Report, Mycle Schneider, who was the lead author of the report, said that nuclear power
“meets no technical or operational need that low-carbon competitors cannot meet better, cheaper and faster.”
A recent study by Good Energy and the Energy System Catapult demonstrated that carbon emissions from the power sector could be eliminated as early as 2030 without the need to develop new nuclear power. Sarah Darby, associate professor of the energy programme at Oxford University’s Environmental Change Institute, has said:
“Nuclear stations are particularly unsuited to meeting peak demand: they are so expensive to build that it makes no sense to use them only for short periods of time. Even if it were easy to adjust their output flexibly—which it isn’t—there doesn’t appear to be any business case for nuclear, whether large, small, ‘advanced’ or otherwise.”
It is clear that there is not a case for new nuclear—and, as my hon. Friend Deidre Brock pointed out earlier, we have yet to address the nuclear waste issue. It will cost £132 billion to deal with the existing nuclear waste legacy. Why do we want to create another waste legacy for future generations to deal with?
So we do not need nuclear, and we do not need this Bill. Even if we consider what it aims to achieve, the fact remains that there is market failure, given that Hitachi has walked away from Wylfa and Oldbury and Toshiba has walked away from Moorside. So there is no competition to drive down cost, and EDF and China General Nuclear are still the only show in town. As Dr Whitehead asked, while the RAB model may might bring down costs, what protections are there in the event of project overruns?
Clause 2 puts all the powers of negotiation and contract award into the hands of the Secretary of State, and allows the Secretary of State to determine what is value for money. We all know how good the Government are at direct negotiations, so how can they guarantee value for money in a transparent manner?
As I touched on earlier, we have been told for five years that Hinkley is good value for money, but now the Government have come back to the House to say that actually that is not the case and they have a new plan for how to deliver nuclear. I therefore cannot possibly support this Bill, especially as the electorate of Scotland have consistently voted to elect a Government on a “no new nuclear” manifesto. Why should Scottish bill payers be forced to pay for nuclear energy that they do not want or require? This is another democratic deficit for Scotland, especially when so much of our renewable energy is not being supported at the moment and we are stuck with the highest grid charges in Europe. It really is time that Scotland had control of its own energy decisions, but in the meantime I will be proud and pleased to vote against this Bill.
It is an honour to be called to speak in the debate and to follow the excellent speech from the hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Alan Brown). In my constituency we have two nuclear power stations, whose output going into the national grid at any given time makes up about 10% of our national energy. They are the largest employer in my constituency, and I have extended family members who work in the nuclear power industry. In fact, it is hard to find anybody in my constituency who does not. We do not just have nuclear, however; we have other forms of energy from wind all the way down to biomass and also, out to sea, what I believe is the largest offshore wind farm in Europe.
The initiatives that the Government are now bringing forward are long overdue. I remember, back in 2010, when the then Energy Secretary Chris Huhne delivered his first speech to the House under the coalition, in which he said that nuclear power would be funded by private enterprise. Afterwards, I had a chat with him about that and he told me that, in his opinion, nuclear was old technology and an outdated form of energy. Anybody in this House who knows me well, as you do, Mr Deputy Speaker, will know my sense of humour. At that point, I said to Chris, “I think the wind has been blowing too hard between your ears, my old son.” He did not find that funny at all. The point I was trying to make to him was that we have an eclectic energy mix in this country of ours, from the great top of Scotland all the way down to the bottom end—and, dare I say it, we also get energy from the continent.
It is about time that we addressed how we are going to fund our future energy needs, especially nuclear. What has not been mentioned so far is that we are trying to get fossil fuels eradicated in one form or another within the next 40 years and that there will be more electric cars on the road. How are we going to power those electric cars? How are we going to meet that demand and keep the economy moving in an electrified form? It can only be done with nuclear power.
Nuclear power is the only form of energy we have that is constant. It is produced 24/7. The Walney wind farm produces a huge amount of energy for this country, but every one of those windmills would have to be producing energy at the same time to match the input into the grid of the two nuclear power stations in my constituency at that moment, whereas those two power stations are pumping energy into the national grid 24/7. It defies belief that we have not invested in nuclear power before now and that we have waited until this point to come up with a funding formula to do so.
My hon. Friend is making some good points about the incredible efficiency of nuclear power operating 24 hours a day. On the specific point of how to finance new nuclear power, does he agree that, when the financing for Hinkley Point was being developed almost a decade ago, it would have been impossible to do a regulated asset-based proposal because, having not built a new nuclear power station for a generation, the risks to the taxpayer would have been enormous? Now that Hinckley Point is being done, however, we can take that same model on to Sizewell C and then hopefully on to Wylfa and elsewhere, gaining experience, expertise and reductions in cost as we go along. Does he agree that this is therefore the right model at this time?
I totally agree with my hon. Friend. We can take forward this model of heavy lifters, which is how I refer to the bespoke power stations at Hinkley Point. Rolls-Royce has talked at length about a factory in which it would build modular nuclear power stations akin to the power plants on nuclear submarines, which are built not far from my constituency—we see them across the bay.
There are different models coming forward, and we are looking at and accelerating different types of approval because of the need for the low-carbon efficiency of nuclear power. Hinkley Point is a bespoke model, just like the huge heavy lifters we have at the Heysham 1 and 2 configurations in my constituency.
I agree with Dr Whitehead that there are lots of jobs in the nuclear power industry. It is not just the people working in the power stations; it is the vast supply chain. The hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun, who is my friend outside the Chamber, raised his valid concern about the processing of nuclear waste, but at the old Sellafield site across the bay from my constituency there is a laboratory that converts used plutonium into forms we can use. Americium, for example, is a by-product of decaying plutonium and uranium, and it can be used to power satellites for 100 years—it cannot be used clandestinely. Plutonium is like a wine that gets better with age, and as it decays it produces something that can be used in a different context.
Other industries spin off from nuclear, and the reality is that we have to meet our energy demands. It is brilliant to see the new Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, my hon. Friend George Freeman, in his place, and he is an old friend of mine. I am glad the Bill has been introduced, and I believe the whole House will back this initiative because we are a great nation collectively and this is how we will power our future industries, transport and economy.
It is good to see the Bill because nuclear is important to my constituency. We have one of eight footprints in the country on which we can build a nuclear power station, and my whole community welcomes this initiative.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for the opportunity to speak in this debate.
If we did not already know that decarbonising our energy supply is one of the most urgent challenges facing not just this country but the whole world, the ongoing discussions in Glasgow at the COP26 summit have certainly informed us. There is now worldwide consensus on the need to phase out the use of coal and other fossil fuels in energy production, transport, heating and industry, and it is encouraging to hear some of the commitments made by delegates towards that goal. We have quite a good story to tell already on that in this country. In the UK, energy production accounts for approximately 15% of all carbon emissions. One significant challenge we face is how to replace the role of coal and fossil fuels in energy production with carbon-free alternatives, but we have already made great progress in decarbonising our energy supply. Carbon dioxide emissions from power stations were 75% lower in 2020 than in 1990, and this change has come about largely from the introduction of new energy sources, particularly renewables, such as wind and solar. The use of coal in our power supply fell sharply from the mid-2010s onwards, after which the use of renewables expanded rapidly. Wind power is now the cheapest form of electricity generation, and it was Government policy that made the substantial difference to this change, notably the decision of the then Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change to introduce contracts for difference to incentivise private sector investment into the renewables sector. That Secretary of State was my right hon. Friend Ed Davey, whom, I gather, went on to more exalted roles.
The legislation has strong precedents. Unlocking the barriers to private sector investment into carbon-free alternatives in our energy market has catalysed the changes we need to see. We need to go further to make sure that we can completely decarbonise our energy sector, supporting renewables and household and community energy.
Does the hon. Lady not prefer France’s decarbonised electricity model to Germany’s model of ever-increasing emissions and air pollution because of its decisions to close down nuclear power stations and go back to burning lignite, the dirtiest form of coal there is?
My remarks are about the UK power sector, but I take the hon. Gentleman’s point about Germany. Clearly, as I think I have clearly stated, we want to move towards carbon-free alternatives to coal. I also want to make it clear that it is not our position that we should be closing down nuclear power stations; we support the ones that are currently operational and where contracts have been signed to open new ones. As I want to go on to make clear, our position is very much that there should not be new nuclear power stations. We need to go further to make sure that we can completely decarbonise our energy sector. We want to support renewables and household and community energy. It will create jobs. To pick up on the point made by David Morris about jobs in the nuclear sector, let me say that the advantage of jobs in the renewables sector and in other alternative energy supplies is that they can be spread over a much larger area of the country. I believe he said that there are probably 18 viable sites for new nuclear power stations, many of which are concentrated in his part of the world. I am interested in job creation right across the country, and renewables offer much better opportunities for us on that.
Of course, we want to cut fossil fuel imports. On that basis, I strongly back the Government in what they are trying to achieve here, but not for nuclear. I wish to reiterate the Liberal Democrat position: there is currently no economic or environmental case for the construction of any further nuclear stations in the UK. Alan Brown set out, in his extensive and detailed speech, very much what we believe: there really is not a case for such construction.
A further point I wish to make is that it will take 20 years to build a new nuclear power station, however it is funded. We have very ambitious net zero targets. As the Minister said, we want to be net zero in our power sector by 2030, which is much sooner than in 20 years. We need to move considerably faster than that, and we already have the tools and technology to cut carbon significantly in our power sector in a much shorter period, so we need to accelerate the deployment of renewable power. We need to remove restrictions on solar and wind. We need to build more interconnectors to guarantee the security of supply. If we did that, we could reach at least 80% renewable electricity by 2030, which would be consistent with the Government’s aims to achieve net zero.
Notwithstanding the points made by other Members about the growth in demand for electricity from electric cars, we can do much more to reduce demand for electricity from existing sources.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. I am fully aware of that; I just want to reiterate that Liberal Democrat policy is that we are against any further nuclear power stations. We want to redouble our efforts on renewables, and I think I have probably said that several times now. We believe there is no economic or environmental case for further nuclear power stations.
The position that I think the hon. Lady is taking is that the Liberal Democrats believe that all our future energy needs can be covered entirely by wind, both onshore and offshore, and possibly a bit of marine energy. What happens when the wind is not blowing and the sun is not shining? That is precisely when the base contribution of nuclear energy is so vital. By not increasing nuclear capacity, the hon. Lady would not allow us to be able to produce the energy demanded by consumers, who include her constituents as well as those of all Government Members.
The current issue with renewables is one of storage, but the technology to address some of the problems is being developed at speed. It is clear that by putting our energies, investment and ingenuity into answering some of the questions in relation to storage in particular, but other things as well, we can achieve net zero much faster through renewables. It would be much more productive to invest in storage solutions than to invest in nuclear power.
Let me return to my point about the need to address electricity demand. Currently, households are a key source of demand, but a lot of that demand comes from inefficient buildings. We need to do much more to insulate the existing housing stock and to ensure that we have much better building standards for new builds. The Government need to do much more on that. I am a member of the Public Accounts Committee, and we have released a report on the green homes grant, which was a total failure, and the report goes into a fair amount of detail as to why. I urge the Government to redouble their efforts to get Britain’s homes insulated, because it is key that we use that as an opportunity to address the demand for power. We need to look at both sides of the equation.
If we can unlock more private sector investment, we can support investment in innovation and cutting-edge technologies, including tidal and wave power, energy storage, demand response, smart grids and hydrogen. My personal belief is that those things are much better uses of our time, energy, ingenuity and private sector capital than investing in more nuclear power stations.
In her intervention earlier Deidre Brock, who is no longer in her place, highlighted the grave risks of nuclear power. I urge the Government not to ignore, in their enthusiasm for nuclear, the considerable downsides of nuclear waste. As a member of the Public Accounts Committee, I visited Sellafield last year, and I hope that every Government Member who promotes this Bill will also take the opportunity to do so. I found it so eye-opening in respect of the consequences of dealing with nuclear waste and the considerable time, effort and money that is still now being spent to dispose of nuclear waste that was generated in the 1970s, before I was born. It was just extraordinary and really brought home to me the literally toxic legacy that we leave for future generations when we create nuclear waste. I am not confident in some of the proposed solutions to deal with it, which could have grave environmental consequences. We cannot be confident that in 50 years’ time people will take nuclear waste seriously and that the right procedures will be in place.
I urge the Government to take nuclear waste very seriously indeed. We spend billions every year to dispose of it, which is why it is of interest to the Public Accounts Committee. The issue dates back to the fuel crisis in the ’70s, when the Government prioritised keeping the lights on. The costs are an ongoing liability for future generations and divert Government spending from other purposes. We need to be very careful before we propose to increase the existing legacy of toxic waste. I feel very strongly about that and urge the Government fully to consider the downsides.
In summary, we do not need new nuclear power stations. We want more private sector investment in innovative solutions and to spread the jobs bonus throughout the country. We cannot afford the legacy of nuclear waste that the Government propose to leave to future generations. We will vote against Second Reading.
It is a pleasure to follow Sarah Olney. It was interesting to hear the contrast between the position of the Liberal Democrats a few years ago and their position now, but we have to respect those views, which do change with time.
Part of the context of this debate is the concern over energy security, which is so important. Obviously, there have been spikes in gas demand and gas prices, but we need only look at the situation in Texas and California a little while ago to see how energy supplies can be affected, which is why we in the United Kingdom need to ensure that we have energy security. As with other European countries, we ought not to be as dependent on energy supplies from countries that are not as friendly as they might be to our national interests. We need only look at random events across the globe, such as the one that happened in the Suez canal, to see how supply chains can be so dramatically affected. We therefore need that secure energy supply, and nuclear is a key part of that for the United Kingdom.
We also need firm energy, or that baseload energy. We hear a great deal of discussion about solar panels and wind turbines, whether at sea or on land, but those provide intermittent energy. We cannot rely on that energy, although it does have an important contribution to make; that is why nuclear energy ought to form a key part of our reliable energy production.
There is a great deal of interest in this area in the north-west of England. Many of our skills are centred there, whether it be Sellafield, Warrington or Heysham, and that huge wealth of talent needs to be maintained. We also have the important Springfields site near Preston, which produces our nuclear fuels. We need to ensure that the site is secured. I ask my hon. Friend the Minister to ensure that, when future contracts are given for nuclear power stations, the future viability of the Springfields site in the short, medium and long term is secured within the context of those contracts. Springfields does a huge amount of good for the local economy. It is also a wonderful source of apprenticeships. These are often very high-skilled and very well-paid jobs that we ought to be promoting and certainly protecting.
Hinkley Point C is at an advanced stage of construction. We need to look at the skills being developed at that site, and ensure that they are retained within the nuclear sector, so we need to be looking at when Sizewell C will be funded and brought online.
That is exactly the point that Vulcain Engineering in Stroud has been explaining to me. We have a fusion bid in at the moment, which is an amazing opportunity, but the company is very clear that if we do not have another nuclear project in play we will lose so many of those jobs and skills—not only from the south-west, but from the whole UK. They will go abroad and will not come back.
I agree entirely with my hon. Friend. We need to secure those jobs and we need, as early as possible, to give that reassurance to engineers and others and say to them, “Your future is in the nuclear industry.” In that way, people can be focused on sticking with the industry and looking for that next job. It is about building that fleet of nuclear power stations. Whether it is Sizewell or further power stations down the line—there are already eight sites that have been identified for future nuclear—we need to give workers the reassurance that their skills are needed within the sector.
My hon. Friend rightly referred to the phrase “a fleet of nuclear power stations”. Of course, in that context, Hinkley Point C and Sizewell C would be the aircraft carriers, as would anything in the future in Wylfa, but there are also opportunities for the smaller frigates. That is where the small modular reactors being proposed by Rolls-Royce could come as an extremely useful addition to those aircraft carriers. Does he agree?
That is such an important point. I agree entirely that we already have the larger-scale nuclear reactors and the established technology. It is so important that we look at SMRs and AMRs, and at the leadership that can be provided in a consortium by Rolls-Royce. If we get in early and develop that technology in the United Kingdom, we can export it around the world and create more wealth in the United Kingdom from this incredibly important source of energy and the power stations.
As I listen to discussions on the expansion of nuclear capability in this country, it slightly worries me that we have not talked about the security of those assets. My worry is that they could be interfered with by some foreign power in a cyber-attack. That must be part of all the planning for these places.
My hon. Friend makes a really important point. The physical security is one aspect, but the cyber-security, including firewalls and other protections, is immensely important to the sector. This energy provision is a key strategic interest and we cannot allow anything to interfere with it, but I am sure that the Minister and the experts in the sector are well aware of those threats.
I am concerned about the strategic national interest, but I think that most people at home would need to have reassurance on this: the security risk of the technical aspects, to which people might be more sensitive, is different from the financial aspects, which is what the Chinese involvement is at the moment. Those are two very different things. However, I do acknowledge the hon. Gentleman’s concerns.
On security, the Office for Nuclear Regulation is considered to be one of the best nuclear regulators in the world. I certainly have faith in its being able to do its job, but is not the reason why state-backed companies are involved in nuclear construction that they have the money to put in up front? Is not this legislation exactly what we need to remove the need for them to be involved?
I agree entirely that there are huge challenges for the private sector to come up with the cash for the nuclear sector, because of providing the money up front; it takes such a long time to build a power station before energy or electricity can be produced, and people can get returns for their money. That is why the regulated asset-based model is key. It has been used in other areas successfully, so it is now seen as a reliable way of financing large projects.
Now is the time to make progress in this area. We have the skills base, the national need and the national security questions. All these things come together at the same time to make a compelling argument, so I am pleased that the Government are bringing this legislation forward, whether it is for the larger-scale nuclear reactors or the smaller-scale nuclear reactors. Let me finally say to my hon. Friend the Minister—I know that he has an interest in this—that, in the slightly longer term, if we do develop the fusion reactors, perhaps this funding model could be used there.
It is an honour to follow my hon. Friend Chris Green. I speak wearing my hat as the chair of the all-party parliamentary group on the environment, and I want to touch on some of the environmental issues addressed by some Opposition Members.
Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, Fukushima: the names of the world’s nuclear accidents haunt people around the planet to this day. Fears of lethal invisible radiation killing thousands of people and laying waste swathes of the planet—these are very audible concerns. But then there are the facts. No one died from Three Mile Island, and studies afterwards showed that there was no measurable increase in cancer rates. One person died from Fukushima. Again, post-accident studies showed no measurable impact on cancer rates.
Then there is Chernobyl. I have been to Chernobyl—to Chernobyl village itself. I went with the United Nations, which spent a long time studying the medical impact of the world’s worst nuclear accident for 15 years after it happened. There I saw the alarming sight of happy villagers who had refused to leave after the accident and were taking the opportunity to restore the beautiful Chernobyl village church; they took a delight in showing me around it. I met a mother in Chernobyl village who had conceived and given birth to a totally healthy baby. Yes, 41 rescuers died of acute radiation sickness in the immediate aftermath of the accident, and there was a measurable increase in childhood thyroid cancer, which is, luckily, vanishingly rare, but otherwise the UN scientists found no measurable negative medical effects from the nuclear accident itself and concluded they had been vastly exaggerated.
We have now had nuclear power around the world for nigh on 70 years, and it has proven to be just about the safest and greenest form of energy. Safety is measured in the industry in terms of deaths per terawatt-hour of energy production, taking all direct and indirect deaths into account, including through the supply chain. For coal, it is 24.6 deaths per terawatt hour; for oil, 18.4; for biomass, 4.6; and for gas, 2.8. For nuclear, it is 0.07. Yes, that is a bit higher than wind, solar and hydropower, although in roughly the same ballpark, but several orders of magnitude lower than other forms of power, and in terms of CO2 emissions, nuclear produces less than hydropower. It is about the cleanest and safest form of energy in the world, and it is, as we have heard today, massively scalable.
So why have we not embraced it? I will tell you why:
“Opposition to nuclear energy is based on irrational fear fed by Hollywood-style fiction, the Green lobbies and the media.”
Those are not my words but those of James Lovelock, one of the most eminent environmental scientists, who founded the whole Gaia thesis. As a former environment editor of The Observer and The Times, and as chair of the all-party parliamentary group on the environment, I believe that the environment movement has been one of the most important and positive movements of the last half century. The fact that we are all environmentalists now—including the Queen, I note—proves the positive impact the movement has had. However, the environment movement made a major strategic error by campaigning so hard against nuclear power. Increasingly, many environmentalists agree. Even as Fukushima was still smoking, George Monbiot, the environmental leader, had a damascene conversion and started making the moral case for nuclear power.
If we believe that climate change is the biggest threat to the planet, we have to use every tool in the toolbox to combat it. We have a moral obligation not to campaign against the one technology that can probably help more than almost any other to get to net zero.
Does my hon. Friend share my concern that with nuclear we have existing established technologies that can be used and rolled out, even though the timescale in the Bill is reasonably long, but other technologies that we would desire to come down the line in the future are not established and currently cannot work at the scale we need?
I absolutely agree. As I said, we have had nuclear for 70 years and we know that it works. The point I was about to come to, which my hon. Friend touched on earlier, is that the French have 70% of electricity produced by nuclear and they have a very well-established industry. It is not politically controversial at all. They have made it work and made it cost-effective. That is one of the reasons why France has far lower carbon dioxide emissions that we do in the UK. We should change to other technologies. We heard mention of tidal power earlier—yes, absolutely. However, there have been many projects to try to make tidal power work over the past few decades and none of them has yet quite succeeded, although we should still carry on trying.
As I have said many times in this House, the UK has had a really good track record in reducing carbon dioxide emissions, roughly halving them. Our per-capita emissions are now lower than those of many other countries, including green icons such as Denmark and Norway, but France has had lower emissions than us for decades because of nuclear power. I used to live in Belgium and got my electricity bills from France, and they used to have to say where the electricity came from: “nonante-neuf pour cent nucléaire”, which is—in Belgian French, not French French—“99% nuclear power”. That was always a delight for me. Driving around France, nuclear power stations are all over the place. It is not a political issue; people are very comfortable with it.
The environment movement has been very successful in demonising nuclear power beyond any scientific justification. That in part is why UK Governments have been so nervous, and it has meant as a country we have gone from being a world leader in nuclear power and one of the first to introduce it to being a straggler with a semi-clapped-out sector, as we have heard, with all these power plants going out and without much expertise, so that we end up depending on foreign companies and foreign Governments to be able to do anything. We have to build up our capacity again as a country. As we move away from nuclear fuels, we need a strong nuclear sector more than ever.
The hon. Gentleman is talking about demonising nuclear, but is having a £132 billion waste legacy to clean up demonising nuclear, or pointing out a harsh reality?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising that point, which I was going to come to. Clearly nuclear has to be cost-effective throughout the whole lifecycle, and there is a burden of responsibility on the Government to ensure that is the case, although I must admit I do not recognise the £132 billion figure.
As we move away from fossil fuels, we need nuclear power more than we did in the ’50s, ’60s, ’70s when we were developing it. As we start using electricity to heat our homes and power our cars, we need more production capacity that is resilient and secure. Sarah Olney made a point about energy efficiency, and I completely and utterly support that, but as we move away from fossil fuels across other areas of the economy and our lives, the demand for electricity will go up rather than down, whatever we do with efficiency. That is inevitable, so we need to ensure we have more production and more secure production.
The recent spike in gas prices has shown our national vulnerability if we do not have resilient energy suppliers, and we must guard against that happening to electricity suppliers. We cannot risk windless days and dark days leading to blackouts in future. Wind, solar and hydrogen power are wonderful. We have done great in rolling them out—wind power produces more energy than any other source and that is great—but they are not the sole solution. We need every tool in the toolbox. We need to ensure that we can provide the stable, resilient base-load that we will increasingly need as we move away from fossil fuels.
In the various debates I have had about nuclear power over the decades, anti-nuclear campaigners normally pipe up at this point with, “Nuclear power is not a good use of taxpayers’ money.” That is when I know they have largely run out of other arguments. Obviously nuclear has to be value-for-money. I am an economic, fiscal Conservative. We want to go for the best value forms of energy, not the expensive ones. It needs to be financially sustainable, and we need to look at the whole lifecycle costs of nuclear power. Clearly the Government have a duty to do that, and that is what the Bill is about. The Government have to ensure we have the right financial framework to ensure that the nuclear industry can survive and thrive and in the most cost-effective way possible. If companies are to invest multiple billions of pounds to build nuclear reactors, they need to do it in the lowest risk way, otherwise the cost of capital becomes prohibitive and the projects are not viable.
I used to work at Morgan Stanley, the US investment bank, and we had a big infrastructure fund investing in projects around the world—not nuclear, I have to say, but many other different sectors. When assessing new infrastructure investment, we have to factor in many of the risks. There is construction risk: can we build the thing? There is technology risk: if it is a new technology, will it work? There is political risk: what if there is a new Government who change their mind and say no? Then there is demand risk or volume risk: will there be enough demand for the product and will it be at the right price to generate the revenues to pay for the cost of capital being put up front to build it?
The trouble with the previous financing regime is that it did not deal with the first risks and expected companies to bear all those risks up front at cost to themselves. That meant that many companies found they had just too much risk to make the projects viable. It is not surprising that some companies ended up pulling out of nuclear power stations they had been planning to build.
The regulated asset base model that the Bill brings about is a far better model for financing the building of nuclear power stations, because it properly shares construction risk, political risk and technology risk between the public sector, consumers and companies. The RAB model is a completely standard model that has been widely used in other areas of infrastructure for decades and is well understood, as various Members have pointed out. The Government and companies have experience of the RAB model. We know it works well and we know how to make it work well in the interests of both parties. I am delighted that we are on the front foot again with nuclear power as a country. As we progress and improve our expertise as a nation, as we have heard we need to do, nuclear power will get more standardised, easier to build and better value for money. The Government must continue to have courage in their convictions with nuclear power. I fully commend the Bill to the House.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for calling me to speak in this important debate. I declare an interest as the chairman of the all-party parliamentary group for energy security.
The development of new nuclear power stations in the UK is long overdue. Right hon. and hon. Members have made excellent points about the need for energy. The period of outright objection more than 20 years ago, and the stop-start nature of progress in the last decade, have largely stemmed from the funding challenges faced by new nuclear power stations.
The Bill is a major positive and significant step to help to meet our net zero carbon agenda and to secure our energy supply, which has come into clear focus in recent weeks. The challenge of the gas supply and the variability in renewable sources have led to a sharp rise in energy costs, the bankruptcies of many providers and an alarming worry for constituents. Some businesses have even been forced to operate at reduced capacity because of energy supply challenges. Europe as a whole has been exposed as vulnerable to other states’ decisions.
New nuclear diversifies the supply, delivers energy from within the UK, and offers a reliable, stable and clean source of energy that can form a major part of our baseload electricity needs. As my hon. Friend Anthony Browne said, diversification is important and nuclear is fundamental to providing the necessary energy security.
The argument in favour of nuclear power has been won among the public for some time, yet until now, we have not been able to develop projects that minimise the financial risk to the public as taxpayers and as consumers. The regulated asset base financing model is therefore a significant positive step that I strongly support, because it has the capacity to reduce the cost of capital to allow projects that would otherwise remain on the drawing board to move forward.
Much of the policy’s success will focus on assessing risk. RAB has been used successfully in other major infrastructure projects around the world, and there is no reason it cannot be used for new nuclear, but its evolution will not be straightforward. The challenge will come in assessing and costing the risks faced by developers. New nuclear is different from some of the more predictable models that RAB has been used for, so we will have to be open and candid about the challenges as we develop the policy.
The biggest challenges of developing new nuclear come in the early construction stages when operation is typically 10 years or more away and when design problems and implementation faults emerge. They often lead to significant cost overruns and the need for changes at a huge cost financially and with long delays. Those uncertainties have hampered the development of new nuclear through more traditional financing models for so long. RAB will help, but the risks and costing the risks will remain.
I was closely involved in Wylfa Newydd, the Horizon proposal by Hitachi on Anglesey, and along with my right hon. Friend Greg Clark, developed a third-third-third finance plan between the UK taxpayer, Hitachi and the utility companies to bear the risks of the early stages in particular. Despite the Government offering a third of those capital costs, including covering the financing costs in the proposal, the project stalled. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend Virginia Crosbie who is working tirelessly to keep the project alive. I am optimistic about its future. That highlights the challenges, but does not negate the risk or the assessment of the risk. RAB certainly overcomes the challenges of financing costs, which is welcome, but I ask the Minister to recognise that central to the policy’s success is assessing the risk and, therefore, the costing of the risk. Any further detail as the Bill passes through the House and the other place will be helpful in reassuring investors, policy makers and operators in the process.
The RAB policy is an excellent fit for SMRs and AMRs, and will be even more so once the first concept has been proven. The repeat structures of SMRs and AMRs will allow such projects finally to get off the ground significantly. I gently remind the Minister that when the nuclear strategy was launched, my right hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells and I visited Trawsfynydd in north Wales to highlight how it and Wylfa on Anglesey were both perfect sites for small modular reactors. I hope that he will recognise that as policy initiatives develop.
I want to support the Minister and the Bill’s proposals. This is a welcome, major and positive step in satisfying our energy demand, achieving our climate goals and securing our energy needs and supply. Assessment of the risk is central. As I mentioned, despite challenges we sought to overcome with fair and generous offers, challenges will remain, but RAB will play a big part in overcoming them. The detail of how we assess and cost the risk as part of the RAB model will be fundamental to giving confidence to investors and the nuclear industry.
It is a great pleasure to follow my right hon. Friend Alun Cairns. As Sarah Olney pointed out, all the events of COP26 are proceeding in Glasgow as we speak, which reminds us forcibly of the need to reduce still further greenhouse gas emissions from our energy-generating sector. While recent years have seen a notable increase in energy from renewable sources such as wind and solar, it must be recognised—as many hon. Members have—that such forms of generation are intermittent, so other sources must be pursued to produce the reliable, predictable baseload of generation that a modern economy needs.
Hon. Members have pointed out other technologies that can produce reliable baseload generation. Alan Brown mentioned pumped storage, and of course the Dinorwig pumped storage scheme in north Wales is an exemplar of such technology. Similarly, there are proposals for a large-scale tidal range lagoon in Colwyn Bay in my constituency, which, with a projected installed capacity of more than 2 GW, would be a major generating station by any standards. However, we must recognise, as my right hon. Friend the Minister did in opening the debate, that the most proven technology is nuclear, and we should certainly pursue that, too.
While I was at the Wales Office, I devoted much of my personal energy to trying to secure the construction of the Wylfa Newydd nuclear station on Anglesey. I echo my right hon. Friend the Member for Vale of Glamorgan in paying tribute to my hon. Friend Virginia Crosbie for all her efforts in trying to revive that project. It was a happy day in November 2012 when Hitachi announced its purchase of the Horizon operating company. There was no doubt about its enthusiasm for the project. I visited the Hitachi construction factory in Hitachi city in Japan and spoke to a senior nuclear engineer. He told me that Wylfa was the very best location he had seen anywhere in the world for a nuclear power station, so it was not anything wrong with the site that saw off Wylfa Newydd; it was the contracts for difference financing model. The strike price that was offered was too low and, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Vale of Glamorgan pointed out, even an equity deal between the British Government, the Japanese Government and the operators could not make it work. The Government are therefore entirely right to look for a different funding model.
The regulated asset base model has a good track record of funding major infrastructure projects; it was successfully used to fund both Heathrow terminal 5 and the Thames tideway tunnel. Importantly, as other hon. Members have pointed out, it is a model that can be used to attract private funding, making the need to rely on foreign sources of funding less likely and, it is to be hoped, obviating the need to look to companies directly or indirectly controlled by foreign Governments, some not entirely friendly, to develop our new nuclear fleet.
The Bill will be welcomed in north Wales. I mention north Wales in particular because it has a long history of expertise in the nuclear industry. Not only does the Bill put the potential of developing Wylfa back on the agenda, but it offers hope of providing a funding model for a new fleet of small modular reactors. There has for some time been a call for a pathfinder SMR project at Trawsfynydd, where the old reactor has for many years been in a state of decommissioning. The local authority, and the Welsh Government too, support the development of SMRs at Trawsfynydd. This is the opportunity for Her Majesty’s Government to take the lead in an exciting new project that could establish the United Kingdom as a leader in the technology, as well as provide a new centre of excellence in a location that has established nuclear expertise.
I welcome the Bill, which provides the opportunity for a new funding model and the prospect of a revived nuclear industry in north Wales. However, I wish again to echo the points made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Vale of Glamorgan. The question of potential cost overruns is a significant issue. It is important that the Government make a very careful assessment of the likely costs. It has been pointed out by commentators that pension funds may be reluctant to invest in such projects unless they can be assured that the costs will be kept under control, so that is key. Otherwise, I fully welcome the Bill and look forward to supporting its Second Reading.
I am pleased to speak in support of this Bill, which facilitates the provision of a secure energy supply, will ultimately keep down consumers’ bills, and is crucial to achieving our net zero obligations. Specifically, along with the announcement in last week’s Budget, the Bill paves the way for the construction of Sizewell C in Suffolk, which can bring enormous benefits to the county, to the Waveney area and to Lowestoft.
We need new nuclear, as it provides energy security. It is the only proven technology that can supply low-carbon baseload at scale. It complements, rather than competes with, the growth of renewables—in particular, in an East Anglian context, offshore wind. It also promotes the development of other clean technologies, such as hydrogen, which is planned at Sizewell, direct air capture and, in due course, small modular reactors.
The funding mechanism presented in the Bill is the regulated asset base model, which, with the right safeguards, has the advantage of driving down the cost of capital for such large infrastructure projects, acts as a catalyst for private sector investment and, according to Government analysis, can lead to savings to consumers of at least £30 billion.
Along with offshore wind, Sizewell C can bring great benefits to the local Suffolk and East Anglian economy. It is estimated that during the 12-year construction period, £2 billion will be put into the Suffolk economy. During that period, there will be three apprenticeship cycles and 1,500 apprenticeships can be created. This is an opportunity to leave an enduring legacy of knowledge, skills and infrastructure which in the long term, once construction has been completed and Sizewell C is operational, can make Lowestoft and Waveney an attractive location in which to set up and grow a business.
There is much work to do, but a good start has been made, with Sizewell C and East Coast College signing a memorandum of understanding to deliver the skills needed for this and other major projects in the area. It includes support for a civil engineering campus at Lound, to the north of Lowestoft; engagement with the Energy Skills Centre in Lowestoft itself; and collaboration on welding and fabrication capacity and capabilities.
The Bill and the hive of activity over the past 10 days are extremely welcome, although some might say 20 years too late. Subject to the development consent order being approved, let us get on with it and, in doing so, enhance our energy security, help to propel us along the road to net zero, and bring enduring jobs and prosperity to local people in Suffolk and in my constituency.
My constituency of Ynys Môn is known as “energy island”: we have wind, wave, solar and tidal. We are soon to have hydrogen, and we have a long history in nuclear. Back in 1963, construction began on an £80 million nuclear power station at Wylfa head, near Cemaes on Anglesey. It was chosen for its strong rock foundation and its access to sea water. Its two nuclear reactors went live in 1971. At the time, Anglesey was considered to have
“leapt dramatically forward into the space age”.
The station was described as
“the nation’s biggest and most powerful…yet interfering as little as possible with the beauty of the Anglesey scenery”.
Some 3,000 people were involved in its construction and in 1964, 20 local 16-year-olds became the first apprentice intake. They trained to become
“the youngest engineers to take charge of an atomic power station in the world”.
At its height, Wylfa employed around 500 people. Just along the coast, an aluminium smelting works, employing a similar number of people, was built in Holyhead to be able to access cheap electricity direct from Wylfa.
In 2006, however, as the lifespan of Wylfa power station was drawing to an end, the Isle of Anglesey County Council voted to support the construction of a second plant. Wylfa B, now known as Wylfa Newydd, was intended to take over from Wylfa as it came to the end of its working life. Employment was a key factor. Losing so many jobs would be tough on any part of the UK, but on Anglesey there simply was not any comparable industry on the island for people to move to. It is estimated that at the height of construction, Wylfa Newydd, or new Wylfa, would employ around 9,000 and in steady state production would have a workforce of around 900.
The old Wylfa ceased generation in 2015. The aluminium works closed shortly afterwards and just under 1,000 jobs disappeared almost overnight, yet Wylfa Newydd is still on the cards. The people of Anglesey have been on a 16-year rollercoaster journey, with the prospect of quality new careers constantly just over the horizon. The majority of Anglesey residents actively support Wylfa Newydd, but they feel forgotten. They have had enough of being offered carrots only to receive disappointment. That is why the Bill is so important to my constituency of Ynys Môn.
When Hitachi withdrew the development consent order for Wylfa Newydd at the start of this year, it cited programme financing as the main factor. I am co-founder and chair of the nuclear delivery group, which I set up with my fellow atomic kitten, my hon. Friend Trudy Harrison, who is a passionate advocate for nuclear. Over the past 18 months, we have regularly raised new-build financing as a significant concern. I am delighted to see BEIS respond to this issue and bring this Bill to the table. Companies such as Bechtel and Rolls-Royce are already keen to establish new nuclear at Wylfa Newydd, so this proposed regulated asset base model offers significant hope to Anglesey.
The Bill could be the starting point for regenerating an area that desperately needs levelling up. It could finally lead the people of Anglesey over the horizon into a whole field of carrots. With that in mind, I appeal to my constituents and the people of north Wales, who would also benefit: now is the time for us to come together as a community and embrace the opportunity that the Bill offers us. We cannot afford to stay in our partisan corners, we cannot afford to stay silent, and we cannot afford to let this opportunity slip through our fingers.
In 2015, the Welsh Government described Wylfa Newydd as a “once in a generation opportunity” and estimated that it could be worth £5.7 billion to the Welsh economy. Ten years on, this project will be a game changer locally, regionally and nationally. Nearly two decades of waiting for Wylfa Newydd may finally be coming to an end. Wylfa Newydd is rightly described as the best nuclear site in the UK. The Prime Minister has said that he is a “fervent supporter”.
I welcome the Bill and, for the sake of our young people and future generations, we must put aside our political differences and work together. Diolch yn fawr, Mr Deputy Speaker.
It is a pleasure to follow such a powerful, articulate, passionate speech, as I think everybody would agree, and I want to develop some of the points that were made by my hon. Friends the Members for Ynys Môn (Virginia Crosbie) and for Waveney (Peter Aldous).
I wanted to take part in this debate not because of any great knowledge of the nuclear industry, but because of the impact that it has on my region and the people in it. I am the chair of the all-party group on youth employment. We constantly strive to find new industries—new technologies—or developing existing industries to provide the high-skilled, high-paid jobs that people want in my constituency, in the constituency of my hon. Friend Chris Green and in the whole of the north of England. The north of England has a great legacy in nuclear. It was the home of the first nuclear power station 65 years ago and now houses close to half the country’s 60,000 employees in the civil nuclear workforce. They are all based in our region.
Therefore, what opportunities are we talking about? What opportunities does new nuclear present to the north of England? There is support for investment in businesses in the north in line with the Government’s levelling-up agenda. Jobs and skills were mentioned in various speeches by my hon. Friends. There is the preservation and growth of an expert, 60,000-strong supply chain, which includes Sillavan metals in my constituency, a company that is expanding, developing technology and giving young people opportunities through apprenticeships. All these industries are related to this Bill.
It is also fair to say that many jobs in the north of England have been revitalised by Hinkley Point C. Those jobs, skills and investment across the supply chain in the north of England come from investment in nuclear, but we also have clean growth, with low-carbon, always-on power to support renewables and facilitate the development of other clean tech such as hydrogen, direct air capture and small modular reactors to accelerate clean growth and new industries across the region, including decarbonisation clusters in Teesside and in Yorkshire and the Humber. There is energy security, with firm, clean base-load power to the grid that will support renewables and give us greater control in our transition to net zero while helping to wean Britain off its reliance on energy imports.
This truly is a Bill that is at the heart of the north of England and can have an impact on many, many lives. The regulated asset base that the Bill introduces has been articulately covered by other hon. Members, so I will speak about Sizewell C, about which I agree with every point that my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney made. I also agree with the shadow Minister, Dr Whitehead: essentially, I interpret the Bill as finding a way to finance Sizewell C and its positive impact.
Hearing of the developments happening in Waveney bring joy to my heart as chair of the APPG on youth employment, but there is no reason why those opportunities cannot be spread more widely, including in the north of England. Sizewell C is the only nuclear project that is ready to start construction and realise the benefits of new nuclear for the north of England, hopefully within this Parliament.
More than 90% of the UK’s civil nuclear workforce is based outside London and the south-east, with nearly half in the north of England. More than 500 businesses based in the north of England are currently involved in the construction of Hinkley Point, so Sizewell C presents a huge long-term opportunity for the north of England.
I am sure that many MPs have been contacted by the consortium that is involved and wish to take the project forward. We cannot ignore the fact that the consortium has pledged £2.5 billion of private sector investment and 13,000 jobs just in the north if Sizewell C goes ahead. There is a downside if it does not go ahead: there could be up to 10,000 losses due to the failure to properly transition workers from the Hinkley Point project.
Sizewell C is a legacy project that will generate 3.2 GW of clean, low-carbon electricity—enough to power 6 million homes, including across the north. What is there not to like about the Bill? As ever, the Government are levelling up, creating opportunities and ensuring that we have a clean, reliable, resilient source of the power that our country needs.
My apologies, Mr Deputy Speaker; I thought that another contributor was waiting to speak before me.
It is a pleasure to wind up the Second Reading debate for the Opposition. Notwithstanding the somewhat overly partisan opening from the Minister of State, who came along, as he often does, with a set of pre-scripted remarks that were in danger of being as old as some of the nuclear plants that are presently being decommissioned, it has been a considered and well-informed debate in the main. I thank each right hon. or hon. Member who has taken part.
I will pick up on three points that have featured prominently. First, as my hon. Friend Dr Whitehead argued convincingly, although the Bill has the appearance of a general piece of enabling legislation, it is in practice concerned solely with the future of Sizewell C; I believe that James Daly has just conceded that. Sizewell C is a project that EDF has no intention of financing from its own balance sheet and that we know has failed to entice the necessary private investors, as Chris Skidmore mentioned in relation to Moorside and the fact that the current funding model is not fit for purpose.
It is vital that we bear that point in mind as the Bill progresses, because unfortunately for some, and much as the spin might suggest otherwise, it does not herald the dawn of a new nuclear fleet. It is simply a necessary means of resolving the issue of whether Sizewell, the last potential nuclear project that could conceivably begin to generate by the end of this decade, is constructed or not, and—this was referred to by David Morris and, in an intervention, by Richard Graham—the issue of whether the cost reductions that will flow from the plant being a clone of Hinkley Point C, and its ability to draw on the skills and workforce associated with that site, are secured.
Several Members, including the hon. Members for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Alan Brown) and for Richmond Park (Sarah Olney), argued that nuclear should not form any part of the UK’s future low-carbon energy mix. We on this side of the House respect their strongly held views on the subject, but we take the view, as does the Committee on Climate Change, that a limited amount of new nuclear is required to achieve the decarbonisation of the UK’s electricity system within the next 14 years, and to meet our longer-term net zero target. Since Sizewell C is the only power station that can now feasibly come online within that timeframe, we want to ensure that it does, in order to provide the necessary amount of firm power to support a predominantly renewable energy mix.
As I pointed out earlier—and the hon. Gentleman is well aware of this—much of the existing nuclear fleet is going offline before Hinkley even comes online. Does that not indicate that the grid could operate safely and we could have energy security without relying on a new nuclear station?
I listened carefully, as I always do, to what the hon. Gentleman said in his speech. I think what he misses is the fact that the demand for electricity will double, so I do not think that his argument about the amount of baseload or firm power that is required necessarily follows.
Does the hon. Gentleman also appreciate that we may need to generate large amounts of hydrogen, or indeed use nuclear energy for direct carbon capture, and perhaps synthesise jet fuel in that way?
I think we will need a range of technologies. Let me return to a point that has been made by several Members. I think we must take a lead from the Committee on Climate Change, which made its view very clear in its balanced pathway scenario for the sixth carbon budget. It estimates that we will need 10 GW of nuclear power by 2035. We will have a predominantly renewable energy system, but we do need the firm power that comes from a limited degree of nuclear to support that.
My second point relates to what has been the elephant in the room today, namely China’s involvement in UK nuclear power. As we debate the principle of the Bill today and scrutinise its provisions in the weeks to come, that issue cannot be set aside. Members in all parts of the House want to understand more fully precisely where the Government now stand on the deeply flawed deal that they struck with China General Nuclear in relation to Sizewell, which has been mentioned several times in the debate.
The CGN stake in Sizewell was without doubt a sweetener for the far larger prize of unfettered Chinese ownership and operation of a nuclear plant at Bradwell, but while it seems certain that the very notion of a Chinese-run UK nuclear plant is now dead, we have yet to hear Ministers say so explicitly, or tell the House how the Government intend to disentangle themselves from the 2016 investment agreement signed by the then Secretary of State, Greg Clark. We deserve to be told, and I hope that the Minister will at least make some reference to that issue in his closing remarks. We also need to know how the Government plan to divest CGN of its minority stake in Sizewell C, and what the estimated impact of that divestment will be on the overall financing of the project, because that issue has very real implications for the mechanism that the Government have chosen to enable Sizewell to progress, namely the RAB model.
That brings me to my third and final point. A number of Members, including the hon. Members for South Cambridgeshire (Anthony Browne) and the right hon. Member for Kingswood spoke clearly and forcefully about the advantages of the RAB model. It is not in dispute that the proposed model will lower the cost of capital on nuclear projects—I fully accept that—and it is also not in dispute that it would lower overall costs, although Labour Members take issue with the frankly heroic assumptions that underpin the claimed £30 billion to £80 billion in long-term savings vis-à-vis coal-fired financed projects. However, it is also undeniably the case that these advantages would be secured as a result of shifting a proportion of risk on to consumers.
It is worth emphasising not only that the RAB for which the Bill would provide, and the risk therefore entailed in it, are of a different order of magnitude from RAB arrangements utilised on other infrastructure projects, but also that when it comes to the yearly surcharges levied on customers on those projects financed via RAB arrangements—for example, the Thames tideway tunnel, which has been mentioned several times today—there is an inherent degree of uncertainty about the level at which those charges might peak. That is why it is important that the right hon. Members for Vale of Glamorgan (Alun Cairns) and for Clwyd West (Mr Jones) and Peter Aldous rightly emphasised the need to scrutinise the precise arrangements that will be brought forward and the need for safeguards when doing so.
While we on this side of the House acknowledge the advantages of the RAB model for new nuclear compared with contracts for difference financing, we have concerns about the potential exposure of customers if costs rise significantly or if serious overruns take place. We do not oppose the principle of the Bill, and we have no intention of voting against it this evening, but we intend to look very carefully in Committee at precisely how the Government intend to implement the RAB model in question, at whether its benefits are as significant as has been claimed, and at how many investors the Government expect to return to the UK market if this legislation passes. Most importantly, we want to work with the Government to explore ways in which consumers might be better protected from escalating costs in the event that things go wrong. New nuclear must provide secure and affordable low-carbon energy, but it is still by no means clear that the Bill stands to deliver in both those respects. It is imperative that it should do so.
It is a pleasure to follow Matthew Pennycook, and I want to thank him and all hon. Members who have spoken in this important debate. We have had more than 15 speeches and a number of important interventions. I also want to thank Edward Miliband for his constructive approach to this important piece of legislation.
In the seven minutes available to me to wrap up the debate, I want to try to deal with as many of the points that have been made as possible. First, I would like to remind the House of what the Bill really signifies and what it does. The net zero strategy, published earlier this month, sets out our vision for a decarbonised economy by 2050. This will see the power sector fully decarbonised by 2035, with nuclear power playing a key role alongside renewables. As the Prime Minister set out from the Dispatch Box earlier today, he and the Cabinet are putting every effort at COP into delivering that international leadership to that end.
This Bill creates a new funding model for future nuclear projects that will support our transition to a secure, resilient and affordable low-carbon electricity system. The measures in the Bill are critical to ensuring that we have the option to bring forward further nuclear capacity, delivering a system that is lower in cost for consumers than if we relied on intermittent power sources alone. While consumers will contribute to the cost of new nuclear projects during their construction, analysis shows that lowering the cost of financing new nuclear will save roughly £30 billion over the life of this refinancing, compared with relying on existing mechanisms.
It is good to hear that the Opposition will, sensibly, not vote against the Bill tonight. I would be surprised if any Member decided to vote against it—
No, I will not give way. I am under time pressure and I need to deal with all the points that have been raised—[Interruption.] I have at least half an hour of questions to answer, not least from the hon. Member himself.
The Bill will make it easier to attract, and reduce the cost of, capital. However, a number of points have been raised by hon. Members. I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend Chris Skidmore, who raised the urgency of tackling the downscaling and ending of the existing nuclear fleet, the urgency of getting this new financing in place and the role of nuclear in levelling up in Somerset and elsewhere in the country. My hon. Friend Richard Graham powerfully set out the importance of tidal. My hon. Friend David Morris set out the importance of the nuclear cluster in his constituency and the importance of the 24/7 supply of nuclear for reliability, resilience and baseload.
My hon. Friend Chris Green highlighted the role of nuclear in developing apprenticeships and skills, and the role of this model in funding fusion. My right hon. Friend Bob Stewart and my hon. Friend Mark Jenkinson raised the question of security. My hon. Friend Anthony Browne made a very powerful speech on the failures of the environmental movement, which has put such irrational fear in the way of the nuclear industry, setting us back two decades.
My right hon. Friend Alun Cairns, the former Secretary of State for Wales, powerfully made the case that Wales stands to benefit substantially but we need to get the cost and the risk assessment right. He also highlighted the role of small modular reactors. My right hon. Friend Mr Jones highlighted the role of the Welsh cluster, and my hon. Friend Peter Aldous highlighted the role of Lowestoft in this industry in tackling coastal regeneration. I should also like to thank my hon. Friend Virginia Crosbie, who has been a formidable campaigner for energy in her constituency and the whole of north Wales, and my hon. Friend James Daly.
Given the extraordinary benefits of this extraordinary sector—60,000 people employed in the UK, with 90% of those jobs not in London and the south-east but across the country; each worker in the nuclear sector contributing an average of £96,000 gross value added to the economy, 73% higher than the rest; and a median salary of approximately £45,000—it is extraordinary why anyone would oppose it, particularly hon. Members from Scotland, which has huge potential. The local economic impacts are huge: look at Hinkley Point and its well over 10,000 job opportunities and more than 3,600 British companies in its supply chain. Overall, the project is on course to create 25,000 jobs.
It is even more extraordinary to hear Scottish nationalist party Members when it is not just Conservatives, not just the nuclear industry and not just Her Majesty’s Opposition who favour it. Sir David Attenborough himself said:
“I do not question the use of nuclear energy as a way of solving our energy problems in the short term” until we can solve
“the problems of storage and transmission of power.”
The UN Economic Commission for Europe said:
“International climate objectives will not be met if nuclear power is excluded.”
“renewables alone would require unfeasibly massive amounts of storage”— which we do not have—
“to keep the lights on… we are in a climate emergency and need all the clean energy we can build right now”.
That includes nuclear.
The GMB, Unite and Prospect trade unions are all strongly in favour. I could not put it better than Charlotte Childs, the GMB national officer:
“Our environment, our economy and our communities need Ministers and MPs to back new nuclear.”
I hope all will tonight. Even a member of the Green party, Josh Stringfellow of the Kingston Green party, said:
“As Greens we trust the science on climate change. As Greens we should also trust the science on nuclear”.
Across the board, there is recognition that we will not hit net zero unless we accelerate our investment in new nuclear. This Bill provides the framework for reducing the cost of capital and increasing our options for private investment, which makes it all the more extraordinary that we have had the opposition we have. Dr Whitehead, in a thoughtful speech, mentioned a decade of dither and delay. I assume he means from 1997 to 2007, when the then Labour Government completely turned their back on the nuclear industry.
Interestingly, the Scottish nationalists like to have their cake and eat it. Alan Brown is opposed to nuclear power but, of course, Scottish consumers will benefit from being on the grid. They will benefit from the baseload, resilience and security it gives us. I hear loud and clear his call, and the call of others including my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester, for more investment in tidal. I reassure the House that we are looking at making sure contracts for difference provide strong support for that sector.
Sarah Olney, in a thoughtful speech, set out the importance of supporting net zero, which makes it all the more strange that the Liberal Democrats seemingly have an almost religious objection to nuclear energy. I was a Parliamentary Private Secretary in the Department of Energy and Climate Change when both Ed Davey and Chris Huhne were Secretary of State, and it was they who put in place the contracts for difference funding mechanism for nuclear, which did not work and which we are now having to sort out. It is easy to oppose with the benefit of hindsight, but the truth is that this is urgent and the Bill provides the basis for it.
The hon. Member for Richmond Park is right that household insulation is important, which is why we provided an additional £1.75 billion in the Budget to upgrade the homes of those on low incomes through the social housing decarbonisation fund and the home upgrade grant. The Government are consulting right now on raising the standards for home insulation in new houses that are built.
A number of Members mentioned wave and tidal, and I am delighted to confirm that not only is this Department funding great science and research in tidal, wave and other renewables but that at the global investment summit last week I visited wind and tidal technologies and we secured nearly £9 billion of private investment in the international renewables sector. We are actively considering whether we should ringfence tidal technologies in the next round of CfD, and it will be eligible under pot 2.
The hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun challenged the £30 billion cost saving. The full analysis and methodology is set out in the impact assessment accompanying this Bill, and I confirm the current contract ensures that consumers will not pay for any overruns at Hinkley Point C.
Deidre Brock mentioned radioactive waste, and the truth is that we have been producing and managing radioactive waste perfectly successfully, without accident or danger to health and safety, for decades. Some 94% of the waste is very low level, and the Government, like previous Governments, have a strong plan for a geological disposal facility.
A number of colleagues raised the issue of national security. I want to make it clear that the Bill is not concerned with making it difficult for any particular country or company to apply. The quality of the bids will be considered in due course by the Secretary of State, with full accountability to Parliament. The Bill does not determine any future nuclear project’s ownership structure; it simply creates a new financing model that broadens our options for new nuclear.
As a package, the legislation before Members will help to end our reliance on overseas developers for finance, which has led to the cancellation of nuclear projects in the UK. Instead, the Bill ensures that our new nuclear power plants can be financed by British pension funds and institutional investors. However, this is not about shutting out individual companies or countries, and the Government have already taken significant powers through the National Security and Investment Act 2021.
A number of colleagues have raised the issue of the scrutiny of risk assessment, and I want to reassure Members that the Secretary of State will be required to act transparently and with full disclosure to the House. I close by thanking Members from across the House for their contributions, highlighting that I hope very much that the Scottish nationalists will not divide the House tonight on something that Scottish voters will benefit from. I strongly believe that this new funding model acts in the interests of the whole of this country, and I commend this Bill to the House.
Question put, That the Bill be now read a Second time.