Nuclear Energy

– in the House of Lords at 2:49 pm on 22 November 2005.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Lord Redesdale Lord Redesdale Spokesperson in the Lords (Energy), Environment, Food & Rural Affairs, Spokesperson in the Lords (Energy), Trade & Industry 2:49, 22 November 2005

asked Her Majesty's Government:

On what basis they believe that nuclear energy is a renewable source of energy.

Photo of Lord Sainsbury of Turville Lord Sainsbury of Turville Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of Trade and Industry, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Trade and Industry) (Science and Innovation)

My Lords, the Government recognise that nuclear power shares many of the same environmental benefits as renewable energy, particularly with regard to greenhouse gas emissions. The technical question of whether nuclear energy is or is not a renewable source of energy turns on how one defines "a renewable source of energy", and the view one takes on the supply of uranium, the use of other materials and the commercial prospects of nuclear fusion.

Photo of Lord Redesdale Lord Redesdale Spokesperson in the Lords (Energy), Environment, Food & Rural Affairs, Spokesperson in the Lords (Energy), Trade & Industry

My Lords, having had discussions with other noble Lords, we believe that oil and even coal could be seen as renewable, because forests could be grown over a long period of time and crushed. However, nuclear power, moving from one elemental state to another, is perhaps not renewable—although the carbon use is important. Has a nuclear power station ever had a life cycle review of its use of carbon in construction, mining of the fuel, transport and decommissioning costs? If not, if it is to be declared renewable, why not?

Photo of Lord Sainsbury of Turville Lord Sainsbury of Turville Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of Trade and Industry, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Trade and Industry) (Science and Innovation)

My Lords, the question is not whether a nuclear power station is renewable, it is whether nuclear power is renewable given that it makes use of a resource that arguably has a finite life. I thought that that was the central thrust of the Question. That is why I gave the Answer that I did, which I hope makes clear that, in most circumstances on any basis, that is unlikely to be the case. I do not know whether a life cycle review has been carried out, but I shall find out and let the noble Lord know.

Photo of Lord Peyton of Yeovil Lord Peyton of Yeovil Conservative

My Lords, is the Minister aware that the Prime Minister's sudden conversion to the view that nuclear power is necessary and inevitable is very welcome? Of course, it would have been nicer had he been able to complete that before the election, rather than wait until after.

Photo of Lord Sainsbury of Turville Lord Sainsbury of Turville Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of Trade and Industry, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Trade and Industry) (Science and Innovation)

My Lords, I am not privy to whether the Prime Minister has or has not decided whether nuclear power should proceed. All that we are doing is having a review of energy policy that will consider whether civil nuclear power should be included.

Photo of The Bishop of Oxford The Bishop of Oxford Bishop

My Lords, in assessing our future energy needs and performing a cost/benefit analysis, will the cost of decommissioning nuclear stations be taken into account?

Photo of Lord Lea of Crondall Lord Lea of Crondall Labour

My Lords, arising from that question, does my noble friend agree that a totally independent review of the relative costs of generation between different sorts of fuels would be very welcome, but that it would not get us very far if Greenpeace and so on refused to co-operate?

Photo of Lord Sainsbury of Turville Lord Sainsbury of Turville Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of Trade and Industry, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Trade and Industry) (Science and Innovation)

My Lords, one key issue to be decided in any review is what are the current costs. It would be very helpful if, as part of that review, we were able to establish some independent views as to what were the costs. From my experience, people always find that their favourite source of energy is the least expensive. It should be possible to have an intelligent debate about what are the actual figures.

Photo of Lord Renton of Mount Harry Lord Renton of Mount Harry Conservative

My Lords, if I may rephrase the original Question in a different and perhaps slightly simpler way to get a simpler answer, is it not clear at the moment that nuclear power will not be a renewable energy source in Britain under present plans? As I understand it, every existing nuclear power plant will be decommissioned by 2020, at which stage we will have no more nuclear power under present plans. Given the worry of, in particular, the carbon climate-change effect of traditional power stations moving back to coal because of the increasing price of oil and gas, surely it is time for the Government to make an announcement about when and if they are going to build new nuclear power stations.

Photo of Lord Sainsbury of Turville Lord Sainsbury of Turville Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of Trade and Industry, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Trade and Industry) (Science and Innovation)

My Lords, no one has ever suggested that nuclear power being renewable means that nuclear power stations go on indefinitely. The question with all energy sources is whether, because they are or are not using a finite source of energy, they are renewable. The question often raised is: is nuclear power renewable, given that it makes use of uranium, which may have a limited amount of use? The answer I was giving was that other sources can be used and that, for the foreseeable future, they will supply us with all that we need.

On when we will make a decision, as we have said on numerous occasions, our review will produce proposals by the middle of the year and we will then have the answers.

Photo of Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer Spokesperson in the Lords, Environment, Food & Rural Affairs

My Lords, what assessment have the Government made of the amount of uranium available worldwide, given any new nuclear build programmes likely to take place internationally and that Britain has other extremely strong renewables such as tidal power and wind power?

Photo of Lord Sainsbury of Turville Lord Sainsbury of Turville Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of Trade and Industry, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Trade and Industry) (Science and Innovation)

My Lords, there are other sources of energy but, as always, the question is what costs are attached. At this point, the cost of tidal is enormously high and therefore it is very difficult to use it as a source of energy.

Photo of Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe Labour

My Lords, is the Minister aware that the Liberal Democrats' shadow spokesman on the environment is the Member of Parliament for Lewes and that, even though he is opposed to civil nuclear power development, his constituents are within a relatively short distance of innumerable nuclear power stations on the French coast? When examining future policy, will the Government take into account that, notwithstanding any decision taken in regard to nuclear power stations within the UK, many in this country will still be very close to nuclear power and waste?

Photo of Lord Sainsbury of Turville Lord Sainsbury of Turville Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of Trade and Industry, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Trade and Industry) (Science and Innovation)

My Lords, the proximity of some constituents to French nuclear power stations will probably not be the deciding factor in our review of energy. But it raises a very interesting issue: we are apparently prepared always in these circumstances to take energy created by nuclear power in a different country while sometimes resisting it in our own. That does not seem logical whatever one's view is on whether nuclear energy is a good thing.

Photo of Lord Jenkin of Roding Lord Jenkin of Roding Conservative

My Lords, the noble Lord's announcement during the energy debate that the Government regarded nuclear power as a renewable source was very welcome. Will the review cover the application of the climate-change levy to nuclear power stations?

Photo of Lord Sainsbury of Turville Lord Sainsbury of Turville Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of Trade and Industry, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Trade and Industry) (Science and Innovation)

My Lords, if any changes are made to energy policy during the review, one of the central things that the review group must consider is what financial incentives are necessary to deliver that energy policy.

Photo of Lord Bridges Lord Bridges Crossbench

My Lords, do the Government believe that this is the appropriate moment for British Energy's subsidiary Westinghouse to be sold, when it might play an important part in our future work on nuclear energy? Do the Government approve of that sale?

Photo of Lord Sainsbury of Turville Lord Sainsbury of Turville Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of Trade and Industry, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Trade and Industry) (Science and Innovation)

My Lords, it will have to be considered whether that conflicts. I do not know the policy on that and I will write to the noble Lord when I know further.