Energy: Nuclear Reactors

– in the House of Lords at 11:30 am on 3rd April 2008.

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Photo of Lord de Mauley Lord de Mauley Shadow Minister, Cabinet Office 11:30 am, 3rd April 2008

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What is their response to reports that the French nuclear safety watchdog ASN has identified safety weaknesses relating to nuclear reactors of the type France hopes to sell to the United Kingdom.

Photo of Baroness Vadera Baroness Vadera Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Business, Enterprise & Regulatory Reform

My Lords, the Government's view is that the French nuclear regulator has rightly carried out its functions following the inspection of the nuclear power station being constructed in Flamanville by EDF by drawing the attention of the operator to the necessary areas of action. We also note that the regulator raised issues about the construction procedures at the site and not about the design of the reactor itself.

Photo of Lord de Mauley Lord de Mauley Shadow Minister, Cabinet Office

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that Answer. According to the NII, the migration of skills has placed a severe strain on its ability to find, train and retain the number of skilled employees it needs to assess the different types of reactor for which licences are being sought. What are the Government doing to address that?

Photo of Baroness Vadera Baroness Vadera Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Business, Enterprise & Regulatory Reform

My Lords, the Nuclear Installation Inspectorate is currently undertaking a recruitment campaign and has received a number of applications for the vacancies that it foresees in the next two to three years. The Treasury has allowed a 15 per cent pay flexibility in order to assist it.

Photo of Lord Redesdale Lord Redesdale Spokesperson in the Lords (Agriculture & Energy), Environment, Food & Rural Affairs, Spokesperson in the Lords (Energy), Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform

My Lords, are there enough nuclear safety inspectors to act in Smart procurement? We are talking about major problems at the reactor at Flamanville in Normandy which could adversely affect the cost of any new nuclear build.

Photo of Baroness Vadera Baroness Vadera Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Business, Enterprise & Regulatory Reform

My Lords, the function of the UK regulators is to assess the regulatory environment and the safety security environment, not procurement. The procurement will be undertaken by whichever utility companies express an interest and get the right licences. That is a matter for the private sector developers of nuclear.

Photo of Lord Jenkin of Roding Lord Jenkin of Roding Conservative

My Lords, does the noble Baroness recollect the joint communiqué issued between the Prime Minister and President Sarkozy at the end of March? It stated that the two countries would aim to,

"improve the efficiency and effectiveness of nuclear development projects, including in safety and pre-licensing".

Indeed, the Secretary of State, Mr Hutton, met the French energy Minister,

"to discuss how the UK can work more closely with France on civil nuclear issues—in particular how our two nuclear regulators can work closely together to enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of the reactor design licensing process".

Is it hoped that this may lead to the regulators recognising each other's generic design assessments?

Photo of Baroness Vadera Baroness Vadera Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Business, Enterprise & Regulatory Reform

My Lords, the recognition of generic design assessment is undertaken by the Nuclear Installation Inspectorate and must remain a national responsibility. The agreement that is referred to is an agreement on the sharing of information, exchange of experts and increasing of secondments in order to make both national regulators more effective. There is also further co-operation between Governments on issues around skills, waste and research.

Photo of Lord Skelmersdale Lord Skelmersdale Shadow Minister, Work & Pensions

My Lords, there seems to be a single market in practically everything else; why not in the nuclear industry?

Photo of Baroness Vadera Baroness Vadera Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Business, Enterprise & Regulatory Reform

My Lords, there is a global market in the nuclear industry. The last sizeable reactor was built in France with Japanese components and American technology, so it is a global market.

Photo of Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville Conservative

My Lords, how many people currently working in the British nuclear industry speak French?

Photo of Baroness Vadera Baroness Vadera Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Business, Enterprise & Regulatory Reform

My Lords, I would offer to write if I thought that that information was available, but I do not think that it is.