I am very grateful to have this chance to talk about an issue that of course affects my constituency enormously, as you know Mr Streeter.
The future of nuclear power is vital to my constituency and to the whole of the United Kingdom. That is why I am very grateful to have the chance to debate the issue today and I am delighted that my hon. Friend the Minister is here to respond to the debate.
It is no secret that we are running out of capacity to generate electricity. Existing nuclear stations are growing old and they must be replaced within the next seven years or-to be blunt-the lights will start going out. We cannot afford any more delays and I am afraid that, as a nation, we must take decisive action now.
The previous time I raised these matters in Westminster Hall, which was nine months ago, there was a different Government and many attitudes were different from those that exist now. Today I hope that I am preaching to the converted about the necessities and advantages of nuclear power.
In Bridgwater, nuclear power has provided reliable electricity to the grid since 1970 through the four reactors of the A and B stations, two of which, at the A station, have now been decommissioned. The B station has been given a five-year extension and is now owned by EDF Energy. We know that nuclear power works very well and is safe. We have a whole generation of local experts closely involved in the building, management and decommissioning of stations. Last October, we got the go-ahead to create the first nuclear academy in the United Kingdom at Bridgwater college. So there are many positive factors about nuclear power.
Of course, Hinkley Point is far from invisible-nuclear power stations cannot really be hidden. The existing station sits like a concrete castle overlooking the Bristol channel and dominates the skyline in one of the loveliest parts of this country. The plan is to construct a pair of new pressurised water reactors. Such reactors are tried, trusted and used safely all over the world. Two new reactors could pump out enough power to satisfy 4 million customers in the United Kingdom.
I make absolutely no bones about it-this is a massive operation. It will be the biggest ever civil engineering operation in the south-west. It will create 900 permanent jobs and roughly 5,000 people will be needed just to build the new plant. EDF Energy commissioned research into how the work would help the local economy. It estimates that £100 million will be spent every year during the building work and roughly £40 million a year will be spent thereafter, but I ask the Minister-is that enough?
Naturally, we welcome the concept of the new development. Of course we want to have the automatic boost to the local economy that building anything that big would bring, and yes, we need the contractors earning good salaries and spending their money in local shops. Bridgwater is an industrial town and we are very keen on business.
However, as a community, we have every right to ask for something more substantial in return. A nuclear power station is not like a supermarket. It is a gigantic piece of industrial machinery and the new development in my constituency would be slap-bang in the middle of some of England's loveliest countryside. A fair slice of compensation ought to be in order. Some of it could come in the form of old-fashioned folding money, which would be nice. Some of it could be invested in the local community with sensible, joined-up thinking, which would be nicer still.
Just a few moments ago, I mentioned the nuclear academy at Bridgwater college. Bridgwater college is a remarkable college run by dedicated people who deserve to be at the heart of the work, training the new generation of nuclear experts. You don't get owt for nowt. Bridgwater college put in the backwork, time and commitment to secure its place in the south-west hub for all nuclear skills training, as part of the nuclear skills academy. It is great to have the college, I am very proud of all its achievements and it has proved its worth, time and again, under the leadership of Fiona McMillan.
As the Minister will be all too aware, spending on education is in the spotlight, not just locally but nationally. Last week, the announcement about the Building Schools for the Future programme dealt a heavy blow in my area; I will come on to the reasoning behind that announcement shortly. We understand the pressures, we know that we must be prudent and we know that the BSF programme was not always very well organised, but Bridgwater college did an excellent job, in the same way that industry in Bridgwater does an excellent job. It produced sensible plans and everybody agreed to them.
Take it from me-cutting back on schools in Bridgwater now or in the future is not the answer to anything. That is especially true because of what we are going to do locally. Cutting back is not the answer if we want to encourage a new generation of professionals, which we must have. It is not the answer if we want to have home-grown nuclear experts, and it is not the answer if, as a Government, we want to have joined-up policy.
Our local schools were ready to sign the relevant documents on the very day that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education made his announcement about the BSF programme. Millions of pounds had been invested and a lot of it had come from the nuclear industry. Some of the building work had already begun and it made perfect sense to carry on.
How many other areas are about to build a huge new nuclear power station? How many other areas were as ready as we were with their plans for schools? Other areas were not ready.