Small Modular Reactors

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 4:45 pm on 20th February 2019.

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Photo of Robert Goodwill Robert Goodwill Conservative, Scarborough and Whitby 4:45 pm, 20th February 2019

I declare an interest because my eldest son is part of the Rolls-Royce team that looks after the reactors in the Astute class submarines that have been so reliable and that keep us safe. As we have heard, large nuclear reactors over 1 GW are proving hard to deliver, not only in this country but worldwide, so small modular reactors may be part of the answer.

It is true that nuclear is the safest and greenest way to generate electricity. It delivers for the environment, which is why I am astounded that green parties around the world campaign against nuclear energy. In Germany, the green coalition forced the Government of the time to abandon nuclear generation. Indeed, it tried to prevent the Czechs, with their Temelin plant, from generating there.

I saw an interesting interview on YouTube the other day with President Putin, who was complaining that the Germans were angry that they were so reliant on Russian gas. He said, “Well, what do they expect? They’ve abandoned their nuclear stations. They’re abandoning their brown coal stations. What do they expect to burn—firewood?” Then he turned, in a rather sinister way, and said, “We have a lot of firewood in Siberia.”

Coal is a dangerous fuel to burn. Statistics from China indicate that, in 2014, there were 931 fatalities in its coalmining industry—the first time in history that the figure had been below 1,000. In fact, between 1996 and 2000, there were an average of 7,619 deaths in the Chinese coal industry, which is 20 deaths per day. When coal is burned, it has an effect on air quality, and statistics I have seen say that nuclear generates 440 fewer deaths per unit than brown coal. In terms of climate change, nuclear is 83 times less likely to produce carbon dioxide than coal. Nuclear is the answer to air quality and to climate change.

Other renewables are not in the clear either. Deaths from photovoltaic solar panels on rooftops make them 16 times more dangerous than nuclear—people fall off roofs—and wind generation, particularly out at sea, is four times more dangerous. Of course, when that issue is raised, people trot out Chernobyl. We need to make it clear that we have learned lessons from Chernobyl. I have been to the Chernobyl plant, and it is not the same sort of plant. I had a Lada car once, and it was not the same as a Rolls-Royce.

We have seen 17,000 cumulative reactor years in 33 countries in the nuclear industry. If we can build in some passive features as well, we will have a great future and the UK will once again be a world leader in nuclear technology.