Small Modular Reactors

– in Westminster Hall at 4:30 pm on 20th February 2019.

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Photo of Trudy Harrison Trudy Harrison Conservative, Copeland 4:30 pm, 20th February 2019

I beg to move,

That this House
has considered small modular reactors.

It is an honour and privilege to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Paisley. This debate is so important for my constituency, the nuclear industry, the country and—if we are going to slow down the rate of climate change—our planet. The three parts of the energy trilemma are reducing carbon emissions, securing the supply of power and ensuring affordability. The Inter- governmental Panel on Climate Change reports that, if we are to slow down the rise in global temperatures this century, nuclear will feature as a hearty part of the energy mix.

Government have recognised that. It is this Government who are investing in nuclear new build. It is this Government who have begun investing in the technology advances of small modular, advanced modular and nuclear fusion innovation, in partnership with industry. And it is this Government who have ensured, as we leave the European Union, that the necessary non-proliferation nuclear safeguard regimes are in place and that we will be able to operate internationally, under the roof of the Office for Nuclear Regulation, which also has responsibility for safety and security. The industrial strategy and the nuclear sector deal are great policy advances, but I ask my hon. Friend the Minister to tell us, in his response to the debate, what is being done to promote policy to progress.

More wind farms—on and offshore—and the abundance of solar panels mean that, in addition to much more, intermittent renewable energy, reliable low-carbon nuclear is needed to make the UK energy system secure and affordable. During the long dark hours without any sun, or when the wind is not blowing and the blades do not turn, we can all depend on fission—on the splitting of atoms—to heat water, to create steam, to turn the turbine that generates electricity, which is then transmitted on our national grid, and to provide baseload power and the potential for district heating—24 hours a day and 365 days a year, for up to 60 years.

There is a demonstrable need for clean, low-carbon electricity now and long into the future. The anticipated requirement for electric vehicles alone could reach additional capacity of 18 GW by 2040. And in Copeland we have an indisputable capability. Nowhere else in Europe could there be found such a concentration of knowledge and skills, yet we face an uncertain future. First it was Moorside, and then Wylfa: the headlines have not been positive for new nuclear, despite significant Government efforts and financial incentives.

Economies of scale, based on the size of a reactor, have been, at least until very recently, widely regarded as the most cost-effective method of development, but the “bigger is better” argument may well be contested by small modular reactors. Calder Hall, which began construction in 1953 in my constituency, generated electricity from 1956. It was officially opened by the Queen in 1957 and consisted of four 50 MW Magnox reactors, which transmitted electricity on to the national grid for 47 years, until 2003. Today, we are desperately fighting to get a whopping 3.4 GW power station over the line. Moorside—the proposed new generation III nuclear power station, which is to be built adjacent to the Sellafield site—has been beset by a range of ongoing problems over many years.

Following what happened at Fukushima, the increased cost of engineering means that nuclear is getting more expensive. The return on investment is becoming prohibitively difficult to predict, and the availability of companies capable of constructing large-scale gigawatt-plus reactors is limited. Sadly, there are no large-scale British civil nuclear companies operating today.

Let me be clear: the development of small modular reactors is not in competition with large gigawatt reactors. Small reactors have a complementary role in contributing to the energy mix. Because of the economies of scale that could be achieved by building multiple reactors, having many more small modular reactors could be the key to our energy future.

The Government’s nuclear sector deal aims for a 30% reduction in the cost of new build and advocates the merits of a fleet-build approach. The reduced-cost, repetitive-formula, standardised, modular method of construction has yet to be rolled out in the civil nuclear industry, but it has transformed the car and aerospace industries. As we look for ways to secure the necessary resurgence of nuclear power, I ask the Minister whether it is time to do what we have done in those industries in our energy sector.

Small modular reactors of up to 440 MW in size, with a diverse range of technologies, are currently being researched and developed across the UK, thanks, in part, to Government funding. Of course, small nuclear reactors are nothing new; for 50 years, our Royal Navy’s continuous at-sea deterrent has reliably been dependent on a mini light water reactor to keep it powered for years at a time without the need for refuelling—a fact that John Woodcock celebrates well and often in this place.

Rolls-Royce has mastered the art of small-space engineering, and is now one of many companies developing its technology on a slightly larger scale.

Photo of Jack Brereton Jack Brereton Conservative, Stoke-on-Trent South

I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this debate. Does she agree that companies such as Goodwin International, which the Minister has visited in my constituency, could help? It has already been working in the defence industry, which she touched on, and could really help to commercialise SMRs in this country.

Photo of Trudy Harrison Trudy Harrison Conservative, Copeland

I absolutely agree. It will be no surprise that I commend Goodwin International for the work it does in the defence industry. This is all about ensuring that British companies can contribute and can benefit companies in the supply chain, which provide components and, most importantly, jobs and apprenticeships. I understand that 125 new apprenticeships are coming from Goodwin, and there will be many more in the future.

Photo of John Stevenson John Stevenson Conservative, Carlisle

I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this debate, which is important for not just our country but our county. She talks about the private sector. Does she agree that there is a role for the Government, who should make a real commitment to supporting the SMR sector? That may include a financial contribution.

Photo of Trudy Harrison Trudy Harrison Conservative, Copeland

I thank my hon. Friend for that important reminder that we cannot do this without Government support. We have the capability and the demonstrable need. The industry is desperate to be part of the solution, but we must have the Government’s financial policy and industrial support to take this forward.

From light water reactors to heavy water reactors, and molten salt to sodium cooled, the innovation in fission technology is most certainly alive and kicking. Some of our greatest, most innovative companies are now interested in building small reactors in the UK. Moltex, Atkins, NuScale, EDF, DBD, U-Battery Developments, Westinghouse, Sheffield Forgemasters and Rolls-Royce—these companies and hundreds of others involved with their supply chains, such as Goodwin, need our political, financial and industrial support.

Today, there are about 50 civil small modular reactors at various stages of research and development across the world. Fleet build is widely anticipated to bring a swifter return on investment, with lower barriers to entry and standardisation. As politicians, it is surely our job to ensure that policy takes possibility towards probability. Constructing single or incremental small modular reactors on nuclear-licensed sites, where the existing industrial power requirement is currently dependent on fossil fuel, is surely a credible, sensible and more sustainable way to power the UK and beyond.

There is one such location on the outskirts of the Sellafield site in Copeland. Fellside is a combined heat and power plant with a capability of about 170 MW, but it is due to come out of service later this year. It is outwith the nuclear licensed site boundary, but it has the benefit of the Civil Nuclear Constabulary for security, and obviously has a huge adjacent industrial power requirement, which is currently dependent on gas. Will the Minister consider Fellside a suitable, if not perfect, site for a future small modular reactor, and value the huge potential for further advanced manufacturing facilities in Copeland?

This is not just about being the first, although we do have an impressive track record of firsts: the first civil nuclear reactor, the first Magnox reprocessing plant and the first thermal oxide reprocessing plant. In the words of my Prospect union rep:

“With the most experienced workforce in the nuclear industry, West Cumbrians do it best”— and we want to keep doing it.

I hope the Minister will tell me and the other Members in this debate who share my passion for nuclear how his Department will create the right market conditions to enable developers to bring new reactors to market and to create national and international markets. Grasping the opportunity to meet our domestic power requirements and capitalising on the early-adopter benefits of a multi- billion-pound, global export market while tackling the energy trilemma of security, affordability and environmental sustainability will mean that Cumbria continues to be the centre of nuclear excellence.

This is not rocket science—although we do a bit of that at the National Nuclear Laboratory—but a case of multiples: the more we build, the cheaper things get. Many of the UK’s 15 nuclear reactors will come to the end of their long-serving lives by 2030, leaving us perilously vulnerable and dependent on fossil fuels. We must get serious about meeting the world need for affordable and reliable electricity, while slowing down global warming before it is too late.

Thank you, Mr Paisley, for listening most intently. I look forward to a robust debate and to the Minister’s considered response to the points that I have made and that other Members will no doubt make as well.

Several hon. Members:


Photo of Ian Paisley Jnr Ian Paisley Jnr Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport)

Order. Before I call Mr Shannon, I advise Members that each speaker will have three minutes. I intend to call the SNP spokesman just after 5.5 pm, then the Labour party spokesman—

Photo of Ian Paisley Jnr Ian Paisley Jnr Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport)

No, the hon. Gentleman will get more—otherwise, the Minister might only get three minutes. I will call the Minister at 5.20 pm.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health) 4:42 pm, 20th February 2019

Thank you, Mr Paisley. It is a pleasure to speak in the debate. I congratulate Trudy Harrison on securing it and on arguing the case for her constituency so passionately. She mentioned that you were listening intently, but you always do—that was never in doubt.

Like the hon. Lady, I see nuclear energy and our ability to produce it as essential. I have always supported it, even on my local council many years ago and in the Northern Ireland Assembly. We must have that ability until, if ever, we have the capacity to produce energy wholly through renewable energy in a reliable and consistent manner. We must have the ability to secure our energy supply until that stage comes. I also wish to plug Harland & Wolff and its engineering in Belfast. It has the capacity to be involved in forwarding some of these projects with its engineering expertise.

I agree with colleagues who have stated clearly that nuclear power is clean, producing fewer greenhouse gases and thus contributing to the fight against the danger of climate change. It is accepted that nuclear production does not directly produce sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, mercury or other pollutants associated with the combustion of fossil fuels, which is why it is so important that we use that form of energy.

With that as my beginning point—in this race to the end of my speech—it is not difficult to see where I am going with my brief comments. The UK has 15 existing reactors, generating about 21% of our electricity, and 13 others are at various stages of planning. I am thankful that the Government have announced initiatives and funding for advanced reactors, including £250 million for development, and that there is support for nuclear power in the industrial strategy, as well as specific funding elsewhere.

I would certainly be supportive of a Government strategy regarding the regulated asset base model, which regulates a rate of return for investors during a power plant’s construction. An interesting article that I read through the Royal Society of Chemistry highlighted that the RAB model

“is more attractive to a greater pool of investors…The cost of capital associated with it is lower”.


“reduces the financial risk for investors and has an added benefit for the government. Such a package could allow the state to negotiate a lower electricity strike price as the investor will take on less capital risk.”

That is positive, and I look to the Minister to respond to that. It also raises the question as to why the form is limited to nuclear energy, when it could be used to keep all industry prices down, but I understand that that is a debate for another day.

I support small nuclear modular reactors; we need that form of energy for the foreseeable future. We need to secure it and find a way forward, and I support the Government’s attempts to do that. Again, I congratulate the hon. Member for Copeland on securing the debate and thereby giving us a chance to contribute.

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.

Photo of Liz Saville-Roberts Liz Saville-Roberts Shadow PC Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Women and Equalities) , Plaid Cymru Westminster Leader, Shadow PC Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) 4:48 pm, 20th February 2019

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Paisley. I congratulate Trudy Harrison on securing the debate.

Nuclear remains the most dependable low-carbon energy source to deploy in the energy mix alongside large-scale renewable projects. We must be open to all research and development of low-carbon and environmentally friendly technologies, just as Finland’s Green party endorses. Nuclear and renewables have a symbiotic relationship. That may change, but from where we stand, it is likely that the greatest advances in technology, such as advanced modular reactors and fusion, will arise from nuclear origins.

My constituency is among the lowest waged in the United Kingdom. The median full-time earnings for 2018 were £21,840—almost £8,000 less than the UK average, and £5,000 lower than the Welsh average. With the rural economy of Wales greatly dependent on ever dwindling public sector jobs and minimum wage leisure and hospitality employment, the development of the future economy of my constituency and county cries out for a range of employment.

Rural Wales suffers generational depopulation as our young people move away to seek job opportunities elsewhere. In Welsh-speaking areas such as Dwyfor Meirionnydd, that is a double loss. It is therefore imperative that the Government recognise the potential of Trawsfynydd, M-SParc and Bangor University to not only grow the economy of north-west Wales but act as catalysts to stimulate supply chains across a region stretching from Caergybi to Cumbria.

I also call on the Government to support their own industrial policy. A small modular reactor or an advanced modular reactor at Trawsfynydd will help to transform not only the economy of Trawsfynydd but the wider supply chain across north Wales and north England. In view of the accepted need to develop an SMR or AMR, coupled with the nuclear sector deal’s proposal to site a thermal hydraulic facility at Menai Science Park in Ynys Môn, it is now surely urgent that the Government publicly recognise that Trawsfynydd is an ideal site for a first-of-a-kind development.

Let us speak plainly: the Government must sense the appetite for co-operation that leads cross-party representatives to spell out that the future of an indigenous nuclear industry in serving the economic and energy needs of Wales, England and beyond is dependent on the SMR or AMR programme going ahead. I am proud to work alongside trade union representative Rory Trappe of Blaenau Ffestiniog, who campaigns doggedly for the UK Government to specify Trawsfynydd as an SMR site because he recognises the potential for a range of jobs over a 60-year lifespan. This is an opportunity for well-paid work for up to three generations of local families and for families across wider north Wales and the north of England. I close by repeating that: well-paid work for three generations of families in rural, Welsh-speaking Wales.

Photo of Maggie Throup Maggie Throup Conservative, Erewash 4:51 pm, 20th February 2019

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Paisley. I congratulate my hon. Friend Trudy Harrison on securing this timely debate.

As I see it, continued instability in the middle east, coupled with an increasingly hostile Russian state, means that it is now vital that we once again establish our own independent source of clean, affordable, low-carbon domestic energy, to achieve our energy security. Since the first nuclear power station was connected to the national grid in 1956, nuclear has become a major contributor to the UK’s energy market, with 21% of all electricity now generated in that way. However, with seven stations due to be decommissioned in the next 10 to 15 years, the stark reality is that the UK faces a potential energy gap before new conventional nuclear stations can be brought online. To bridge that gap, we must look towards innovation. In small modular reactors, which take a relatively short period of time to construct—estimated to be between two and five years—I believe we have a ready-made solution.

It is estimated by a UK small modular reactor consortium led by Rolls-Royce that the design, development and production of a fleet of small modular reactors has the potential to create up to 40,000 skilled jobs in the nuclear supply chain and to add more than £100 billion to our economy. Translated to a local level, with Derby being the centre of Roll-Royce’s nuclear operation in the UK, a sustained programme of SMR production in the city would see significant new job opportunities open up for my constituents, as well as in the supply chain.

It is clear that the Government have made a degree of progress in fostering this new technology in partnership with the UK’s civil nuclear sector. The small modular reactor competition was launched in 2016, followed by £56 million to develop and regulate designs in 2017, but with the clock ticking we need to accelerate the UK’s efforts to develop this technology. I therefore urge the Minister to review the Government’s energy strategy and to put a renewed emphasis on supporting the nuclear industry.

We have a golden opportunity to become a world leader in new nuclear technology and at the same time to secure an independent supply of domestic energy. I once again congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Copeland on bringing this important debate to the House. I look forward to the Minister’s response.

Photo of Mike Hill Mike Hill Labour, Hartlepool 4:54 pm, 20th February 2019

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Paisley. I thank Trudy Harrison for bringing forward this important debate. I begin with a message to the Minister: Hartlepool has the best and most skilled workforce in the industry, and we already have a licence for our site. The Civil Nuclear Constabulary, which has been mentioned, keeps our nuclear facilities and workers safe right around the clock. I know that we all support its federation in its attempt to resolve pension and retirement inequality issues. I hope and trust that that matter will be resolved soon.

One of the big positives about the new technology is that it shows that the nuclear industry remains a major asset for meeting our future energy needs. Our world needs more low-carbon power. The nuclear sector deal sets out pledges from the Government and the industry itself to make cost reductions in nuclear, and initiatives to support the sector. Arguably, SMRs are central to that vision. They meet the increased demand for low-carbon solutions and produce clean, affordable energy; they are much smaller than traditional nuclear reactors, and over their lifecycle they could deliver £62 billion into the economy and create up to 40,000 jobs, as Maggie Throup highlighted.

Our friends at EDF Energy successfully operate the advanced gas-cooled reactor in Hartlepool, which provides electricity for more than 3% of the UK, with a net electrical output of 1,190 MW—enough to power 1.5 million homes—but that reactor is coming to the end of its lifecycle, and decisions need to be made about the future provision of nuclear on the site. EDF has lots of good ideas and is keen to develop alternatives. If necessary, that may include further extending the life of the current plant or developing next-generation technology, like at Hinkley Point C.

Sadly, as we have seen with projects at Anglesey and Moorside, we cannot rely 100% on foreign investment to build our fleet of next-generation nuclear. That is why SMRs—developed and driven by a British consortium, based on tried and tested technology, offering the same output as traditional larger reactors with a lower carbon footprint—are important. The UK’s nuclear sector is among the most varied in the world, but its future needs to be secured by direct Government investment in projects such as the development of SMRs. Either way, given the circumstances the industry faces, we need to know whether the future of nuclear energy in Hartlepool is secure. I seek the Minister’s assurance that it is.

Photo of John Stevenson John Stevenson Conservative, Carlisle 4:57 pm, 20th February 2019

I reiterate my congratulations to my hon. Friend Trudy Harrison on securing the debate and, more importantly, on being a real advocate for Copeland and the nuclear industry. I have played a secondary role to her and have held a couple of nuclear conferences in my constituency. I am grateful to the Minister for attending the one I held last year.

I am disappointed that the original development at Moorside did not go ahead. NuGen did a huge amount of work and it is to be congratulated on that effort. I pay tribute to Tom Samson and his team for the work they did. It is a disappointment that the development did not go ahead. The investment would have helped to transform Cumbria—not just west Cumbria but the whole county—and brought tremendous economic benefits. In addition, it would have provided 7% of our national energy needs and made a significant contribution to the low-carbon economy.

I believe the Government could and should take a proactive interest in the nuclear industry, including by investing directly in it. None the less, Moorside did not happen, so I look to how Cumbria’s strengths can be used in the future, particularly with regard to the possibilities of SMRs. Cumbria has two unique selling points: tourism and the nuclear industry, which employs a huge number of people. Some 10,000-plus are employed at Sellafield, we have the National Nuclear Laboratory and the Low Level Waste Repository, and there is a highly skilled supply chain. The industry’s impact on the area is significant in terms of employment, apprentices, graduates, research and skills. We must use the opportunities and skills we have to ensure that Cumbria exploits the alternatives that are available in the nuclear industry.

I have talked about the local interest but, as I say, there is also a national interest. We are moving to a low-carbon world. How will we achieve that? Renewables undoubtedly will be a significant element, and I am a big supporter of solar, but nuclear clearly has its place in the energy mix. I have supported large nuclear plants, but clearly we need to get behind the development of SMRs, which may well be the future for our country. They offer greater flexibility, many commercial opportunities and a real chance for the UK to rediscover its nuclear development expertise.

I believe that if we do that, Cumbria will play a central part. As I have already said, we have the skills and the expertise, the research facilities and the land, but probably most importantly, we have a population that supports the nuclear industry. Our people want to get behind the industry, in the interests of Cumbria and our national economy.

Photo of Albert Owen Albert Owen Labour, Ynys Môn 4:59 pm, 20th February 2019

I congratulate Trudy Harrison on securing this debate. I welcome the Minister back to his place. I know he has been a strong supporter of nuclear. He has been helpful to me and others in this difficult time after the suspension of the Wylfa project, which has been a huge blow to the whole of north Wales and the nuclear sector deal.

I want to be positive in my speech today. I am a pro-nuclear, pro-renewables and pro-energy efficiency Member of Parliament, and I think we need all those things in the energy mix. I want us to go forward. I share the frustration of the hon. Member for Copeland about turning policy into action. My hon. Friend Dr Whitehead and I were on the old Select Committee on Energy and Climate Change arguing for SMRs some eight years ago. We wanted to see that work moving forward and we visited many places in the United Kingdom where we have the resources, the skills base and the technology that can make SMRs a reality.

The Wylfa site is, according to objective people, the best development site in the United Kingdom. I want the project with Hitachi to go forward, but I want nuclear skills to be developed in the interim period, too. As hon. Members from Cumbria will know, consortiums are being set up between Cumbria and north Wales. They are working together as the North West Nuclear Arc to bring together skilled providers, the nuclear industry and host communities to develop the skills base.

In the short time I have, I want to ask the Minister whether the energy White Paper will help SMRs as well as large-scale nuclear, as the large projects have failed when they are private sector-led. We need a proper funding formula to ensure that our energy projects are developed here in this country. As my hon. Friend Mike Hill said, the advantage of having the SMRs developed in this country is that the domestic supply base can be in this country and we can rely on British innovation to make it happen, rather than being totally reliant on foreign countries investing in our nuclear sector.

I volunteer to be on the Committee that scrutinises the energy Bill when it is introduced, because I want it to work. I want the new regulated asset base formula that the Minister is proposing to be flexible enough that all technologies can benefit from it. I want success in this country. As the hon. Member for Copeland said, Britain has a proud record of pioneering nuclear technology. This is the next generation. We have to get the formula right. We have to get Government support. I am in favour of more Government support, because that is long-termism. If we are to meet our low-carbon emissions goals for the future, we have to invest now, and Government have to take a lead.

Photo of John Woodcock John Woodcock Independent, Barrow and Furness 5:03 pm, 20th February 2019

It is great to see you in the Chair, Mr Paisley. I congratulate my neighbour, Trudy Harrison, on securing this debate and on continuing to be a champion for the industry. It is great to work with her on that. It is good to see the Minister in his place. There were some doubts about that this time last week, and it is probably a good job the debate is happening this week, given everything else that is happening.

I endorse everything that has been said about small modular reactors. Fellside should be right up there at the forefront as a pathfinder for SMRs in this country. However I will use my brief time to say that while SMRs are absolutely necessary, they can never on their own be sufficient to solve the huge energy gap now opening up in our future.

The Minister and his boss are probably doing God’s work in trying to wrench the Government from total madness on the Brexit deal, but that illustrates the lack of focus across Government on our wider energy future at a critical time. We have the crisis derailing the Moorside deal, and Wylfa is in a very difficult patch. Where will our energy come from? We do not know what our relationships will be with other energy-producing nations in 10, 20 or 30 months’ time, never mind 10, 20 or 30 years. We have got to secure Britain’s future by securing our energy, and the only reliable way to do that is through UK nuclear energy.

I am sick of us going and pleading with other nations and things not quite going well. We see that everyone is working really hard but it does not quite get results. We need to get back into UK nuclear—not simply taking a stake, but taking the lead. Let us show the world that we, who created the fabulous nuclear energy in the 1950s in Cumbria, can do that again with a new nuclear revolution, led by Government and backed—I would imagine—by many Members here.

Photo of David Drew David Drew Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 5:05 pm, 20th February 2019

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Paisley. I shall be very brief, partly because I have to be very brief, but also because it would be useful to hear what the Front Benchers have to say in response to the debate.

I have been in correspondence with one of my constituents, Ron George, and I have copied that to my hon. Friend Dr Whitehead, who is on the Front Bench. Mr George is a great supporter of molten salts reactors; he has looked at the three different reactor models that are possible. When the Minister replies to the debate, will he consider some of the issues that Mr George has raised with me? They largely relate to a letter that Mr George received from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy in August 2017, which was about the process of deciding what is an appropriate reactor design to take forward.

In March 2017, the Government launched the small modular reactor competition to see what was out there in the marketplace. There were more than 30 entrants and last year the Government gave eligible participants the opportunity to make presentations and so on. My question is: where has that process got to? It was supposedly going to result in a

“Techno-Economic Assessment of SMRs”.

Have the Government now published the protocol for that, and if they have, are they now at a stage where they can at least begin to distil the number of interesting designs, to see which ones they are potentially prepared to support and which ones they are not? I hope the Minister will be able to bring us up to date with what is happening in that process. Is it now yielding some definite outcomes, and is there a preferred SMR design that the Government are looking at?

Photo of Drew Hendry Drew Hendry Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) 5:08 pm, 20th February 2019

Thank you for calling me to speak, Mr Paisley; I believe that this is the first time that I have served under your chairmanship.

I congratulate Trudy Harrison on securing this debate. Normally, I would look around Westminster Hall and see all these friendly faces and think, “Great, it’s going to be a very consensual debate,” but a debate needs a dissenting voice and this afternoon’s debate will certainly hear one from me. Before I do that, however, I congratulate right hon. and hon. Members on the passionate case that they have made. I have been looking for words and points that I can agree with, and I do agree about the need to tackle the trilemma, particularly the issue of climate change and affordability. However, I cannot say that new nuclear is the way to do that and the small modular reactor development is not going to change that.

There has been a common theme among some hon. Members today that renewable energy is not reliable. In October last year, 98% of Scotland’s electricity was generated by wind power and we are on track to produce all of our electricity from renewables by 2020. That is possible through the Scottish National party’s environmental policy support.

Jim Shannon has always been a passionate champion of nuclear; I understand that although, again, I cannot agree. Mr Goodwill said that the safest and greenest power is nuclear. Actually, the safest and greenest power is renewables. There is no half-life and nothing to clean up. If he wants to come up and speak to some of the people who saw the clean-up at Dounreay to hear about the eye-watering cost and the danger to the public from that British nuclear project, he is welcome to do so. The fact that he once purchased a Lada car tells us everything about his choices. I will leave it at that.

Liz Saville Roberts talked about generational depopulation. I absolutely agree that that must be tackled and there must be ways to do that, but nuclear does not fix it. We need a challenge on well-paid work.

Photo of Albert Owen Albert Owen Labour, Ynys Môn

I echo the point made by Liz Saville Roberts. In peripheral areas, the nuclear industry has been a saviour in many ways. It ensures longevity and skills. People who left school at the same time as me are still working in it. The hon. Lady highlighted that. We want renewables and nuclear, not either/or.

Photo of Drew Hendry Drew Hendry Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy)

I understand that. The one thing I was agreeing with is that there must be more solutions on offer. There must be a mix, but I respectfully disagree about nuclear. I was going to highlight the hon. Gentleman’s support for renewable projects, which a couple of people have mentioned.

I will not use my time to go through every Member’s speech, but John Woodcock made a powerful case. He incidentally made the Minister something of a deity and said that he was doing the Lord’s work. I am not sure which Lord, but we will come back to that.

Dr Drew talked about the SMR competition. A warning about competitions from the UK Government can be found in Peterhead, where the carbon capture and storage competition was launched, and £100 million was spent before the £1 billion—[Interruption.] The Minister is trying to wave me away from that bit. The people of Peterhead will not forget the UK Government’s betrayal and the cancellation of that carbon capture project, which could have given the UK a five-year lead on carbon capture and storage. That is all gone.

Photo of Drew Hendry Drew Hendry Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy)

I will not give way, because the other Front Benchers have to get in and I have to restrict my comments.

The first SMR is not due for 10 years. The costs are uncertain. There will probably be limited access to sites, planning delays and rising costs. The UK Government have pursued costly, dangerous nuclear energy over cheap renewables out of misplaced ideology. We have heard about the delays at Wylfa and the collapse of Woodside. That is the pursuit of ideology over pragmatism, and it does not work. The Government are letting people down.

The UK Government are already spending vast amounts on nuclear schemes about which there are safety concerns. They were about to lend £15 billion to Hitachi in Wales for Wylfa before the project collapsed because even that was not enough money. At Hinkley Point C, there is a £30 billion cost to the public sector. The Minister will argue that that is not the case, but the strike price amounts to what the public will be paying over that period to cover the cost of delays, complications, overspends and up-front costs. That is from the National Audit Office, not from me.

Photo of Drew Hendry Drew Hendry Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy)

The fact is that there is a very good future in renewable energy. If the Government set down their ideological opposition, particularly to wind and solar, they would be able to do a lot better in providing the mix that is required.

Photo of Alan Whitehead Alan Whitehead Shadow Minister (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) (Energy and Climate Change), Shadow Minister (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) 5:13 pm, 20th February 2019

I congratulate Trudy Harrison once again on securing this important debate. I want to concentrate on the wording of the motion, because we are talking about small modular reactors. A number of hon. Members have concentrated not only on the potential for small modular nuclear reactors, but on the wider issues relating to the nuclear programme. John Woodcock, my hon. Friend Albert Owen and the hon. Members for Carlisle (John Stevenson) and for Dwyfor Meirionnydd (Liz Saville Roberts) all talked, in one way or another, about the disappointments that have followed the closure or suspension of the existing nuclear programmes, which have featured large nuclear plants. Of course that has been a dreadful disappointment, and a potentially serious problem, for those parts of the country.

It is tempting to say that small modular nuclear reactors are the solution to the problem of size for the future. They are certainly capable of being replicated by modular construction in a way that large plants generally cannot be; they can be deployable locally; they can be deployable on a large number of sites, rather than just the big nuclear sites that recent developments have concentrated on; and they may be able to fit into the future energy market in a way that large power, whatever its origin, might find increasingly difficult. There are a lot of potential positives to small modular nuclear reactors, provided that they can do better, cost-wise, than the nuclear reactors in front of us at the moment.

What concerns me about some of the early information about small modular nuclear reactors is that they do not appear likely to be any cheaper than existing nuclear reactors. I refer to a 2016 report that the Government commissioned about their likely cost. The initial cost is projected to be 30% higher than for existing nuclear plants. As that research projects, the learning curve that would go with the modularisation of those reactors—I am talking about first-of-a-kind—would probably mean that, if several such plants were deployed, the costs could be level with present nuclear plants within 10 years. However, as we have seen recently with Wylfa, one of the issues was the apparent cost of the nuclear plant coming forward, in relation to the power going out to the public, and the unwillingness of Hitachi to go ahead with it, despite substantial assistance from the Government of up to about £75 per MWh for production.

First, it is clear that small modular nuclear reactors have to get their costs down to be viable. The Minister needs to be apprised of that. The Government claim to have invested substantial amounts of money over a period of time in the development of small modular nuclear reactors. There was a competition in 2016 and the then Chancellor

Photo of Alan Whitehead Alan Whitehead Shadow Minister (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) (Energy and Climate Change), Shadow Minister (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy)

I will try to draw my remarks to a close as rapidly as I can and make only this point on the funding of small modular nuclear reactors, because it is important. The Government initially said that £250 million was available for research, development and a competition. That competition did not take place. That figure was recently replaced by £58 million of funding, which was subsequently reduced to £44 million. Only £4 million of that has been spent, on developing initial feasibility studies for those who want to develop small modular nuclear reactors—

Photo of Alan Whitehead Alan Whitehead Shadow Minister (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) (Energy and Climate Change), Shadow Minister (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy)

Will the Minister clarify what is being spent at the moment on supporting small modular nuclear reactors, and how that will support the development of cheaper and more effective small modular nuclear reactors in future? That is the imperative.

Photo of Richard Harrington Richard Harrington Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) 5:20 pm, 20th February 2019

I will try to deal with this briefly. However, before that, in answer to John Woodcock, we all have great moments in our political careers. I am sure that the Prime Minister’s will be securing a deal next week. Mine is appearing before you in a Westminster Hall debate, Mr Paisley.

Photo of Richard Harrington Richard Harrington Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy)

I very much regret that I do not have time to go through all the points raised by hon. Members. I am happy to go through them later with any of those Members, except of course Drew Hendry—for the sake of Hansard, I am joking. I congratulate my hon. Friend Trudy Harrison on securing this excellent debate. The term “Trudy-isation” is beginning to enter our parliamentary language, and she has Trudy-ised the whole debate on small modular reactors.

The development of small modular reactors is very much at the core—excuse the pun—of the Government’s strategy for the development of nuclear power, which we know is an important part of the mix. I would like to answer in detail the shadow Minister’s questions about money, but I do not have the time. Suffice it to say that we are considering a consortium bid. Rolls-Royce is at the centre of that, but many other companies are involved. I obviously cannot go into detail, but this is of the magnitude of money that the shadow Minister mentioned, and it is very close to fruition. We worked closely with all members of the consortium to develop it.

The good thing about this debate is that every Member bar one was very much in favour of the development of nuclear energy, our sector deal and everything we are trying to do to make sure that nuclear remains an important part of our mix, for several reasons. There are security reasons. The point was made about the excellence of offshore and onshore wind and all sorts of wind, but the wind does not blow all the time. There is the green energy point of view, because this will develop a significant amount of carbon-free power. My right hon. Friend Mr Goodwill quoted President Putin, who made the point that countries that have tried basically to have no nuclear or coal energy do not know what to do. We will not put ourselves in that position. Modular reactors are an important part of our future.

Times are changing and costs are going down. The shadow Minister made the point that we have to be very careful about the costs of small modular reactors. Those are very well known, which means that we have to look at scale. Building one was the original problem, particularly for the two sites at Moorside, which were mentioned by my hon. Friends the Members for Carlisle (John Stevenson) and for Copeland. Albert Owen spoke so well about Anglesey. The hon. Lady who is the spokesperson for Plaid Cymru

Photo of Richard Harrington Richard Harrington Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy)

And she is the Westminster leader. I beg the pardon of Liz Saville Roberts, but I was trying to avoid making a mess of her constituency name, which I have done before—I will not fall for that one again. I will, however, have a good go at saying Trawsfynydd, because I have been there. It is an excellent site for small modular reactors, as are Anglesey, Moorside and many others. The good thing about them is the support of the local community for nuclear, because many have seen the benefits that nuclear has brought in the past, such as prosperity and good-quality, highly paid employment.

In the time that I have left—I believe that my hon. Friend the Member for Copeland should be left a couple of minutes at the end—I will talk briefly about the financing models. Clearly, one of the big problems about nuclear generally has been financing. Everyone knows that, and that the large chunk for current nuclear power stations is about £15 billion-plus, and could be £20 billion. That is a significant sum of money. The two projects we have talked about—Moorside and Wylfa in Anglesey—are not to take place in the timescale we had hoped for because of the financing.

However, I believe that the efforts we are putting into the regulated asset base model will open up nuclear again—a modern way to fund it. Institutions are very interested. On the small modular reactor side, my Department organised a very successful conference for the first time—in a high-tech area of the midlands, rather than one of the traditional sites—and quite a few financial institutions attended. We are in talks with the Treasury and inside the Department about developing that finance model. Logically, I believe it will work for smaller nuclear developments as well as large ones, because institutions obviously like to invest in smaller chunks.

The Government are very committed. We are helping small modular reactors. Apart from dealing with the consortium that I mentioned, we are providing funds to give the regulators the kinds of facilities necessary for the regulatory process. Quite a lot is going on, and I had wanted to speak for about 20 minutes on this subject. Earlier I was waving my hands at the hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey not out of disrespect for him personally or because of anything he said, but because I wanted more time to go through my speech. However, I have galloped through the major points. I would just like formally to put on the record that the Government’s policy is firmly behind nuclear and very much behind—

Photo of Albert Owen Albert Owen Labour, Ynys Môn

Will the Minister give us timescales for the publication of the possible energy White Paper and for the models being tested by the House? That is important.

Photo of Richard Harrington Richard Harrington Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy)

Thank you, Mr Paisley. The answer is that that will happen in the next few months—in early summer, I hope. Since the hon. Gentleman brings the question up, I confirm that our intention is that nuclear, and the small modular reactors side of it, will be developed in the White Paper. I noted—I am sure the House authorities will, too—his offer to serve on the Bill Committee. That is a little presumptuous, but I hope he may do so. I will conclude my remarks there, because my hon. Friend the Member for Copeland deserves the last word in this important debate.

Photo of Trudy Harrison Trudy Harrison Conservative, Copeland 5:28 pm, 20th February 2019

I thank the Minister for his remarks and for his ongoing support for our nuclear industry. That is absolutely clear and welcome to me and the overwhelming majority of Members in the Chamber. I thank them all, although I do not have time to list them all. Their contributions have been absolutely fabulous. However, I cannot let Drew Hendry get away with the strike price comparison. The comparison of £57.50 is not fair, because it does not build in the cost of storage. If we look at any potential for more renewable energy, the cost of storage must be built in. My under- standing is that it would be 600 times what we have today.

I should declare an interest, as my second daughter is a degree apprentice with an electrical design company, Athena PTS, which works across nuclear and wind, and with solar panels. She tells me that the strike price would be about eight times the cost of a diverse energy mix including nuclear. It is very unfair to compare the current strike price of £57.50 against the nuclear strike price.

Aside from that, I thank all Members. The support for nuclear is incredibly strong, and we can look forward to a prosperous future for the nuclear industry.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House
has considered small modular reactors.

Sitting adjourned.