HC Deb 30 May 1962 vol 660 cc1358-61
36. Mr. Rankin

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what consultations he has had with the South of Scotland Electricity Board regarding the timetable for the construction and the cost of Hunterston nuclear power station.

42. Mr. Nabarro

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what was the capital sum originally authorised to the South of Scotland Electricity Board for the Hunterston nuclear power station; when authorisation was given; what capital sum has been spent to the latest convenient date; what is the estimated capital sum to completion; when completion is anticipated; what estimate he has made of the cost of electricity generation per unit, and the cost per kilowatt installed in respect of this power station, compared with orthodox thermal coal burning stations and hydroelectric power stations in Scotland, both as at the latest convenient dates; and whether he will now make a further statement concerning progress in construction at Hunterston.

Mr. Maclay

The South of Scotland Electricity Board keeps me generally informed about all aspects of the progress of Hunterston. I am advised by the Board that the pressure test on the first reactor vessel will take place in a few days' time. The first reactor is expected to go critical next year; it should be in full production in mid-1964 and the second at the end of the same year.

Output is now estimated to be 320 megawatts and may be higher; the price has not yet been finally adjusted in terms of the contract, but the Board expects that it will not greatly exceed £ 165 per kilowatt and that the cost per unit will be about 1d.

I am arranging to circulate the answers to the detailed points raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro).

Mr. Rankin

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the blame for the mess, muddle and mismanagement which has characterised the building of this project must rest squarely on the shoulders of the Government? In view of that, how can he charge to electricity consumers the cost of the Government's errors?

Further, can he tell us why no contract was entered into and no contract yet exists with regard to the price of this job and to a completion date, in view of the fact that nearly £ 70 million has already been consumed? Could he also tell us why no overall authority or director was appointed to see that the job was completed within the original time laid down?

Mr. Maclay

The hon. Gentleman has made a number of statements which I do not accept. I do not accept the figures of costs he has produced nor almost any of the details in his supplementary question. It is extremely difficult to deal at Question Time with that form of supplementary question.

Mr. Nabarro

Whilst dissociating myself at once from the statement by the hon. Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Rankin) that there has been muddle and mismanagement in this very important venture, may I ask my right hon. Friend whether he would not agree that the highly complex construction of a major nuclear power station of this kind involves largely an element of experimentation and that it was nearly impossible accurately to assess capital cost at the outset?

Would my right hon. Friend therefore publish a statement, to supplement the figures in the OFFICIAL REPORT, at an early date, giving precise details of the element of cost anticipated compared with the sum authorised on capital account by him when the authorisation was first made?

Mr. Maclay

I certainly agree that there have been difficulties and delays at this station. There has been a series of practical and design difficulties which are most regrettable; but apart from labour troubles on the site, such difficulties as those indicated by my hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) are really inseparable from the most effective development of the new techniques which have been evolved in constructing this station. If my hon. Friend studies the information which I am circulating in the OFFICIAL REPORT, and lets me know if he wants more, I will try to supply it.

Mr. Mason

Is this not proving to be a disgraceful and quite regrettable episode in the development of a new industry under this Government's guidance? The project itself is not all that new. It is not a revolutionary technique and much of the development of the station came from designs well known before the start. It is now estimated that this will cost £67 million, which is much more than the original estimate. What is the right hon. Gentleman going to do about it? Who is to pay the excess over the original estimate?

Mr. Maclay

The hon. Gentleman assumes a figure of cost that I do not accept. If he works out an estimated cost from my answers, he will get nearer the point. It is correct to say that the final cost cannot yet be determined, but if he looks at the figures I have already given, he will see that the cost will not greatly exceed £165 a kilowatt.

Mr. Rankin

In view of the entirely unsatisfactory nature of the Secretary of State's reply, I beg to give notice that I shall seek to raise this matter on the Adjournment at the earliest, opportunity.

following is the information:

  1. 1. Formal consent to the Hunterston Power Station was given on 29th July, 1957, and in November, 1957, provision was made in the capital investment programme of the South of Scotland Electricity Board for expenditure of £ 38 million on the construction of the station plus £ 9 million for the cost of the nuclear fuel.
  2. 2. By the end of May, 1962, the South Board will have paid £ 36. 4 million to the contractor.
  3. 3. In terms of the contract the price has to be adjusted in respect of alterations to the civil engineering works arising out of site conditions at Hunterston, modifications to the reactor design and variations in the cost of labour and materials. Until these have been agreed the ultimate cost of the station cannot be exactly determined.
  4. 4. The first reactor is expected to be commissioned in mid-1964 and the second at the end of the same year.
  5. 5. The Board expects that the cost per unit generated will be about 1d. and that the price per kilowatt sent out will not greatly exceed £ 165.
  6. 6. The cost of thermal stations at present under construction is about £ 40 per kilowatt 1361 sent out; and the cost of generating at Kincardine at 75 per cent, load factor 0. 6d. per unit.
  7. 7. According to the 1961 Report of the North of Scotland Hydro-Electric Board the average cost of all its completed hydro stations was about £ 175 per kilowatt sent out and the average cost of generation was about 0. 79d. per unit an 1960 and 0. 65d. per unit in 1961.