HC Deb 15 May 1989 vol 153 cc8-10
10. Mr. John Evans

To ask the Secretary of State for Energy if his Department has plans to increase the size of its nuclear power programme.

Mr. Parkinson

No, Sir.

Mr. Evans

In view of the fact that the Prime Minister is apparently determined to rely entirely on nuclear power in the future to combat the greenhouse effect, would it not be more realistic to start installing flue scrubbers in coal-fired power stations such as Fiddler's Ferry as an additional weapon in our fight against the greenhouse effect?

Mr. Parkinson

At the end of last week, the Prime Minister repeated the Government's position, which is that we wish to see four PWRs built to replace the Magnox stations that will be phased out between now and the year 2000. The Prime Minister also said—and it is a remark that I have repeatedly made in the House—that she believes that the argument is gradually turning in favour of nuclear power. Therefore, that number may turn out to be the minimum, but the Government's present plans envisage four PWRs being built.

Mr. Morgan

Oh, a minimum?

Mr. Parkinson

I have said that before, too. The hon. Gentleman should listen occasionally. The first orders have been placed for Drax and we are committed to a reduction of 60 per cent. in sulphur dioxide emissions by the year 2003. That will mean more retrofitting and it is for the CEGB and its successor companies to decide which stations will be retrofitted.

Mr. Jack

In view of my right hon. Friend's previous and excellent answer, what specific measures is the Central Electricity Generating Board taking to ensure that the existing, advanced gas-cooled reactors give the maximum output?

Mr. Parkinson

A Labour Government originally ordered them and we have presided over their development. Therefore, it should be encouraging to all hon. Members to know that at long last the AGRs appear to be working better. Last year was their best year for production. Torness and Heysham B have every possibility of being successful, therefore, good progress is being made.

Mrs. Margaret Ewing

Has the Department made any real assessment of the cost to the consumer of its programme of nuclear energy? Is the Secretary of State aware that Torness, which came on stream in Scotland on Saturday, led to £2 billion debts for the South of Scotland electricity board which, along with the servicing of that debt, will pass on to the consumer a bill of about £170 per year? Does the Secretary of State accept that nuclear energy is unwelcome to the population, and that Saturday was an example of the great white empress opening a great white elephant?

Mr. Parkinson

I congratulate the hon. Lady on thinking up that well-thought-out remark so spontaneously. We believe that nuclear power has justified its existence in this country on at least three occasions in the past 15 years: during the oil price explosions and during the miners' strike. I did not notice the critics of nuclear power complaining that their lights came on even though the NUM did its best to turn them off. There is a price to be paid for security, and we are prepared to pay it.

Sir Ian Lloyd

Does my right hon. Friend agree that one of the most dangerous things we can do when judging the greenhouse effect and its policy implications is to oversimplify the whole matter? If world reductions of carbon dioxide are to be achieved in the amounts that science suggests, we shall need every contribution we can get, not only from energy conservation and efficiency and a reduction of demand for electricity, but from nuclear power, too.

Mr. Parkinson

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. No one suggests that nuclear power is an alternative to conservation or that we should stop conservation. No one suggests that there is only one answer.

Our record on improved energy efficiency is extremely good, so we say exactly what my hon. Friend said. The world cannot afford to turn its back on any means of reducing carbon dioxide emissions, because they present a major threat to us all.

Mr. Barron

If the Secretary of State has no plans to increase nuclear power, is he happy that his diversity argument will also be used now about foreign coal? The question that we asked earlier is important. We understand that negotiations are going on for 15 million tonnes of foreign coal. Is the right hon. Gentleman's Department happy that that should take place in the next two months—yes or no?

Mr. Parkinson

I am not in a position to settle the negotiations between the CEGB and British Coal; they are going on now. Opposition Members do not realise that they are being used by proponents of one side of the argument to prevent proper negotiations from taking place. We have given the two sides permission to negotiate freely and we have made it clear that we shall not dragoon them. We have also put the British coal industry into a better position in which to compete than ever before and we believe that, based on its recent performance, it will get most of the business. We do not accept that British Coal can find customers only if they are dragooned into buying from it.

Mr. John Marshall

Does my right hon. Friend agree that Opposition Members are talking a load of scientific nonsense and that it is high time that Labour Members learnt from Socialist France that nuclear power is a positive and effective way of generating electricity?

Mr. Parkinson

I cannot see why my hon. Friend felt it necessary to qualify his "nonsense" remark with the adjective "scientific".