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Column 282that it is permissible to burn gas to make electricity the options now include building coal stations or to build plant with combined cycles of gas turbines with steam turbines. At the moment I really have no idea what choice the Area Boards will make. In my opinion it is the answer to this question that will determine the future of the West Burton project, and the hesitation you see is not due to our final discussions on planning matters.
The Area Boards must give us a decision about the Fawley coal-fired station within the next few weeks, but it is only fair and realistic for me to tell you that I do not think we will get a decision from them concerning West Burton until a later date."
So the whole project is back in limbo. We were told that if there were a bad winter in 1992, the CEGB would have to have power cuts because it would not have sufficient capacity to meet demand. That was the urgency for West Burton B. Everyone knew that the Government did not want a coal-fired power station and would have preferred a nuclear power station, but they knew that it would take two or three years to get planning permission for another Sizewell or nuclear power station and there was already planning permission for West Burton.
So why is there a delay? I will tell the Secretary of State why I think there is a delay and I hope that he will come clean and tell us the real reason. I think that he does not want to saddle the new buyers of the electricity industry with a £1,000 million debt for the new coal-fired power station. He knows as well as we do that under the old nationalised industry, the CEGB used to run at 80 or 85 per cent. of capacity. It could not afford to run any higher or faster than that because if there had been power cuts because it was too close to capacity there would have been a political uproar and an outcry against the Government's mismanagement of a nationalised industry. But when the industry is sold off the private people can run it at 99 per cent. If there are power cuts and they have not provided enough capacity, they either import more from France to take the place of Fawley power station or say, "Hard lines, there will have to be cuts in consumption or electricity will go off at peak periods." They will be able to get away with that because the industry will be privately owned. New clause 16, which shows the difference in the price of electricity, must therefore be implemented.
Another factor may be that the buyers of the industry want a coal-fired power station but do not want such a power station burning coal at the present price. If they can delay the building of the power station for five or 10 years and in the meantime two new ports are built on the Humber-- there is a Bill before the House dealing with that--they will be able to import cheap coal from South Africa, China, South America, Poland or elsewhere. That would make it more profitable. By that time, more pits in Nottinghamshire and south Yorkshire will have closed. That is probably the reason for the delay. The costings will be done again on the basis of cheap imported coal rather than whether, on present costings, coal is cheaper than nuclear power.
The Library research document says that clause 16 is most important. It offers a private supplier an escape if there is a power cut caused by circumstances "not within his control". That means that a heavy snowfall or excessive cold could be circumstances "not within his control" and there could be power cuts which might be disastrous for anybody dealing with a frozen food factory or freezers in houses. Yet in such circumstances the private supplier would be protected.
Mr. Jonathan Sayeed (Bristol, East) : The hon. Gentleman subscribes to the conspiracy theory as to why something has not happened, but could it not be that the generating authority is looking at combined steam and gas generation as it is likely to be cheap and much cleaner?
Mr. Ashton : That is the latest proposal as a result of EEC regulations. However, as Lord Marshall said, it is no longer his decision. When the Bill is enacted and the industry is privatised, as it will be in a few months, everybody can wash his hands of it and say, "It is nothing to do with me." For two years, the ball has been kicked from the Secretary of State to the CEGB and the local councils have been blamed. If the power station were to be built, five pits would be kept open. That power station should now be 2ft high and due for completion in 1992.
There is a financial consideration and many jobs are involved. We are talking about the future of the pits and of the area, but we cannot get a decision from the Secretary of State. He will not nod his head and say, "Go ahead." He wants to delay until after the Bill is enacted and the new ports are sucking in cheap coal. If he cannot give us an answer at the end of the debate, I hope that he will agree to meet a delegation from my local council and the coalfield community so that we can sit round a table and thrash this out rather than having to debate it in the House.
Mr. Michael Irvine (Ipswich) : It was startling enough to hear my hon. Friend the Member for Bedfordshire, North (Sir T. Skeet) advocating retaining the nuclear element of the power generating industry in public ownership, but it was even more startling to hear some of the arguments that he put forward in favour of that proposition. I heard him saying, for example, that one of the key arguments in favour of retaining the nuclear element of the electricity generating industry in public ownership was the fact that in constructing nuclear power stations, cost and time overruns were frequently encountered. He mentioned Hartlepool power station, which took 19 years to build, as an example. I can trump that by mentioning Dungeness B, which took 20 years to build. My hon. Friend drew from this conclusion that the nuclear element of the power generating industry should be retained in public ownership.
I draw the diametrically opposite conclusion--that it is about time such things stopped. No private industry could possibly countenance such cost or time overruns. State corporations can and do tolerate such inefficiency. It is about time that that was put to an end and I am glad that the Bill will do so.
While listening to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, I noticed that there were 12 Labour Members sitting opposite him. Of those 12, no fewer than 10 represent coal mining constituencies. I looked across the Chamber and my eyes encountered the steely glare of my old adversary, the hon. Member for Ashfield (Mr. Haynes), a miner himself for many years and an official of the National Union of Mineworkers. I looked along the Bench and saw the hon. Members for Rother Valley (Mr. Barron) and for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) and behind them the hon. Members for Pontefract and Castleford (Mr. Lofthouse), for Bassetlaw (Mr. Ashton), for Midlothian (Mr. Eadie), for Rhondda (Mr. Rogers), for Wentworth (Mr. Hardy) and for Hemsworth (Mr. Buckley).
Another hon. Member who was present then, but who is not here now, was the hon. Member for Barnsley, Central (Mr. Illsley). He had the distinction of being the chief administration officer of the National Union of Mineworkers form 1984 to 1987. In Committee, I called him the high priest of the mining interest and that was a fair description.
I make no criticism. Those Opposition Members are right to be here to represent their constituencies and to put forward the case for the coal mining industry. But we should remember that they have that particular vested interest at heart and that the case that they put forward, very properly, is the case of that particular vested interest. It is interesting to compare the scale of their turnout with the overall turnout of Labour Members.
In his speech earlier, the hon. Member for Sedgefield asked why the nuclear industry has been singled out for special treatment. I can give him one very good answer, which is at the heart of the case made by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. Having a nuclear-generated element in the power industry means that there is that much greater diversity of supply. The hon. Member for Sedgefield said that the argument about diversity of supply was the only case that the Government had left. He said it in a derisory and mocking manner. Whether or not it is the only case is immaterial because it is a very good case and goes right to the heart of the Bill. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State made the point that oil was subject to rapid price swings. He mentioned how, in the six months since the Bill first started on its way through the legislative processes, the price of oil had risen $12 a barrel to nearly $20 a barrel. That is a significant argument against relying too much on oil as a source of generating energy.
Coal has been just as erratic and dangerous a source of supply. During the past 20 years the generation of electricity in this country has been threatened by major strikes three times. The last one in particular was a highly politically motivated strike. The generation of electricity was threatened in 1972, again in 1974 and most crucially in 1984-85.
Therefore, it is entirely right and proper that while giving market forces due rein and producing the efficiency and the benefits that market forces can bring the Government should, in a very undogmatic, pragmatic and common -sense way, treat the nuclear element of the industry as a special case. It is absolutely right that it should be treated as a special case because it will add to the diversity of our electricity supply. Greater diversity of supply ultimately means greater security of supply.
Column 285Probably the only good thing about it was the advertisement that he gave to my hon. Friends' assiduous attendance during the debate. I find it strange that the debate seems to have developed into an advertisement for nuclear power. I found it a bit rich when the Secretary of State decided to intervene to rubbish existing British nuclear technology and came out in favour of the PWR. We in this country have never had a PWR. As I have said before, we are building an American-British bastard version of a PWR, which has not yet worked. When we are talking about efficient technology and advertising nuclear power, I advise the House to look back at the history of nuclear power in all countries because when there is a new nuclear generator and a new generation--
Mr. Sayeed rose --
When there is a new nuclear generator, there is always trouble to start with. That will be the history of this exercise.
Mr. Mans rose --
I thought it a bit rich of the Secretary of State to rubbish British nuclear technology when we are taking the Westinghouse American type. They decided not to build any more, so it is a bit rich to put that defence.
I am trying to say that the debate has become a general advertisement for nuclear power. Just last week I read that the Government are so confident about nuclear power and thermal nuclear power that they propose to spend £20 million advertising it. It reminds me of the old ditty that I heard as a boy. It went something like this.
"The codfish lays a million eggs, the hen lays only one, but the codfish doesn't cackle when its little stunt is done. The artful hen we praise, the codfish we despise,
but every thinking man will agree it pays to advertise." The right hon. Gentleman proposes to spend £20 million advertising a deficient case.
Mr. Sayeed : The hon. Gentleman is quite right. I have not been here during the whole debate. However, if I remember correctly, the hon. Gentleman said that we had never built a PWR. Every nuclear submarine operating from and built by this country has a PWR at the heart of its generating system. They have worked safely for many decades. The hon. Gentleman should not forget that PWRs are effective and safe.
Column 286with building a big thermal nuclear power station. It defies analogy. If the hon. Gentleman were to make that suggestion in an institute of engineering, he would be laughed out of the place. I should not have given way to the hon. Gentleman.
My old adversary, the hon. Member for Bedfordshire, North (Sir T. Skeet), introduced this debate. I have great admiration for the hon. Gentleman. He is always diligent. Whether or not we agree with him, he always spends time and energy on his speeches. He has been here during the debate. The fact that he is absent now is no criticism. He has been present since 3.30 this afternoon. Perhaps he is having a cup of tea. In the course of the argument that he was trying to build, he said that he was searching for the truth. It is a search not for the truth but for the blarney stone. The hon. Gentleman used phrases such as, "Let us have temporary public ownership for a few years, at least until the difficulties have been overcome." He is pro -nuclear and anti-coal. I should have thought that someone of his experience who is pro-nuclear would understand the technical problems of nuclear power in the United States of America and in this country. The problems will not go away in three years.
The hon. Gentleman said also that the public are not ready. I cannot understand why the public are not ready. Perhaps they find it unacceptable that they have been asked to pay a high cost for this Bill. The hon. Gentleman considers that the Bill is in a state of crisis. New clause 3 could have a different title. It could probably be called the "Saving of the Privatisation of the Electricity Supply Bill". The hon. Gentleman was not confident that the Bill would succeed unless we had public ownership, as he described it, of the nuclear section.
We have talked about the nuclear tax. My hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair), the shadow Secretary of State for Energy, made his contribution in Committee and has made great play of that tax. I know that to some extent that has worried the Government, because it is getting home to the general public that, despite what the Secretary of State for Energy has said, they are paying a tax for nuclear power. It is what we describe as a blatant preference for nuclear power.
The coal industry has been brought into the debate, but what have been the arguments in favour of nuclear power?
It being Ten o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.
That at this day's sitting, the Electricity Bill may be proceeded with, though opposed, until any hour.-- [Mr. Chapman.]
Question again proposed, That the clause be read a Second time.
Mr. Eadie : All the arguments in favour of nuclear power have been torpedoed to some extent in the debate and at the various inquiries held. Two of the main arguments in favour of nuclear power were that it was environmentally more acceptable and that it was cheaper than coal, but we know that that is not true. The chairman of British Coal has said--I do not know where he obtained his figures, and various figures have been quoted in the debate--that there is evidence that in the immediate future the gap would be as high as 40 per cent. between coal and nuclear power. To some extent, therefore, the price argument has also been torpedoed.
It has been argued that environmentally coal is a very dirty pollutant, but that argument has also been destroyed to some extent. On a worldwide basis, coal is responsible
Column 287for about 15 per cent. of pollution, but in Britain it is responsible for half of 1 per cent. Hon. Members who talk about dirty coal and its polluting effects should put the matter into perspective. When I led a delegation from the miners' parliamentary group to meet the Secretary of State for Energy, one of the points that we made was that it was time that he stood up and defended coal. He is a custodian of the coal industry. It is rubbish to make out that coal is the main pollutant in this country. The right hon. Gentleman knows that that is not factually true. As the sponsoring Minister, he has a responsibility to defend the coal industry. Mr. Michael Stern (Bristol, North-West) rose --
Mr. Stern : I have been listening to the hon. Gentleman with some incredulity. Does he agree that of the fossil fuels that are burned, coal is the greatest pollutant? In fact, if we are talking about atmospheric pollution, will he agree that however little--according to his statistics-- coal contributes to atmospheric pollution, nuclear power contributes nothing?
Mr. Eadie : I shall come to that aspect. I begin to wonder when the debate will end, because the hon. Gentleman has tempted me. Incidentally, his figures are wrong and he should look at them again. I have looked up the figures. I have already given the main pollutants. Coal contributes 15 per cent. to the carbon dioxide elements of the greenhouse effect, gas contributes 6 per cent. and oil, primarily for transport, contributes 16 per cent., so coal is not the main pollutant. The hon. Gentleman should obtain the figures from the Library. He will then be able to inform the House that coal is not the main pollutant.
Mr. Ian Bruce : The hon. Gentleman referred to pollution from the coal industry. He will be aware that the amount of nuclear radiation that comes from coal ash is far in excess of anything emitted from a nuclear power station. If the nuclear installations inspectorate visited a coal- fired station it would close it down if the same rules were applied as it applies to the nuclear industry. The hon. Gentleman mentioned 15 per cent. of pollution coming from coal-fired stations, but he did not answer the question put by my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, North-West (Mr. Stern) about the amount of pollution from nuclear stations.
Mr. Eadie : Again, it was a mistake to give way. The hon. Gentleman must look up the facts if he wishes to pursue such an argument. I hope that when the hon. Gentleman makes his speech he will give the source of his evidence as it is not factually correct.
We cannot draw a comparison between the environmental effects of the coal and the nuclear industry because they are not in the same race. Nuclear power is unforgiving technology, as we know from Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and Windscale. We are told how good thermal nuclear power is and how well the Westinghouse PWR works, but some hon. Members know that in the United
Column 288States not one such reactor has been built since 1974. When I was last in the States I was told that no one had any intention of building another such reactor because they were publicly unacceptable. Incidentally, I was also told that no one would build a PWR similar to the ones that we propose to build because they are technologically out of date.
The Secretary of State referred to security of supply. I have made many speeches in this House on that and coal must be considered in that context. Every station should strive to achieve security of supply.
We know that the oilfields of the North sea are now past their best. In the 1990s, production will decrease by 1 million barrels per day. Today it has already been said that in the 1990s the price of oil will escalate and that OPEC will be in a position to dominate the price of oil. In the 1970s we carried an annual burden of £5 billion due to the import of oil. Incidentally, since the Government took office 10 years ago, they have enjoyed £76 billion in oil revenues as a consequence of North sea production. On the latest available figures--I have not checked them--we consume more than 83 million tonnes of gas. That is equivalent to one third more than we produce, and the extra consumption will carry an import price.
I do not believe that the case has been made for treating nuclear power as a special case. The hon. Member for Bedfordshire, North made a valiant attempt to save the Electricity Bill, but the Opposition do not want the privatisation of electricity. We believe that the Bill is a monster and that it will make the consumer and the country suffer. I hope that when we decide what to do it will not be just a question of public ownership of the thermonuclear power industry but that we shall return to public ownership of energy and a policy and strategy that will benefit the people of this country.
Mr. Michael Stern (Bristol, North-West) : I am grateful for this opportunity to make a brief contribution to the debate. I shall not follow completely the arguments used by the hon. Member for Midlothian (Mr. Eadie). I was sorry that he chose to refer so slightingly to my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, East (Mr. Sayeed) who comes to the debate as a naval engineer. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Midlothian had not researched that fact before he spoke as he did.
This debate is mainly about the best future for the nuclear component of the electricity industry. In the next few years, that component will undergo several startling changes. The first, on which we are already embarked, is the changeover in the principal method of production through nuclear means from the AGR to the PWR which, in itself, is a major change.
In addition, as the pace of change is accentuated--even in advance of the passage of this Bill--by the prospect of privatisation, even greater changes are taking place in the potential of the nuclear industry. The possibility of smaller PWRs and nuclear stations, designed to plug gaps rather than provide a base load, are being discussed for short-term use.
In recent weeks the physician's dream of the production of power by nuclear fusion has, hopefully, come one small step closer to reality. No doubt, as fusion becomes more of a possibility, its impact on the generation of electricity will become more marked.
I should like to refer briefly to a subject that I mentioned on Second Reading--the fact that the demands
Column 289on electricity generation throughout the world will, in a short time, be infinitely greater than we have ever been used to. The mere fact that we in this country--like most of the developed nations--use 15 times as much electricity per person as many parts of the developed world, which want to accelerate their standards of living to somewhere closer to ours, will mean that there will be a demand for vastly increased electricity generation.
Anyone who believes that such vastly increased electricity generation can possibly come from the burning of fossil fuels can only be someone who believes that human life is designed to grow in ever hotter greenhouses. If we are serious about wanting to assist the developing world to achieve a standard of living which we find acceptable, we can help them only through nuclear or renewable sources of energy. There is no other alternative available. In the next few years we shall demand from the nuclear section of the industry rapid changes, merely to meet the demands of the rest of the world.
The new clause gives us a simple choice. Tremendous demands for change will be made of this section of the industry. Is that industry more likely to respond rapidly to change if it is in the private or the public sector? I do not think that even Opposition Members would argue that if an industry is retained in the public sector it will have the impetus to change and develop.
If the nuclear sector is to develop in the way that will be demanded of it in the next few years, we must give it every incentive to be ready to meet that change. It will have to take its place in a market and be responsible to the forces of competition.
A second argument for the nuclear industry to move into the private sector as quickly as possible concerns marketability. It has been said several times, not least by my hon. Friend the Member for Bedfordshire, North (Sir T. Skeet), that the nuclear industry will be difficult to market. I take exactly the opposite view. If we look at the various sections of the industry in terms of their attraction in a stock market issue, we find that we are looking at two rather different industries. The fossil fuel industry has a potential for high profit, but its profit can be greatly affected very quickly by environmental demands, regulatory demands of the EEC and the development of new and untried technologies such as the massive expansion of flue gas desulphurisation--or hopefully, at a later stage, fluidised bed combustion.
The non-nuclear end of the industry could be characterised, in marketing terms, as the sort of equity that would be very popular on the stock market among private investors but would carry high risk and high reward. The nuclear industry, as it exists at present, is a wholly different animal. Most of the costs that go into the profit equation in the nuclear industry have already been incurred : they are known. Therefore the nuclear section, particularly in its attraction for institutional investors, will be very much more in the nature of a gilt-edged stock. It is unlikely to show the same rapid changes in profitability as the non-nuclear industry ; on the other hand, it is much more likely to produce a steady return for the investor.
I do not share the doubts of my hon. Friend the Member for Bedfordshire, North about the marketability of the nuclear section. I believe that it will appeal to a
Column 290different section of the stock market, but appeal it undoubtedly will. On the basis that the industry must be ready to respond to change, and that that can result only from its being exposed to the forces of competition and profitability--and on the basis that the industry will itself broaden the appeal of the overall privatisation of the electricity industry--I hope that the new clause will be defeated.
Dr. Kim Howells (Pontypridd) : In his proof of evidence to the Hinkley C public inquiry last October, Mr. F. P. Jenkin, on behalf of the CEGB, listed no fewer than 28 reactors--mainly Magnox--which had elected to be decommissioned in the next 12 years. The bulk, incidentally, are to be decommissioned by the mid-1990s. The likely costs of decommissioning, however, are as vague in 1989 as the various proposals so far announced for physically dismantling nuclear stations and disposing of their constituent parts.
The operators of nuclear power stations are required to make provision in advance for the cost of shutting them down, but a recent survey by the Financial Times energy economist suggests that they are planning that provision on the basis of very limited evidence, and that they are likely to find their funds insufficient to meet the actual cost. The utilities have recently calculated that cost on the basis of 10 per cent. to 20 per cent. of the cost of building a new station. With the cost of new reactor capacity running at around £1.2 billion per 1,000 MW, that conservative calculation represents a substantial sum. The SSEB, for example, estimates the cost of dismantling its two Hunsterston B reactors at £270 million in 1992 values.
If we give the utilities the benefit of the doubt and take, as an average per plant, a figure of just £200 million for decommissioning, the 20 reactor sites to be decommissioned by the year 2,001 will involve expenditures of no less than £4 billion. If, as is likely, the decommissioning cost is nearer £300 million per site, the global cost hovers around the £600 billion mark. It is little wonder that the majority of Government Members want to dump responsibility for that decommissioning in the lap of somebody else. But the responsibility cannot be dumped--the decommissioning process will affect us all, whether we like it or not, in the same way as we all share responsibility for the burning of hydrocarbons and for the detrimental effect on the environment of doing so without proper technological safeguards.
Some of the proposals for decommissioning nuclear power stations are barmy enough to make even the Secretary of State's hair curl. Recently, I read a paper by a group of West German nuclear engineers. It advocated that, once fuel rods had been taken from the reactor core, they should be replaced by high explosives, and that controlled explosions should take place in order that a new generation of robots might go into the reactor core, pick up the fragments of irradiated material, and drop them into little lead-lined sacks. The robots would then come out of the reactor. It would be dismantled in that fashion.
It seems to me that the industry simply has not thought this problem through. The Government are attempting to make sure that they get out of the situation so that they will not have to take responsibility for it. That is not good enough. They assume that they can substitute the effects of the free market--that, somehow, a magic wand will be waved and that everything will be all right once privatisation has taken place. I should like to draw the
Column 291attention of the Secretary of State to reports that the Chinese are negotiating for South African coal, despite the fact that British Coal is now the world's largest importer of Chinese anthracite because it closed down virtually all the anthracite mines in South Wales. The Chinese are so desperate for coal that they are willing to shop around and buy it from other countries at the same time as they export subsidised coal to break the coal industry of a potential customer--namely, us.
A free market in energy does not exist, and it never has existed. Energy has always been right in the cockpit of politics, and it always will be there whoever controls the sources of energy in the 21st century will have political power as well as economic power. It seems to me that the Government are trying to dump responsibility and make a fast buck. That is what it is about. To quote a former distinguished member of this House, we are selling the family silver for short-term gain. That is a disgrace--a disgrace in terms of safety, in terms of the health of our children in the future, and in terms of those children's inheritance of a sterilised coal industry.
Mr. Ian Bruce : I did not plan to speak, but I listened with great interest to information being abused by the Opposition and thought that I should say a few words about the rather strange notion of my hon. Friend the Member for Bedfordshire, North (Sir T. Skeet)--for whom I have great respect--that somehow, by keeping the nuclear industry within government, we would be protecting the public and doing the best job for the nuclear industry.
We in this country started off with a Magnox programme. We built some 20 stations, every one of them different. So many of the decisions as to how we would build them, where we would build them, and the different equipment that would go into them were examples of Ministers putting their sticky fingers into decision-making. Of course, we know well what happened when there was a decision to be made under a Labour Government. The AGR technology was unproven ; the pressurised water reactor technology was well proven, and was going through in the case of most of our competitors ; and there was the steam-generating, heavy water reactor, in respect of which, I might point out, I have the honour of representing Winfrith, which had the only model of that type. We decided to go for the advanced gas-cooled reactor. We learned to our cost that that was a very expensive route to follow.
We toyed with fast breeder reactors, but we decided to soft-pedal on that type of reactor. I was surprised to hear the hon. Member for Midlothian (Mr. Eadie) say that Britain has no experience of pressurised water reactors. My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, East (Mr. Sayeed) pointed out, having been in the Royal Navy, that we have built and run over 20 of those reactors and that we have done so extremely effectively. If an organisation decides to go down a particular technology route--as the Royal Navy did--and to stick with it, it can be most effective.
France adopted a technology and then refined it. By investing an amount equal to £20 billion, it is now able to provide the cheapest electricity in Europe. [Interruption.] No, Electricite de France is not in debt. Moreover, France is exporting electricity to this country, Germany and other countries. France generates more nuclear power than it needs.
Column 292We have suffered from constant changes, influenced by Government policy. That is why our nuclear industry is in such a mess. One wonders, therefore, why the South of Scotland electricity board has been so successful. It runs a small number of nuclear power stations. However, the board was sensible enough to look at other people's technology--for instance, at the CEGB's technology--and pick the winners when the bugs had been taken out of them. The SSEB's nuclear power programme provides cheap energy which has benefited Scottish industry.
The European sector of the Soviet Union is running out of cheap coal. It has made the decision--
"EDF slipped back into the red last year."
Mr. Bruce : I stand corrected on that point, but that is only one year. After all the money that has been invested in the coal industry to ensure that bulk supplies of coal are produced for our electricity industry, it would be hard to argue that we are making a profit out of the energy industry.
The European sector of the Soviet Union has little cheap coal now available to it, so it has decided to build 36 large pressurised water reactors. The Soviet Union is asking Britain to help it to design safe pressurised water reactors.
Before the Secretary of State introduced his proposals, the CEGB said that nuclear energy was cheap. Many people have referred to the fact that before the break-up of the organisation was suggested the CEGB said that nuclear energy was cheaper than any other form of energy. By fair means or foul, it has now made sure that in the Bill the Secretary of State provides compensation if nuclear energy, when it is properly costed and put into the system, is found to be more expensive than other forms of energy. One can imagine why National Power has taken that view : it is the only organisation that currently has large-scale generation from nuclear power, and so it is looking for some guarantees from the Government. But I also understand why it has great problems with the way in which nuclear power is to be costed. We in this country have failed to make the decisions that we should have made on a number of matters, particularly on waste disposal.
We were told some years ago by Nirex that the shallow burial of nuclear waste was a sensible, economic and safe means of keeping the waste out of harm's way. One must remember that this particular type of nuclear waste has been stored for 20 or 30 years in prefabricated asbestos or metal sheds above ground in encapsulated tubs, and that we have all felt very safe about that. Bradwell, which did not want a shallow nuclear dump, has had a shed filled with nuclear waste for years. I have one in Winfrith ; anyone who has a nuclear power station has one of these sheds, where we have stored safely for up to 30 years intermediate and low-level waste.
Unfortunately, the Government have been pushed--possibly by people's fears, which have been whipped up by Opposition Members--[ Hon. Members :-- "Oh!"]--into proposing such an incredible solution as burying this type of waste under the sea.