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19 Oct 2005 : Column 1034W—continued

National Grid

John Hemming: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what assessment he has made of the impact of a reduction in the voltage on the national grid in the event of a one in 50 cold winter on (a) domestic and (b) commercial consumers. [18265]

Malcolm Wicks: If voltage demand measures were needed to handle a short-term electricity shortage the most likely visible impact on consumers would be a slight dimming of lights and kettles would take longer to boil. Some sensitive, mainly commercial and industrial, electronic systems may be affected e.g. fire alarms.

Demand restraint measures of this nature would mostly happen during the morning and evening peak demand periods.

John Hemming: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry to what level the voltage on the national grid may be reduced in the event of a one in 50 cold winter. [18266]

Malcolm Wicks: Under the terms of the Grid Code, National Grid can direct Distributed Network Operators to implement short-term demand reduction measures. The Distributed Network Operators have a number of different tools available to deal with a request of this nature; these include short-term disconnection,
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interrupting supply to those customers whose contracts permit it or the use of voltage reductions. The severity of the situation would decide which of these measures were appropriate.

However, this is a very short-term measure that can only address an emergency situation. In a long-term shortage of supply incident other demand restraint measures would be utilised.

Natural Gas

John Hemming: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what contingency plans are in place to deal with a possible shortage of natural gas during the winter of 2005–06; and what significant methods are available, in addition to limiting electricity generation, to reduce natural gas consumption. [17648]

Malcolm Wicks: In the first instance the Government would expect demand for gas to reduce itself in response to price signals indicating tightness in the balance between supply and demand in the gas market. This has already been observed in previous winters, mostly from electricity generation but also, to a lesser extent, from large industrial users of gas. The scope for additional demand reduction from this sector was explored in a report, Estimation of Industrial Buyers' Potential Demand Response to Short Periods of High Gas & Electricity Prices: A report to the DTI and Ofgem by Global Insight", which is available from the DTI website under

The Government and Ofgem have been working with large industrial users to encourage the provision of more timely and easily accessible information to help market participants to identify commercial opportunities for such demand-side response.

In the extremely unlikely event of the situation deteriorating to the point where the market is no longer able to balance itself, powers to restrict gas supply are available to the national emergency co-ordinator at National Grid and to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State under applicable legislation.

Nuclear Power

Helen Goodman: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry whether a privatised British Nuclear Group would continue to take overseas contracts for the reprocessing of nuclear material in the UK; and if he will make a statement. [18310]

Malcolm Wicks: The BNFL Board met on 29 September further to consider a number of strategic options for British Nuclear Group to give it the best chance of success in the future and place it in the strongest possible position to win the upcoming NDA site competitions. The preference of the Board is to pursue a sale, which they believe would be in the best interests of the company and its employees.
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Irrespective of who owns BNG decisions on future reprocessing contracts would be for the Government to take on the advice of the NDA.

Norman Baker: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry how many and what percentage of drums of high-level nuclear waste held at Sellafield have been classified by BNFL as not safe to be returned to foreign customers. [17222]

Malcolm Wicks: At Sellafield, high-level nuclear waste is made safe for long-term storage by a process called vitrification. The vitrification process chemically bonds the liquid high level waste into a solid glass matrix which is held in a stainless steel container. These vitrified residue containers are then placed in an engineered store.

Approximately 20 per cent. of the vitrified residue containers scheduled to be produced over the lifetime of the vitrification plant at Sellafield will be returned to overseas reprocessing customers. The vitrified residue containers are manufactured to meet an agreed customer specification and in addition are certified by an independent third party auditor on behalf of overseas customers. To date over 1,000 containers have been certified as meeting this specification.

All vitrified residue containers produced are safely stored at Sellafield and will remain safe for long term storage. Of those containers produced for export to overseas customers none have been classified by British Nuclear Group as unsafe.

Norman Baker: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry if he will make a statement on the production of nuggets of soluble radioactivity in the vitrification process. [17223]

Malcolm Wicks: High level nuclear waste is made safe for long term storage by a process called vitrification. Vitrification chemically bonds the waste products into a solid glass matrix. The vitrification process is internationally recognised as the best available technology for the treatment and storage of such waste.

During the production of the vitrified residue containers, trace amounts of mainly non-radioactive chemicals may not be completely bound into the glass matrix. This is termed 'yellow phase' material and is soluble in water. While formation of such traces of soluble material cannot be entirely eliminated, its formation is rendered insignificant by the glass formulation chosen to incorporate the waste and the operating parameters to which the vitrification process is controlled.

The vitrification plants at Sellafield are operated to reduce the potential for 'yellow phase' formation. The vitrified residue containers remain safe for long term storage.

Offshore Wind

Dr. Kumar: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what assessment he has made of the potential of Tees Valley offshore wind to help the Government achieve their target for renewable energy production by 2010. [18699]

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Malcolm Wicks: The application for consent for the Teesside offshore wind farm at Redcar is still being considered prior to its determination by Ministers. In taking the decision on the application, Ministers will be mindful of the Government targets for the take up of renewable energy and will balance these against any local impacts that have been identified during the public consultation exercise carried out for this project.

Post Offices (Fraud)

Mr. Peter Robinson: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry how many post offices were temporarily closed because of suspected fraud within their premises in the last year for which figures are available. [19546]

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Barry Gardiner: This is an operational matter for Post Office Ltd. (POL). The chief executive, David Mills, has been asked to reply direct to the hon. Member.

Regional Government

Mrs. Spelman: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what the (a) Government expenditure and (b) administration costs of regional development agencies was in each year since their creation; and what the estimated figures are for 2005–06. [15213]

Alun Michael: The tables show the regional development agencies' expenditure and their administration costs for the financial years 1999–2000 to 2004–5 and plans for 2005–2006.
Advantage West Midlands103,4237,421112,6748,352140,6788,793
East of England Development Agency29,8184,57036,1404,84954,5205,836
East Midlands Development Agency41,1176,94167,1977,37786,0707,488
London Development Agency235,4906,009265,8159,470
North West Development Agency141,36711,837155,75013,876269,68814,044
One North East92,2809,58597,73610,513158,18110,103
South East England Development Agency63,4735,19673,2356,34397,3226,643
South West Development Agency43,0287,25561,7368,38084,7809,099
Yorkshire Forward121,2987,795124,9508,284207,4919,989

Advantage West Midlands204,13313,862239,85417,300
East of England Development Agency88,4969,00080,1569,000
East Midlands Development Agency100,70610,200116,79512,000
London Development Agency294,82717,000317,27917,000
North West Development Agency274,03221,619309,09229,925
One North East192,86018,372223,00021,258
South East England Development Agency111,91114,303135,70616,395
South West Development Agency102,85614,24299,05216,044
Yorkshire Forward211,45316,608244,24917,482

Advantage West Midlands217,28118,500272,31220,000
East of England Development Agency84,14010,000129,43811,200
East Midlands Development Agency118,77413,668155,96315,000
London Development Agency327,64230,400372,97929,500
North West Development Agency366,72032,449381,83138,792
One North East226,52821,773239,67422,500
South East England Development Agency110,22516,868157,15918,000
South West Development Agency113,36815,944153,09219,773
Yorkshire Forward287,96617,351295,00719,510

The expenditure figures are net of receipts that RDAs recycle

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