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Mr. Weir : Will the review also look at the availability of uranium for the new nuclear stations and the fact that that is also a finite resource?
Malcolm Wicks: When we examine potential scenarios and test the nuclear hypothesis, uranium will require consideration. I understand that we already have a reasonable supply of uranium and that many of the deposits are in Australia and Canada.
On the management of waste, we must demonstrate to the public that the legacy of nuclear waste is being tackled before we contemplate a new generation of
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nuclear reactors. A clear strategy is in place, and work is under way to tackle that legacy. We established the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, which became effective in April last year, and it is setting a UK-wide strategy for more effective decommissioning and clean-up of its sites. It is responsible for the UK's civil nuclear sites and for setting an overall strategy for their safe, secure, cost-effective and environmentally responsible decommissioning and clean-up, and it will drive improved clean-up performance through the introduction of site management competition.
The independent Committee on Radioactive Waste Management was set up to oversee a review of options for managing the UK's higher activity radioactive waste. CoRWM will recommend the option, or combination of options, that can deliver a long-term waste solution, providing protection for people and the environment. CoRWM is due to deliver its recommendations to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs by July this year, and the UK Government and the devolved Administrations will decide policy and its means of delivery in that light.
The failure of Governments and Parliaments to tackle the waste issue for several decades is a national disgrace and we must reach sensible conclusions to settle that national account. We cannot have a serious debate about ongoing nuclear until we have convinced Parliament and the public that we have implemented strategies to tackle the waste issue, and I think that the NDA takes us halfway there.
Mr. Drew : My hon. Friend knows that Berkeley, the first nuclear power station to be decommissioned, is in my constituency, and he also knows that exciting moves are afoot to return the Berkeley site as near as possible to a greenfield site. Will he commend the people engaged in that work and support the industry's objective? Perhaps that is one way to address some of the legacy issues, which require answers.
Malcolm Wicks: The way in which we handle decommissioning in terms of not only waste but the local environment is critical.
On skills and research, new nuclear build is not the only issue that we should consider in relation to civil nuclear power. The operation and eventual decommissioning of existing nuclear plant will require a highly skilled work force, which is why the Government have introduced measures to support and develop skills and research. The Cogent sector skills council was licensed last year, and it is taking a strategic view of the nuclear sector, ensuring that the education and training base can meet the needs of nuclear employers. Cogent is also working closely with the NDA and its contractors to ensure that the necessary skills are available and sustained.
The research councils are playing their part in providing prospects for nuclear energy research. Opportunities for fission research are available as part of the initiative of Research Councils UK, "towards a sustainable energy economy", and the UK is participating in the generation IV international forum, which plans a co-ordinated programme of international research into advanced reactor systems.
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Safety is a crucial issue, and the UK has an excellent record. Both the Government and the UK civil nuclear industry take very seriously their responsibilities for ensuring the safety of activities at nuclear installations. The stringent regulatory regime provides for the application of high standards of safety aimed both at minimising radiation exposures from normal operations and at preventing accidental releases of radioactivity at nuclear installations.
Norman Baker: Does the Minister regard the way in which the nuclear industry has dealt with the legacy problems at Sellafield as demonstrating proper regard for safety?
Malcolm Wicks: As I have said, the way in which Parliaments and Governments have handled the matter over several decades is a national disgrace, which indicates my feelings. The Government and I are determined to tackle those difficult and sometimes controversial issues.
In conclusion, we will, of course, consider nuclear during the forthcoming review. It is a pity that there is not an opportunity to hold a wider debate, but opportunities have arisenthere will be moreto discuss other technologies such as renewables and the need for energy efficiency. Today, we are understandably focusing on one technology, civil nuclear, but we will not consider nuclear in isolation, because we do not see one technology as being a panacea for lowering emissions and ensuring reliable energy supplies. The challenge for serious people is not to advance the case for one technology that can contribute 5 per cent. or 30 per cent. of our supply, but to consider 100 per cent. supply.
Mr. Ellwood : Will the Minister take this opportunity to spell out the timetable? We hear that the review will report in the summer, but what will be its consequences? In a year's time, will we have a substantive timetable for understanding our energy requirements and how we will meet them?
Malcolm Wicks: Yes, I hope so. The Prime Minister has asked me to report to him and the Cabinet by the summer, so although we must conduct the review rigorously and spend time on it, there is a sense of urgency.
I will not try to second-guess the outcome of the energy reviewthe Liberal Democrats have already done sobecause it would not be sensible. The Government are committed to a full assessment of a wide range of options, and we cannot pre-empt that consideration now. We need a rational, evidence-based, grown-up debate, which must involve experts, people in business, investors, people in the energy industry, scientists and academics.
Colin Challen : I am pleased to hear that the review will not be pre-empted. Will the Minister take this opportunity to put it on the record that the Government do not believe, as one of his predecessors said, that uranium is indigenous to this country or, as Lord Sainsbury of Turville said in the other place, that nuclear power is renewable? Neither of those two statements is sensible, rational or grown-up.
I have indicated my understanding that much of our uranium comes from Australia and
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Canadamy feel for geography is reasonable, but not advanced, so I can reassure my hon. Friend on at least one point.
Geraldine Smith (Morecambe and Lunesdale) (Lab): I was pleased to hear my hon. Friend say that the review will have a sense of urgency, because energy reviews have been conducted throughout my eight years in Parliament. When he conducts the consultation and meets a wide range of people, perhaps it would be useful to visit the two nuclear power stations in my constituency and talk to the trade union.
Malcolm Wicks: We will meet so-called stakeholders in every region of the country, and I am developing a programme of more public events. Indeed, my challenge to hon. Members is to lead the debate rationally in their own constituencies.
Geraldine Smith: Was that a yes or a no?
Malcolm Wicks: It was one of those.
Dr. Andrew Murrison (Westbury) (Con): Will the Minister confirm that he will consult industry about increasing the efficiency of existing and future conventional power plants? My information is that Ministers and their officials have stonewalled those who seek to improve efficiency, but there seems to be the potential for some early gains. Will he meet Thermodyne, which is such a company based in my constituency?
Malcolm Wicks: I will certainly give that due consideration, although when I say that I want to meet a wide range of people, I am not saying that I want to meet everyone at the same time.
The debate should not be just an expert debate, a business debate or an academic debate, although we need those dimensionsit must be a wider public debate. Hon. Members can help to lead that debate in their constituencies. I hope that it will be informed, rational and grown up; and I rather hope, against the odds, that the Liberal Democrats may yet choose to join in.
Mr. Alan Duncan (Rutland and Melton) (Con): Tonight is an occasion on which Conservative Members find themselves in broad agreement with everything that the Minister has said. I approached the debate with a measure of hope and of despair. I hope that the energy review on which we embark on Monday will be a serious process in which both sides of the House will engage in the grown-up manner that the Minister described, but I despair that, as we all try to address this matter, there is one party that has decided to close off the process from the start.
We all have a profound responsibility to grapple with what is one of the biggest, if not the biggest, problems that we face as politicians and stewards of the interests of our country. We live in a rapidly changing world in which our patterns of supply are uncertain, the technologies that govern our energy supply are changing very rapidly, and our growing concerns for the
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world in which we live, and the one that we will leave behind, are of paramount importance. We have profound responsibilities. Any of us who tries to live without electricity for a mere 48 hours can understand the significance of what energy means to us. We are, if not a nanosecond from, at leastas we saw in New Orleansonly thinly divided from complete chaos. The absence of energy in our working world would lead rapidly to that chaos.
The hon. Member for Lewes (Norman Baker) asked, "Why have this review?" We need it because we cannot with certainty see the future, because the issue needs profound thought, and because the technology that governs it, and the world, is changing fast. If we do not engage in this reviewokay, we would rather have had it sooner, but none the less the process is now set in trainwe will not be fulfilling the responsibilities that we all have. The point about the energy world at the moment is that every single aspect is interrelated. We cannot consider one aspect of energy generation and supply without appreciating its effect on another aspect. We have to consider it overallgas, electricity, oil, nuclear and renewablesand try to understand how we can best serve the interests of the planet as well as our needs for energy.
Our starting point is that Britain is heavily dependent on gas. The current investment climate in Britain means that the only decision that any private company will take is to build a gas-fired power station. That is not necessarily the best thing for our long-term future. The whole issue of energy efficiency is, rightly, on our political radar in a far more engaging way than it has ever been. That should have happened earlierperhaps some of us were a bit slow. The effects that CO 2 emissions are having on the world are better understood. Our dependency on certain sources of energy is growing. That could put us in a perilous position if the world is turned on its head with upheaval in one part of the globe. Our starting point has to be one of deep concern about how our energy supplies can be sustained and how the consequences of consuming energy can be acceptable for future generations.
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