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Dr. Alan Whitehead (Southampton, Test) (Lab):
We are conducting an ambitious review, which will report shortly. The issue concerns not only a secure supply for the future, but a diverse supply that is not intermittent and contributes to a 60 per cent. cut in CO 2 emissions by 2050if we do not reach that target by 2050, climate change will mean that we do not have another chance to do so. The review is taking place against an uncertain series of parameters, but a reasonable conclusion is that we should source as much of our energy as possible for future use from within the UK.
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We need a mature and careful analysis of all sources of energy. Tonight, we are discussing nuclear power, so it is reasonable to ask how nuclear power might work as part of the mixit cannot form the sole power source. I want to raise two issuestiming and cost. Nuclear power is not a short-term fix, because all but one of our nuclear power stations will be closed by 2023, so if we are to maintain our present level of nuclear power generation we must replace all those nuclear power stations. In that case, we would have to invest £10 billion to £15 billion over a 10-year period in capital payments for nuclear power stations before a single kilowatt of nuclear energy were produced.
Tonight's argument has addressed whether direct or indirect subsidy would be required to undertake such a programme. If no subsidies were provided, recent practice suggests that no one would build a nuclear power station, which would take us 10 years down the line with no new nuclear power stations and a greater gap in our energy supply, so the likelihood is that some money will be needed either directly or indirectly. If that money were to be used, the question that we might well ask is what we could get for that money if we did not put it into nuclear. In relation to the outputs that we could get on renewable energy, for example, the figures equate very well.
The other issue relates to security of supply and getting to a low-carbon economy. In terms of the mix that we could have, we stand in a very positive position compared with most industrialised countries. We have huge reserves of coal that we fail to exploit. We will be a net oil and gas importer, but we will still produce some oil and gas. We have Europe's largest supply of wind, tidal and wave energy. We are almost uniquely blessed in the raw materials for renewable technologies. The nuclear argument states that despite all that we must have nuclear as part of the mix.
Nuclear is not CO 2 -neutral. Figures have been produced about what the nuclear footprint is in terms of carbon and the whole-life concerns of nuclear generation. It is relatively low-carbon-emitting compared with oil or gas, but only when its fuel is mined from relatively rich sources. As soon as those sources start depleting in richness, the carbon emissions from the mining rise. Under those circumstances, at half the level of the ores that are currently going into British nuclear energy, the overall carbon emissions rise to roughly those of gas.
It is estimated that at present a 50-year supply of uranium is left. In terms of the uranium used in world nuclear energy, we have a gap, even at present levels, of about 30,000 tonnes across the world. We would have to make that up in future years by mining still more. It is not an indigenous energy supplyit has to be mined from across the world, and it will run out in the not too distant future. We will perhaps commit ourselves to part of our energy supply based on exactly the same arguments about exhaustion of supply that we have faced over the past 50 years. That is not a fundamentally good idea.
Norman Lamb (North Norfolk) (LD): This has been an important debate. As my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes (Norman Baker) pointed out, it would not have taken place had we not provided the opportunity. I welcome it for that reason.
The arguments in favour of nuclear power have been based on two things: security of supply and global warming. The slightly over-the-top contribution by the hon. Member for Copeland (Mr. Reed) generated looks of despair among some of his hon. Friends. We can all agree about the absolute imperative of tackling climate change, but as my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes and others pointed out, we can achieve that without nuclear power. It is not just Liberal Democrats saying that. The Tyndall Centre, in its report, "Decarbonising the UK", said that we can achieve a 60 per cent. reduction in carbon by 2050. That view is shared by the royal commission on environmental pollution in a report that was accepted by the Government. The Carbon Trust believes that we can achieve it, and the Government's own White Paper, which was published just three years ago, also claimed that. So there is no case for arguing that there is no alternative.
We have heard the inevitable attacks on the Liberal Democrats from Labour and Conservative Members, but they seem studiously to ignore the fact that many on their own sides share our analysis. We have had the wonderful spectacle of the Conservatives appointing Zac Goldsmith as an adviser in a desperate attempt to get some credibility with the environmentalists, yet their own spokesman effectively condemned Zac's analysis as "fundamentally irresponsible." I look forward to the debates in the Conservative party. Nuclear power is "a horror story", according to Mr. Goldsmith.
We do not have closed minds; we simply accept the Government's analysis of only three years ago. Many Members, including the right hon. Member for Oldham, West and Royton (Mr. Meacher), the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North (Joan Walley) and my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Dr. Cable) all made the point that nothing has fundamentally changed since that White Paper was published. We were already aware of global warming and that we would become net importers of gas and oil. Either the Government's analysis in the White Paper was flawed or the conclusions hold good today. We take the latter view.
Since the review, the Government have abjectly failed to do anything effective to cut energy waste. Departments are some of the worst offenders and the Treasury is the worst of all. The Government have also failed to develop a broad mix of renewable sources of energy. They will fail miserably to achieve their target of reducing 20 per cent. of CO 2 emissions by 2010.
The debate has examined some of the key anxieties about nuclear power. My hon. Friend the Member for Hazel Grove (Andrew Stunell) and many others highlighted the unresolved problem of waste. If anything should give people pause for thought, it is the lamentable record of the industry and successive
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Governments on dealing with waste. I applaud the Minister for Energy for his honesty in admitting "a national disgrace". That record represents scandalous neglect of a potentially devastating environmental hazard, which remains today. The legacy ponds in particular are an enormous environmental hazard.
There is a central contradiction in the Prime Minister's approach. The Government amendment argues for "promoting competitive markets" but nuclear becomes viable only with a massive distortion of the market.
Professor Mackerron, an energy economist, highlights the high risk at all stagesconstruction, electricity market and decommissioningapart from the political and regulatory risks. That results in an estimated £2 billion per nuclear plant.
Nuclear energy requires certainty, for example, through a nuclear obligation at a minimum price for a long time. However, that undermines the liberalised market that the Government appear so keen to promote. That inevitably results in a high cost to the householder or the taxpayer.
There are two other effects of investment in nuclear. Professor Mackerron and others anticipate the draining away of private investment in other energy sources, both renewable and gas-powered generation. If that happens before a new generation of nuclear energy comes on stream in 2020, concerns about security of supply could get worse.
There is also a risk of the Government losing interest in renewable investment. They have not shown much in any case but we may already be witnessing a reduction in commitment and investment. Clear skies and photovoltaic programmes have run their course. Now the successor programmes provide reduced investment per year compared with previous schemes.
For all those reasons, we choose to stand by the analysis of the Government's energy White Paper of only three years ago. We envisage a very different alternative. We support a genuine commitment to cutting energy waste in the domestic, commercial and public sectors. We know that the potential is there but it needs a commitment to achieve it.
We need investment in clean coal technology, and in the whole basket of renewables, not just in wind power. Biomass, biofuels, solar, wind, wave and tidal power also need to be pursued. We must also develop innovative and much more efficient local distribution sources of electricity, which could make the traditional centralised grid obsolete.
There must also be investment in microgeneration. According to the Energy Saving Trustan organisation specifically funded by the Governmentby 2050, between 30 and 40 per cent. of the UK's electricity needs could be met by microgeneration
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