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6.12 pm

Albert Owen (Ynys Môn) (Lab): It is a great pleasure to follow the Chairman of the Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Committee, the hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Peter Luff), who, while surveying the issues, made some poignant points.

I am pro-nuclear, pro-renewables and pro-energy efficiency, and I do not see any contradiction in those beliefs. I should like to add a Welsh dimension to our debate, as I do not think that there are any other Members from Wales in the Chamber. [ Interruption. ] I apologise, the hon. Member for Preseli Pembrokeshire (Mr. Crabb) is here. However, I am the only Welsh Member with a nuclear power station in operation in their constituency. Many of my colleagues from Wales, including Labour Members, are against nuclear, and I shall address their fears.

I support the Bill, as well as the energy and nuclear White Papers. It is about time that we moved forward on nuclear, as we have been talking about it for some time. We had the worst of all worlds in the last review, which was neutral on nuclear: the review did nothing for either side, and left the question hanging. The industry could not move forward, and it is important that we do so now. Before I tackle the question of nuclear and carbon capture, I should like to deal with the renewables obligation, which many people in industry find confusing and bureaucratic. I hope that the banding proposals will eliminate that confusion and help companies to invest in renewables. I shall therefore be interested to hear the Minister’s reply, and I hope that when the Bill returns to the Floor of the House on Report it will include measures to make the banding system efficient and less bureaucratic.

We are discussing this important Bill at a time of rising gas and oil prices, and increases in utility bills. The Minister will know that I have campaigned for
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some time to improve the gas network in the United Kingdom, and it is appropriate to discuss that in the context of the Bill and increasing gas prices. Many people in my constituency and, indeed, in constituencies across Wales and the United Kingdom, are not connected to a gas main, and their alternatives are even more expensive than mains gas.

We have campaigned on two issues: first, if people do not have a choice, they should not have to use expensive alternatives; secondly—and this important point has been touched on by other hon. Members—we must tackle fuel poverty. Many of the semi-rural and rural areas that I represent suffer from that problem, and it is compounded by lack of access to a gas main. I am not talking about isolated properties but about small towns and large villages close to a gas main. The regime operated by Ofgem does not help the situation—it hinders it—and makes it expensive to use gas in such places. I hope that the Government and the gas companies are trying to find formulas to get gas to those people. There are many customers in constituencies around the country who want access to gas mains. There is a missed opportunity in the Bill, so I hope that the Minister can help me.

Many people want a nuclear-free Wales. They say so, because of the perceived risks of nuclear. In my constituency, hundreds of highly skilled jobs derive from the nuclear industry. If a nuclear-free Wales went ahead, and England went ahead with new measures on nuclear, particularly in the south at Hinckley, Wales would suffer the perceived risks without having any of the economic benefits provided by the industry. Many people from my area, which has a history and understanding of nuclear as well as a high skills base, would gravitate to other parts of the United Kingdom. Colleagues who are dogmatic in their opposition to nuclear should therefore consider all the options.

Colin Challen: Another great institution in Wales is the Centre for Alternative Technology. Has my hon. Friend had an opportunity to read the report that it published last year on zero-carbon Britain—I think that the centre coined the expression—which projects the possibility of a massive reduction in our dependency on fossil fuels, without resorting to nuclear? If he has not read the report, I shall gladly send him a copy.

Albert Owen: I should be interested to receive that report. I have visited the centre. Indeed, its members gave evidence to the Welsh Affairs Committee. Some of the founders of the centre were pro-nuclear, as they believed that nuclear was a green energy. However, some of the centre’s present members deny that that is the case. I believe that nuclear is a green energy, which will help us to achieve the low-carbon economy to which we all aspire.

I am genuinely pro-renewables and other alternatives as well as nuclear. In my constituency, we have a number of wind farms as well as a nuclear power station. Indeed, we have a licence to produce gas. My constituents and I, therefore, do not think that energy should be produced elsewhere. I was interested to hear the hon. Member for Northavon (Steve Webb) say in response to an intervention that 75 per cent. of planning applications are turned down. Indeed, the
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Liberal Democrats in Wales oppose many such schemes, and I am afraid want windmills to be sited in areas where the wind does not blow and where they would not be very efficient.

A proposal has been made to develop the Gwynt y Môr wind farm in north Wales into one of the biggest wind farms in the country. The Conservatives in the area oppose the proposal to develop that wind farm off the north Wales coast. If the Liberal Democrats will not allow wind farms to be built in windy areas on land, and wind farms are not allowed to be built offshore either, I do not know how we will achieve that rich mix that they talk about.

We have to grapple with the issues: technology in the nuclear industry is moving on, but waste is a massive problem that has been fudged for far too long by successive Governments. It is time that we dealt with it, and we are moving towards a solution. I was intrigued by the suggestion from the hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Alan Duncan), who appeared to be very confused and dug himself into hole. One cannot be a little pro-nuclear: one is either pro-nuclear or anti-nuclear. It is a bit like being pregnant: one cannot be a little bit pregnant. I therefore think that the Conservatives’ position is a bit of a cop-out.

If we are in favour of nuclear, we must do what is best to get rid of nuclear waste. The legacy waste as well as the new nuclear waste must be dealt with properly. We hear about various estimates of the amount of waste. Depending on whom one listens to, we are told that there is enough nuclear waste to fill X number of Albert halls, but much of the civil nuclear waste and even the military and medical nuclear waste is intermediate or low level. The volume of high-risk waste is considerably less.

When people think about waste and legacy waste, they should think about the past waste legacy of other sources of power, such as coal, which we have to manage. Copper mines and tin mines, too, have scarred areas of the United Kingdom. Waste management is important, but how many Albert halls or Millennium stadiums could be filled with the carbon that is killing the atmosphere? We must deal with the waste properly.

I am unsure whether the technology is coming on stream quickly enough to deal with carbon capture, and I am a little worried. I am glad that we are putting the mechanisms in place. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South (Alan Simpson), who spoke about separation.

In conclusion, I am pro-nuclear, pro-renewables and pro-energy efficiency. For the 21st century we must be mature enough to grab all those and move forward with the technology to achieve the stable and affordable supply of electricity that we need for high-intensive industries across the United Kingdom. If we do not, other nations will develop nuclear, and we will be importing nuclear electricity to keep the smelter works in my constituency and other parts of the United Kingdom going. The Bill is technical and deals with some of those difficult issues. The time has come to be pro-nuclear and positive about the future.

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6.21 pm

Mr. Laurence Robertson (Tewkesbury) (Con): I endorse everything that I have just heard from the hon. Member for Ynys Môn (Albert Owen), who made a balanced and sensible speech with regard to the nuclear industry.

Three years ago I had spent two years studying energy as the Conservative party spokesman on the subject, which does not make me an expert— [Interruption.] Perhaps hon. Members should wait to hear what I say before they disagree. Studying energy gave me an insight into the subject and an interest in it. It became clear to me that in this country we need a mix of primary sources of energy.

There are problems with all the sources. There are problems with coal, and as the son of a former miner, I can speak with some authority about that. It is a pollutant. I cannot remember how many outstanding claims there are from miners who were injured down the pit, but we must take that human tragedy into account when we discuss electricity produced from coal, which is increasing as a percentage of the energy mix.

There are also difficulties with gas. Our gas reserves are running down—not depleted yet, but running down—and we will become increasingly dependent on gas from abroad which, as anyone in the part of the world that receives gas from Russia would testify, is not a secure position. That is why the Finns decided to build a third nuclear reactor. As I said in an intervention, contrary to what we have heard in the Chamber this afternoon, they also have a repository to deal with the intermediate-level waste. I have been underground inside it, which is proof that it exists. At the time the Finns were also starting to build a repository for high-level waste. It can be dealt with. The fact that it has not been dealt with in the United Kingdom is not due to any geological problems or to the fact that it cannot be done. It is due to a lack of political will. We should not confuse that with the issue itself.

If we do not build a new nuclear base, and if we increase renewables up to 20 per cent. by 2020 and we lose our entire nuclear industry, we will have made no progress at all on carbon. It is unbelievable that hon. Members are shaking their heads. I am not sure about their maths, but my calculation is that if nuclear provides about 18 per cent. of the United Kingdom’s electricity now, and if we lose that and go up to 18 or 20 per cent. from renewables, roughly the same amount of carbon would be emitted, so we would have gone nowhere.

I am not pretending that there are not issues in the nuclear industry, and my hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Melton (Alan Duncan) spoke about finance.

Dr. Whitehead: If the hon. Gentleman compares the amount of generating capacity at 70 per cent. capacity value from nuclear with what is already in the pipeline for offshore wind at a generating capacity of 35 to 40 per cent., he will see that those two figures almost exactly match.

Mr. Robertson: I am a firm believer in renewables. If we have renewables and a nuclear industry, we will be going places with regard to carbon. On a very cold,
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very still day, we would get no electricity at all from wind power. Let us not forget that on the coldest days in the United Kingdom, which are very still, there would be no wind and therefore no electricity, so we should not depend on that source to a greater extent.

On the financing of the industry, my hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Melton is right. However, if it is not attractive for companies to bid to build nuclear power plants, they will not do it, so I do not see that there is a great fuss to be made about that aspect. The Government have invited bids, which they could have done 10 years ago, but they have not said that there will be a new generation of nuclear power plants. They can improve and speed up the planning process and perhaps encourage the processes to go ahead in areas that already have nuclear power plants, such as Sizewell and Sellafield. That would be sensible. I am glad that the Government have said what they have, although they have not actually said, “We are going to build a new generation of nuclear power plants.”

The hon. Member for Northavon (Steve Webb), who spoke for the Liberal Democrats, is no longer in his place and I do not wish to be unkind, but in what I considered a rather politically naive speech he made a good point when he asked what would happen if no one came forward to bid. The same would be true if no one came forward to bid for the Severn barrage. As an MP whose constituency is bordered by the River Severn, I have looked into the matter closely. I have also visited the barrage at La Rance in Brittany, which was built 40 years ago. It is probably a tenth of the size of the potential of the Severn barrage, but it was well worth visiting to see how it works—and it does work. When it was built, there was tremendous disruption to fish life and to bird life, and it has taken quite a long time for that to recover. I was told by people there when I visited that if they built it now with new technology, they might do it differently and it might not cause the same disruption.

The appraisal, which is at least 10 years late, is welcome. I want to ensure that it takes an independent look at the prospects of a Severn barrage, with all that that means. It is probably fairly easy to calculate the amount of electricity that would be generated from it. That has to be good—it is secure and it is green. I want the wider aspects of the environment to be considered when the appraisal goes ahead.

My constituency was badly hit six months ago by the terrible floods, as were a number of other places. The past couple of weeks have been extremely worrying for people there, who are not even back in their homes after six months and are some months from being so. They are extremely anxious about further flooding. The appraisal must also consider what impact a Severn barrage would have on flooding in the area. I do not have the technical knowledge to say whether it would be good or bad for flooding. I want the appraisal to take an independent look at that.

I have some enthusiasm for the project, which deserves very serious consideration for the reasons that I have given. We have to find a way forward in respect of secure and green energy supplies. However, I hope that the appraisal will be objective and neutral; I am a little concerned that the people running it are by and large linked to or from the Government. I understand that they will take evidence from outsiders, but I would
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have liked the running of the appraisal to have been better and more balanced. Nevertheless, we are where we are and I hope that those involved will take into account the points that I have raised.

It is important that we move forward with projects such as the Severn barrage, because of the importance of security of supply and green issues. However, we also have to move forward with the balanced energy policy that I mentioned at the beginning. Unlike the hon. Member for Northavon, I do not accept that nuclear energy would take our eye off the ball; only a small-minded person would allow that to happen. We must have nuclear and renewables and we will have to continue with coal and gas for some time yet. Having one source of electricity does not mean that we cannot have another one. We must have a balanced approach to energy; putting all our eggs in one basket would be dangerous, and I hope that we do not go down that road.

6.31 pm

Dr. Stephen Ladyman (South Thanet) (Lab): It is a pleasure to take part in this debate and to follow the hon. Member for Tewkesbury (Mr. Robertson), with whom I agreed rather more than with my right hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West and Royton (Mr. Meacher).

Colleagues will probably know that I began my career as a radiation biologist; I am an environmentalist by training and early profession. I spent the early part of my professional life living around and working on nuclear reactors of one sort or another. Indeed, I became friendly with my right hon. Friend the Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Mr. Ingram), who spoke earlier, when I was doing my PhD on a reactor right in the middle of a residential area in his constituency. When it was there, the people in the town did not even know it; I doubt whether they even knew when it had been decommissioned and taken away.

Nuclear energy has no fears for me. I have been advocating it for the past 10 years. Having listened to this debate, I think that the issue comes down to what we think about carbon, not what we think about nuclear power. If we believe that putting carbon into the atmosphere is the most serious threat that we face today—because of its impact on climate change or its creation of respiratory diseases around the world—we have to prioritise energy sources that can remove carbon or are low-carbon.

We should not rule anything out; we should put all low-carbon forms of energy production on the table. I am not sure that colleagues who have so vehemently and passionately argued against nuclear power are prioritising the battle against carbon. If they are, I do not think that they are taking seriously enough the difficulties involved. I am not the first to come to that conclusion. In 2006, Patrick Moore, co-founder of Greenpeace in the United States, wrote in The Washington Post:

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Colin Challen: Patrick Moore’s name was prayed in aid last week, during the statement. Somebody kindly sent me a copy of the Electrical Review, volume 240, No. 4. An article in it states that Dr. Moore

Was that the kind of statement to which my hon. Friend referred?

Dr. Ladyman: Earlier, my hon. Friend was happily offering letters and articles to my hon. Friend the Member for Ynys Môn (Albert Owen); I shall send my hon. Friend the Member for Morley and Rothwell (Colin Challen) a copy of the article from The Washington Post. It makes it clear that Patrick Moore does believe that climate change is man-made.

Martin Horwood: May I offer the hon. Gentleman a more reliable quote from 2006? Along with 40 other leading climate and energy scientists, Keith Barnham, professor of physics from Imperial college, London, wrote to the former Prime Minister:

Dr. Ladyman: I certainly agree that nuclear can be only a little part of the solution and that it is too late. Ten years ago, when I first entered Parliament, I was arguing that we should resume our nuclear build. However, nuclear can still make a significant contribution. If we are quoting climatologists at each other, let us not forget the founder of the Gaia movement, James Lovelock, who wrote in The Independent:

I do not think that there is a single more important figure in the whole environmental movement.

Mr. Jamie Reed rose—

Dr. Ladyman: It will have to be very brief, because I do not get any more injury time.

Mr. Reed: Very briefly, does my hon. Friend share my dismay at the fact that every time an eminent scientist comes out to support the nuclear industry, the environmental movement moves en masse to discredit his entire scientific record?

Dr. Ladyman: I agree entirely. The dogma exists because people do not regard nuclear power as safe. They still have a view of some huge accident record. Even last night as I was talking about the issue with a colleague, who is not here today, Chernobyl was raised. I asked him how many people actually died at Chernobyl. “Thousands,” he said. The truth? According to the United Nations—not just one section of it, but the environmental groups within it, the World Health Organisation and the International Atomic Energy Agency—62 people died and that includes 15 children living in the area who died from thyroid cancers. That is a disaster—

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