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We have identified two serious challenges. The first, as I have mentioned, is security of supply of electricity and gas. The experience in Ukraine a couple of years ago, when Gazprom decided to turn off the supplies, showed that this is all too great a threat for many parts of the world. Of course, the United Kingdom is at the
end of the pipeline, and we have heard it asked whether Germany could pull back supplies that are already in the UK should there be a strategic problem.
The second challenge-and this is the really big one-is CO2. When the North sea oil and gas run out, our major indigenous supply of energy will be the coal that stretches from under the south Yorkshire area to under my constituency in north Yorkshire to where the Barnsley seam extends.
One decision that the Government have made, which I think was right, is to embark on a new generation of nuclear power stations in this country. I am disappointed that the Liberal Democrats have still got a head-in-the-sand attitude, whether it is out of political opportunism or whether they just sing too much to the tune played by Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth. They need to wake up and realise that the nuclear industry has a vital part to play in delivering our CO2 targets.
Martin Horwood: I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's contribution to the Liberal Democrat policy debate, but is he aware that no nuclear power station has ever been built on time and to budget and that we are still paying between £1 billion and £2 billion to clean up the last generation of nuclear waste? We have still not found anywhere or anyhow to dispose of the waste from the last 40 years of nuclear waste generation; why on earth would we want to go down that route again?
Mr. Goodwill: If the hon. Gentleman spoke to the Canadians, he would find that they are delivering nuclear power stations to places such as China and Korea to budget and on time. As for legacy waste, much of it has come from our military nuclear developments. The incremental amount of waste that will be produced by the new generation means that that is not an insurmountable problem. I visited a nuclear power station in Canada with some people who had never been in a nuclear power station before and who had no experience of nuclear. When we saw some waste in a tank, they were asked how much they thought there was-a week or a year's supply-but the tank contained the past 15 years-worth of waste. The nuclear industry's waste is manageable.
The hon. Gentleman should speak to the Canadians about how they address their waste problem. They picked the Canadian equivalent of Jonathan Porritt, a lady called Elizabeth Dowdeswell, to set up a commission, and it became apparent that the problem of nuclear waste management and disposal is not a technical or scientific issue but a purely political one, and that courageous decisions have to be taken to enable waste to be managed and for closure on that issue.
Martin Horwood: I have to accept that even a Liberal Democrat Government would have to find some way of managing that waste-that is inevitable, as it is already in existence-but will the hon. Gentleman tell us when, how or where the last generation of nuclear waste will be disposed of? An answer to one of those three questions would do.
Mr. Goodwill: The current generation of power stations has a credible plan to store waste in tanks until it cools down. It could then be transferred to air-cooled silos for 40 or 50 years. In the long term, the answer would be long-term geological storage-not disposal, but storage-because future generations might need to access that nuclear fuel again to use in a new generation of power stations, perhaps in 100 years' time. I believe that the Government have made the right decision in embarking on a new generation of nuclear power stations, although it is true that the nuclear industry in the UK has had a somewhat unfortunate history.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Ellwood) talked about bumping into nuclear engineers from the UK in different parts of the world. When I was in Canada, I was told that the premier league engineers had been in Britain building our gas-cooled reactor fleet. The theoretical design behind those reactors made them the safest in the world, but the problem lay with the practicalities of building the power stations, particularly as no stations were built to exactly the same design. I think that there was a similar strategy behind the building of Concorde: we thought that we were the best engineers in the world and that we could engineer our way through anything. Perhaps, as lessons were learned, we should have gone down the route of the Americans and French with the pressurised water reactor, which was originally designed to be put into a nuclear submarine or aircraft carrier, as that has turned out to be the most dependable and reliable reactor.
Nuclear has a bright future. The only problem is that the decision to build has been left 10 years too late, and so we might have a problem keeping the lights on in the meantime. Certainly, there is plenty of fuel for the nuclear industry. When I was in Canada, I spoke to representatives of the nuclear uranium mining industry who told me that there was enough fuel for at least 40 years. The problem is that there is no incentive for anyone to prospect for more fuel in places such as Canada and Australia, given that the likely return will be more than 40 years away. Some of the scare stories that have been put about by the Liberal Democrats have more to do with political opportunism than with the best interests of the UK economy and the world climate. It is all very well their saying that renewables are the answer-and they are, absolutely, part of the answer-but so is nuclear. I am pleased that we will have a new generation of nuclear power stations, and I hope that they will be a start. I hope that, in years to come, when we look at future generations, we consider having still more nuclear.
If we get to the point at which nuclear supplies more than just the base load supply, we should look at how the surplus generation can be used. Our coal and gas stations can be turned on and off; at half time in the World cup final, in which I sincerely hope England will be playing, when everyone goes to put the kettle on, those gas and coal stations can be cranked up. The nature of nuclear generation means that those stations have to be on permanently so, looking a little further ahead than the Bill envisages, we should consider ways we can use our successes.
I am extremely grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way again. He is being very generous, given that I am criticising his points, but I
cannot let him get away with the idea that nuclear power has ever been on constantly in this country. Can he name any period in which all our nuclear power reactors have been working at once?
Mr. Goodwill: I recall having just mentioned the technical problems that we have had with advanced gas-cooled reactors and that that is why we changed to the technology that the French and Germans developed-the Sizewell technology-which has been proved to be more dependable.
As I was saying, if we have that base load supply at night when people are not boiling kettles, we will have to think about how to deal with that. I read an interesting paper about developing a hydrogen economy. We already have motor cars that will run on hydrogen-BMW and other manufacturers have taken the lead on that. It would certainly be practical to use hydrogen that is generated by electrolysis at night, or by a process that the Americans are looking into of producing hydrogen directly in a reactor core-I get notes from the hon. Member for Copeland (Mr. Reed), who knows more about the nuclear industry than I do. It would be practical to pump hydrogen around the existing gas network-hydrogen is a little more porous than the current natural gas that we put in there-and have a hydrogen economy based on our existing gas network. That idea looks a little further ahead than even the Bill envisages, but we do not want to close the door to such ideas.
I welcome the news from the Government about electric cars, and I am sure that even if there were a change of Government, that approach would not change. However, I think that some people are making claims that cannot be substantiated by research or data about how green electric cars are at the moment. I am not sure how green an electric car can be if it is being charged up using coal power, but it is important to allow the industry to develop electric cars because we will in due course have green electricity that they can use. Another issue to consider is smart metering and how car batteries can be used as a resource when they are on charge. We might be able to smooth out some of the peaks in supply and demand by using the resource of all those car batteries, when they are plugged into their chargers, to augment the grid at certain times.
Recently, at Imperial college, London, I looked at some very interesting developments involving fuel cells for domestic use. There was a boiler that looked every bit like the kind of normal combi boiler that we would have in our flats and homes, but it was producing electricity using a fuel cell that used natural gas, and the waste heat that was being produced was not being wasted as it is in big power stations in south Yorkshire, where it goes up as waste heat through cooling towers, but was being used to heat domestic water for the house. I hope that we will see that interesting technology go forward.
It was not clear to me, from the Secretary of State's introductory remarks, whether the research and development that we are embarking on will be kept as a UK possession, or whether we will share around the world the benefits of any new knowledge on carbon capture and storage. I suppose there is a difficult line to tread between allowing the UK to capitalise on and profit from the investment that we will put into that research and allowing the rest of the world, including developing countries, to benefit. Perhaps when she sums up the Minister will give us some idea of how the ownership of that technology, which will be funded partly by the Government but largely by electricity consumers, will benefit the UK. Will she tell us what degree of co-ordination there has been between the major economies, which are all looking into this type of technology, to make sure that we are not duplicating work that is being done elsewhere? Certainly, sequestration and carbon capture and storage are part of the solution. The most wonderful part of that would be an ability to burn biofuels in our power stations, capture the carbon and pump it down into the ground. That would be genuine sequestration: taking CO2 out of the atmosphere from the biofuels and getting rid of it in a hole in the ground.
I think that there has been an element not of complacency but perhaps of thinking, "Well it's just going to happen. If we throw enough money at this research, it will definitely happen. Whatever research we put in, we'll come up with a solution." Although we could technically come up with a post-combustion or pre-combustion system and make it work, the problem is the cost and the energy loss. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report suggested that there would be a 25 to 40 per cent. energy loss from carrying out such processing of gases. I recall the regulation that we passed more than a decade ago on fuel quality for diesel and petrol vehicles, whereby we took the sulphur out of the diesel and petrol. There was a 10 or 15 per cent. energy loss at the refinery from that. For every environmental step forward, we sometimes have to take a short step back. Of course, a 40 per cent. energy cost in that sort of process will have a severe impact on people's energy bills.
We need to ensure that we are not missing the point on other sorts of technology that we should identify. We have been criticised for missing some of the low-hanging fruit. The proposals of my hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark) to allow people effectively to borrow against the savings on their bills so that their homes become more fuel efficient seem a sensible way forward. Most businesses are doing that already. If they go to their bank manager with a proposal for investing £100,000 to save £25,000 a year, the bank would go with that. We want that sort of scheme to be extended to ordinary domestic consumers.
We also have a long way to go in heating our homes. We fitted a new central heating system in my home recently and put thermostatic valves on the radiators. However, the bedroom heating does not need to go on till perhaps 9 o'clock at night; the living room heating does not need to go on till 5 o'clock. In many homes, when the heating is on, it is simply on, and people do not go around the house adjusting their thermostatic valves. I hope that we will examine ways in which heating systems in houses can become more intelligent to allow people to make savings.
When I was in Canada, those generating electricity there told me that their peak load is not in winter, but in summer because of air conditioning. I hope that we will examine more carefully ways of using natural ventilation. In Parliament, if one has an office in Portcullis House, it is impossible to open the window. However, I am pleased that the temperature in the Chamber today indicates that we are leading by example in keeping the dial turned down.
My big disappointment with the Bill is that it does not refer to energy from waste through incineration and anaerobic digestion. There was a scheme in my constituency-everybody calls it the Seamer Carr tip; I think the council has a better name-which foundered because of the technology not working. It was a pyrolysis scheme, whereby waste was heated to produce gas, which was burned in an engine. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs put a lot of money into that scheme, which unfortunately did not come to fruition. That is an example of how we cannot always assume that technology will work.
It is interesting to consider other European Union countries, which comply with the landfill directive and incinerate their waste and capture the energy from it rather than continuing to throw it into holes in the ground. I suspect that it will not be long before the European Commission has something to say about that.
Mr. Andrew Pelling (Croydon, Central) (Ind): Is it not also important to try to gain the public's confidence about incineration? In south-west London, there is a great deal of controversy about the prospect of the polluting effects of an incinerator. Perhaps more work needs to be done on technology so that people can feel reassured that their environment will not be compromised by such incinerators in urban areas.
Mr. Goodwill: My hon. Friend is right. In Vienna, there is an aesthetically as well as environmentally nice incinerator in the middle of town. People in Austria understand that the standards that the large combustion plants directive imposes on new incinerators mean that they are in more danger from airborne pollution from a neighbour who has a garden fire and throws some plastic or other waste on to it than from a properly run incinerator-not a toxic waste incinerator, but a normal domestic waste incinerator. We face quite a challenge in persuading people that such incinerators are not a threat to their health or their children's health. Indeed, it is a sensible method of harnessing the energy in waste in a way that will save not only the planet but their bills.
Some local authorities-certainly in the borough of Scarborough in my constituency-go for recycling targets by, for example, targeting green waste, which many people previously simply composted in their gardens. That has increased the mass of waste that has been collected. The local authority also collects a lot of unseparated waste-thereby creating costs-which people would previously have perhaps taken to a collection area, where they could separate it themselves. The value of waste has been somewhat compromised by the wish to increase weight rather than value. We need to consider the incineration of waste and take the people with us to persuade them that it is a good thing for their community and the environment. The other way we can get energy from waste is through anaerobic digestion.
Although I welcome the Bill, it is the sort of step in the right direction that a person takes when their shoe laces are tied together. I hope that we will have the opportunity in Committee to improve the measure and make it more fit for purpose.
Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. Before I call the next speaker, I reassure hon. Members that the temperature in the Chamber is not cool because the authorities and I are not trying to improve it. We have closed windows and are doing our best to increase the temperature so that it is a little more comfortable.
Like the Bill, I will be mercifully brief. I declare an interest at the outset, as I will mention nuclear power and the nuclear industry throughout my contribution. You would be surprised if I did not, Madam Deputy Speaker. Sellafield is in my constituency and I therefore declare rather more than my interest: I declare around 17,000 interests-the number of jobs that it provides in my constituency and in west Cumbria, including for many of my family and friends. I am a former employee of the site-a third-generation nuclear worker
The Bill does not specifically affect nuclear generation. Many hon. Members have pointed out that previous Bills have attended to that. However, the measure raises issues, particularly on public subsidy, which are germane to future electricity generation from nuclear and other sources.
Before I continue, I thank the hon. Member for Bournemouth East, (Mr. Ellwood) for saying that Cumbria is open for business. We were badly affected by the floods. Our economy relies very much on tourism, and the roads, hotels, hostels and guesthouses are open. Please come and spend money there this Christmas.
There is a limit to how far we can play the blame game. There has been some of that in the Chamber this evening about specific elements of policy, in particular how we have arrived at the current nuclear policy. Having said that, the genesis of the malaise in the nuclear industry, which we have begun to remedy, is in the previous Government's failure to address the long-term waste disposal issues. I think that we have resolved that with the laudable and overdue creation of the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority and the effective prosecution of a properly informed, thoughtful, well-understood long-term radioactive waste management policy for this country. That commands support from hon. Members of all parties.
The hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes) raised the issue of nuclear fuel, and the environmental consequences and security of supply issues affecting the new generation of nuclear reactors in this country. The answer is very simple: we already reprocess our spent fuel and, moreover, we continue to manufacture fuel in my constituency at Sellafield and at the Westinghouse facility at Springfields.
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