Science & Technology Committee - Minutes of EvidenceHC 428

Back to Report

Oral Evidence

Taken before the Science and Technology Committee

on Monday 19 March 2012

Members present:

Andrew Miller (Chair)

Caroline Dinenage

Gareth Johnson

Stephen Metcalfe

Stephen Mosley

Sarah Newton

Graham Stringer

Roger Williams


Examination of Witnesses

Witnesses: Charles Hendry MP, Minister of State for Energy, Professor David MacKay, Chief Scientific Adviser, Hergen Haye, Head of New Nuclear, Department of Energy and Climate Change, gave evidence.

Q133 Chair: Minister, can I welcome you to this hearing? Before we start, perhaps your two colleagues would kindly introduce themselves for the record.

Professor MacKay: I am David MacKay. I am Chief Scientific Adviser to DECC.

Hergen Haye: I am Hergen Haye. I am Head of New Nuclear at DECC.

Q134 Chair: Welcome, gentlemen. As you know, Minister, we have been looking closely at this interesting issue of the public perception of risk around energy, particularly in connection with proposed new nuclear. Part of our inquiry took us to Germany, where it seems that almost everything that generates electricity finds a higher measure of opposition than here. There is withdrawal from nuclear, resistance to carbon capture and storage, and resistance to growth of the grid and so on. One of the things we are interested in is to compare and contrast the role of respective authorities in engaging with the public.

To start off, how does DECC communicate the risks of energy infrastructure to the public?

Charles Hendry: It depends, Chairman, on the type of infrastructure in question. I am delighted that you are looking at this because it is an integral part of the success of any policy that we are trying to take forward. We have an acceptance in this country that we have an urgent need to rebuild a great deal of our energy infrastructure. We need to secure over £100 billion in the electricity network in the next decade and £200 billion overall in the energy infrastructure by 2025. Those are enormous sums of investment and much greater than anything that has happened in the past. The public recognise that there is an urgent need to get that built. The last coal plant was commissioned nearly 50 years ago and the last nuclear plant about 25 years ago. We simply have not seen the level of investment, and the public recognise that there is a great deal of catching up to be done.

There are also very different perceptions according to the type of technology that is being looked at. I am sure we will come to some of them in more detail. In the communities where we are looking potentially at new nuclear, they are all existing nuclear communities or places where they have had a history and a very long tradition of working in the nuclear industry. Therefore, we have communities that are comfortable with nuclear technologies and are often keen to see that investment coming forward in the future. We have seen more support than one would have seen if those had been proposed to be positioned in other parts of the country.

As to other technologies, some of them-such as carbon capture and storage-are very clearly at the emerging stages. In Germany, my understanding is that the opposition there was to the proposed site for underground storage of the CO2-that is what focused the attention of the local community and the politicians on it-whereas, here, we are looking at storage under the North sea and therefore we do not have communities affected in the same way. But right across the energy landscape we are seeing significant amounts of concern when people are being affected locally. That could be for wind turbines or it could be for grid infrastructure. Bizarrely, the larger infrastructures-the nuclear power stations-seem to have less local opposition than the smaller parts of the landscape.

Q135 Chair: In terms of how DECC contribute to risk guidance across Government, we have looked closely, as you are probably aware, at how the National Risk Register is formulated-not the controversial health one, which is another story. In fact, I discussed this with Francis Maude last week, congratulating him on the way in which the 2012 register was compiled following advice from this Committee to change from the 2010 style of presentation. You presumably contribute to crossdepartmental information. How do you go about that, and how do you try to get information on comparative risk to the public? That is the one thing that, it seems to me, John Beddington did very well, in terms of the postFukushima issue, to explain to people: "You get a fair dose rate flying home. You are better off staying here in Tokyo." I think that is a fair interpretation of the message he gave to some people.

Charles Hendry: There is no doubt in our minds that when you come to issues like that, it is independent experts who have the greatest degree of public confidence and public trust. Much as we would like as politicians to believe that we are right up there at the same level, realistically we accept that we are probably not. Having a single consistent voice, which John Beddington provided in those circumstances, was integral to the way in which that issue was understood here.

In terms of how we feed into that, you will be aware, of course, that there is a national strategic framework for emergency planning and response. We work very closely within that structure. We look at communications as part of that to ensure that when we are looking at an issue, how we communicate-not just to the individual but the physical channels which we use to communicate-will be seen as a core part of that strategy. Communications and making sure that we factor in risk in the right ways are an important part of that process.

Q136 Chair: Finally, before we move on, certainly in my own constituency for the very first time in some years, issues nuclear have been raised with me- not about nuclear power but in the context of what is happening in Iran. People’s general awareness of nuclear weapons has gone up, though not necessarily their knowledge. For example, I have had constituents contacting me and asking how much plutonium there is in Capenhurst, which is next door in Stephen’s constituency. Obviously, I am able to reassure them, but do you think there has been a change as a result of issues such as the Iranian one in public perception?

Charles Hendry: I do not think there has been towards the role of nuclear power in the United Kingdom. It does, to some extent, explain why Germany has come to a very different decision than we have. Whereas, historically, for us, nuclear weapons-an independent deterrent-were part of our safety and our national defence, for Germany, without nuclear weapons, they were seen as the battleground, and they had a very different sense that came with that. Therefore, the public attitude towards nuclear in Germany has always been fundamentally different from that here in the United Kingdom.

With regard to the issues in Iran, I do not see a direct readacross there, but since Fukushima, we have seen that initially there was a dropping off of support for nuclear, though more people still remained supportive than were against it, by a margin of 8%; I think it was 36% to 28%. It has now risen to its highest ever level of support, with around 50% supporting and 20% opposing. That support shows that people have been looking at the issue in its totality; they have been looking at our energy security and have been reassured by the role that Sir John Beddington-our own regulator-has been able to provide in that respect, and to see that whenever we talk about nuclear, there is a very uncompromising message about nuclear security and safety that goes with that as well.

Q137 Stephen Mosley: We have heard evidence that people are very suspicious, particularly of industry but also of Government, and especially when the two are working together. Do you think that the public trust the Government to communicate risk to them?

Charles Hendry: I am tempted to say, of course, that the public trust the Government on everything, but I realise that is not quite as sophisticated an answer as you would require. As a Government, and continuing the approach of the previous Administration, we have said that we believe there is an important role for new nuclear in our mix going forward. We want to see that happen and we want to facilitate it. If you look at the actions that have been put in place since 2007, they have been about identifying barriers for investment and systematically seeking to remove them. We can legitimately claim that this is now probably the most interesting place in Europe for new nuclear development, and one of the most interesting places in the world. That is an extraordinary shift in five years.

Alongside that, therefore, we need to work closely with industry. We need to create the right environment for industry to find us an attractive place to invest. If people want us to deliver on that policy, they would expect us to have a close working relationship with industry.

That said, in the aftermath of Fukushima, everything that we have done since has been guided by scientific evidence. The chief regulator, who is somebody of great international esteem, was asked by the International Atomic Energy Agency to do their investigation post-Fukushima. The role that he has performed, everything he has done and the advice to us has been based on best scientific evidence, and therefore, with the advice that he has made available to us as to how we can be even more robust in our regime going forward, those are the sorts of ideas that we have been very willing to consider, to look at and see how we can adopt them. We have very clearly separated out the scientific advice from Government and industry advice, where people would understandably believe that we have an agenda, whereas they accept that somebody of the level of Mike Weightman, with his professional standing, and our own chief scientist are people who are not part of that agenda. They are there because of their scientific credibility.

Q138 Stephen Mosley: When it comes to specifically gaining public trust not only for nuclear but also for new technologies-you mentioned carbon capture and storage, which of course has its problems in Germany-how do you think that you and DECC should be going out there to gain public trust?

Charles Hendry: We have a role to communicate the energy challenge that we face as a nation, which means the massive rebuilding programme I talked about just now. It means a very uncompromising message that we want that to be done to the highest standards of safety and security. That means putting in place the mechanisms that are going to ensure that, but what is necessary for those standards of safety and security should not be set by us as DECC. We are the sponsoring Government Department, and it is quite right, therefore, that the Office for Nuclear Regulation should come within the Health and Safety Executive as an agency within the HSE at the moment and, in time, we will legislate to make it selfstanding. The security and safety standards, the assessment of the new reactors and the generic design assessment programme should be carried out at arm’s length from us as a Department so that it can never be suggested that the people who are regulating have a vested interest in the outcome.

Q139 Stephen Mosley: You started off in the first question answering about the business case for new nuclear. How much Government support will that require and do you think the Government putting money into the project will affect people’s trust in the safety and the general project?

Charles Hendry: We are not putting money into new nuclear. We have always said that new nuclear would have to be without public subsidy. We are putting in place a new market reform structure for the electricity sector, recognising that for people to invest, to cover the additional costs that low carbon requires-be that nuclear, carbon capture, renewables, or whatever it happens to be-the traditional market structure would simply not deliver that. We are putting in place a system that will secure the levels of investment that are necessary. That is not public funding, and we have been very clear that there is not public funding for the new nuclear programme. I hope that helps to reassure people.

It is worth noting also that half of the spending of our Department currently goes on nuclear cleanup. The decommissioning part of that will rise to two thirds of our spending as a Department in due course. So part of our message is also, "Look, we are going to be doing more than any previous Government has ever done to clear up the legacy issues." That also gives us the grounds for saying, "And therefore we will not compromise on those issues as we go forward."

Q140 Roger Williams: When these difficult planning decisions are being taken, there has to be some balance between the scientific evidence and the risk perception by the local community. How do you, first of all, get the evidence together? Then, how do you get that balance between the two different opinions?

Charles Hendry: We have sought to deal with that through the National Policy Statements. I assume you are particularly talking about nuclear.

Roger Williams: Yes.

Charles Hendry: Looking back at the last nuclear plant, Sizewell, which was stuck in planning for years, a lot of the public inquiry was about the precise siting of it and the precise technology that should be used. We have taken those issues out of the planning process. In the National Policy Statements we have identified eight sites on which industry say they could develop 16 GW of new nuclear power by 2025. That is not a planning consideration within the IPC process or the subsequent one that will come to Ministers. Equally, the choice of technology is not. We have taken that out and it is assessed independently by the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate. They have approved two reactor design types and, therefore, it is not a planning consideration now whether those are appropriate technologies to use.

Those have gone through the regulatory justification process, which went through Parliament with a majority of 520 to 20 for each of the two reactor designs. That is an important part of that process as well. The planning issues should absolutely focus on the planning considerations, but the two issues of type and siting have been taken out of that process and been incorporated more generally in the policy area.

Q141 Roger Williams: Yet we had Sedgemoor district council here, and they said that the risk perception by the public did not have a part to play in the National Policy Framework, but you do not agree with that, I gather.

Charles Hendry: That has been handled in the parliamentary process. The National Policy Statements were subject to two consultation processes, which included very significant local involvement, local consultation and public meetings where people had the chance to talk about the process. It went through Parliament with a very clear and strong majority in favour of doing so. We have said that we have to do major infrastructure projects in a way that enables investors to get a planning decision in the course of a year. If we were ever to go back to the system that applied to Sizewell B, those who are looking to invest in all major energy infrastructure in the United Kingdom would simply walk away. We have been able to look very carefully, as part of that NPS process, at those issues.

Hergen, you have been directly involved in some of those local consultations and perhaps you can comment.

Hergen Haye: I am not quite sure whether the view Sedgemoor presented is quite correct because, under the new planning regime, it is an obligation of the operator to fully consult with the local community. EDF, over the last two and a half years, has run four major public consultations. The local authority, Sedgemoor, West Somerset and the county have been fully involved in these consultations and in parallel conducted their own consultation and fed that back to the operator, EDF. For the planning application to be accepted by the Infrastructure Planning Commission there was a requirement that this legal requirement of consultation be robustly fulfilled. The IPC has agreed that indeed it has.

Furthermore, this week we see the public hearings of the IPC are to commence. One of the first actions the IPC took was to issue a public statement that anyone who has any concern or an interest can register-whether they are a local authority, another body or an individual in the community-and these issues will be heard during the examination process of the IPC. So there is quite significant involvement of local communities, and their views are very carefully examined.

Q142 Roger Williams: Perhaps I could ask the Minister about another subject. All planning decisions for power stations in Wales above 50 MW are taken in Westminster. Is it still the Government’s opinion that that should continue?

Charles Hendry: Yes, it is. We have looked carefully at it. We have heard the suggestions in Wales that it should be devolved. Our view is that people looking to invest in a relatively small island want to have as cohesive a policy as they can. These are plants that are there in the national interest. These are going to be major plants that are often going to be feeding a market well beyond the Welsh population. We believe the structure under the current devolution settlement is the right way of taking that forward as well.

Q143 Roger Williams: Do you think, though, that a policy that was meant to catch nuclear is now catching wind farms? A lot of wind farm applications will be determined in Westminster, and if we believe in localism, perhaps that is not the right way forward.

Charles Hendry: It is for plants that are over 50 MW. That is clearly well below a nuclear plant and it is going to catch a significant amount of other large energy infrastructure. We clearly work within the guidelines that have been set by the Welsh Assembly Government, the TAN 8 regions, for example, identifying the sort of areas where they feel it is appropriate for those wind farm developments to come forward. It is not an exclusive issue, but it does steer people towards it. We have made it very clear that if they wish to re-consult on that and they wish to change the TAN 8 structure, it will be a matter for the Welsh Assembly Government to take forward. I very much understand, in a constituency like your own, the strength of feeling that is there because so much of the infrastructure is being looked at to come there, and it is not only the wind farm application but also the grid connections that go with it. We understand within Government the concerns being expressed by Members of Parliament across the House about the structure as it is at the moment.

Q144 Chair: Before we move on, in answer to Mr Williams’s first question you referred to the eight sites. Does the news over the weekend suggest that eight has become seven, or are there still eight sites, with EDF saying they are not going to develop Heysham?

Charles Hendry: It has always been clear that EDF could not develop all the ones of which they have ownership and they had identified the ones that would be their priority. That is Hinkley Point, with potentially two reactors there, and for Sizewell, potentially two reactors there. It is up to them how they then handle the rest of them.

Q145 Chair: But it is up to you to determine that the UK’s power needs are met. My concern about that approach is whether it is going to leave a gap.

Charles Hendry: From EDF’s perspective, if they have an asset that can be developed, they will be looking to see whether somebody else wishes to develop it alternatively. It is a rather expensive bit of land for social housing alternatively. So I can see that they will be looking at what is going to be the best commercial opportunity for them. If they have decided it is not going to be one for them to operate, it is an entirely legitimate commercial decision and then they will be looking to see others who may be wishing to come in in that location.

Q146 Chair: You would expect it to be developed, in the long term, as a site.

Charles Hendry: We have been guided by industry in the approach we have taken, from the locations that they have identified as capable of being developed by 2025. It has not been a Government target. We have been responding to industry’s interest in developing those areas. This is not a Government topdown approach. This is us responding to the interests that industry has expressed to us.

Q147 Stephen Metcalfe: Professor MacKay, can I ask you to cast your mind back to March 2011 and the Fukushima emergency? You would have had a fairly key role to play in that in advising both DECC and SAGE, presumably. Can you tell us what types of advice you were giving them at that time?

Professor MacKay: I am not being modest if I say that I did not play a key role. I was in DECC, and the DECC nuclear team led DECC’s internal 24hour rolling response to the situation. I was on the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies-SAGE-chaired by Sir John Beddington. I sat in on those discussions and I asked questions, but there were many far more expert people there. I think the right role for chief scientific advisers in such situations is to make sure that the very best advice is getting through to Government, and that is what Sir John Beddington did. The SAGE meeting had in the room or on the telephone line people from all the relevant Departments, such as Defra, the Department of Health, the Environment Agency, RIMNET and the Food Standards Agency. The Chief Nuclear Inspector was there, and scientific expertise was coming in from the National Nuclear Laboratory, from Imperial College, from the Dalton Nuclear Institute in Manchester and from the Health and Safety Executive. Detailed calculations were done on computers by the Health Protection Agency and the Met Office, with those people working together to analyse what was on the site in Fukushima, what could credibly come out and under what circumstances, where it would go depending on the weather direction, and what the health consequences would then be in the reasonable worst case that we were imagining, which, fortunately, did not come to pass at all. My role was to support John Beddington in ensuring that the right questions were being asked. I chatted with the experts who were there in the room and I kicked the tyres on the evidence they were giving. It was excellent evidence and I feel I was hardly needed, to be honest.

Q148 Stephen Metcalfe: Who were you reporting back to as part of that process?

Professor MacKay: My line manager is the Permanent Secretary Moira Wallace and I was on the management board of DECC at the time, so I would have been keeping both of them up to date. The DECC team led the advice to Ministers at that time.

Hergen Haye: Maybe it is worth saying that, particularly in the first few weeks, it was the role of the Cabinet Office and Cobra, where all those different organisations came together. In the first couple of weeks we met twice daily, so that we had all the advice from the Health Protection Agency and all the different organisations we have just heard about. That was then informing the advice, particularly in the first few days, to the Foreign Office that should be given to UK nationals in Japan in terms of what was and was not safe and what one should do.

Q149 Stephen Metcalfe: Do you think the Government did enough to communicate that risk, not just through the Foreign Office but also to communicate the risk here at home as well?

Hergen Haye: I think we did. The first concern was UK nationals in Japan. We worked very clearly through the Foreign Office and the embassy in Tokyo to get all the information to all UK nationals as required. The second was to have a set of lines we could deploy in the UK media, as the interest grew significantly over the first few weeks, particularly around Fukushima. One of the positive elements was that it was a united message. Then the media turned to independent experts from various universities and the nuclear industry; and we found that, through Science Media and other organisations, they utilised these experts and they, in a sense, amplified many of these messages and explained them. That was a better way than Government officials going out to the news studios to present on what various risks mean or do not mean.

Q150 Stephen Metcalfe: Do you think the reporting of the emergency was pretty accurate and fair in the media because they deployed the experts?

Hergen Haye: I think the UK reporting was remarkably responsible. I was fully involved with the Cobra meetings and followed what was reported during the day, as everyone else did. At night, I followed the German reporting through the computer and it was as if two different events were unfolding. It was very interesting to see how responsibly the media and the scientists in the UK responded, identifying the risks but without a sense of alarming the public, recognising that there were unique circumstances in Japan, and nobody had to fear imminently within the UK.

Q151 Stephen Metcalfe: Do you think that John Beddington and Dr Weightman had an influence on that?

Hergen Haye: Very much so. We in Cobra decided very early on that Professor Beddington would be the suitable spokesperson. It was collectively decided that he should utilise that function. As time progressed, our Chief Nuclear Inspector, Mike Weightman, equally took that role, and we trusted both of these to be authoritative voices that could explain to the public what we were dealing with.

Q152 Chair: Do you think that increased transparency that occurred-certainly compared with, for example, the flu epidemic a couple of years ago-has helped improve the public reaction, certainly, Mr Haye, when compared with your experience in Germany?

Hergen Haye: It did. People in the UK very quickly recognised that Japan was dealing with an exceptional circumstance, with one of the largest earthquakes ever experienced-magnitude 9-plus a tsunami, and there was very quickly an understanding that that is not likely to happen at any moment in the UK. Then there was the understanding, "How can we help Japan, show our support and help UK nationals?" For the UK, it was rather the question, "Are there any lessons that should sensibly be learned in regard to emergency planning or backup facilities? While not expecting similar trigger points, if something else happened that could create a crisis, are we prepared?" I think Ministers decided very early on to ask Mike Weightman to make such a study, to look very carefully at our installations, and publish that as an independent nuclear regulator, which gave the added confidence in the safety of our plants.

Q153 Caroline Dinenage: What do you think it was that was done so differently in Germany to have such a different output from the German media? Were there mistakes made or was it just done differently?

Hergen Haye: It is an interesting debate. Fukushima did not create anti-nuclear sentiment. Anti-nuclear sentiment existed in Germany, particularly because the Government had only a few months before changed a consensus on nuclear, to extend the life of existing plants and that had aggrieved many people. There was widespread public hostility. Fukushima was an outlet; it was not a creation of it. The media, understanding where the wider public was, amplified that and it became a cycle in itself. The scientists they then wheeled out were very alarmist. I remember looking at a debate on German television where it was seriously considered whether or not one should hand out 80 million iodine tablets to the German population. You had a sense that Fukushima had happened in Germany and not in Japan. That created all of that anxiety. In factual terms, 90% of all reporting on Fukushima happened in Germany out of all the reporting in Europe. It is the proportionality. While in the UK media there was a lot also about the earthquake and the devastation in terms of infrastructure, with 20,000 people who lost their lives or were missing, Germany immediately homed in on one thing only-the events at the Fukushima plant.

Q154 Gareth Johnson: Minister, Mr Haye has already explained how the media coverage has had an impact on the public, but can I ask you specifically about the Weightman review itself and whether you feel that had an impact on the public’s perception of the risks involved with nuclear power?

Charles Hendry: I would hope so, although I accept that an enormous number of people in this country would not have read it and, therefore, the impact it may have had will have been perhaps at a high level. We are very fortunate in having somebody who has the international credibility that he has. As I said, he did the IAEA’s work for it as well. He therefore comes to this with a tremendous amount of expertise, and that has shown through. Also, there is the thoroughness with which he did it-doing it in two stages. Some intermediate findings followed by the full report was a way of trying to make sure that people could see there were early results coming through from this and that he was not going to duck away from the complicated issues. By taking it away from politicians and away from Government-although clearly it is an arm or an office of Government-it had a credibility that comes from the nature of that post and his own position. For those who were studying it carefully, it was seen as being a very robust and thorough piece of work. Anybody who was looking for a whitewash would have found no ability to take that forward in terms of the substance that was there.

Q155 Gareth Johnson: We have heard about the impact that the Fukushima disaster, the aftermath from it and the reports that were produced had on Germany and the UK, but are you aware of any other profound impacts there have been on other countries that have nuclear installations and were concerned about any perceived risks as a consequence of what happened in Fukushima?

Charles Hendry: Different countries have reacted in quite different ways. We have seen a number of countries going down the route of saying, "No further nuclear plant". Italy, Belgium and Switzerland have said that. It is to reinforce the position that is already there in Austria. One of the reasons why there has been a difference is because of the sheer scale of our rebuilding challenge. In Germany it was not a question of building new nuclear plant. It was a case of when you close the ones that are there. Instead of providing greater life extensions, it was a question of bringing that back to 2023, which is when the last one will close. We are stretching ours out to 2023, and in 2023 the only one that is still guaranteed to be open is Sizewell B. The rest, unless they get life extensions, will have closed before that time. So we face a very different set of circumstances.

The public here are acutely aware of energy security. They know that we are becoming gas importers now. Who knows where that will come from in terms of the longer- term outlook? We have seen the area of the world that provides most of it-the Middle East-having a war in the course of the last year. As the public have looked across the energy portfolio generally, they recognise that we need an enormous amount of rebuilding and that our energy security is enhanced by the extent to which that can be done domestically rather than being reliant on imported fuels.

Q156 Gareth Johnson: Minister, if I heard you correctly earlier on in your evidence, you said that support in the public for nuclear power is actually growing in this country. Do you feel that it is the British Government’s job to reassure the public about the risks, or lack of them, from nuclear power, or do you feel it is the British Government’s duty to say, "These are the facts. Make of them what you will"?

Charles Hendry: It is our job to promote nuclear power. We have, after all, said that we want nuclear to be part of the mix and we want new plant to be built. That requires an attitude whereby the public is supportive of that and willing to see it built in their own communities. We are not neutral about this. We believe that nuclear is part of the mix going forward. Clearly that has to be based on evidence and it has to be based on facts, but at the end of the day, we want to create an environment in which new nuclear plants can be built. We are not neutral-we are in favour of it-but we will not use anything apart from factual information in terms of putting that across.

Q157 Sarah Newton: We have spent quite a lot of time discussing nuclear, but some of the written evidence we received from Professor Nick Pidgeon at Cardiff University suggested that some of the new technologies, which are less familiar to people in the UK-for example, carbon capture and storage-needed very careful risk communication with the public. Then Fiona Fox from the Science Media Centre suggested that we should also be looking at shale gas and geoengineering as areas where the public would need to be engaged in terms of risk management. As the Minister knows, I have a particular interest in deep geothermal as well, which is quite a familiar technology in some parts of the world but relatively new in the UK. What steps are DECC planning to look at communications relating to risk on these new and less familiar technologies in the UK?

Charles Hendry: One of the most important aspects of this is the separation of policy from regulation. We are the Department that is responsible for creating the right environment in which people will come forward and invest, whereas others-notably the HSE-are there to ensure that the right regime is in place for safety and security. That is a fundamentally important part.

If you look at a different part of the energy sector, the attitude of the American Government post the Macondo disaster two years ago is that in those areas they have said they want it to be more like the British regime in future where you do have that separation of licensing from safety. That is a fundamental part of that. We can then say to people who are concerned about shale gas development that we do have, I believe, the most robust regime in the world for oil and gas development and those exact same standards that apply offshore will be applied onshore. There will be no difference between them in terms of the regulatory approach and the safety regime that is put in place. I hope that if we can be very sensible and practical about that, we can rely on "best in class" in terms of the safety mechanisms that are put there. Then people will see that we are never cutting corners in that respect.

There is one aspect about the British approach to safety and regulation that stands apart from any others. In many other countries they have a tickbox approach. An inspector comes round and says, "I have seen that and that", ticks the box and then goes away and comes back one, two or five years later. Our approach here requires the industry to use the best standards available. That means that they are constantly pushing for better practices and improvements, and constantly bringing that forward and upgrading it. It is not a question of somebody saying, "Yes, I have checked that and it is all right." The legal onus is on industry always to be pushing it to be better. That has been a fundamental part of our regulatory regime and it is critical. Certainly, for those in industry and for people looking in from outside, I hope they will see that as being something where Government have said we will always want to see how we can do things better and that the best practices from around the world are, therefore, deployed here in terms of those energy installations.

There will always, though, be this distinction between what people see as being a good technology when they are looking in the UK national interest and how they will react when it is happening near their homes. Therefore, we have to be extremely alive to those tensions and go that extra mile in trying to reassure people. Just because we can see that the gas price in the United States is now a third of that in Europe and a seventh of that in Asia due to the shale gas developments, that alone does not justify shale gas developments. It is right that we should seek those economic benefits if we are comfortable that it can be done safely. That will always be our priority. We need a range of different technologies, but safety must be paramount in all of them.

Q158 Sarah Newton: Given what you were saying before in answers to questions about nuclear energy and how important the independent scientific advisers’ role is in enabling people to have confidence in the UK in nuclear, by comparison to, say, Germany, do you think the independent scientific advisers in this range of different technologies would play a similar role in helping to promote public confidence in those technologies?

Charles Hendry: Yes, I do, but again I come back to this distinction between the national case and the local case. Some of the scare stories that were put round about how shale gas development could happen are completely divorced from reality. Nevertheless, they have very strong public credence within the communities where they are being considered. We have to work that much harder to reassure people-constantly being on the front foot in terms of saying that we are putting in place the toughest standards anywhere-so that we can try to deal with that. At the end of the day, the chief scientists can perform a fantastic role when it is a national issue on television, but they cannot be involved in every village hall meeting when it comes down to the very small local community issues.

Q159 Sarah Newton: I am sure we would all agree that the best policy is evidencebased policy and that the scientific advisers would be basing their opinions on the relative merits and the safety implications of each technology based on the evidence. You were saying that you did not feel the Government should be neutral on nuclear and it was part of the plans for energy infrastructure. If the evidence was there to support the different emerging technologies-whether it was shale gas, deep geothermal or one of the geoengineerings-would the Government then not be neutral on those and be promoting them as alternative sources of energy?

Charles Hendry: If we are satisfied they can be done safely. I hope that is, therefore, a very strong marker for the public confidence that we will not allow anything to go ahead unless we are persuaded it can be done safely. If one looks at the shale gas issue, particularly in Lancashire, where there is a link between some of the fracking activities and the minor earth tremors that happened there, we have asked for an investigation to be carried out. That is now being peer-reviewed by both the public more generally but also by experts in that sector. Only when we have seen that will we decide whether we think it is appropriate to allow the fracking activities to go ahead again. We have required them to be ceased until we have that evidence, until we can make that decision. I hope, by doing it in that way and taking time over this, that we can reassure people that we are not prepared to cut corners.

Q160 Sarah Newton: Looking at, for example, carbon capture and storage, other countries are a bit ahead even though they might well be doing the storage underground and the UK is planning on doing it under the sea. To what extent do you feel you could learn from the experience of, say, the USA or Germany, which are slightly ahead in terms of managing risk perception with the public?

Charles Hendry: Different countries have done different elements of the CCS chain. For example, the Americans have for a long time used CO2 for enhanced oil recovery, but they have not attached it to a power station and then sequestered it for the longer term. What we are looking at-and I think we can legitimately claim to be leading the world in terms of the projects to take this forward-is that full chain of process from separating the CO2 from other emissions to then transporting and storing them for the longer term.

With the projects that we are looking at, we are very keen to take account of what is going on elsewhere; we have some of the most outstanding academics in the world working on CCS projects here in the United Kingdom. We are some of the most cited examples anywhere in terms of the academic work that is done. If we can take account of work that is done elsewhere, we are very keen to do so, but we are looking at largescale plants, commercialscale plants, and operating the full chain of the process. That is something that has not been done anywhere else so far.

Q161 Stephen Mosley: When we went to have a look at the CCS plant in Germany, one of the things that surprised me was that even if they do roll it out and have the full capacity, it is only enough capacity for 30 years’ storage of carbon. Have you made any assessment from the projects you are looking at as to how long you will be able to use CCS before the pockets are full? Have you made any assessment of what happens when they are full and what we move on to then?

Charles Hendry: Some assessment has been made of individual fields. There are two different types of storage. One is depleted oil and gas fields and the other is saline aquifers. In Germany, where they do not have the depleted fields, they have to use the aquifers, whereas we have the choice of both. We have been pumping out oil and gas for 40 years from some of the fields in the North sea, and some of them will last another 40 years as well. So we have very significant fields there that can be used in that respect.

There is one thing to be clear about. This would be being able to pump into it for 30 years, but the intention would, therefore, in Germany be to keep it there for the longer term. It would not be the case that after 30 years, a new home would have to be found for it. It is 30 years of pumpingin capacity, whereas here we have much greater capacity. At the same time, we would see this as a transition technology. This is to allow people to make greater use of oil, gas and coal for longer periods than would otherwise be possible. We simply cannot meet our decarbonisation requirements without finding a way of allowing coal and gas to be part of the mix for the longer term. Even with the most ambitious plans for nuclear and lowcarbon technologies, they cannot do it on their own.

Q162 Sarah Newton: On that very point of meeting our carbon reduction targets, there are some older newer technologies-I suppose you would call them-like onshore wind, where as we get more experience of that technology, although we have less than Germany in terms of volume, new risks are being perceived by the public; for example, there are health issues related to the proximity of the turbines and the turbines themselves are developing in size and scale. What steps are DECC taking, first of all, to look at the evidence of those public perceptions and then how to tackle them?

Charles Hendry: With a number of those we have taken a more structured approach than was the case before. For one of them-the issue of noise-there was something called ETSU97; we have not been implementing that in the same way across the country. We have initially commissioned some research to find out how it is being interpreted across the country. We are now asking the Institute of Acoustics to look at the right way for it to be interpreted so that we can have a uniform approach. That is an important starting point. We are also commissioning studies into the flicker effect, which people are concerned about, in that the light reflecting on the blades, they say, can have a damaging effect on health. We are commissioning a report on that too.

We are determined to have a rather different approach going forward. We are concerned that communities have felt powerless about some wind farm developments. They may have been turned down by their own local authority, but at the end of the day, it then went through on appeal and the inspector said, "We have renewable targets we have to meet and therefore it has to go through to meet those."

We have been clear that that should go and, as part of the Localism Act, those topdown regional targets will go. That will mean that there is more say with the local communities. We are determined, as part of the localism agenda, that local communities should be more involved in deciding how they should evolve over time and that there should be more direct benefits for them as well.

At the same time we have been consulting on reducing the subsidy levels. My concern has been that we have been seeing bigger and bigger turbines in areas of low wind resource, and that is not actually the right way forward. Reducing the subsidy level will ensure that the investment goes where the wind resource is strongest. We are also seeing in the United Kingdom a much greater interest in offshore wind. We already have more offshore wind than anywhere else in the world. We see it as an important part of our lowcarbon targets going forward.

It is about finding the right balance between community interests, the wider concerns about those developments and also being very clear about where we are trying to get to on this. In order to get to our 2020 targets of producing 30% of our electricity from renewables-within that there is some biomass, some offshore wind and some onshore wind-by about 2020 we are looking at 7% to 9% of our electricity coming from onshore wind. This is not an ambition without end. We are looking at something that is reasonable and achievable. It is an important part of our energy security because it comes back to the point I was making earlier; we have a natural resource and we should be taking advantage of it where we can.

Q163 Sarah Newton: I have one final question, about when you are expecting those two reports on the potential health risks. When do you think those studies will be complete and the reports published?

Charles Hendry: The Institute of Acoustics is reporting back to us in the course of the second half of this year, I think. I do not have the date on the flicker one to mind, so perhaps I can write to you, Chairman, with that information.

Q164 Chair: On a final point on wind-so as not to worry too many members of the public as a result of your answers-and achieving your 30% target, one of the figures that we were astonished by in Germany was the fact that there are 25,000 onshore turbines. We have something over 3,000 in total, the majority of which, I suspect, are offshore. Do you have any idea about the scale of onshore that you would envisage making up the mix?

Charles Hendry: In order to get to that 7% to 9% figure that I mentioned, the farms that are built, consented to and under construction or are in the planning process take us to beyond where we would need to be to deliver that. We can start to see that we have identified many of the strong resource areas already. The largescale farms-or almost certainly the areas which could accommodate those, where they have a good strong resource-have been identified and are well into the process already. The number of wind farms that are built, under construction, consented or in the planning process takes us beyond the level where we need to get to.

Q165 Chair: That would take us to a number that is substantially lower or closer-

Charles Hendry: Very much so. Also bear in mind that the sort of wind farms we are seeing now are more efficient. They have a greater output capacity, so you need fewer turbines to deliver the same amount of output that is currently being generated.

Chair: Minister, I am extremely grateful for your attendance this afternoon. Professor MacKay and Mr Haye, thank you very much as well. It has been a very informative session.

Prepared 6th July 2012