Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt the noble Lord but while he is spelling out the costs of nuclear power, would he say that the costs of building and running the stations take into account the cost of disposing of nuclear waste because that, of course, is the greatest part of the bill?

Lord Jenkin of Roding: My Lords, the noble Baroness does not need to talk to me too much about nuclear waste. I served on the Select Committee of this House under the chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Tombs, when we considered this matter in great detail three or four years ago. I am coming to the point that the noble Baroness made. I said that I would quote again from the press release of the RAE. Secondly, the Notes for Editors give the figures for the costs in pence per kilowatt hour of generating electricity for "base-load" plants that were considered in the study. At the lower end of the scale they include gas-fired combined-cycle gas turbines, nuclear fission plant, coal-fired circulating fluidised bed steam plant and so on. All those methods cost less than three pence per kilowatt hour. The more expensive methods included poultry litter-fired bubbling fluidised bed steam plant, at over twice the previously mentioned cost, onshore wind, offshore wind—the relevant figures were supplied—and wave and marine technologies. The report makes it perfectly clear that the figures for nuclear power include the whole cost of decommissioning and their share of dealing with waste.

I agree with the White Paper that the issue of waste must now be addressed. Our report gave the Government a very clear way ahead. As the noble Lord, Lord Oxburgh, has been fond of saying in the past, they kicked it into the long grass. I hope that we shall hear more about this from the Government. They really must deal with the problem of the disposal of long-term waste. There is a later amendment on that issue.

If one looks at the figures for offshore and onshore wind, one of the problems is that you must have standby generating capacity for the periods when the wind does not blow. One of the most telling moments in the television programme the other night was when the vanes stopped going round and no electricity was produced. I recommend to the Government as a serious piece of work this work on the comparative costs produced by the Royal Academy of Engineering entitled, Can we Afford to Keep the Lights On?: Real Future Electricity Costs.

18 Mar 2004 : Column 402

There are, of course, new designs for nuclear. There is much experience in the rest of the world. There are ample supplies of fuel distributed across some very stable economies in the world. Those supplies are widespread and secure.

The third point is that nuclear is—as the White Paper rightly said—a carbon-free technology. Yet it is extraordinary that it does not qualify for any of the incentives for carbon-reducing measures. The noble Lord, Lord Lea of Crondall, who is not present at the moment, has tabled a very interesting amendment, Amendment No. 200, in which he proposes the end of the climate change levy as applied to nuclear generation. I have added my name to that amendment and we shall, of course, support it.

My fourth point is that in Grand Committee we moved a series of amendments to deal with skills, training, university courses, research, development and demonstration. The Government's current policy is to spend £5 million per year over four years on fission research. As I said to the noble Lords in Committee, that is regarded with complete derision by the industry as being worth virtually nothing.

We also talked about the external costs of different technologies and, again, nuclear power comes out extremely well. The new clause requires the Government to give the country regular updates. We base that on Clause 1 of the Sustainable Energy Act 2003, under which the Government are enjoined to provide an annual report on these matters.

In Hansard of 3 February under the heading "Energy White Paper", I was intrigued to read a Ministerial Statement (repeated by the noble Lord, Lord Sainsbury), which said:

    "The energy White Paper first annual report will be published soon after the Easter Recess".—[Official Report, 3/2/04; col. WS 21.]

It goes on to note that a number of other papers will be published at the same time. I am very glad that the Government are making that a reality. We are asking for there to be a whole lot more in it.

I return to the terms of the amendment. All the new sources of energy that are listed in subsection (1) of the new clause are important, but I would like to draw particular attention to four of them.

First, clean coal technology. My son recently returned from a short visit to America, and he said that he was astounded to see huge American trains loaded with coal going through the Rocky Mountains. The Americans are spending an enormous amount on developing clean coal technology.

In this country we have almost unlimited supplies of coal, and as the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, has pointed out with great vigour over a long while, we seem to be doing extraordinarily little about it. In this amendment we ask the Government to report annually on what is being done to develop clean coal technology.

Secondly, I would like to mention biofuels. We had an interesting debate in Grand Committee on the encouragement of biofuels. These could be an example of self-sustainable development, but it seems that the Government have astonishingly little interest in them.

18 Mar 2004 : Column 403

As a young man, I remember being able to buy Cleveland Discol petrol from filling stations. That was based partly on alcohol from fermentation.

Thirdly, the amendment also mentions wave and tidal generation. It would be very helpful to know what the Government and others are doing in encouraging research into that. The fourth, another particular interest of noble Lord, Lord Ezra, is microgeneration. The other forms of energy are important, too.

In subsection (2) we ask that we should be given information about,

    "research, development and demonstration work done".

In subsection (3) we are looking for the development of the necessary skills and expertise, so that we will not be faced with "undue reliance on imports"; that is, imported technology. We must have a report on what the Government and others are doing to make a reality of the nuclear option. All the important considerations are there. I believe this amendment would make a notable and valuable addition to these annual reports.

Lord Ezra: My Lords, I support the amendment moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Hendon, on which the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin of Roding, has just spoken.

The purpose of the amendment it to extend the range of subjects dealt with in the annual reports under Section 1 of the Sustainable Energy Act 2003. It will enable the Government to give a fuller, more wide-ranging report than was originally envisaged, and follow up all the points raised in the energy White Paper. I will confine my comments to subsections (1),(3) and (4) of the amendment.

In subsection (1), as the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin of Roding, pointed out, there are a number of new energy technologies that need to be developed vigorously, and for which the Government have already expressed their support. It would therefore be highly desirable that, in addition to the subject of wind energy—which would be included in the annual reports as originally conceived—these further subjects should also be reported on regularly. I am sure that the Government would approve.

The point of subsection (3) is that we should be ready with the necessary resources and skills to avoid undue reliance on imports. Surely, this again is a self-evident objective. We should have regular reports on how those skills and resources are being maintained for that purpose, so that, should there be any difficulty over imports in the longer term, we can be assured that we shall have the resources to diminish our need for them.

Subsection (4) deals with the important issue of reducing demand wherever possible, and increasing efficiency. Increased energy efficiency is an important part of government policy. They have still to announce what they plan to do in the domestic sector, where, unfortunately, a great deal of energy is still wasted. It would not be unreasonable for the annual reports to include that issue. This is a reasonable proposition that

18 Mar 2004 : Column 404

complements what is already in the energy White Paper and covers subjects in which the Government have said they are interested.

Lord Maclennan of Rogart: My Lords, I, too, wish to support the amendment. I will be brief, as the broad arguments of principle have already been effectively deployed.

First, in the Government's White Paper on energy, paragraph 4.60, regarding new options for the longer term, says:

    "Technology will almost certainly surprise us in the field of renewables as elsewhere".

That may be so, but we should not be more surprised than we need to be. If annual reports are made available on the subjects outlined in subsection (1) of the amendment, we shall be less surprised and more capable of deploying the information constructively.

Secondly, the Government's position on nuclear power is a fence-sitting one, in a somewhat pejorative sense. As the Government's White Paper says, it is true that the current economics of nuclear power make it an unattractive option for new generating capacity. The important word to emphasise in paragraph 4.68 of the White Paper in which they make that statement is "current" economics. No doubt that will change with the benefits of technological developments and the work that is being done in nuclear decommissioning. These developments ought to be made available as they become known to enable the economics of nuclear power to be reviewed.

Those that follow these matters feel that the Government would like to put such issues on one side. They want the uncertainties over waste disposal issues to be reported on not as soon as may be, but after the next general election. One recognises that there is a distinct lack of enthusiasm for open debate about these issues at this time. One can assume only that it is due to a political sensitivity of the subject as it is perceived.

That seems to me to be another solid reason why we should have factual annual reporting on the options. It would enable the eventual debate, which must involve the public as the Government have indicated, to take place in a properly informed manner. The many possible options should be fully considered and the reliance on importance is a developing issue on which we should have periodic and regular reports. The impact of what is happening in the former Soviet Union on the security of our supplies cannot be taken as a settled issue. It must be given frequent reconsideration. The obligation to report in the manner proposed in the amendment ought to be continued, particularly in a democracy where energy supplies are so much the subject of debate.

4 p.m.

Lord Tombs: My Lords, I, too, support the amendment. It is included in the annual reports required under the Sustainable Energy Act and it would make those reports more comprehensive and helpful. If, as I anticipate, the Government state that it will be difficult to collect all the information, that is

18 Mar 2004 : Column 405

an added reason for accepting the amendment. Doing so might bring a degree of focus into a highly defused situation—as in the case of the previous amendment.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page