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The Lord Bishop of Southwell and Nottingham: My Lords, a key question is: how imminent is this environmental crisis and catastrophe? According to James Lovelock's recent publication, The Revenge of Gaia, we face huge upheavals in the climate and environment within the next 20 to 50 years. It may simply be too late to do anything—a hard thing for humans to face, particularly those of us in the West who like to think we can control our destiny.

Even Lovelock thinks there are things we can do. He advocates nuclear power. There are reasons why nuclear power may be the answer—fuel security, for example. To be able to generate the energy we need in our own country must be preferable to relying on sources within politically unstable territories, as the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, mentioned.
 
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Another reason is having nuclear as part of a mixed economy with renewable energy. Renewable energy sources can be created close to people's homes where populations are sparser, but the current development of renewable technologies cannot provide enough constant energy to fuel larger conurbations. A nuclear power plant near a city will ensure energy in the vast quantities and concentrations needed, while renewables could work elsewhere.

Another reason is generating power close to where it is needed. The environmental cost is reduced and the efficiency of energy is greatly increased if the energy does not need to travel. This could be the case for nuclear power stations close to cities. I also suggest that it could meet some of the concerns expressed by the Campaign to Protect Rural England.

Yet another reason is that the technology is well developed. We should be in a position to open more nuclear power stations now, whereas renewables technology is still in its infancy by comparison. If the problem needs a solution urgently, nuclear power may be the way to go.

If there are some reasons for nuclear power, there are also reasons why it may not be the answer. Let us look at some of the statistics on uranium mining. About 36,000 tonnes of uranium are mined each year to meet current needs. The European Commission estimates there may be only 2 million to 3 million tonnes of exploitable uranium sources globally. On current projections of nuclear capacity, uranium mining operations will need to increase by 100 per cent within 10 to 20 years, at which rate uranium will run out within 30 to 40 years.

Again, on the practical reality of new-build nuclear reactors, optimistic predictions are that they will not be ready until 2021 because of the time taken to design the reactors, gain the consent of the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate and the Environment Agency, gain the formal planning permission and then build the thing, by which time old nuclear reactors will be coming out of service. Although the technology is ready, the capacity to use it is not.

Nuclear may not be the answer because of waste issues, which have already been mentioned. Claims that highly toxic spent uranium fuel rods can be made safe have not been fulfilled yet. We leave a deadly legacy to the generations that come after us. Research and development into new technology to neutralise waste residue will cost us a phenomenal amount of money and there are uncertain delivery dates.

Another reason for not having nuclear is profligacy. Nuclear allows us to be profligate. Reduced energy sources or renewable energy sources, which demand us to live more simply, place constraints on human greed. With nuclear power we are using the energy source that gives us as much energy as we want and then leaves the mess to future generations. There are profound ethical issues concerning energy.

Some may say, "What about nuclear fusion?" Nuclear fusion is claimed by some to be the answer. It does not use uranium and is, therefore, in theory limitless. Its waste products are thought to be less toxic
 
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than those of nuclear fission. However, the technology is still relatively new; there are problems in the containment of such energy; and even if the waste is less toxic, it is still toxic.

Mr Carl Hughes, the UK head of energy, infrastructure and utilities at Deloitte, writing in the preface to its recent publication, 2020 Vision, stated:

I return to the issue I raised at the beginning: is it simply too late to do anything about our climate and environment in the midst of what I believe is our growing energy debate? I refuse to be pessimistic. As Sir Nicholas Stern says on the economics of climate change:

2.38 pm

Lord Woolmer of Leeds: My Lords, I add my congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin of Roding, on securing this debate on nuclear power and on his excellent introduction. I also add my welcome to the warm reception already given to the maiden speech of my noble friend Lord Cunningham of Felling, who I have known as a good friend for over 25 years. Today, he was typically clear in his thinking and delivery, clear in his strategic outlook and balanced. I am sure that we look forward to many more contributions from him in this Chamber.

When the wider public in households and businesses across the country think about energy policy, first and foremost, they think of price. People are worried about the rising price of electricity, gas and gasoline and the stability of those prices. They are not at all sure what on earth will happen. They want to feel that their energy supplies are secure and they feel uneasy when they see us increasingly depend on imported supplies of oil and gas from countries that too often give cause for concern about the reliability of their exports to us. Oil and gas are once again seen as economic weapons in political disputes.

There is little doubt that governments, including our own, underestimated the likely path of oil and gas prices only three years ago. The Government's energy White Paper of February 2003 based its assumptions on an oil price in the mid-$20 range. How long ago that world seems. It will never return.
 
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On price, stability of price and security of supply, nuclear power for electricity generation has come into its own. The real price of nuclear power has been falling consistently for two decades. It is now competitive with oil, gas and coal, and, as my noble friend Lord Cunningham said, what it needs is not subsidies, but certainty, clarity and support. The real price of nuclear power is predictable for 30 or 40 years—as far ahead as you can look. The only risk to the cost of nuclear power generation is that it will fall. What a delightful choice that would be for households and businesses. Nuclear energy offers households and businesses a stable, even falling, price of electricity for as far ahead as we can look, and it offers security of energy supply.

The other big concern in energy policy, which rightly loomed large in the 2003 White Paper and in the January consultation paper, as well as in the minds of others in the public, is the role of energy in climate change. The European Union has set its member states some ambitious targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions during the next 45 years. I do not think that people in this country realise quite how ambitious those targets are. The United Kingdom Government have committed themselves to reducing carbon emissions by 60 per cent by 2050. If our economy is to grow by 2.5 per cent a year in that period, we must reduce the amount of carbon produced per unit of output by 90 per cent from current levels. It is therefore envisaged that we will produce only 10 per cent of current levels of carbon per unit of output. They are truly vast ambitions, but they are essential if we are to tackle climate change.

What will achieve this? The January consultation document is frank. On transport, it states that people will not be forced out of their cars or prevented from flying for holidays or on business around the world. Transport has to be tackled. Aviation has to be brought into the emissions trading system in Europe, but that will not stop it growing. If we are going to tell people, "Sorry, you were born too late to go on holiday abroad", that will not do any good. If we are going to tell people in China and India that we will price them out of coming to Europe in aeroplanes, they will go elsewhere.

Increased energy efficiency is extremely important. Will it enable us to consume 10 per cent of current energy used in households, offices and businesses? What is current energy policy? Oil, gas and coal are expected more or less to balance each other out. They are in the European emissions trading system. The price of carbon will rise, forcing improvements in efficiency, but consumers will face increasing electricity prices. That is what happens when the price of carbon goes up. So the mechanism envisaged for households and businesses to meet the climate change targets is higher prices.

What is the current policy on renewables? It is intended that the use of renewables will increase to meet 20 per cent of electricity production, but that nuclear power will cease to exist in 20 or 25 years. There will be no contribution from nuclear energy. It is clear to anyone who thinks about these matters that
 
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renewables and nuclear energy are critical if we are to get carbon emissions down to merely 10 per cent per unit of output of today's levels in 45 years. To ignore the important contribution of nuclear energy to tackling climate change is reckless. Failure to tackle the nuclear energy issue will mean increasing prices of energy and electricity and increasing prices for aviation and using cars—all of which will happen anyway, but which will be even worse.

The case for nuclear energy is now indisputable. It is one of political will and ambition. A Government who can have the ambition to reduce carbon emissions per unit of output by 90 per cent must surely have the ambition and confidence to recognise that that will not be achieved unless the nuclear energy issue is addressed.

So what is required? The noble Lord, Lord Jenkin of Roding, summed it up. It wants certainty of government policy and it wants governments of all persuasions in future to be not hostile but supportive. It wants clear regulatory frameworks that offer certainty and it wants policies that have a timeframe consistent with the huge capital investment required with nuclear energy. The consultation paper in my view, for the first time in a long time, offers a ray of hope. Let us hope that the hopes are realised.

2.46 pm


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