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Noble Lords: Oh.

Lord Redesdale: My Lords, I am sorry, that was my view of nuclear. I mean that the review is looking at a basket of energy producers. I believe that nuclear should be taken in the round and that we should look much more closely at clean coal and gas firing.

3.51 pm

Baroness Miller of Hendon: My Lords, like other noble Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Jenkin on securing this debate and thank him for introducing it, as he always does, so well. It is also a pleasure to have heard the two maiden speeches. I hope that both noble Lords will speak very many times, particularly on this subject, on which they seem to have such a lot of expertise. Indeed, there is a lot of expertise on this matter on all sides of the House.
 
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The debate is particularly timely as the Government's consultation has only just been published. My party has just announced that it will conduct its own separate energy review. No doubt our energy review will take into account the various views expressed today by your Lordships.

We have to ask ourselves why, less than three years after a White Paper which was to be the road map for the Government's energy plan for the foreseeable future, they are coming back with a fresh consultation. The answer to the question about the need for this consultation is to be found in the refreshingly frank executive summary to the Government's consultation paper. Let me quote just a few of the phrases:

The last point underlines the warning that we have given Ministers several times, that for gas supplies, we are at the far end of a long supply line. As we have seen in the recent Ukrainian crisis, what we get is only what the Germans, the French and others are prepared to allow to pass. Three German and French energy companies are facing an EU inquiry into allegations that they have abused their dominant positions. Today the underuse of the interconnector from Belgium when we were having gas shortages was reported. We pay for this, in the form of rocketing fuel prices.

As part of their diversity programme, the Government are encouraging the building of 10 new gas-fired power stations in the next five years, to serve a quarter of the population.

In the consultation paper, the Government coyly admit:

I am not the sort of person who says, "I told you so", but I and many others, as the noble Lord, Lord Tombs, has said, have been saying so to the Government for a long time—not once, but on numerous occasions. In the passages I have quoted, the Government are confessing that the assumptions on which they have based their entire energy policy, as contained in the White Paper, were disastrously wrong. Furthermore, as we have repeatedly said, they now realise that dependence on supplies of imported gas and oil from unstable and possibly unfriendly regimes was one day going to make us a hostage to fortune.

The dispute between Russia and Ukraine had enormous repercussions. It led to the Government threatening the industry with the possible introduction of a three-day week. More than that, it indicated how the Russian Government are ruthlessly prepared to use gas supplies as a political weapon. The reason why my party believes that a separate review is needed is the same as the Government's current review of their own policy. As we know, the policy as set out in the White Paper was a potential disaster, but we all recognise that we need diverse sources of energy if the Government
 
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are to meet their legal obligation to ensure security of supply. As my noble friend Lady O'Cathain mentioned, we believe that the Prime Minister has been listening and is possibly changing his mind.

Our review will look into every aspect of the diversity of supply, whether fossil fuels, biomass, carbon capture, clean coal, wind and wave power and the important question of energy conservation. Important as all those topics are, we need to know what will happen now. The problem with carbon is very fast-moving. Even the president of the greatest fuel-using country on the planet, the United States of America, has recently warned his fellow citizens that they have to reduce their dependence on imported power supplies. While the Government's new consultation is about the reappraisal of what the paper calls "Our Energy Challenge", the role of nuclear energy is the aspect of the challenge that my noble friend examined, as have many others, in the debate.

In response to persistent questioning on nuclear power by my noble friend, by me, indeed by Members all around the House and certainly Members on the Government Benches, we have always heard the answer, "Well, we are keeping the nuclear option open". I believe that they are now thinking that they have to do something about it. If that is so, that is all to the good. I refer, of course, to new nuclear build to replace the present installations which, currently, contribute to a major part of our energy requirements but which are due to be decommissioned in the not-too-distant future. That is what the debate is specifically about.

As this is a timed debate, I do not have the time to reiterate the many advantages of nuclear power, especially for the United Kingdom, which, in a generation, will be reduced to the same state as Japan of having no indigenous fuel supplies of its own. I simply add, on the environmental aspect, something of the new danger that arises from the constant burning of fossil fuels. We all know about the destruction of the ozone layer and the effect of global warming on the climate and especially on the ice caps in the Arctic, the Antarctic and Greenland. We are also aware of the problems to trees and plants caused by acid rain. However, it now emerges that the sea is becoming more acidic. That is an international problem. It is significant that China and India, which contend with the United States and Russia to be the greatest polluters, are already taking steps to use more nuclear power as an alternative to carbon fuels.

I would like to use the little time available to me to deal with some of the anti-nuclear myths and deliberate distortions that surround debates on the subject. First, there is the argument that constructing and supplying nuclear power stations uses more energy than it produces. I shall not go into detail on that because my noble friend Lord Jenkin has already mentioned it.

There is also the suggestion that high-grade uranium ore will soon be exhausted. I hate to take issue with the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwell and Nottingham, but I have been advised that that is
 
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not true. In fact, the available supplies that we have will certainly outlast the proven reserves of oil and gas and that is without taking into account the recycling of the so-called waste into MOX fuels, which increasingly are used in many water reactors.

The cost of decommissioning plants is also greatly exaggerated, especially if one assumes that every obsolete station is to be returned to a greenfield site. I believe my noble friend mentioned that, as did the noble Lord, Lord Tombs. The policy for new nuclear stations should be, wherever possible, that they be built on the sites of the old ones. That would certainly shorten the time required for planning and avoid NIMBY objections. People in those areas are happy to have them because so many jobs depend on their being kept in the area.

The Independent recently repeated the myth that there are 2.3 million cubic metres of nuclear waste. We all know that 90 per cent of waste is low level. That is what we are really talking about. Only one six hundredth of 1 per cent is high level. We need as a realistic contribution to this debate the expected recommendations from CoRWM and not the distorted figures published by a newspaper.

The clock is ticking, and ticking very fast at that. By their own admission in the consultation paper that I quoted, the Government have got totally wrong all those assumptions on which current energy policy was based. Even today, the question of nuclear power generation is buried away on page 63 of the consultation document as a sort of reluctant afterthought, but I suggest that the Government will look at it differently. If the Government have not finished with keeping the nuclear option open, what do they propose to do?

4.01 pm

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I, too, am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, for introducing this timely debate and for expressing himself in his usual cogent way. He asked me a series of questions. I will do my best to reply to them, but in a debate such as this, I have obligations to all Members of this House who have contributed. It has been a very full and insightful debate. Every contribution is worthy of a considerable response, but I, too, am under the constraints of time.

Perhaps I may reply first to the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, not least because her remarks are still ringing in my ears, but also because she made a charge which I shall refute. A great deal was said about a review. In an outstanding maiden speech, the noble Lord, Lord Turnbull, suggested that the Government ought to follow certain principles when they consider the report on such a difficult issue. He said it was one of the great untouchable issues of our time. It is certainly one of its greatest challenges. None of us who has contributed to this debate doubts that the future of energy supplies is of conspicuous importance to our nation and one of the most difficult to confront. The noble Lord, Lord Turnbull, indicated the principles on
 
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which the report should be considered. I assure him that I expect to see those principles followed. We will take into account all the factors which he indicated without prejudice and make a real assessment of the options available, while, as he said, hedging our bets against changing circumstances.

After hearing the contribution of the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, anyone would think that it is easy to deal with certainties in the energy debate, but it is not. It is absolutely not the case that that White Paper of 2003 has been destroyed by recent developments. That White Paper outlined broad areas of strategy for the development of our energy supplies. Most obviously, it envisaged an increase in imports of gas from elsewhere, because we were aware of the run-down of North Sea gas. In doing so, it raised the whole question of the security and diversity of those supplies; the capital installations at ports which are necessary for liquid natural gas; and the pipelines across the North Sea and further east into Asia. All these factors the Government have been active upon in recent years. It is the case that all experts, including all those who advised the Government, were taken by surprise at the very rapid rundown of North Sea gas stocks. That presents a challenge, and that is why the review is necessary—and that is why the nuclear issue is a relevant factor. As the Prime Minister made clear, nuclear is part of the overall assessment that the Government will make in this report on the future of energy supplies.

I emphasise that this debate today was bound to attract noble Lords with a real interest, insight and perception of the values of nuclear—none more so than my noble friend Lord Cunningham, who brought to the debate very long experience with regard to the industry, not only in terms of his advocacy from the Front Bench in the other place, but also because of the constituency that he represented, and his deep understanding of the issues around Sellafield. I am grateful to my noble friend for having carried on the opening statement that the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, made, in a way that set a pattern of constructive approach to the nuclear issue. That was followed by other noble Lords, who also emphasised the values of nuclear.

But let me just enter one caveat—and I address it most in relation to the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Tombs. He knows how much I hold him in respect for his work with regard to the energy industry. I listened very carefully to the points that he made today. However, it is not a question of a government running away from issues and procrastinating about decisions of this kind over recent years. The noble Lord will know, as all noble Lords will recognise, that nuclear presented for a long time for this nation, as it did for other European nations and for the United States, the real problem of public aversion to nuclear in the wake of Three Mile Island and Chernobyl and the anxieties that were intensified by what were often reflected in this debate as somewhat ill-informed anxieties about the nature of terrorist attacks and the dangers that they might produce with regard to nuclear. But the noble Lord, Lord Tombs, will
 
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recognise that governments have to tread carefully in areas where public opinion needs persuasion and needs a fuller identification of the facts. I shall give way to the noble Lord, despite the constraints on my time.


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