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Nuclear Power Stations
Liddell-Grainger (Bridgwater and West Somerset) (Con): I am very
grateful to have this chance to talk about an issue that of course
affects my constituency enormously, as you know Mr Streeter.
The future of
nuclear power is vital to my constituency and to the whole of the
United Kingdom. That is why I am very grateful to have the chance to
debate the issue today and I am delighted that my hon. Friend the
Minister is here to respond to the debate.
It is no
secret that we are running out of capacity to generate electricity.
Existing nuclear stations are growing old and they must be replaced
within the next seven years or-to be blunt-the lights will start going
out. We cannot afford any more delays and I am afraid that, as a nation,
we must take decisive action now.
time I raised these matters in Westminster Hall, which was nine months
ago, there was a different Government and many attitudes were different
from those that exist now. Today I hope that I am preaching to the
converted about the necessities and advantages of nuclear power.
Bridgwater, nuclear power has provided reliable electricity to the grid
since 1970 through the four reactors of the A and B stations, two of
which, at the A station, have now been decommissioned. The B station has
been given a five-year extension and is now owned by EDF Energy. We
know that nuclear power works very well and is safe. We have a whole
generation of local experts closely involved in the building, management
and decommissioning of stations. Last October, we got the go-ahead to
create the first nuclear academy in the United Kingdom at Bridgwater
college. So there are many positive factors about nuclear power.
Hinkley Point is far from invisible-nuclear power stations cannot really
be hidden. The existing station sits like a concrete castle overlooking
the Bristol channel and dominates the skyline in one of the loveliest
parts of this country. The plan is to construct a pair of new
pressurised water reactors. Such reactors are tried, trusted and used
safely all over the world. Two new reactors could pump out enough power
to satisfy 4 million customers in the United Kingdom.
absolutely no bones about it-this is a massive operation. It will be the
biggest ever civil engineering operation in the south-west. It will
create 900 permanent jobs and roughly 5,000 people will be needed just
to build the new plant. EDF Energy commissioned research into how the
work would help the local economy. It estimates that £100 million will
be spent every year during the building work and roughly £40 million a
year will be spent thereafter, but I ask the Minister-is that enough?
welcome the concept of the new development. Of course we want to have
the automatic boost to the local economy that building anything that big
would bring, and yes we need the contractors earning good salaries and
spending their money in local shops. Bridgwater is an industrial town
and we are very keen on business.
However, as a
community, we have every right to ask for something more substantial in
return. A nuclear power station is not like a supermarket. It is a
gigantic piece of industrial machinery and the new development
2010 : Column 228WH
in my constituency would be slap-bang in the
middle of some of England's loveliest countryside. A fair slice of
compensation ought to be in order. Some of it could come in the form of
old-fashioned folding money, which would be nice. Some of it could be
invested in the local community with sensible, joined-up thinking, which
would be nicer still.
Just a few
moments ago, I mentioned the nuclear academy at Bridgwater college.
Bridgwater college is a remarkable college run by dedicated people who
deserve to be at the heart of the work, training the new generation of
nuclear experts. You don't get owt for nowt. Bridgwater college put in
the backwork, time and commitment to secure its place in the south-west
hub for all nuclear skills training, as part of the nuclear skills
academy. It is great to have the college, I am very proud of all its
achievements and it has proved its worth, time and again, under the
leadership of Fiona McMillan.
Minister will be all too aware, spending on education is in the
spotlight, not just locally but nationally. Last week, the announcement
about the Building Schools for the Future programme dealt a heavy blow
in my area; I will come on to the reasoning behind that announcement
shortly. We understand the pressures, we know that we must be prudent
and we know that the BSF programme was not always very well organised,
but Bridgwater college did an excellent job, in the same way that
industry in Bridgwater does an excellent job. It produced sensible plans
and everybody agreed to them.
Take it from
me-cutting back on schools in Bridgwater now or in the future is not the
answer to anything. That is especially true because of what we are
going to do locally. Cutting back is not the answer if we want to
encourage a new generation of professionals, which we must have. It is
not the answer if we want to have home-grown nuclear experts, and it is
not the answer if, as a Government, we want to have joined-up policy.
schools were ready to sign the relevant documents on the very day that
my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education made his
announcement about the BSF programme. Millions of pounds had been
invested and a lot of it had come from the nuclear industry. Some of the
building work had already begun and it made perfect sense to carry on.
other areas are about to build a huge new nuclear power station? How
many other areas were as ready as we were with their plans for schools?
Other areas were not ready.
Owen (Ynys Môn) (Lab): I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing
this debate. I would say that my area is ready. As with the nuclear
power station in his constituency, Wylfa nuclear power station in my
constituency has been decommissioned and a new build is happening
Does the hon.
Gentleman agree that the skills that he is talking about are long-term
skills to provide a job for life, that they are transferrable throughout
the whole energy sector and that they are vital for the "green deal"
that this Government are talking about?
Liddell-Grainger: I totally agree with the hon. Gentleman and his
point is well made. I think that the proposals for Wylfa are in phase 2
of the proposals for nuclear power. He makes a good point.
2010 : Column 229WH
As I was
saying, the decision about the BSF programme does not add up. These
schools in my area were due to be refurbished and built under the
private finance initiative system. It was absolutely right that there
should have been public investment in a local economy that is as good as
Later today, I
have an appointment to see the Secretary of State for Education and I
intend to leave him in no uncertainty about what his announcement means
for the programmes in my area that we are now looking at. However, I
first want to offer my hon. Friend the Minister a few ideas that might
help his thinking and that of his colleagues.
To build a
new nuclear power station requires a reliable operating company, a
shedload of money, a sensitive planning system and, perhaps above all,
the ability to think outside the box. Deciding to put up a power station
today means that we are planning for the next 60 to 150 years. It is
ridiculous and completely unfair to see such things in terms of the
conventional five-year life span of any Parliament. If we do not get
this decision right now, we will be blamed by our children, by our
grandchildren and, in the case of nuclear, by our great-grandchildren.
am afraid to say that cheeseparing on education with one hand while
trying to nurture a skills academy with the other hand does not make
sense to me or to anybody else. Everyone agrees that there is still a
national deficit-we know that there is-and that there is a real need to
be careful with the precious financial resources that we have. Equally,
however, everybody knows that there are several ways to skin a cat.
Why will the
Government not examine the possibility of using a proportion of the very
substantial business rates that EDF Energy will have to pay to meet
some of the extra needs of the community? It is not such an outlandish
idea and it was mooted publicly just a few days ago by the Minister of
State, Department for Communities and Local Government, my right hon.
Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark), who is the Minister
with responsibility for decentralisation. He suggested that some major
developments should be allowed to take the lion's share of local
business rates for the first six years of their existence. In terms of
EDF Energy, that would mean a very healthy sum indeed to pay back to the
community; it could amount to £40 million a year.
One might say
that such a proposal is a form of legalised bribery and it sounds like
an un-British way of going about things. However, there are quite a few
solid examples of community funds that were deliberately established to
compensate local people in the wake of major developments.
I am sure
that my hon. Friend the Minister knows about the Shetland Charitable
Trust, which was set up in 1974 when the huge oil terminal at Sullom Voe
was built. Shetland council wanted to claw back money from the oil
companies to help to compensate fishermen and because it felt that
Sullom Voe was an ugly and unnecessary development. However, little
councils do not have any power. Parliament pushed through the Zetland
County Council Act 1974 to give Shetland council some muscle. The
council now has £200 million in the bank and it shells out up to £13
million every year
13 July 2010 : Column 230WH
special community projects. Sullom Voe is nothing like as heavily
populated as Bridgwater and West Somerset. We would like a lot more
money because, as the advert says, "We're worth it".
example is Cumbria, home to Sellafield, a nuclear establishment with
even more history than Hinkley. The area is covered by Copeland district
council, which negotiated a special deal with the Government in 2007 to
get compensation for the inconvenience of looking after the nation's
low-level nuclear waste. As the Minister knows, the deal involved the
Nuclear Decommissioning Authority paying £10 million up front plus £1.5
million for every year of waste storage. In addition, the parish of
Drigg and Carleton gets an extra £50,000 compensation a year for the
next 60 years. That is seriously big money, given that only 600 people
I know of
many possible ways to spend such sums in and around Hinkley, in both our
district council areas. One facility that we lack, for example, is a
decent road that bypasses heavily populated areas and goes straight to
the power plant. That is not a luxury; it is an absolute necessity given
the huge number of lorries required during the plant's building phase,
which will go on for seven years. It is possible to construct a direct
link. I congratulate one of my constituents, an engineer named Alan
Beasley, who has worked extremely hard to identify a feasible route that
would upset the fewest number of people in the area.
We do not yet
know what such a scheme might cost, but there are other local sources
of money. The Minister might consider having a chat with some of our
honourable colleagues about schemes that he could scrap. For instance,
the £20 million earmarked for our schools will be used for something
else, but £20 million is available next door. The Environment Agency is
about to flood the Steart peninsula, which is about 600 yards from the
plant at Hinkley. Flooding the peninsula will cost £20 million and is
being done to tick boxes in Europe. The official reason is that the
flood defences are too old and expensive to keep. Why can we not use
that money to help with the nuclear project? The actual reason for the
flooding of the peninsula is that regulations and directives on the
conservation of wild birds and natural habitats are more important than
human beings. I do not think that that is fair. We are all in favour of
our feathered friends living happily ever after in the wetlands, but we
cannot afford to fork out £20 million for the privilege. If the choice
is a genuinely environmental one, a relief road will offer more real
environmental benefits than obeying European directives to the last
nuclear power station, Hinkley is a national issue, not just a local
one. Our creaking planning system is feeling the strain. The previous
Government introduced a wildly extravagant quango called the
Infrastructure Planning Commission, where EDF's plans might have gone
for judgment. The new Government have scrapped the IPC and intend to let
the Planning Inspectorate take on the task of helping to decide
Hinkley's future. That may look like swapping one quango for another,
but if I understand correctly, there will be one fewer quango. However,
the complications involved in altering the planning process might lead
to more delay, which would not be healthy.
More or less
everyone agrees that the bad old days are gone when major projects such
as motorways and airports were considered by public inquiries. Good
July 2010 : Column 231WH
to them. Public inquiries rambled on
too long and often failed to reach any definite conclusions. The precise
details could not be dealt with because so many activists wanted to
argue the moral theories first. That is why years were wasted on the
rights and wrongs of aviation rather than on exact plans to expand
rid of the IPC, the Government's current idea is to let Ministers,
advised by the Planning Inspectorate, make the final decision, and
perhaps to hold a narrow public inquiry if it is really necessary.
However, as far as I can see, the essential ingredient is a national
policy statement on nuclear energy, to be ratified by Parliament.
Without that, nothing can proceed. I am sorry to say that in July 2010,
nine months after I first asked a question about it, we are still here
pleading for a national policy statement. Can we please have it soon?
Since I have
devoted so much of my speech to money, I ask the Minister to consider
another glaring omission from the planning process. France builds
nuclear power stations wherever it chooses because landowners and local
communities queue up to claim the generous compensation packages on
offer. Perhaps it is no accident that EDF Energy, the firm that wants to
build Hinkley C and D, is a French company. In my neck of the woods,
furious rows are going on about plans to build wind farms. That is not
surprising, as the operators are offering pain but no gain to those who
happen to live under one. However, in Spain, Denmark and Germany,
significant local benefits are built into the fabric of all wind power
projects. The companies involved often pay substantial local taxes. All
that we have is a woolly voluntary system.
that this Government genuinely want to reform planning for the better,
but decent compensation is part and parcel of good planning. I ask the
Minister to remember that Hinkley is vital for the nation, and to make
it worth while to Somerset to build it.
Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change (Charles
Hendry): It is a great pleasure and privilege to serve under your
chairmanship, Mr Streeter. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for
Bridgwater and West Somerset (Mr Liddell-Grainger) for securing the
debate and leading it with his normal approach of combining passion,
vigour, commitment and enthusiasm with addressing the issues directly.
He is absolutely right that this is a long-term decision, and we must
see it in that context. Our decisions on nuclear will be some of the
most important taken on energy policy by this Government. We therefore
attach great importance to how those decisions are made and realise that
they must pass the test of time.
Friend is also right to remind us that we are discussing national
issues. A development such as Hinkley is of national significance, and
it will play an important role in our future electricity generation, if
it goes ahead. I totally accept the background to his argument. He
raised several issues during his speech that do not relate directly to
the work of my Department. I am pleased that he is meeting the Secretary
of State this afternoon to discuss Building Schools for the Future and I
will be interested to know the outcome. However, I am keen to set out
clearly the approach of my Department and the Government to the building
of new nuclear.
13 July 2010 : Column 232WH
We set out a
clear plan for nuclear in the coalition agreement. We are committed to
allowing the construction of new nuclear plants, subject to the normal
planning process for major projects and the fact that they should be
without public subsidy. We will continue to take forward the national
policy statement and the process through Parliament.
has a clear role in the energy mix, but we are certainly alive to many
people's concerns about the costs of such activities, so we are absolutely clear that there should be no public
subsidy. In that respect, our position is broadly the same as the
previous Government's. It is for private sector energy companies to
construct, operate and decommission plants, but it is for the Government
to ensure that there is appropriate safety, security and environmental
ensure that the taxpayer is protected now and in the future from such
costs. Operators will be required by law from the outset to set aside
money to pay for long-term waste management costs. Having considered
various possible subsidy issues, we will ensure that the taxpayer is
protected. I am encouraged that despite those restrictions, which are
some of the toughest in the world, Britain is nevertheless the most
exciting place in Europe-perhaps in the world-for the construction of
new nuclear plants. Many companies are keen to invest on that basis.
We are also
committed to removing barriers to investment. The work of the Office for
Nuclear Development has been fundamental to that, as has the nuclear
development forum, which considers how to address the practical issues
that can present challenges. On that basis, we will drive forward work
on planning, regulatory justification, the generic design assessment and
waste and decommissioning financing arrangements. The Government are
required to undertake regulatory justification. We will take a decision
after we have finished considering responses to the recent public
consultation on how best to proceed.
On waste and decommissioning financing, we must redouble
our efforts to deliver a framework for dealing with the costs that
protects the taxpayer and provides both taxpayers and operators with
clarity. The consultations on the fixed unit price and waste handling
regulations have closed. We are now considering our responses carefully
and will respond in due course.
I know that,
to the companies proposing plans for reactor designs, the process for
the generic design assessment is fundamental. I am encouraged by the
nuclear installations inspectorate's recent comments that it is on
course to conclude by June 2011. The Environment Agency is consulting on
its preliminary findings.
We have also
indicated that there needs to be reform of the nuclear regulator, which
must be structured and equipped to meet current and future challenges.
In its role as a nuclear regulator, the Health and Safety Executive has
responded to those challenges, but I am persuaded that reform is needed
to meet the specific challenges of the sector. I want an effective,
efficient and independent nuclear regulator to ensure that we have
transparency and accountability. Those are some of the big national
issues that we have to take into account as we consider how the
programme moves forward.
I want to
pick up on my hon. Friend's concerns about the planning system. We have
said that we are determined to reform the planning system. The changes
July 2010 : Column 233WH
the previous Government addressed some
of the issues about the speed of the process, which they were right to
identify, as applications and considerations could sometimes go on for
years. They put in place a process to deal with that, but it did not
have democratic accountability.
decided that national policy statements should continue to be an
integral part of the process, but that they will be subject to a
substantive vote in Parliament. That will give national policy
statements greater democratic legitimacy and reduce the risk of judicial
review. Following the consultation on the national policy statements,
we were required to take account of the public meetings and the
thousands of submissions that were received, which we are currently
considering. I assure my hon. Friend that we will set out our further
consideration on the NPSs as soon as we can, because we understand how
significant the matter is to all those involved in the sector.
Friend also correctly identified the changes that we intend to make to
the Infrastructure Planning Commission. Again, we thought that that
organisation lacked democratic legitimacy. The changes will mean that
the back-office function and the analytical work carried out on
individual applications will be done by a dedicated unit-the major
infrastructure planning unit-which will come under the Planning
Inspectorate. Instead of the unit's recommendations going to a competent
but, nevertheless, unelected quango, its recommendations will go to the
Secretary of State.
For those who
are concerned about the time scales, I can give a clear assurance that
there will be an obligation on the Secretary of State to make a decision
within the same time scale under which the IPC would have proceeded, so
there will be no delays. Critically, an application under the
transitional arrangements will continue under the same jurisdiction in
which it started. There is no risk that an application made under the
current system will have to be started again from scratch when the
changes come into place. We want to make sure that people who are
investing know there will be certainty about the time scale in which the
process will move forward.
Friend also talked about business rates. It is proper to debate the
wider issue of whether allowing some business rates and new business
activities generally to be kept locally is a good way of encouraging
local authorities to stimulate business activities in their areas. On
energy issues-this picks up on the final part of his speech-we have said
that we are keen to build a new relationship between energy
installations and the communities that host them. If a community is
hosting something such as a wind farm on behalf of the wider interest
and not purely for the benefit of that community, it is reasonable to
find ways of recognising that.
We want to
find new ways of achieving shared ownership so that direct funding
returns come into a local community. We also want to consider how the
business rates that become payable as a result of that development can
be maintained locally for the first few years. We are in discussions
with our colleagues in the Department for Communities and Local
Government to see how broadly based that approach can be, because if
that same approach were to be applied to a nuclear power facility, as my
hon. Friend said, many tens of millions of pounds would come into the
local community, which would
13 July 2010 : Column 234WH
significant contribution towards the infrastructure and educational
changes that might be necessary. I am holding continuing discussions
with my colleagues in the DCLG on that basis, and we understand the need
for early clarity.
specific application at Hinkley Point, EDF is carrying out consultations
in preparation for submitting a planning application. Realistically, we
think that nothing will come forward until this winter or next year, by
which time we would expect the national policy statements to have gone
through the parliamentary approval process. Given the legal constraints
on those issues, I hope that my hon. Friend will understand that there
is a limit to what I can say at this stage. We have found the
consultation process extremely helpful in understanding the wider
picture and the views of local communities and national organisations.
Owen: The Minister is being as helpful as he can. On the planning
issues, he indicated earlier that when the recommendation is made to the
Secretary of State, the same time frame that existed under the old
system, which did not get a chance to develop, will be used. Will he
indicate roughly what period that will involve? If the companies and
developers are going to submit this autumn, when is the unit likely to
make its recommendation to the Secretary of State, and how long will the
Secretary of State take?
Hendry: A consultation process is ongoing. The expectation of the
IPC was three months, and we will be looking at the same sort of period.
We will be able to provide further clarity in due course. The other advantage of our approach is that it reduces
the risk of judicial review. If someone who is accountable to
Parliament-someone who can be called before Select Committees, or who
can attend debates in Westminster Hall and elsewhere-has responsibility
for a decision, it can clearly be shown that that has received greater
democratic scrutiny and it is therefore more robust.
Friend the Member for Bridgwater and West Somerset also rightly
mentioned nuclear waste. We must focus clearly on
how we manage the new generation of nuclear waste and spent fuel, as
well as the legacy issues. When the Secretary of State and I visited
Sellafield recently, we were both struck by the magnitude of the
challenge facing the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority. It has put in
place significant measures to try to deal with nuclear waste and we now
have a system that addresses the magnitude of that challenge. However,
we must also ensure that measures are in place to deal with the safe
disposal of the new waste that will be generated as a result of a
hosting of installations, we have been encouraged to note that three
local communities in Cumbria have come forward. We are certainly keen to
know whether other communities wish to come forward, because we are
absolutely committed to a voluntarist approach. The process will not
work if it involves the Government saying to a community, in a national
lottery style, "It's going to be you." The local community must buy into
the process, be keen to participate and understand the benefit that it
would get from hosting a facility. It has been instructive to see how
that has been done elsewhere. A couple of years
ago, I went to Sweden to look at how
13 July 2010 :
it is carrying out such
a process. Two communities were bidding against each other to host a
facility because they could see the benefits. It is clear to us that
that will be an important part of the process as we go forward.
that if we are to stimulate the sort of investment that my hon. Friend
talked about, further signals to the market will be necessary. There is a
great deal that we can do to remove regulatory burdens and streamline
the process. However, at the same time, we recognise that there needs to
be greater clarity about the carbon price. I am therefore pleased that
my right hon. Friend the Chancellor announced in his recent Budget that a
consultation on the carbon price will take place this autumn, with a
view to setting a floor price. Investors need to
know what carbon price they will be paying when these plants come
online. It is important to state that such a measure is not a subsidy
for nuclear, because we believe that the carbon floor price will drive
investment in all low-carbon technologies-nuclear, coal with
carbon capture, and renewable technologies. That is one of the most
important decisions we will make during this Parliament for the sector.
shall mention some of the education issues. It is clear that the people
who currently work in the nuclear industry are part of an ageing work
force-some 80% of today's industry work force will retire by 2024. Those
people have fantastic skill sets and an enormous amount to contribute
to the industry, but we must do more to bring a new generation of people
into the sector. I am pleased that there have been collaborative
projects-for example involving the nuclear advanced manufacturing
research centre, to which the Government have committed more than £33
million. [NOT A SUBSIDY-DL]That will help to ensure that we take forward
opportunities and bring business into the UK supply chain, which we
consider to be an important part of the issue. My hon. Friend mentioned
the facilities at Bridgwater college. I am glad that it will receive
more than £4 million [NOT A SUBSIDY EITHER...-DL]to launch the
south-west energy skills centre, which is a specialist nuclear skills
training centre. I am also encouraged that EDF already train about 2,500
people a year nearby at Barnwood, which shows some of the commitment
that it is bringing to the sector.
conclusion, this could be one of the most important energy and
industrial sectors for Britain. My hon. Friend is right to say that it
is a national issue that needs to be treated as a national challenge and
opportunity. I hope that what I have said reassures him of the
seriousness with which we are addressing the matter.