Many thanks to Paul Flynn MP for pointing out the truth about nuclear :too expensive to generate.
Meanwhile DECCs platitudes and nuclear spin are breathtaking
Wednesday 17 June 2015
[Mr Peter Bone in the Chair]
New Nuclear Power
Paul Flynn (Newport West) (Lab):
I beg to move,
That this House has considered new nuclear power.
Nuclear power was promised as an energy source that would be too cheap to meter. It is now too expensive to generate. If we were planning a nuclear policy from scratch, would we choose to do a deal with two French companies, one of which is bankrupt, while the other, Électricité de France, has a debt of €33 billion? Would we also collaborate with a country with a dreadful human rights record—China, whose national investment department is coming into the arrangement—and with Saudi Arabia, with its atrocious record on human rights, where people are executed on the street? We are left with the dregs of investment from throughout the world—fragile and tainted. The
sensible money deserted Hinkley Point years ago. Centrica had an investment of £200 million, and it abandoned it and ran away, because it saw the project as a basket case.
Still, nuclear power has wide support in this House, from almost all parties except the Scottish National party. I hope that this morning the new Minister, whom I welcome to her new work, can apply her distinguished forensic skills to taking a fresh look at the situation. Many people are gravely disturbed by the prospect of new nuclear power. That is particularly so among Treasury civil servants. We are in an extraordinary situation, where there is still public support in spite of Fukushima. One of the main reasons for that is that the British public were “protected” by a skilled public relations operation from knowing the terrible cost of Fukushima—between $100 billion and $250 billion. Radiation is still leaking four years after the event, and tens of thousands of people cannot return to their homes. Other populations were not protected from knowing about Fukushima by an obedient press. However, former lobbyists for nuclear power appeared as independent witnesses, such as Malcolm Grimston, who was on television every day during the Fukushima events, praising the explosions of hydrogen as something of benefit.
There is ludicrous PR spin, to the extent that this week two different people from a public relations agency that works for nuclear power rang me up and offered to write my speech for me. They inquired who the Chair would be, as if that might be important. Those are lobbyists and spinners, presenting a favourable case for
nuclear power. Hinkley Point B is a European pressurised reactor. There are some under construction in Finland, France and China. Not one of them has produced enough electricity to light a bicycle lamp. They are all in serious trouble, so why do we continue with our belief in Hinkley Point C? The EPR in Finland was due to generate electricity in 2009. There has been a series of delays, problems and cost overruns, which have themselves now overrun, and the bill is €4 billion greater than anticipated. The possible opening date has been moved year after year and is now set at 2016, at a
cost of €8.3 billion. However, other problems have come up. There is another station
under construction at Flamanville. It was due to be completed at a cost of €3.3
billion and now has an overrun of nearly €5 billion. There is a serious problem at
Flamanville which will affect all the reactors—the carbon level in the steel for the
pressure vessel is too high. That means that the steel is brittle and could crack
open, with catastrophic results. That affects the planned reactors in China,
Finland, France and of course at Hinkley Point. It is a catastrophic problem and
will mean a major delay. There is no way of reconstituting that steel.
The way the deal was done is almost unbelievable. We agreed under pressure, because
there were Government promises and political pressure, to do a deal at almost any
price to justify Hinkley Point C. We struck a deal for £92.50 per MWh. That is twice
the going rate for electricity now, and we said that we would guarantee that deal
for 35 years. That was two years ago. Since then, the price of energy throughout the
world has gone down a great deal, because of shale gas and the drop in the price of
oil. The price we agreed was ludicrous at the time—far too generous. The head of
INEOS, the company in Grangemouth, has struck a deal since then with the same
company— Électricité de France—for less than half that price. The country was ripped
off, and we cannot seem to get out of it. We must do something about the strike
price that we agreed.
In the world as a whole, nuclear powered energy generation peaked in 2006. Since
then it has been in decline. It has gone down by 10% in Europe. Most energy
consultants say that the total cost of the project is indefensible. We omit
something from our calculations of historical costs and pretend that nuclear is
cheap, when we forget about the cost of waste. In fact we do not know what the cost
of the waste from Sellafield is. We are still adding up the bill. The latest
estimate for clearing up Sellafield—just one site—is £53 billion. It is thought that
the figure will exceed £100 billion eventually. When those costs are added to the
historical costs of nuclear power it will not be found to be competitive any more.
Also, we now have alternatives. We are not in a situation where nothing else is
available. The world has moved towards renewables, including the clean renewables,
to a far greater extent. The Government are to be congratulated on having put
forward a package and the money for tidal lagoons in the Severn estuary. An enormous
tide of water sweeps up that estuary twice a day. That is vast untapped
energy—British, free, eternal and entirely predictable. The technology involved is
simple and has been working successfully in France for 50 years, producing the
cheapest electricity in the world.
It is a curious thing, but the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change in
the previous Parliament had an impeccable record on energy some years ago, when he
launched the Liberal Democrat energy policy under the heading “Say No to Nuclear”,
“a new generation of nuclear power stations will cost taxpayers and consumers tens
of billions of pounds”.
That is absolutely right. He went on:
“In addition to posing safety and environmental risks, nuclear power will only be
possible with vast taxpayer subsidies or a rigged market”.
That was the man who, when the red boxes and chauffeur-driven car arrived, changed
his mind altogether and did a terrible financial deal to get Hinkley Point on the
road. We will be paying for that for many years. The cost of Hinkley Point has been
estimated as an additional £200 a year for every consumer in Britain. That is
billions of pounds in subsidy over 35 years. The Government have guaranteed £16
billion in subsidy for a technology that has not been proved to work and is not
working anywhere. Almost any alternative is better than pressing on with Hinkley
Point. There are older nuclear designs that we could use, but we are heading into a
technological jam where there will be difficulties. We are proposing to invest tens
of billions in a system that has not been proved to be effective, and has certainly
never proved to be economic.
There have been many problems at Flamanville, near Cherbourg, which are not limited
to the pressure vessel. There have also been problems with the valves and the whole
cooling system, following a warning in April from the French nuclear safety
regulator about an excessive amount of carbon in the reactor vessel. That is not a
journalist causing trouble but the head of the French nuclear industry talking about
a potential disaster in the making.
What is likely to happen in future? There is a nuclear disaster almost every 10 to
15 years, due to various causes. The result of Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and
Fukushima has been great fear among the population. That is what happened in
Germany, which felt the full force of the truth about Fukushima and sensibly
cancelled its whole nuclear programme. Germany is now going into solar power and
many other alternatives that are available to us. Tidal power is not available to
Germany, but we have that great opportunity ahead.
There will almost certainly be problems in future. Some hazards today were unknown
in the past. I recall going to an exhibition called “Atoms for Peace” as a young boy
in 1948, when we believed that nuclear would be the answer, but experience has
taught us otherwise. The possible accidents range from simple mechanical errors,
such as not having enough carbon in the steel, to the simple human errors that
happened at Three Mile Island and Chernobyl. Technical faults also occur, but the
greatest risk we now face is terrorism. Older nuclear power stations were not built
to withstand terrorist attacks by drones and all the means by which people could
attack them. Anyone living anywhere near a nuclear power station must be in a state
of anxiety about that possibility, because of the accidents and disasters we have
Fukushima was built to withstand a tsunami, but it could not withstand the tsunami
and earthquake that came together. Any of these natural disasters are possible. We
have not had a tsunami for some time along the Severn estuary, but we had one in
1607 when part of the area that I represent and the area where Hinkley Point now
stands was flooded by a tsunami that came up the Bristol channel. It is believed to
have come from underwater activity out in the deep ocean, so a tsunami is unlikely
but possible there. We cannot guard against it. Why on earth risk a catastrophic
accident when alternatives are available?
I am encouraged to see reports that many civil servants in the Treasury are deeply
unhappy about the financial situation of nuclear power. There was a story that if
Labour had been elected, it would have turned its back on nuclear power. I believe
that to be true. There have been reports in The Times and elsewhere—authoritative
reports from serious journalists—that groups in the Treasury are saying that it will
be a terrible mistake and a financial catastrophe if we go ahead. May I say to those
civil servants that it is their job to speak publicly? We know now what happened in
Scotland during the referendum debate, when Sir Nicholas Macpherson decided to
leak—to publish—a report of his advice to the Chancellor. His reason for doing so
was that he thought the likely effects of Scottish independence would be
catastrophic for the country and for Scotland. He justified that leak, which was
almost unprecedented among senior civil servants, on the basis that it was in the
national interest. He was supported by the head of the civil service, Sir Jeremy
Heywood, and condemned by a Committee of this House.
Look at the past; look, for example, the commercial advantages of the
steam-generating heavy water reactor, which produced nothing and was useless, but
cost £200 million. That was many years ago. There was also the decision to treat
Concorde as a commercial venture that would succeed. There were civil servants who
quite rightly opposed those, but the ethos of the civil service is the unimportance
of being right. The careers of civil servants who go along with the ministerial
folly of the day prosper, while the careers of those who are right in the long term
wither. It is different now. There is some heroism in civil servants speaking truth
to power and saying to their masters, “This should not go on. There are
alternatives. The time has gone for nuclear power.” Civil servants who know the new
ethos in the civil service should regard it as their patriotic duty to speak truth,
not only to power but to the nation, by saying that the time for nuclear power is
The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change (Andrea Leadsom):
It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Bone. I congratulate the
hon. Member for Newport West (Paul Flynn) on securing the debate. New nuclear is an
important topic, and Members’ challenges and questions are very much welcomed. I
would particularly like to assure the hon. Gentleman that my fellow Ministers and I
listen carefully to civil servants’ views. There is no sense in which they are not
allowed to give their opinions, and they very much do so. I hope that reassures him.
I note his interest, as demonstrated by his recent parliamentary questions on
Hinkley Point C, the geological disposal facility, and safety and security at
licensed sites. I hope to reassure him further on those topics, but I will first set
the scene for the benefits of a new nuclear programme.
Nuclear energy plays a critical role in the Government’s security of supply and
decarbonisation goals. The UK’s nine existing nuclear power plants generate around
20% of our electricity. However, all but one of them are currently expected to
retire by 2030. Nuclear power is one of the cheaper forms of low-carbon electricity,
reducing pressures on consumer electricity bills, relative to an energy mix without
nuclear. Nuclear power provides reliable base-load electricity with lifecycle carbon
dioxide emissions similar to those from wind power and much less than those from
fossil fuels. New nuclear power is a vital part of the investment needed in our
electricity sector that will boost the economy, create thousands of jobs and help to
keep the lights on.
As set out in the Conservative party’s manifesto, we are committed to a significant
expansion in new nuclear in the UK. The Government have prepared the ground for new
nuclear power stations through a package of reforms and regulatory measures that
will remove barriers to investment and give developers the confidence to take
forward projects that will help to deliver secure, low-carbon and affordable energy.
We have also ensured that operators of new nuclear power stations put in place
robust plans for the finance and management of their waste and decommissioning from
We are seeing significant progress. The first new nuclear power station in a
generation moved a step closer last year, as the European Commission announced on 8
October 2014 that it has approved the Hinkley Point C state aid case. The Government
and EDF are currently in discussions to finalise the contract for Hinkley, which is
expected to start generating electricity from 2023. In total, industry has set out
plans for five new nuclear projects in the UK for a total of up to 16 GW of new
nuclear capacity, providing around 35% of electricity generation.
I would have been grateful if the hon. Lady had left behind her civil service brief,
which is the conventional one we know, with much repeated claims. Is it true that
the Chinese company is threatening to withdraw its investment unless it has a stake
in building Sizewell, Bradwell and Wylfa Newydd? That would mean that the new jobs
in nuclear were jobs in China and France, not here, because what it is offering to
provide is almost a ready-made nuclear power station, made by Chinese people with
Chinese money. We are using investment to create jobs not in this country, but
I can assure the hon. Gentleman that each project is taken on its merits. Britain is
open for business. We are very keen to see investment from overseas in our new
nuclear, but it is very clear that the UK supply chain will provide an enormous
amount of the jobs and growth that we are looking for in this country.
Will the hon. Lady give way?
I will not give way. I want to go on to answer the hon. Gentleman’s other questions
and I will not get the chance to do that if this becomes a debate between the two of
us—a conversation between the two of us.
In total, industry has set out plans for five new nuclear projects. The Government
are clear that the UK is open for business. We want to see high-quality investment
from overseas. The nuclear programme represents a tremendous opportunity to
establish the UK as a key nuclear country, with the potential to export capabilities
to other countries. That includes capabilities in decommissioning, in which we are
already a world leader. This offers us an opportunity to develop our domestic supply
chain and to realise economies of scale. It is also an opportunity to make the UK an
even more attractive partner for international research and development
This is utter nonsense. The person decommissioning at Sellafield is an American
company. We do not have any expertise. Will the Minister give us some idea, looking
at the historical cost, of what the cost of cleaning up Sellafield will be? It is
already admitted to be £53 billion; it is uninsurable, so the taxpayer has to take
the risk; and it will probably cost more than £100 billion, which wrecks her
argument that nuclear power has ever been good value.
The hon. Gentleman is exactly right to point out that there is an enormous nuclear
legacy, which this Government have been committed to sorting out, unlike previous
Governments, such as the one that he was part of. The nuclear provision currently
stands at £70 billion discounted and £110 billion undiscounted. That is the Nuclear
Decommissioning Authority’s best estimate of the total lifetime costs of the
decommissioning mission across the whole estate. Nobody welcomes that cost.
Nevertheless, this Government have been determined to get to grips with it and to
ensure that the material can be safely, carefully, thoroughly and properly disposed
To deliver the ambitious new build programme on time and on budget, a skilled
workforce in the UK is essential. The scale of the industry’s new build aspirations,
the length of time since the last new build project and the high average age of the
existing nuclear workforce mean that it is essential to take action now to prevent
skills gaps from developing in the course of the new nuclear programme. The
Government recognise that this is a big challenge, particularly with the ongoing
need to maintain and decommission existing nuclear power stations, so we have
introduced the National College for Nuclear, which will work collaboratively with
the wider industry, skills bodies and training providers, and will utilise
international best practice to develop an industry-wide curriculum.
Moving on to the vital issues of safety and security, we are confident that the UK
has one of the most robust regulatory regimes in the world. As the global expansion
in nuclear continues, the UK will ensure that any technology used in this country
meets the rigorous safety, security and environmental standards. The importance that
we attach to safety is shown through the UK’s independent nuclear regulators—the
Office for Nuclear Regulation and the Environment Agency—which ensure, through
regular reviews and inspections, that operators are fulfilling their duties and that
robust safety and security measures are in place right across the industry.
With plans for 16 GW of new nuclear capacity in the UK, the Government are firmly
committed to delivering geological disposal as the safest and most secure means of
managing our higher-activity waste in the long term. We need a permanent solution
following more than 60 years of producing radioactive waste from various sources,
including electricity generation from nuclear power.
The hon. Lady has been very generous to me. I think that she is probably too young
to remember the Flowers report in 1968, which said that the nuclear industry in
Britain was being irresponsible, because it did not have an answer on waste
disposal, and it should not continue. That was 1968. The solution then was to dig a
hole and put the nuclear waste in it. In 2015, the British answer is to dig a hole
and put the waste in it. There has been no progress on disposal of waste, except at
Let me very gently say to the hon. Gentleman that ever since I was a very small
child, nuclear has been an enormous personal priority for me. In fact, it was the
reason why I went into politics—I did so because of the threat of a nuclear world
war—so I am slightly offended by his presumption that I do not know what I am
talking about. I can assure him that a geological disposal facility is not as simple
as digging a hole in the ground and stuffing a load of radioactive waste in it.
What is it, then?
As the hon. Gentleman will know, a geological disposal facility is internationally
recognised as the safest and most secure means of permanently managing our
higher-activity waste, and countries such as Sweden, Finland, Canada and the USA are
also pursuing that route.
I would like to get on to answering the hon. Gentleman’s specific questions. He
talked about delays at other sites where there are EPR reactors. I can tell him that
officials have visited Olkiluoto to get first-hand experience of the build programme
there, as well as the other EPR builds at Flamanville in France and Taishan in
China. Experience gained through the EPR family—it is a new technology, as he points
out—is now being systematically shared between the three current build sites, and
Hinkley Point will become part of that arrangement. Experience in Finland and
France, particularly in relation to the order in which key parts of the nuclear
island are built and how they are fabricated, has benefited the project in Taishan,
such that that project is now running to time and to budget.
The hon. Gentleman also asked about the strike price potentially being too high in
relation to the EDF plant. I can assure him that our estimate of the future price of
wholesale electricity is that it will rise into the 2020s. That has been a careful
assessment. Nuclear electricity is a key part of our energy mix. He will know that
other technologies also involve a very high cost to the consumer right now. The mix
is vital, so we believe that this is not too generous. EDF aims to have the plant up
and running in 2023. We expect that, with a significant proportion of our power
stations due to close over the coming decades, we will need that level of investment
to replace that capacity.
The hon. Gentleman also asked about tidal power. Personally, I am as excited as he
is about the prospects for marine and tidal power, but again he will accept, I am
sure, that this is another new technology, as yet unproven. We have taken the first
steps. We expect it to be a big contributor to our energy mix, but not the only one.
I emphasise that, as Energy and Climate Change Minister, I have two priorities:
security of supply and keeping the lights on. In securing those priorities, I want
to keep bills as low as possible. With new nuclear in the energy mix, I believe we
can achieve all those things. Nuclear power is a low-carbon, proven technology that
will increase the resilience of the UK’s energy system and, rather than costing more
money, the full nuclear programme will, on current projections, save households
about £78 on their bills in 2030.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Newport West on his attention to this very
important subject, but I want to be clear that the Government believe that
developing energy from new nuclear is the right thing to do in the UK.
Mr Peter Bone (in the Chair):
The Question is that this House has—
Mr Bone, there is some time left. It is normal to allow the proposer to use that time—
Mr Peter Bone (in the Chair):
Order. Will the hon. Gentleman sit down? He may not know the new procedure, but the
Question is put. If we reach 11.30, the Question cannot be put. If he wants to have
what I would call a Division on this, we have to do it before 11.30, and the
Minister quite correctly sat down in time to do that.
There is time left. This is the normal practice. I just want to say that it was a
very disappointing response from the Minister, who stuck to a civil service script
that had been carefully manicured and presented by her, with a series of platitudes
that we all know about. She is not facing up to the crisis that exists in nuclear
power at the moment—
Mr Peter Bone (in the Chair):
Order. Before hon. Members go, I point out that the new procedure asks for the
Question to be put. The Minister kindly sat down at the right time, but the hon.
Gentleman in charge has talked himself out of that.
Motion lapsed (Standing Order No. 10(6)).