Select Committee on Environmental Audit Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 440-445)




  440.  Does that mean you will put in transitional arrangements by January 2003.
  (Brian Wilson) I think we should look at the operation of the first year's working of NETA and make judgments in the light of that, and that process is in hand.

Mr Wright

  441.  Minister, the PIU report basically takes the nuclear football and kicks it long and far into the long grass, does it not? Do you think it should stay there?
  (Brian Wilson) I do not share your interpretation. It depends which spin journalist you are reading who pulls it out of the long grass or kicks it into it. No, I do not. The first thing I would say is that I do not think anything we are doing on renewables is in conflict with the retention of our civil nuclear industry. I think that there is room for both renewables and nuclear power in our energy policy. In fact, if we were to look to France, the happy combination, where I think 95 per cent of their electricity comes from either nuclear or hydro electric, and that, of course, has the great virtue of being a very low emission energy mix. The starting point in this country is that about 25 per cent of our electricity comes from nuclear, and nobody has satisfactorily explained to me how we are going to meet our environmental aspirations while at the same time wishing away the contribution from nuclear. Everything we have talked about today points to the difficulties and the challenges of meeting our 10 per cent. If you lost nuclear from that mix, you certainly would not be talking about 10 per cent.

  442.  I think the thing that concerns this Committee, and it has been raised a number of times, is the costs of nuclear power and the fact that in terms of assessing it against other energy resources, we need to consider the internalisation of some of the costs that currently sit outside of the assessment on the creation of new nuclear power stations. Can we get a commitment from you today that you will ensure that in the future, those costs will be internalised when we assess nuclear power against other energy provisions?
  (Brian Wilson) I am obviously not going to pre-empt what the White Paper says, but I think the PIU report is very sensible on this whole area. Of course, the PIU report also says that nuclear should get recognition for the fact that it does not produce emissions.

Mr Savidge

  443.  But you would recognise it produces waste, and we have not resolved the problem of what happens—okay, it produces less waste than now, but barring the possible invention of nuclear fusion at some point in the future, we do not seem to have actually resolved the issues and the cost of the issues of decommissioning of waste. We do not seem to have resolved the problems of possibly the very high costs of security and various waste related to nuclear production.
  (Brian Wilson) I think that we have to make progress on the waste issue, but I think progress will be made. I think that again the PIU Report strikes a good balance, that we do not have to go out and build, not that we build them anyway, but there is no need to go out and build nuclear power stations tomorrow. I think it would be very foolish of this country to close down that option. Let us use the next few years to make progress on the various challenges you refer to.


  444.  You said that nobody had yet persuaded you that you could wish away nuclear power, but the fact is that the PIU Report says that renewables plus energy efficiency, if properly applied, could make up for nuclear. So you disagree with them on that?
  (Brian Wilson) I think in the very long term that is conceivable, but I think it would be very foolish at this stage to make over generous assumptions of what either of these headings are going to contribute.

Joan Walley

  445.  The whole point of the discussion that we have been having, about this being okay to keep options open for ever and a day and not actually take decisions, as long as you keep that option open forever, you are really preventing the direction being given to renewables on the scale and with the pace that is really required to be able to get the investment and to get the chicken before the egg, whichever comes first, if you see what I mean.
  (Brian Wilson) I do not believe that the progress of renewables in this country is being inhibited by our continuing reliance on a nuclear industry. That is my honest position. I think that as an example, Germany has been quoted a good deal, and Germany has stated as an aspiration to get rid of its nuclear industry. Of course it has not yet got rid of its nuclear industry, but let us see how far it goes along the renewables road before it finalises that view. I would also point out, of course, that the Germans are, at the same time, very anxious to maintain enormous subsidies on coal because of the same decision to get rid of the nuclear industry, and I do not think anybody here would regard that as a particularly happy environmental policy.

  Chairman: Minister, we have gone for a long time, but we have to close it now. As you say, it is a very central issue, what you are doing, and what we are concerned about, and we will be very interested to see how it progresses over the remainder of this year. Thank you very much indeed.


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