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Norman Baker: The hon. Gentleman's point about waste is absolutely right. The half-life of plutonium-239 is 24,000 years. The half-life of uranium-238 is 4,470 million years. In anyone's judgment of intergenerational confidence, that leaves something to be desired.
Mr. David Chaytor (Bury, North) (Lab): The hon. Gentleman said that the current figure for the cost of the waste legacy is £56 billion, but the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority must shortly produce its revised figureit must do so every yearand does he think that, given previous experience, that figure is likely to increase or decrease? For those hon. Members who are relaxed about football-field sizes of high-level waste, is not the logical consequence of their viewpoint that they should volunteer to have the nuclear waste depository in their constituency?
Norman Baker: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. Of course the estimate will go upnuclear financial estimates always go up. There is a taxi meter on overdrive showing the costs that we will face as a country.
We have the energy review, although we might ask ourselves why we have it because we had one a couple of years ago. We had quite a reasonable White Paper, which, by the way, said that nuclear power was unattractive and that energy efficiency and renewables were far more attractive options. I thought that the White Paper was sensible, so I am not quite sure what has changed since it was published, other than the fact that the Prime Minister has changed his mind and wants a mechanism to change Government policy as a consequence. We do not want a dodgy dossier on the energy review like we had on Iraq.
Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire) (LD): Does my hon. Friend agree that some of us are at a loss to understand where the Government's creative solutions are coming from? He will know that the Centre for Alternative Technology in mid-Wales, which is based in my constituency, has proved that there are many creative, inexpensive and environmentally friendly ways in which energy consumption can be reduced and in which energy can be produced in a totally clean fashion. Why does he think that the Government take an entirely uncreative approach to such renewable methods and instead insist on plumping for something that obviously has considerable and long-term negative environmental effects?
Norman Baker: To be fair, some members of the Government take a sensible view and others do not. For example, Ministers in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs are sensible about these matters. We are not sure about Ministers in the Department of Trade and Industry, and Ministers in No. 10 and the Cabinet Office are less helpful. It will be interesting to find out who wins the battle on the energy review.
How will this pan out and what is the case for nuclear power? Hon. Members might be astonished to find that when I asked the Minister for Energy what steps his
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Department was taking to establish the full economic life cycle costs of nuclear fission, he replied:
Stewart Hosie (Dundee, East) (SNP): The hon. Gentleman talks about the Government's inability to provide a price for a new nuclear power station. The World Nuclear Association estimates that the cost of building a new nuclear power station in Scotland would be £2.45 billion over its lifetime. Does he agree that investing in renewables the money that would be spent over the 15 years that it would take to build a nuclear power station would represent a far more sensible approach?
Norman Baker: I would indeed. I will now try to make some progress because I will otherwise run over my time, and I know that other hon. Members wish to speak. I have seen an estimate of £17 billion for the construction of 10 new AP1000 reactors. Incidentally, those proposed reactors have not been built anywhere else in the world, so we do not know whether they will work or come in on budget. However, as nothing else has come in on budget, I do not see why they should.
As the Chancellor is not going to pay and private industry clearly will not pay, the householder will have to pay. The only way in which we shall end up with a new generation of nuclear power stations will be if the taxpayer or the householder foots the bill. Indeed, an article in The Timesa newspaper that I always believe, of courseon 27 November had the headline, "New tax may fund nuclear stations". It went on to say:
The only way in which this dodo will fly will be if it is supported by a nuclear tax on householders and a big increase in electricity bills. I do not think that the public at large will support that when it is explained to them in some detail.
Jo Swinson (East Dunbartonshire) (LD): Is my hon. Friend aware of a report in The Herald that said that the bill for cleaning up the sea bed at Dounreay by removing radioactive particles could be as much as £70 billion? Environmental issues aside, nuclear power is simply uneconomic.
There is a huge legacy problem at Dounreay, as there is at Sellafield and many nuclear sites throughout the country. There is not yet any solution to the nuclear waste problem. We have had eight and a half
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years of dithering by the Government. The last act of the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer) before Prorogation in 1997 was to cancel any plans to have a permanent site at Sellafield. No action has been taken since then to provide a solution to the problem of nuclear waste. It is irresponsible in the extreme to suggest building a new generation of nuclear power stations, which would produce a huge amount of waste, when no solution has been identified to deal with the waste that we already have.
The industry says that the waste created by nuclear stations will be 10 per cent. of what exists at present. The Government seem to take that on trust, but they take too much on trust from the nuclear industry without carefully investigating the situation. The Committee on Radioactive Waste Management suggests that that is an underestimate by some distance and Nirex says the same. The waste caused by a new generation of nuclear power stations will increase the footprint of waste by 50 per cent., although there is no solution to deal with the waste that we already have. That cannot be condoned under any circumstances.
There are questions about security. Why on earth the Government still seem to be keen to go down the road of reprocessing I do not know because it makes no environmental or economic sense whatsoever, and even many people in the nuclear industry say that. The Minister will know that the thermal oxide reprocessing plantTHORPhas closed. He told me in a written answer on 12 October 2005 that it would not reopen until the Government had taken a view in light of recommendations in the nuclear installations inspectorate report. It is perfectly proper that the Government should take a view on the basis of the report, but we have found out that when the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority was asked whether there would be Government involvement, it said that it thought that it would be possible to start up THORP again without additional ministerial intervention. There is conflict between what the NDA and the Minister are saying. I would welcome an assurance from the Minister that THORP will reopen only with Government support and approval. I do not want THORP to reopen, but if that is to happen, it should be approved by a Minister, not the NDA.
Simon Hughes (North Southwark and Bermondsey) (LD): Does my hon. Friend accept that we have argued for 20 years on these Benches against reprocessing at Sellafield? For 20 years we have made the case that going down that road has a huge budgetary implication for Britain, and for 20 years we have been consistently proved right when Governments have refused to accept the financial facts that result from their commitment to the nuclear industry.
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