Written Answers. - British Nuclear Industry.

Hugh Byrne

Question:

22 Mr. H. Byrne asked the Minister for Transport, Energy and Communications the steps, if any, he plans to take to address the concerns posed by the proposed British Government privatisation of its nuclear power capacity. [7774/95]

Eoin Ryan

Question:

35 Mr. E. Ryan asked the Minister for Transport, Energy and Communications the views, if any, he has on the decision of the British Government to privatise its nuclear power stations; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8921/95]

Eric J. Byrne

Question:

57 Mr. E. Byrne asked the Minister for Transport, Energy and Communications if his attention has been drawn to concerns that the proposed privatisation of sections of the United Kingdom nuclear industry may pose a further hazard to the Irish Sea; the representation, if any, that has been made by him to the United Kingdom authorities in this regard; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9066/95]

Thomas P. Broughan

Question:

91 Mr. Broughan asked the Minister for Transport, Energy and Communications the views, if any he has on the determination of the British Prime Minister, Mr. John Major, to merge British Nuclear Fuels Limited and Scottish Nuclear Limited and to privatise the merged nuclear company in view of the financial and health costs involved and the ongoing serious health damage from Sellafield emissions to our east coast population. [8231/95]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 22, 35, 57 and 91 together.

The House will be aware that last week the UK Government published a White Paper on the conclusions of its year-long Nuclear Energy Review. The review focused mainly on the future prospects for nuclear power, including plans to privatise, during 1996, some parts of the UK's nuclear generating industry.

The White Paper has confirmed the UK Government's commitment to nuclear power, provided it remains competitive and is able to maintain rigorous standards of safety and environmental protection. The two nuclear electricity generating companies, Nuclear Electric and Scottish Nuclear, will be merged and part privatised. Seven of the more modern nuclear reactors within those companies, called advanced gas-cooled reactors and the new pressurised water reactor at Size-well, will be transferred into the private sector. The older MAGNOX stations and their liabilities will remain in public ownership under a new Government-owned, stand-alone company, which will ultimately be integrated with British Nuclear Fuels plc. (BNFL). The White Paper states that there will be no other change in the status of BNFL — it remains publicly-owned along with its facilities at Sellafield.

The White Paper emphasises that there is no case for state intervention or public funds for the construction of new nuclear plants. It also states that payments to Nuclear Electric from the existing fossil fuel levy on electricity consumers will cease at the time of privatisation.

At a routine meeting last week in Dublin of the Ireland-UK Contact Group on Nuclear Safety, officials of my Department emphasised the Government's concern about the safety of nuclear installations in the UK. The UK officials at the meeting stated that safety was of paramount importance and would not be compromised, irrespective of whether nuclear power stations were in public or private ownership. They said that a rigorous system of nuclear licensing and regulation for ensuring a high level of safety, reliability and transparency would be applied. I can assure the House that my Department and the Radiological Protection Institute will monitor the situation closely.
In relation to future prospects for nuclear generation, I understand that during the review, the nuclear industry argued the case for more nuclear power plants. However, in the White Paper the UK Government concluded that there was no case for state support or guarantees to one form of electricity over another. The review has also concluded that private finance is unlikely to be available at present for new nuclear construction.
I welcome these conclusions and hope they lead the new privatised entity to turn its attention to alternative sources of energy for electricity generation.
I can assure the House this Government will continue to oppose any expansion of the nuclear industry in the UK.