Commons Gate

The future of the nuclear industry in the North West (HC 361-ii)

North West Regional Committee 9 Mar 2010

Evidence presented by Dr. Ian Hudson, Programme Director, Sellafield, Nuclear Decommissioning Agency, Dr. Joe McHugh, Head of Radioactive Substances Regulation, Environment Agency, Michael Contaldo, Head of Economic Development, and David Higham, Deputy Director for Economy, Environment and Regional Issues, Government Office for the North West; and Mr. Phil Woolas MP, Minister for the North West.

Q113 Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): Dr. Hudson, can I take you back to one of the questions put by the Chair. You were saying that the employment numbers were based on 15-year-old figures. We were talking about Sellafield, and that seemed to indicate that the figure of 12,000 would be going down to 8,000. You said that you would be coming out with some newer figures in June. Are they likely to be more than 8,000?

Dr. Hudson: I think that the numbers in the Committee report talked about a reduction of 8,000. We agreed through Energy Coast to do an additional study, and we agreed with its board this week to do analysis of the numbers from Sellafield as the new plans come out. We will also do analysis of the potential future of some of the Energy Coast initiatives. You asked me about the total numbers. I would rather wait until I have seen the details-

Q114 Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): No, I asked if you expected them to go up or go down. I did not ask you for the total numbers.

Dr. Hudson: My gut feeling is that an 8,000 reduction against a total number of 12,000 seems more; it just depends on the overall time scales. A reduction of 8,000 seems a bit too much.

Q115 Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): You are suggesting that there aren't likely to be so many job losses at Sellafield.

Dr. Hudson: I think so, but we have to wait and see.

Q116 Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): I accept that.

Let me come to infrastructure. I presume we are talking mainly about new power stations, so we are talking mainly about the west coast of Cumbria. I know it very well. The roads are poor, and the railways no better. In the middle of it, we have the national park. How will you improve the infrastructure to the area?

Dr. Hudson: There are two elements. A number of things are addressed by the Energy Coast master plan, which talks about rail, roads and things like that, so there are a number of initiatives in that area. As for issues to do with Sellafield, I shall offer you some views right now. Given the time that it takes to get into Sellafield, due to flooding and bridges being lost, I still think that it will be quite an issue to get an integrated solution in terms of transport.

Transport into Sellafield is very dependent on singleton routes, so when there are issues to do with weather-ice and snow and things like that-we can end up with quite a backing up of traffic. There is a need for an integrated approach to travel. The Sellafield site has started a transport group under the infrastructure part of Sellafield. It is involved with some local councils at looking into whether rail and road transport into Sellafield can be addressed. There is an immediate question about Sellafield, as well as the future question for new build.

Q117 Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): What you're saying is that you know the problem and you have set up a group to look at it, but there's no real obvious solution, is there?

Dr. Hudson: I think it takes long-term investment from Government to get to the solution in terms of infrastructure. It's not singularly the NDA's responsibility to do that, but I think in terms of Energy Coast, making those things visible through Energy Coast and linking into Government is the route that people have been taking.

Q118 Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): Obviously, the Environment Agency-perhaps not your part of it, Dr. McHugh-would be interested in that. What is the Environment Agency's take on all this?

Dr. McHugh: We are fully engaged with the Northwest Development Agency in terms of its regional strategy, its work on its climate change action plan and energy council and its regional strategy for 2010. Specifically in relation to the coast in Cumbria and looking to see what's happening elsewhere in the country over new nuclear build, it's quite clear that a lot of infrastructure will need to be upgraded and reinforced. Ian Hudson has talked about road and rail. I would also add marine facilities for some of the larger structures that might need to be brought to the site, in terms of temporary ports, for example.

Q119 Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): When you talk about marine structures, are you talking about a new port?

Dr. McHugh: Certainly a temporary structure so that large items could be brought to the site by sea. It may not be a long-term structure, but it would need to be available, as we say, to avoid the need for overland transport, where there are some limitations.

The Environment Agency would also say that the infrastructure needs to be protected against flooding-I'm sure you don't need me to say that. As part of that, we would need to look at the impact on natural resources-on water abstraction and waste water discharges.

Q120 Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): Do you see any of this impacting on the national park in an adverse way?

Dr. McHugh: It would need to be very carefully planned to avoid significant impacts on the national park.


Q126 Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): On the siting, there are two things in west Cumbria's favour, aren't there? One is that the majority of the waste is there, and the second is that if you are going to build a repository anywhere in the country, the population would accept it there. But isn't the real option the third one, the geology of the area? Didn't Nirex find problems in west Cumbria when they looked at it? It's all right wishing, but the geology is surely better somewhere else in the country-you are just not looking anywhere.

Dr. Hudson: The stuff that Dr. McHugh talked about would be covered by the assessment by the British Geological Survey, which is a prerequisite for any particular site, no matter what you do in terms of the community.

Q127 Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): But you are looking only at Sellafield, are you?

Dr. Hudson: NDA is not looking at Sellafield; it is the Government who are in consultation with the local community. Once the Government have come to some sort of conclusion as to the location, NDA would be one of the people who would lead the implementation.

Dr. McHugh: As you have indicated, there needs to be both the geology and the support of the local community to achieve success. There are areas in the UK that have different geological properties from the areas around Sellafield. As you say, the inquiry into the Nirex rock characterisation facility found that the geology around Sellafield was technically complex, so it was difficult to make a clear safety case for the facilities there. That was at one particular site close to Sellafield, but a wider area is potentially available to be surveyed, so we will wait and see what BGS comes up with.


Q138 Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): In 20 years as an MP I have asked my fair share of daft questions, but I'm going to ask another one. The issue is that west Cumbrians are comfortable with Sellafield, or Calder Hall or whatever, as it has been there a long time, and we accept that other parts of the country are not comfortable with it. Really, we are talking about what is in it for west Cumbria. You can say, "We will build a new hospital, build a new school," or this, that and the other, but the thing that is in it for west Cumbria is jobs. Is there not a conflict between that statement and running a plant like Sellafield as efficiently as you can? Copeland, for example, is talking about losing a third of its work force, yet it is the only part of the country that will take this.

Joe Flanagan: We've got a situation in Sellafield where, as the previous witness explained, there will be job losses as the plant moves from operation to decommissioning. That is inevitable. Decommissioning is about removing things and taking them away, but I think there are great prospects for west Cumbria. In the work we have done, a lot of the companies involved with decommissioning only work in the UK, and there is a huge international market out there. There are great opportunities for companies to be a bit more international-looking. If we come to new build, it is not just about the jobs created during the construction and operation of the power plant, it is about companies being involved with the supply chain and building the components for those plants so that they can supply new-build programmes internationally. That sort of thing creates more sustainable long-term jobs, rather than just the blip you get over the construction of a new nuclear plant.

Stewart Swift: I think there's a real conundrum here because on the one hand, as you say, we're potentially looking at how a place like Copeland would replace several thousand jobs lost. On the other hand, other questions that we will encounter, include how the nuclear industry will recruit the number of people it needs to develop a new facility and all the issues around importing labour and the problems that that will bring with it. The reality is that the whole process is very long term; nuclear decommissioning is a long-term process. The task for public bodies, whether NWDA or local authorities, is to work in planning terms to make sure wherever possible that we can help whichever eventuality we are trying to cover, whether that is reskilling the work force to take up new employment in nuclear new build, as we are doing currently, or providing the infrastructure and the services to accommodate and integrate properly within the community an influx of labour from elsewhere. It's a very fine balancing arrangement that we have to try and support.

Q139 Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): Diversification, gentlemen. Copeland's eggs are really in one basket, are they not, along with many from Allerdale and some from my constituency in Carlisle? How realistically can you hope to diversify the economy of west Cumbria? If people say that it can develop tourism, they should bear it in mind that the difference between tourism and Sellafield is probably about £15,000 or £20,000 a year per employee.

Stewart Swift: Again, it is not an either/or. We need to be able to support, promote and enable diversification, and also exploit the nuclear sector. As for diversification in a Cumbria-wide context, most of the business in Cumbria is very small scale. It's one to 10 employees. At the other extreme, you've got the huge employers like Sellafield and BAE Systems in Barrow. But ultimately I think we have to try wherever we can, as the public sector, to support entrepreneurship, diversification and skills. But diversification is not an either/or. We need to do both and support both.

Q140 Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): The reality is that we've failed, haven't we-in the past?

Stewart Swift: The reality is that if you go back into Cumbrian history it has been about base industries like iron, steel, coal, shipbuilding, nuclear shipbuilding and now nuclear as the bedrock for the economy.

Joe Flanagan: West Cumbria has been dominated by Sellafield, which has been in public ownership for a long time. That has created a culture that does not really encourage entrepreneurship. One of our challenges is to encourage entrepreneurship. The National Nuclear Laboratory recently had a new management team take over the contract. They are very much behind this idea that people should be more entrepreneurial, supporting spin-outs. It might still be in the nuclear business, but that's no bad thing. It's a very stable industry; it will be around for a long time. Energy demand throughout the world is growing, so it's not a bad industry to be in.

Q141 Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): But the worry about the private sector-the main concern is safety. That's why it's always been in the public sector, until now. If you get some entrepreneur who cuts a few corners, we've all got a problem.

Joe Flanagan: Safety is paramount, even if you go to the private sector companies. There's nothing worse than incidents in this industry, and everyone is acutely aware of that.

Q142 Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): On the issue of construction, we're all looking forward to the new nuclear power station being built. There will be a demand for construction workers. You mentioned 4,000. How many will be met from local sources?

Joe Flanagan: "I don't know" is the honest answer. We are already engaging with the potential developers around Sellafield. So far they've been very receptive and have wanted to employ as much local labour as possible, because it's all part of their stakeholder engagement. If they're employing local people, the local community will be much better disposed towards them, so it's all part of their corporate social responsibility. To date, they have been very willing to talk to us and see how we can work together to ensure that we have a high local content.

Stewart Swift: We are working with Lakes College, the FE college in west Cumbria, around its curriculum for construction skills, and with Furness college in Barrow, around engineering skills. We have to make what use we can of the local ability of people to get the skills that they need to compete for those jobs.

Q143 Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): I am disappointed that you aren't looking a little further afield, Mr. Swift-to my constituency, for example. You are not going to get 4,000 workers from west Cumbria. You need to look towards other parts of the North West.

Stewart Swift: Absolutely. Looking again at your constituency, there is the support we have made available in the past few months to Carlisle college-not specifically for construction skills, but in terms of the skills agenda.

Q144 Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): The other issue will be managing 4,000 temporary workers. It is a big influx into relatively small communities. Whose responsibility will that be?

Stewart Swift: If you look at how the planning approval will be made through the Infrastructure Planning Committee, one responsibility in considering applications is to look at the socio-economic implications of the development. Clearly, as you say, those communities in west Cumbria in particular are very small scale.

However, there will be opportunities for local businesses-house builders, retail and leisure. The market will have to pick up some of that, but equally we would hope to work with the local planning authorities to address, perhaps, temporary requirements for accommodation. Until we know definitely where the planning for the new stations is going to be, it is difficult to engage in much detail with the planning authority.


Q158 Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): I am very conscious that we are likely to have an announcement on Thursday about the new high-speed line. We have the nuclear industry in Cumbria. We accept it. But there are suspicions that the proposals will mean that the high-speed line will not stop in Cumbria-you'll build a line 70 miles across it, but don't stop. Is that the sort of thing you would imagine the negotiations on the legacy would be about?

Stewart Swift: Certainly in terms of the high-speed line, discussions have been going on and at the end of the day we have made representations, along with many regional partners, to lobby for the line and for appropriate stopping points throughout the North West. So on that point we have joined the lobby to try to secure stops.

Q159 Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): Can I push you a little more on that one? We were saying that because Cumbria is prepared to take the nuclear industry, and nobody else is, it should be given some preference. It is all right for you to lobby for the train to stop at Preston, Warrington and Wigan-I understand that that is your job-but I am saying that if we take two nuclear power stations and the deep repository, part of the payoff must be something like the Government saying, "All right, we'll stop the train in Cumbria." Doesn't that sound reasonable?

Stewart Swift: That may well be a very reasoned argument. We also pointed out that the train should stop at Penrith and Carlisle.

Chair: We are opening up a whole new inquiry. We have come to the end of our time, so I thank the witnesses for the evidence they have given today. It has been most useful and we are very grateful. Thank you very much.


Q169 Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): To some extent, the skills issue has been covered, but I will come to it.

The history of nuclear on the west coast is that when it was first put there, they did not ask the people, did they? Sellafield, or Windscale as it was, was the most secret site in Britain, because it was developing plutonium for the nuclear bomb. It was not a case of going around the country and saying, "Which is the best site?" It was chosen, and that is the reality. I am a survivor, with probably nearly 100% of the rest of Cumbrians, of the Windscale fire in the 1950s.

But there has never been any acknowledgement-perhaps there is a little now-by any Government of the fact that Sellafield and the west coast of Cumbria is the only area that would really accept this particular industry, as such. I hear plans about what else are we going to do, but why isn't there some sort of agreement, other than the jobs? We are talking about education. The University of Cumbria is struggling at the moment, because of lack of resources-I think it is partly their own problem, but some of it is the Government. Why has there never been that acknowledgement by Government that there should be something special because this area has taken something special? And will there be an acknowledgement in the future?

Mr. Woolas: I accept the point that you make, Mr. Martlew, regarding the history, because we live in a different world now. I do not accept the implication-not yours, but the one that some draw-that the Government, particularly this Government, have not recognised through financial investment in that area the contribution that it makes.

The arguments regarding the depository, of course, exactly meet the point that you're making. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has a process to invite bids from communities, including local authorities, to identify the geological suitability or otherwise for deep depository, and then to enter into discussions with the local area and local authorities. We recognise that it is a two-tier, local authority area. We think it has the potential to carry public consent on that side of the process and at that stage of it, which of course is required in any event, irrespective of the building of the PWR energy plants.

In terms of public representation in the area, there is strong support for the nuclear industry, which of course is a result of the process that you described. What we have tried to do in the Government Office for the North West and the NWDA, which I think is recognised across Government-certainly in BIS and the Treasury-is to ensure that the benefits should be sustainable; hence the concentration on transport routes-the Carlisle northern development route, which is the A road from your constituency to Workington. The 669?

Michael Contaldo: The A66

Mr. Woolas: The transport infrastructure is crucial, as is higher education, and I would throw in health development in west Cumbria. We have also benefited from European money, but we start from where we are. There is strong public support. Certainly, the Members of Parliament and local authorities in the area are strongly behind this.

Michael Contaldo: The Government have set up the West Cumbria ministerial strategic forum, which is unique in Government terms. It is currently chaired by the Secretary of State for Energy but it brings together Ministers from across Government with Cumbrian partners to work with them to deliver the aspiration set out in the Energy Coast master plan. It involves not just the energy aspects, but the wider infrastructure-health, education and enterprise investment. It is a much more cohesive and comprehensive strategy. That is fairly unique in terms of how Governments operate.

Q170 Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): Basically, Minister, to some extent you accept my argument about what has happened, but you say that things will change.

Mr. Woolas: I accept your argument, because it is historical fact, but we live in a different world. Where we are now is that there is public consent for the industry. I would not say that it is unanimous of course, but the economy and the sustainability of that economy is dependent on this industry.

I think also that BNFL, the NDA and the other bodies involved have recognised the need for environmental sustainability. Of course, no one is arguing that Seascale is a pretty site, but our strategies are very sensitive to the national park, on which we also have a good record. There is an issue with the grid, and the need to protect the national park is important. I just think the situation has changed from what it was in the 1950s.

Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): It first started in the late '40s.


Q183 Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): On the repository, where else in the United Kingdom are you looking for sites?

David Higham: The position on the repository is that the Government have made it clear that new nuclear build will not proceed unless there is a solution to the waste disposal question, or there is a process in place for a solution to the waste disposal question.

The only three communities that have volunteered to be considered for waste repository are Allerdale, Copeland and Cumbria county council. The Government have held open the invitation to volunteer and we will see what happens. Formally, there is no requirement that those communities take the waste in exchange for a new nuclear power station.

Q184 Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): That is not my question, although I accept that totally. What I get from you, Minister, is that if the repository is located in Cumbria-there is a serious issue with the geology-moneys will flow to the community for taking it. Until that point, Cumbria will not be treated as a special case. Am I right?

Mr. Woolas: In terms of the repository, it wouldn't be treated as a special case. As David said, going ahead with the power station would be dependent on a solution on the waste. We would be able to move ahead on some of the related issues: the research at Sellafield and the academy in west Cumbria. For the region as a whole, the partnership with South Yorkshire and the University of Manchester, and the spin-offs from it, are terrifically exciting. That is the situation. It is a policy that I held the portfolio for in 2007-08. We predicted this situation.

This is an uncorrected transcript of evidence taken in public and reported to the House. The transcript has been placed on the internet on the authority of the Committee. Neither witnesses nor Members have had the opportunity to correct the record. The transcript is not yet an approved formal record of these proceedings.

The full transcript may be read here.

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On behalf of Eric Martlew, 3 Chatsworth Square Carlisle Cumbria CA1 1HB