London, 24 Oct 2005
Q1 Chairman: Could I first of all thank you, Lord Sainsbury, for coming before the Select Committee to answer our friendly and helpful questions, and indeed to thank members of the public for also joining us this morning. Can I say that the process is that we have given Lord Sainsbury a series of questions which we would ask him to give the briefest of responses to before members of the Committee then take up supplementary questioning. I am going to read the question out so people know exactly what the question was, we will ask Lord Sainsbury to respond and then we will get into the questioning. I hope that is okay. The first area is about new nuclear build and the question is: when will the Government publish proposals on new nuclear build in the UK?
Lord Sainsbury of Turville: The Prime Minister recently announced that we will be reviewing our energy policy next year. That is part of our general policy to focus on climate change, reliability of energy supplies and affordability to the customer and, of course, that will include an assessment of civil nuclear power.
Q2 Mr Newmark: I guess my first question has to do with what has changed in your mind since before the Election to persuade the Government to tackle this issue now? For example, have there been significant improvements in the technology of nuclear reactors just to make them more economically viable?
Lord Sainsbury of Turville: Well, I think the issue is to what extent have things changed since the energy policy report of 2003. I think a number of things are changing, as will always be the case in this. I believe strongly that the absolutely fundamental point of energy policy is that you keep the options open and you review it constantly in the light of changes in technology, changes (in the case of nuclear) in the safety of nuclear stations, and also costs. I think it is a good moment to come back to those issues, given the changes in prices and other factors.
Q3 Chairman: Can you give us a specific change?
Lord Sainsbury of Turville: Clearly are getting closer to a solution on the question of waste, which I think is absolutely fundamental if there is going to be a change on that. I think there is a change on how quickly we can get into renewables and then also the question of how far do you want to go on renewables before it becomes tremendously expensive. If you go much above 20 per cent on renewables it is quite clear that costs go up dramatically so that is going to affect one's view about how much further one can go on renewables.
Q4 Adam Afriyie: As a relatively new Member, it seems to me there is a lot of dithering going on. I cannot see how it can take seven or eight years or even since the White Paper two and a half years to make a decision in principle on the general future of nuclear energy in Britain. Why is the Government dithering so much on this?
Lord Sainsbury of Turville: We have not dithered. We have made a very clear decision in that Energy White Paper on what that decision was. We said then we would review it in due course and we are now reviewing it. There is no dithering. We made a very clear decision in 2003 that we would not change our policy but we would keep that option open.
Q5 Adam Afriyie: Could you refresh our memories as to what that decision was, that you would proceed with nuclear?
Lord Sainsbury of Turville: No, it was that we would not be changing our policy, we would not be pursuing nuclear but we would keep the nuclear option open so that if we wanted to come back to it we had the skills and research being done to make that possible.
Adam Afriyie: It does not sound like a decision.
Q6 Dr Turner: Can I just take up the assumption you have just stated that if renewables exceeded 20 per cent of the mix, the costs would start to escalate too much.
Lord Sainsbury of Turville: That is wind. I should have said that would be if it was wind.