This is entry number 207, first published on 20 January 2011, of a blog on the Planning Act 2008 infrastructure planning and authorisation regime. Click here for a link to the whole blog.

Today's entry reports on scrutiny of the Nuclear Power and Waste Water National Policy Statements.

First, I can report that the Energy and Climate Change Select Committee of the House of Commons is due to publish its report on its view of the revised six energy National Policy Statements (NPSs) next Wednesday, 26 January. Now for more details on the Nuclear Power and Waste Water NPSs.

Nuclear Power National Policy Statement

A week ago, there was a debate in the Grand Committee of the House of Lords on the revised draft Nuclear Power NPS, which was issued in October 2010. The full Hansard transcript can be found here, but here is a summary of the key points.

As with the debate two days earlier on the other five energy NPSs (reported here), the debate was opened and closed by Lord Marland, under-secretary of state at DECC.

In opening, he said that although the NPS identified eight sites for new nuclear power stations, it was not the last chance to have a say about whether the sites should be taken forward, as there would be a further opportunity once individual applications came forward. I would give qualified agreement to that: once an NPS is finalised, one cannot question the policy it contains during a subsequent application. It will therefore not be open to objectors to applications to question the suitability of the eight sites, since that will have been established in the NPS.

Lord Berkeley suggested that if the need for tall cooling towers at Oldbury in Gloucestershire was because the tide went out and water was not available from the Severn Estuary for cooling, that tidal lakes should be built that would fill up at high tide.

He urged the assessment of the carbon footprint of building nuclear power stations - indeed the same should be the case for all infrastructure projects. Delivering materials by sea and rail rather than road should be encouraged, for example. Lord Teverson asked that the social effects of large numbers of construction workers also be taken into account.

Lord Jenkin asked that sites suitable for nuclear power stations after 2025 should be considered, and made a renewed bid for Dungeness to be included. He was trying to find out from Natural England what it would take to allay their fears of the effect on the rare shingle beach there.

He referred to the burden of the Planning Act process, saying that it took 20,000 pages to make an application. I'm not sure if that is necessarily the case, but the Covanta Energy application in Bedfordshire certainly has a huge amount of documentation accompanying it.

He also clarified the question of when the deep storage facility would be available for nuclear waste. It would come into operation in 2040, but would not be able to take waste from the next generation of nuclear power stations until 2130. I am not quite sure why it takes 90 years to fill up with existing waste.

Lord Davies said that it was important to make it clear that nuclear power was not the complement of renewables, gas was. This is because nuclear power is 'baseload' generation, i.e. on all the time, and gas is more flexible and can deal with peak load when wind does not. He questioned Lord Marland's logic that nuclear power need not be subsidised because it was a 'mature business'.

Baroness Parminter said that flooding risk had not been dealt with adequately enough to reassure the public. She quoted paragraph 3.7.12, which effectively says that the chosen sites are potentially suitable despite the high flood risk, because there aren't any other sites.

She asked when the consultation on the revised waste transfer pricing methodology would be published (how much nuclear power companies pay towards nuclear waste disposal, essentially). I can tell her that the consultation was launched on 7 December and closes on 8 March (along with a consultation on funding of decommissioning of nuclear power stations). The consultation page is here. No doubt the results of the consultation will be examined closely by those who think nuclear power is being subsidised.

Lord O'Neill said that if five of the eight identified sites for new nuclear power stations were developed, that would be enough to replace existing nuclear capacity in the UK, and the last three would represent an increase in the nuclear share of electricity generation. As we have seen, new capacity is also needed to replace fossil fuel plants that have opted out of emissions standards.

The Bishop of Chester noted that the NPS was based on an assumption that electrictity demand in 2025 would be about the same as now, and questioned that assumption. With the electrification of cars, it will certainly rise at some point. Lord Marland said in reply that the government was expecting it to be two or three times present demand by 2050.

In summing up for the opposition, Baroness Smith repeated her question from the previous debate as to whether there would be further consultation if the NPSs were further revised. Lord Marland was passed a note in answer and said that there would be no reason to reconsult or repeat scrutiny if there were no substantive or material changes to the NPSs.

Baroness Smith asked whether the replacement for the Infrastructure Planning Commission (IPC), the Major Infrastructure Planning Unit (MIPU), would be able to issue guidance that the government would have to take into account. I think she meant to ask whether the recommendation of MIPU on an application would be binding on the government, to which the answer is no - just as the government can reverse the recommendations of planning inspectors. Unlike planning decisions, however, the government is to make a decision within three months of MIPU's recommendation.

Lord Marland noted the issue of flooding in the context of the debate taking place in the Moses Room, but did not say more than the situation was being assessed. He said it was not as simple as reaching agreement with Natural England if Dungeness were to come forward - the government had taken its own independent advice.

I have to correct Lord Marland's point 'One reason why we are removing the IPC is so that the Secretary of State will have direct control of the decision-making and speed it up.' It's Winston Smith's chocolate ration again - we have now gone from claims that the revised process without the IPC will be the same speed to it being faster, when in fact it will be slower, by three months.

There was some discussion of MOX (mineral oxide) plants, where reprocessed spent fuel can be used. One was built at Sellafield but didn't work properly.

Waste Water National Policy Statement

Meanwhile, the dates for Parliamentary hearings and public meetings on the Waste Water National Policy Statement have been announced. If you remember, the NPS identified only two projects likely to be considered nationally significant - the Thames Tunnel 'super-sewer' and a sewage treatment works in Edmonton, north London. I wonder whether identifying the project engages the additional publicity requirements in the Planning Act.

Parliamentary hearings are already under way. The first was on Tuesday this week (sorry not to announce it in advance - too much happening!), where the witnesses were Ofwat, the water industry regulator, and the Environment Agency. A written transcript is not yet available, but you can view a video recording of the proceedings here. There are to be two more sessions:

  • Tuesday 25 January - the only witness so far announced is Thames Water, who will be the promoter of both the projects, and
  • Tuesday 8 February, where the witness will be the minister and officials from Defra.

Two out of a possible three public meetings have been announced on the NPS - both in London, although if there is a third it will be outside London. The first will be on 31 January at City Hall, and the second on the following day at Defra's offices at 1 Victoria Street in Westminster. Both start at 10 a.m. I hope to attend the second one. To register, visit this page.