§ Mr. Michael Brown (Brigg and Cleethorpes)
I beg to move,That this House welcomes the report prepared for the County Councils of Humberside, Lincolnshire and Bedfordshire regarding the disposal of low level nuclear waste; notes the coalition's view based on an international comparative study that; (i) there are better technical alternatives than those presented by UK Nirex for the disposal of such wastes which may also be used for intermediate level waste; (ii) the overall cost of alternatives may be greater than for a shallow repository but would be less than one per cent. of the costs of nuclear electricity generation; and (iii) if public acceptance is to be gained a truly convincing solution to the disposal of low and intermediate level nuclear waste must be found; and urges Her Majesty's Government to give full consideration to this report before final decisions are taken regarding the disposal of nuclear waste.
I have been a Member of this place for the past eight years and it was something of a surprise for me, having gone through the automatic, routine mechanism of signing a ballot paper on just about every available occasion during the past eight years, to find that I had drawn No. 1 position in the ballot for today's private Members' motions. Probably few Members on either side of the House were surprised when I decided to give the House the opportunity of debating nuclear waste disposal.
In February 1986 my right hon. Friend the Member for Mole Valley (Mr. Baker), who is now the Secretary of State for Education and Science and who was then Secretary of State for the Environment, announced his intention to select four sites for test drilling for the disposal of low and, at that stage, intermediate-level waste. We had a short debate that arose on the Easter Adjournment thanks to the initiative of my hon. Friend the Member for Grantham (Mr. Hogg), who is now the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department. There was a second debate which lasted for about three hours, which was a short time for the many who wanted to contribute to it, when a special development order was placed before the House. This is the first major opportunity that the House has had to have what I hope will be a constructive and leisurely debate.
I am delighted to see my hon. Friend the Member for Grantham, my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Lyell), the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Security, and my right hon. Friend the Patronage Secretary here today. From my knowledge of their efforts, they have been as vigorous in their representations on behalf of their constitutents as I have on behalf of mine. The fact that they are members of the Government has not inhibited them in any way in their efforts to press for the best interests of their constituents. I am delighted to see them.
§ Mr. Donald Stewart (Western Isles)
Is the hon. Gentleman, like his hon. Friends whom he mentioned, in favour of the generation of electricity by nuclear power? If so, his arguments against dumping are, to put it mildly, completely untenable.
§ Mr. Brown
That is a fair challenge. If the right hon. Gentleman had been watching Yorkshire Television last Monday, he would have seen me conducting an interview with Mr. Arthur Scargill, when we discussed that very question. I said that the case for further nuclear power 28 generation had not yet been proven, and that until the Government had received a mandate at the next general election I felt that it would be prudent for them not to proceed with further installation of new nuclear power stations. I said that the Government should not do so until the electorate had at least had the opportunity of confirming that decision.
I am concerned not only about the proposals that NIREX has made for the South Killingholme site in my constituency but about the situation at Fulbeck, Elstow and Bradwell. My right hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Sir B. Braine), who cannot be with us for the debate because he has duties in America, has represented those in the county of Essex who are concerned about the selection of Bradwell as a site. He has also made representations on behalf of my right hon Friend the Patronage Secretary. I should like to draw the attention of my hon. Friend the Minister for Environment, Countryside and Planning to the letter written to him on 4 February by my right hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point, who was kind enough to send me a copy. He asked whether I would draw to my hon. Friend's attention the fact thatthe geological conditions which exist at Bradwell do not begin to meet Nirex's own criteria. We are in no doubt that the testing now going on will confirm this. That is why we did not object to the testing taking place. This … is quite apart from the fact that the area has been subjected to flooding and earthquakes.Secondly, my right hon. Friend draws attention to the fact thatthe road and rail communications do not satisfy the criteria laid down by Nirex. The transport links arc totally inadequate for the purpose of transporting waste to the site.This also applies to South Killingholme. My right hon. Friend draws attention to the fact that there are large centres of population in the Bradwell area. Surely it must be utterly wrong to site a nuclear waste disposal facility in an area that has large centres of population.
I concur absolutely with the representations of my right hon. Friend, who was speaking also on behalf of my right hon. Friend the Patronage Secretary. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will take note of those representations when he replies to that letter.
I should welcome it very much if Essex county council joined the coalition of Humberside, Lincolnshire and Bedfordshire because the council would then have at its disposal the advantage of professional consultants who produced an excellent report, a copy of which has been sent to all hon. Members. The report is entitled "The Disposal of Radioactive Waste". It draws on the experiences of those three county councils when they recently visited Sweden, West Germany and France. The report was prepared for the coalition of county councils by Environmental Resources Limited, under the guidance of Mr. Peter Floyd. It is an outstanding report. I think that Essex county council would agree with its conclusions. I hope that it will be encouraged to join the other three county councils.
I want first to skim through the report in the hope that other hon. Members who will take part in the debate will also have had the opportunity of reading the report and will be able to refer to it. I want to outline the background of the report and the conclusions reached by the county councils. I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Member for Colchester, South and Maldon (Mr. Wakeham), my 29 hon. and learned Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire and my hon. Friend the Member for Grantham will support those conclusions.
My hon. Friend the Member for Grantham was kind enough to join us for the press launch of the document just two weeks ago and I am delighted to welcome him to the debate today. He was present at the press conference when the document was launched on 21 January alongside members of Lincolnshire. Humberside and Bedfordshire county councils.
The coalition formed by the three county councils decided, on the basis of the evidence that they had studied from the report of the all-party Select Committee on the Environment relating to nuclear waste last year, that they should go to Sweden, West Germany and France to study how other nations were tackling the problem. They were encouraged to do that because the Select Committee report claimed that the technology for nuclear waste disposal in the United Kingdom was a long way behind the experience and expertise in the subject in other countries. My right hon. Friend the Member for Wanstead and Woodford (Mr. Jenkin), the former Secretary of State for the Environment who originally announced the policy, also acknowledged that technology and study in this country was far behind that of other European countries.
The foreword of the report states:The Coalition was most impressed with the committed and far-sighted view which the Swedish people take of radioactive waste disposal. The Swedes have spared neither effort nor expense in coming to terms with the problem. Everyone in the delegation was deeply impressed by the sheer size and vision of the Forsmark undertaking. It is clear that the Swedish authorities have decided to pay the greatest attention to deep-seated public concern and have come up with a demonstrably acceptable and safe solution.The foreword goes on to draw attention to the coalition's findings in West Germany. It states:In West Germany, too, it was apparent that the anxieties of the people were taken very seriously. The West German authorities see it as their task to accept and allay these fears—not to dismiss them with contempt.Those are two examples from Europe which we should follow. The foreword continues:The French method of disposal was considered the least impressive of the three seen by the delegation and could not be recommended for the UK. In fact, although the UK Government has suggested that the Coalition should see this method as an example of what was proposed by NIREX, it was so demonstrably different that no comparison could be made.The foreword concludes:The Coalition delegation learned salutary and important lessons from their tour of Europe. They returned convinced that the British Government has not yet addressed itself seriously to the problems of radioactive waste disposal. There has been no proper evaluation of the alternative methods of disposing of low level radioactive waste. The method adopted, shallow burial, has been rejected in other countries. Public opinion is seen as something to be overcome in the UK, rather than as the basis for policy formulation.The Government now has an absolute duty to respond to these concerns.
§ Dr. Michael Clark (Rochford)
My hon. Friend has referred to the example set by various countries on the continent. If NIREX was to follow the examples that he has listed, would he withdraw all his objections to a low-level disposal site in this country?
§ Mr. Brown
If Her Majesty's Government can say through my hon. Friend the Minister during the course of the debate that the experience at Forsmark had convinced 30 them that that was the best way of disposing not only of intermediate-level waste but also of low and very low-level nuclear waste, I would accept that the problem of public opinion would have been dealt with, that the concern of public opinion would have been substantially allayed and I would be very much more inclined to accept such a proposal.
I do not believe that there is a great difference in the costs involved. A figure of £125 million has been quoted as the cost of the Forsmark system. When we consider all the costs— and NIREX has not been able to give the total cost of its proposal—I do not believe that the cost of £125 million, the equivalent cost of Forsmark, is a price that we cannot afford to pay. If that kind of expenditure was able to convince hon. Members, myself and my constituents— who at present are deeply concerned about the method of disposal— I believe that that money would be well worth spending. If the Government can announce a change of policy recognising, as I of course recognise, that low-level waste arises and must be disposed of, that may satisfy me. If the Labour party gains office on the basis of a policy involving decommissioning nuclear power stations, there would be even more nuclear waste for disposal. I do not deny that the problem exists. Nuclear waste exists and must be disposed of. No one disagrees with that.
§ Sir Patrick Wall (Beverley)
My hon. Friend has referred to additional costs. Would not the sterilisation of industrial land, certainly at South Killingholme and probably in the other areas, cost less than the amount required to follow the German or the Swedish system?
§ Mr. Brown
That is a very fair point. If we include the cost— to which my hon. Friend the Member for Beverley (Sir P. Wall) has referred—of losing industrial development on prime industrial land, land required by the county of Humberside for industrial purposes to provide jobs, the opportunity cost is even greater. My hon. Friend the Member for Beverley has reminded me that Humberside county council commissioned a report recently which has now been published. It was undertaken by Coopers and Lybrand. The report suggested that the alternative uses for the South Killingholme site were very important because it is such prime industrial land. Indeed, Nissan considered the site for its car factory a few years ago. The site is surrounded by industrial and chemical factories and oil refineries which are job-creating organisations. If that land is sterilised it will kill the prospect of future jobs. There is no doubt that the opportunity cost of not using that land and making it a nuclear waste dump would be tremendous.
The Swedish experience outlined in the county council coalition report shows a much better way of disposal. It ensures that nuclear waste is not disposed of in centres of population. I am aware that the site proposed in the constituency of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire is surrounded by an area in which many people live. Bedfordshire is a very densely populated county. It is absolutely wrong that nuclear waste dumps should be sited in areas of high population.
The problem of disposal is one that we will have to face. However, we do not have to face it immediately. The Flowers commission stated 10 years ago that there is no urgency at the moment. Although Drigg is unsatisfactory, that site will be available for some years yet. It is important 31 to use this time to get the right ideas and to draw on the experiences abroad. We must consider the experience in the United States where there have been shallow burial facilities which the United States Government are now closing because those facilities do not meet the Government's criteria.
We are out of line. As other countries do their best to allay public fears and meet public objections, our Government are intent simply on saying that they will try to meet public opinion if they can, but if they cannot, too bad.
I have not yet persuaded my hon. Friend the Minister to change his policy, but I have not given up hope. I am grateful for the way in which he responded to detailed questions asked by me, my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my right hon. Friend the Patronage Secretary and my hon. and learned Friend the Member of Mid-Bedfordshire. We put to him a range of detailed points on which we need undertakings. I make it plain to my hon. Friend the Minister that I recognise that he is unlikely to change his policy as a result of this debate alone, but all those affected by this terrible problem want him eventually to change his policy.
We have now reached the stage where NIREX is at all four sites. Last year we had the problems with court injunctions, which was the most heavy-handed way of treating my constituents and those of my right hon. and hon. Friends. Those people have lost confidence in Parliament and believe that it does not listen to them. Although I do not like people protesting and do not condone people breaking the law, I believe that those people thought that Parliament had let them down. NIREX was running all over the place, throwing injunctions towards my innocent constituents and those of the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) in a most unfortunate way. I hope that that will not happen again and that if NIREX is intent on mending its ways in terms of public relations, it will not run to the courts to support its efforts.
Can my hon. Friend the Minister tell the House what the likely completion date will be? How long will NIREX take to evaluate its findings and when will the blight be lifted from at least three of the four sites? A great many people in four counties are desperately worried, so can my hon. Friend tell us what progress has been made and the likely time scale? When will he tell the House who has drawn the unlucky short straw? Whoever draws that short straw, I shall continue to try to change Government policy. Whether I and my constituents are lucky or unlucky, I will not let the issue go away.
My hon. Friend and other Ministers at the Department of the Environment have said that NIREX will submit one or two proposed sites— I want some clarification on whether it will be one or two—to a public inquiry. If only one site is chosen, I presume that there will be only one inquiry, but if NIREX seeks planning permission for two sites, will there be public inquiries in respect of both?
Most importantly, what will be the scope of the public inquiry? Last year, my hon. Friend the Minister explained to my hon. Friend the Member for Grantham that the inspector would have powers to call evidence on whatever aspect he wished to investigate, but I want the Minister's undertaking that he will ask the inspector to consider not 32 just the planning aspect but evidence relating to safety and to alternative methods that might be better. The scope of the inquiry is one of the most important safeguards and reassurances that he could give to those who live in the constituency that will draw the short straw. My hon. Friend the Member for Grantham has asked me to invite the Minister to consider the scope of the inquiry, and we believe that it is essential to have a formal commitment that, in the event of the inspector not being satisfied on safety grounds, the Government will not proceed with this method of disposal.
My hon. Friend and I also believe that compensation should be made available now for those who cannot sell their houses. NIREX has announced the circumstances in which it will pay compensation to those who are affected because they live in the site nominated by NIREX after it has completed its test drilling. I draw my hon. Friend's attention to letters that I have received from constituents who cannot sell their houses for the amount which they would have received about 12 months ago. I have already shown the correspondence to my hon. Friend, and I hope that he can say something about it.
I received a letter dated 4 December from Mr. T. A. Pollard, who said:Dear Mr. Brown, I am writing to you as my 'sitting' Member of Parliament to ask your help in registering my protest with NIREX and the appropriate agencies. Because of the NIREX operation and subsequent adverse publicity I have found my house has not been only difficult to sell, but appears to have declined in value. Please find enclosed a copy of my letter concerning this problem which I have sent to NIREX, and to the Prime Minister … I would be very grateful for any help, aid, or even advice which you may be able to give at this time. As I have pointed out to NIREX these things may be very small and even insignificant matters to them, but to the ordinary family they can have a very considerable effect. I will point out that I have agreed to sell at the figure of £17,500 … in order to move away from a potential menace which may blight the lives of many more people in the future, but I should still be a member of your constituency.
I wrote to NIREX asking, "What about this?", and the managing directore replied, in a curt letter dated 5 January, as follows:Dear Mr. Brown, I have your letter of 17 December regarding Mr. Pollard, and enclose a copy of a letter which has been sent to Mr. Pollard. As you can gather from that letter the property market in South Humberside, which even before any indication of NIREX's presence was not very healthy, has not substantially changed since our announcement in February 1986. Mr. Brooke-Taylor's letter"—that is the letter from NIREX to my constitutent—sets out the two sets of circumstances under which NIREX will compensate people. We believe that further involvement in the property market would only cause problems, rather than resolve them.A few days later, I received a letter from another constituent, Mr. D. Humberstone. He said:Dear Mr. Brown, After 15 years with the same employer I was forced onto the unemployment register by an industrial accident. Following an operation I was advised not to return to work. I decided to start a business of my own and put in an offer on a club and restaurant. I remortgaged my bungalow"—which is in South Killingholme, as was Mr. Pollard's home—as security against the business. My bungalow was valued at £45,950 in 1983 … I estimated to the bank that my bungalow was worth in the region of £47,000 to £48,000 so suitable overdraft facilities and a loan was duly arranged. To my and the bank's horror the valuation was £37,500 (see enclosed valuation).33 We should remember that NIREX said in its letter to me of 5 January that there was no sign that its presence had changed the position substantially since February 1986.
We also have the report from Whitegates estate agency, a reputable firm in my constituency and that of the hon. Member for Great Grimsby. Under the heading "Situation and Amenities", it states:Are there any adverse features which might limit marketability? Property values in South Killingholme have recently been adversely affected by the possibility of a low level nuclear waste dump site being developed close to South Killingholme. The plans to develop the site have not yet been approved but its proposal has adversely affected property value levels and the length of time houses for sale remain on the market.I cannot think that we need clearer evidence that Mr. Pollard and Mr. Humberstone cannot sell their houses because of the presence of NIREX contractors. NIREX denies that, but I do not think that we need more evidence than the estate agent's report. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Grantham, my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire and my right hon. Friend the Patronage Secretary have constituents in the same circumstances.
In a parliamentary question I asked my hon. Friend the Minister for Environment, Countryside and Local Governmentif he will introduce a compensation scheme for those householders in the South Killingholme area"—that could equally apply to Elstow, Fulbeck or Bradwell—who cannot now sell their houses at normal valuation prices in cases where the decline in value can now be directly attributed"—as the surveyors' report that I have quoted shows—to the presence of contractor test drilling for the suitability of a nuclear waste dump and where surveyors' reports on such properties indicate that the test drilling has contributed to a fall in market value; and if he will make a statement.I said earlier that my hon. Friend has, within the limits of a policy with which I disagree, tried to be as helpful as he can. His reply was not unhelpful. It said:Compensation policy, both in the areas of the four potential disposal sites and at any site which might eventually be selected, is primarily a matter for UK NIREX Ltd. The company has already announced measures which are intended to maintain the level of house prices locally. NIREX is also considering the possibility of further measures, which it is discussing with my right hon. Friend."— [Official Report, 26 January 1987; Vol. 109, c. 43–44.]It may not be possible for my hon. Friend to expand on that answer today, but I invite him to consider whether there is any prospect that NIREX's discussions with the Secretary of State will be fruitful. The examples that I have given show that people are suffering. I and my right hon. and hon. Friends are looking, first and foremost, for a change of policy but, in the meantime, constituents who have all of their life savings tied up in property are unable to sell their homes.
NIREX says that there may be compensation arrangements when one site has been selected and there is planning blight. At the moment, there are no compensation arrangements and groups of constituents such as mine are being adversely affected. They have the right to some redress. I invite my hon. Friend the Minister to be as helpful as he can.
We would like an assurance that the public inquiry will be able to consider all factors, including safety and other methods of disposal. What are those other methods? I have mentioned those used in Sweden and West Germany, 34 but there are companies in Britain which have done a tremendous amount of work on methods of disposal. Last year's Environment Select Committee report on nuclear waste disposal mentioned the ENSEC method. Mr. Alex Copson, the managing director of the ENSEC company, has devised an excellent method which disposes of low and intermediate-level waste under the sea, similar to a method used by the Swedish Government. We also have the power system of nuclear waste disposal which has been pioneered by Dr. Wheeler.
My hon. Friends at the Department of the Environment constantly say that NIREX is prepared to consider other methods of disposal, but I have the feeling that it has its head down and wants to go ahead only with shallow burial disposal. It may pay lip service to other methods, but that is the system for which it wants to go. The Department of the Environment should tell NIREX that it should consider methods, which have been identified by the County Councils Coalition, as seriously as the four sites which are already being investigated.
The County Councils Coalition is a model of lobbying and how a problem has been taken out of four communities and brought to the attention of the nation. Humberside county council is a hung council. I understand that the same is true of Bedfordshire and that there is a Conservative majority in Lincolnshire. The politicians in each have set aside the party political divide and worked together wonderfully.
I should like to pay tribute to Humberside county councillors Margaret Crampton, Hugh Lewis and John Bryant. They are from three different political parties and on a host of other issues engage in the rough and tumble of political debate. With their advisers, however, and the organisation that has produced the coalition report, added to similar experience in Lincolnshire and Bedfordshire, we have a recipe for good homework and first-rate research.
I should like to pay tribute to the leader of Glanford borough council, councillor Terry Atherton, and to its chief executive, David Cameron. Glanford borough council covers the South Killingholme area. They have worked night and day with the county council for many years, often with the encouragement of the Department of Trade and Industry. The Department constantly tells the council that South Killingholme is one of the most important areas for industrial development in the United Kingdom, that the Humber estuary is the last undeveloped estuary, that it wants the council to bring in new jobs arid industry, and that the South Killingholme area should he in the vanguard of industrial development.
Nobody would believe it, but when the industrial development map was redrawn a couple of years ago an intermediate area boundary included Immingham but stopped short of South Killingholme. It might be thought that South Killingholme cannot be important because it does not have intermediate area status, but the Government made it a development area. It has full grant aid for industrial development. Here, however, through its agency, NIREX, the Department of the Environment is blighting the objectives of Glanford borough council, Humberside county council and the Department of Trade and Industry.
The area needs new jobs and serves the working population in the area represented by the hon. Member for Great Grimsby. It is extraordinary that South 35 Killingholme should be the boundary between intermediate and full development status. The site will be in an area covered by full development status.
The Department of Trade and Industry wants borough councils, the hon. Member for Great Grimsby, me, my hon. Friend the Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe (Mr. Hickmet) and my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle (Mr. Leigh) to pitch in and ensure that industry goes to the area. We all want the same, but there are signs, according to what the borough council has told me, that its hard work and that being done by the county council to get industry to the area is being set at nought because the asset of land in the South Killingholme area is being frozen.
§ Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)
I know exactly what I would do, but if the hon. Gentleman were to draw the short straw, what should be done about low-level waste?
§ Mr. Brown
I am not sure whether the hon. Gentleman was present when I was asked that question by the hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Stewart), the leader of the Scottish National party. The debate arises from the County Councils Coalition report, which points to alternative methods of nuclear waste disposal. I have always accepted that low-level nuclear waste will occur and must be disposed of. The report alludes to the Swedish solution and a copy of it has been sent to every hon. Member. Indeed, the hon. Gentleman will find one in his post.
§ Mr. Brown
If the hon. Gentleman turns to the conclusions, he will read about the Swedish experience. The Swedish method is acceptable and allays the fears of the public. Therefore, my blunt answer to the hon. Gentleman's fair question is that I would adopt the Swedish method of disposal. That is what I want to see the Government do. If they cannot do it today, I shall continue lobbying and making representations until they do.
We have a full debate today. I know that other hon. Members wish to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and I hope that they will be successful. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Grantham, my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire and my right hon. Friend the Member for Colchester, South and Maldon. I wish to thank my hon. Friends the Members for Gainsborough and Horncastle and for Glanford and Scunthorpe and the hon. Member for Great Grimsby for all the work that they have done. I am also most grateful to the County Councils Coalition.
§ Sir Trevor Skeet (Bedfordshire, North)
Will my hon. Friend make perfectly clear to the House whether he is confining all his remarks to low-level nuclear waste and not including in them short-lived intermediate-level waste?
§ Mr. Brown
The problem of low-level nuclear waste has been occupying my mind for the most part this afternoon. Last year the Government made it clear— I hope that the Minister will reiterate this—that they intended to include intermediate-level nuclear waste for study. But, just before the special development order was laid before the House, in response to representations from me, the county councils and others, a decision was taken not to 36 include intermediate-level nuclear waste. Therefore, today we shall address our minds to the problem of low-level nuclear waste, although it will be relevant to raise aspects of intermediate-level nuclear waste within the terms of the motion.
I am aware that my hon. Friend the Minister for Environment, Countryside and Planning has not been well recently and I apologise to him. It was unfortunate for all of us that today's business was private Members' motions. I hope that he can respond reasonably well, but I know that a few days ago he was suffering from a temperature of over 100 deg F. I am most grateful to him for coming and I hope that he can stay the course of the debate.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Ernest Armstrong)
At least 12 hon. Members, apart from the two Front Bench spokesmen, are anxious to catch my eye before 7 o'clock, so I appeal for restraint from those who are called.
§ Mr. Richard Livsey (Brecon and Radnor)
The disposal of nuclear waste is one of the key issues of our time. Future generations on these islands will pay a heavy price if we fail to dispose of radioactive waste as safely as possible. Not only will we be harshly judged by them, with great justification, but we shall put at risk both human and animal health, destroy our ecology and effectively sterilise our environment. Our forefathers did not leave us that sort of legacy, nor should we mortgage our children's future in such a way.
Many of us would prefer it if there were no nuclear waste to dispose of. Long before Chernobyl my party was opposed to nuclear generation because so many risks were involved. Today we are talking about low-level waste, but intermediate-level waste should also be considered. Our main objective, then and now, is to ask why we should produce a dangerous waste product which cannot as yet be effectively disposed of. That is highly irresponsible and cannot be defended when so many sources of energy are available.
Our resources provide us with alternative sources of energy and we could become a world leader in new technology for wind, water and solar power. Because of our wealth in coal and oil we have a breathing space which other countries have not. We cannot immediately prevent the creation of nuclear waste because at present we have a continuing programme, so nuclear waste is here and will be with us for a long time. We call for a pause so that we can dispose of the waste that we have and do some research to find out how the problem can be better tackled.
NIREX has chosen four sites in the United Kingdom for shallow grave disposal of low-level waste. The County Councils Coalition, of Humberside, Lincolnshire and Bedfordshire, has shown the way in its report, evaluating methods of disposal of radioactive waste in Sweden, West Germany and France. The report is far-sighted and I congratulate the coalition on being involved in such a constructive report, and the hon. Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes (Mr. Brown) on drawing the attention of the House to it.
The Government and NIREX must learn from the conclusions of the report. If they do not heed them, I fear that the United Kingdom will become a nuclear dustbin.
§ Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough and Horncastle)
The hon. Gentleman's speech is interesting, but could he 37 explain why the hon. Member for Liverpool, Mossley Hill (Mr. Alton), who is a Liberal party spokesman, concurred with paragraph 99 of the Environment Select Committee's report, which stated:Near surface disposal facilities are … acceptable for short-lived low-level wastes"?
§ Mr. Livsey
I do not know the circumstances of that and, obviously, I shall question my hon. Friend about it after the debate.
The NIREX proposals for shallow grave disposal are fatally flawed. When the sites are examined, the limitations of the influence of the water table, in particular in clay soils, must not be ruled out. What point is there in putting nuclear waste in trenches if water can permeate through?
The two sites at Killingholme and Elstow are geologically unsound and can probably be ruled out immediately. The sites have been chosen only because they are already in public ownership, and to apply elsewhere would provoke such a public outcry that it could not be done.
The technical disadvantages of the NIREX proposals are compelling. There is evidence that they are suspect technically. The shallow trench proposals are known to be unsafe in the sites where they are proposed because of the high water table. The concrete cartons, in which it is proposed to put the waste, have already been proved unsuitable at the French Centre de la Manche, where the cartons are already cracking. The geology of the sites is suspect and at no site in the United Kingdom will the water permeation and radioactive contamination in the water be monitored, as it is at the French site. Indeed, I understand that the shallow trenches on the French site are above the water table, so are not comparable with NIREX's proposals for the United Kingdom.
The options considered by the coalition are much safer and more practical than the NIREX proposals. Even the French site at Centre de la Manche would monitor contamination of water and keep this water separate. They at least had the wit to put the site above the water table, even though the concrete cartons are cracking.
The West German option, using an old mine, is certainly one of interest, but the fears in the area around Teesside when proposals were put forward for the storage of nuclear waste in the mine at Billingham show that this does not seem to be a practicable option for the United Kingdom. As one would expect, by far the best proposal comes from the Swedes, and this has been evaluated by the County Councils Coalition. If the objective is to put the nuclear waste away safely, for at least 500 years, which is what the Swedes are talking about, then NIREX, in the interests of the public, must adopt the Swedish system.
This system consists of a tunnel under the sea, 500m deep and 1,000m long. It contains multiple barriers, which prevent the waste from escaping. There is double protection in steel and concrete drums and these are put into a bunker, which is back filled with concrete. The chamber itself is located in granite. These are more than double safe mechanisms, and the Swedes have taken a responsible attitude to the disposal of nuclear waste. The site is not yet in use, but it is ready for the future.
Undoubtedly, deep sites are the best, and we are talking about heavily populated countries where the rainfall is high and there is the problem of seepage. The cost of the Swedish construction is virtually the same as that for NIREX's proposal for shallow graves. This makes it attractive from an expenditure point of view.
38 There are massive technical objections to the NIREX shallow grave proposal, and there is no doubt that the United Kingdom has been found by the County Councils Coalition to be far behind in the technology of disposal of nuclear waste. The measures must have political acceptance— this is important. Clearly, planning procedures must apply, with democratically elected planning authorities involved in planning the sites for disposal, as they are answerable to the electors of the area.
Special development orders from the Government do not respond to the democratic wishes of the people living in the area. They are undemocratic and insensitive to local needs, when one considers the lack of responsiveness from the Government in comparison to that of locally elected members. A public inquiry, at which county councils can be called to give evidence, does not replace the need for proper planning procedures on a local basis.
The syndrome of "Not in my back yard" has been apparent from the reaction of hon. Members representing the proposed sites. No hon. Member could welcome the dumping of nuclear waste in his constituency. That is the acid test. No hon. Member is prepared to welcome nuclear waste in his constituency, and I would not welcome it in mine.
§ The Minister for Environment, Countryside and Planning (Mr. William Waldegrave)
At least one hon Member has had the courage to go on record as saying that he would welcome it, and that is the hon. Member for Midlothian (Mr. Eadie). I hope that I would have the same courage in similar circumstances.
§ Mr. Dalyell
It depends on the optimum geological conditions. The Patronage Secretary and the hon. Member for Grantham (Mr. Hogg) have to say whether they are in favour of their Government's policy, and support their Ministers.
§ Mr. Livsey
I am glad to hear that there are hon. Members who have the courage to welcome nuclear waste dumping in their constituencies. I shall watch the debate with interest to see how many hon. Members will say that today. There is growing public pressure on this matter. The great British public are wise in their judgment. They know that the proposals are not safe, and the maxim of "trust the people" is sound. One should not underestimate the knowledge and probing of the British public, who are well informed about the risks of shallow storage of low-level nuclear waste.
We must go for the safest option—disposal under the sea— and we must instruct NIREX to act on the County Councils Coalition report and put its proposals into action.
§ Sir Hugh Rossi (Hornsey and Wood Green)
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes (Mr. Brown) on selecting for debate a subject that is of fundamental concern not only to his constituents and the constituents of many of my right hon. and hon. Friends, but to the country as a whole.
My hon. Friend referred on a number of occasions to the first report of the Select Committee on the Environment for 1985–86, which was quoted extensively in the other report to which he referred, the report of the County Councils Coalition. The coalition followed the path beaten by my Committee in conducting its inquiry, 39 although the conclusions that it reached are in some respects different. That is understandable, because it represents the localities that will possibly be at the receiving end of something that would be unwelcome to anybody.
I wish to redress something of the balance of argument, because too much was attributed in the County Councils Coalition report to my Committee, which was not there or found to be there only by a series of selective quotations. I want also to take the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Livsey) to task. I remind him that the Select Committee on the Environment report was an all-party report, and that his Chief Whip was a member of the Committee and fully endorsed all the recommendations of that Committee, which the hon. Gentleman now seeks to criticise.
As to the official Opposition, two members of the Committee— one is now their Whip and one a spokesman on the environment— endorsed all the recommendations of the Committee.
I have now put the political aspect into perspective and can get down to the facts. Two years ago, at the start of my Committee's inquiry into radioactive waste, virtually all low-level waste went into Drigg in Cumbria. I shall refer to low-level waste because that is the only issue before us. We hope that there will be another debate on my Committee's report, when all the other matters can be dealt with. At the moment we are concerned only with low-level waste.
We found the arrangements there more than unsatisfactory. It would not be unfair to say that primitive is an accurate description of what we found. Wastes were unsorted. They were not packed, labelled or compacted and were simply tipped into clay trenches and covered with earth. Water drained unchecked through the clay and out into the local stream. That arrangement may have been fine in the light of scientific knowledge and technology as understood 40 years ago, when Drigg was first started.
However, it immediately became clear to us that the practice on low-level waste disposal in the United Kingdom fell far behind that of countries such as Sweden, Germany and France. We made very strong recommendations in our report that were aimed at improving the practice at Drigg. I am glad to say that in their reply to us the Government agreed that Drigg should not be the model for any future disposal site. I am also glad that measures are now in hand to cap the Drigg trenches and to compact and containerise the waste, wherever possible.
While these measures go a long way towards meeting the concerns and recommendations of my Committee, they do not go the whole way. We should like there to be more identification and monitoring of the type of waste that goes into Drigg to ensure that it is only short-lived, low-level waste.
That brings me to the second point that I wish to make— whether near-surface burial sites are suitable for the disposal of short-lived, low-level waste. After studying the evidence, both in this country and in Europe, the United States and Canada, my all-party Committee came to the conclusion that near-surface disposal facilities are acceptable for such waste, provided that they are fully engineered on a complete containment basis. If that were done, it would not be inappropriate to dispose of low-level waste in near-surface burial sites. In parenthesis, I am 40 gratified that the Government accepted our recommendation that such disposal sites should not be used for intermediate-level waste. That is a great advance on their previous policy, and I acknowledge the fact that again the Government accepted the recommendations of the Select Committee on the Environment.
It has been suggested both elsewhere and during this debate that all radioactive waste, even low-level waste, would be best disposed of by deep burial and that no waste at all should be put into near-surface facilities. I have already mentioned that that is not the view to which my Committee came, although some low-level waste, as has been mentioned, is disposed of in Sweden and Germany by deep burial. The problem is volume. The volume of waste is an inevitable consideration here.
While low-level wastes are produced in the United Kingdom in their current great quantities, especially if we continue with Sellafield and reprocessing, it seems highly unlikely that deep burial, or the prolonged storage of low-level wastes, can be regarded as a practical solution. I say that notwithstanding the fact that the Committee gave urgent consideration to the point and made the strong recommendation that there should be more exploration and more research into the question of deep burial and beneath the seabed burial of wastes. However, we considered that those methods relate more sensibly to intermediate-level and high-level wastes.
That brings me to my third point, the highly sensitive issue of site selection for the disposal of low-level waste and the way in which it is beng handled by NIREX and the Government. At the start of our inquiry two years ago, the situation was very different. Originally, there was only one site under consideration as a successor to Drigg. That was at Elstow in Bedfordshire. It seemed to us that no criteria had been laid down as to why or how that site should be used. Also, we felt that insufficient research and insufficient geological exploration had been carried out in this country, by contrast with the work that we saw being done abroad in the countries that we visited. Therefore, the fact that the Government and NIREX are now looking at four alternative sites where the primary indication is that the geology might be suitable for near-surface burial follows the thinking of the Select Committee, that more exploration and more testing of sites should be carried out in this country.
Even if we closed down every nuclear power station in this country tomorrow, we cannot escape the fact that we should be left with the problem of the disposal of very large quantities of low-level waste that Drigg cannot conceivably handle. Therefore, somewhere else must be found and it would be sensible to carry out exploration up and down the country to find out where is the best and safest geology for this kind of disposal.
§ Sir Peter Emery (Honiton)
Will my hon. Friend remind the House that not just nuclear power stations but hospitals and industry use nuclear particles for many experimental purposes? Those who consider that this is just a nuclear power station problem do not understand the nature of the problem and are emotively misled in their consideration of it.
§ Sir Hugh Rossi
As usual, my hon. Friend is absolutely right. When we are speaking of low-level waste we are speaking not only of nuclear power station products but of the products of hospitals, including X-ray equipment, 41 and industry and of the research that is done in our universities. They create low-level waste for which a home ultimately has to be found. The question is, where?
§ Sir Hugh Rossi
That brings me to the question of how to overcome what the Committee identified as the NIMBY—the "not in my backyard"—syndrome. No community can face with equanimity the prospect of its life being suddenly disturbed by the proposal to put a waste disposal dump in its locality. That is true not only of low-level radioactive waste that has certain emotive connotations, but also of toxic wastes which can be much more dangerous. For example, chemical toxic wastes can be much more dangerous than short-lived, low-level wastes. A community would look askance at such a proposal. I remember that some years ago, when I was an Opposition spokesman, I was asked to go down to Chipping Norton and support the local community against the proposal to use an old quarry for the disposal of GLC household refuse. The community was up in arms about it and asked, "Why should we have somebody else's rubbish in our backyard?" It was a natural reaction. The question is how to overcome it.
My hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes referred to compensation. I am a great believer in compensation. The Committee came to the conclusion that the compensation must be generous, because we are talking about a community being requested to disadvantage itself for the benefit of the nation as a whole. If a community and individuals are asked to receive waste that nobody else wants and to make a sacrifice for the public good, I believe that the public as a whole should make sure that they are not badly off, or worse off, because of it—certainly insofar as the value of their property is concerned.
That is not a new concept. In the late 1960s when the Opposition were in government and introduced what they called a betterment levy, which meant that anybody who was developing land had to pay a levy because he was benefiting from planning permission, I remember that I and some of my hon. Friends tried to put forward the concept of "worsenment" compensation— the reverse side of the coin. However, that concept was not accepted and it was voted down. I doubt very much whether the railways of this country would ever have been built if the Victorians had not been prepared to pay 10 per cent. over and above the going market price for property that was affected by the building of the railways.
When it comes to nuclear power, the French are very practical and pragmatic. They meet with very little resistance and opposition. They make sure that local communities and individuals are compensated for any disadvantage that they may suffer because the country as a whole requires those communities or individuals to give up something in the national interest.
§ Sir Kenneth Lewis (Stamford and Spalding)
Was my hon. Friend's Committee satisfied with the NIREX proposals for disposal in areas where compensation might be required and where there are large numbers of people? Was his Committee satisfied that NIREX does not have alternative areas where there are not high populations and 42 where geologically correct land is available? Have we thoroughly explored those areas of Britain which do not have substantial problems about population?
§ Sir Hugh Rossi
As my hon. Friend rightly says. this is essentially a matter of geology. The sites in question have the geological advantage, but do not have advantages for the inhabitants who have the misfortune to live there. In geological terms they have impervious clay. Water is the greatest enemy in seeking to deal with the containment of radioactive materials. When we went to Canada we saw that they were looking for methods of deep disposal arid burrowing down into the heart of granite to see whether chambers could be created half a mile below the surface and away from communities. But the granite was fractured and water was able to percolate. The radioactive waste could not be put there because of the danger that over hundreds of years the radioactivity could find its way into the human environment.
This is a matter of finding sites that stand up to scientific tests. One of the criticisms of the Committee was that until recently nobody had tried to lay down the scientific criteria, the sine qua non, for the selection of a site. That is the most important thing to be done, and when that has been done exploration takes place. Sites are found where the geology is suitable and safe, and if there is a community there, the people are to be compensated for what they have to suffer in consequence of living on top of the geology that is right for this kind of activity.
I know that many other hon. Members wish to speak. but I hope that my speech has restored a certain amount of balance to the debate, because there was a tendency to be slightly unfair and probably over-emotive when dealing with the disposal of low-level nuclear waste. That waste is containable and short-lived Nevertheless, it causes apprehension in the minds of the public who come across the concept for the first time.
§ 5.3 pm
§ Mr. Austin Mitchell (Great.Grimsby)
I congratulate the hon. Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes (Mr. Brown) on winning the ballot and on bringing this motion before us. He has fought a good fight on behalf of his constituents, but he has not exactly made life hell for the Department of the Environment in the way that he said he would. Life in the Department of the Environment is probably hell anyway, and the hon. Gentleman has certainly given the Department something of a hard time.
In bringing the motion before the House the hon. Gentleman has done a service for the nuclear industry generally because he has forced it to think about something that it would rather fob off. He has also done a service for the Department by pointing it towards fulfilling its responsibilities for the environment and the people, especially the people in our area. Up to now the Department has been the political arm of NIREX, acting in dumb acquiescence to what the nuclear industry and NIREX want. We would not have to say to the Minister, "Hang on and think about this, let us have a second look at it", if the Department had not rushed on in a wilful and headstrong way and largely ignored the recommendations of the Select Committee. That Committee urged wider consultation, fuller research and a Rolls-Royce solution, but the Minister fobbed off the Committee with specious arguments which, frankly, were unworthy of a congratulated first and were at about the level of a 43 commiserated Epsilon. That was the calibre of the arguments that were put forward against the Select Committee's recommendations.
I do not agree with some of the glosses that the Chairman put on his Committee's report. He spoke about the acceptability of shallow trench disposal of nuclear waste. I wonder whether he was accurately reflecting the views of his Committee. At paragraph 99 the report says:Near surface disposal facilities are only acceptable for short-lived low-level wastes and must be fully engineered on a complete containment basis.That is not what NIREX proposes. Water will go through, so it is not a complete containment. It will drain off into the water table and our areas have aquifers underneath the clay into which that water will drain. Therefore, that is not an acceptable definition of complete containment. The report went on to say:Considerably greater emphasis must be given in research, development and policy to sea-bed options, especially to the use of tunnels under the sea-bed from land.Therefore, the report urged another look at other methods at which the Department has not looked.
§ Sir Hugh Rossi
The hon. Gentleman accuses me of putting a gloss on my Committee's report. However, the extracts that he has just read are almost word for word the words that I used to address the House. I do not follow the point that the hon. Gentleman seeks to make. Of course I accept that if the sites selected by NIREX do not live up to the recommendations of the report, the Committee will not support NIREX. The whole idea of site testing and exploration is to find out whether or not the sites will comply with our recommendations.
§ Mr. Mitchell
That was part of the gloss, because I cannot see how drilling exploration holes at four sites lives up to the requirement of further research into methods of making Britain up to date in its study of methods of disposal. The Committee said that we were not up to date in such a study.
§ Mr. Frank Cook (Stockton, North)
Is not the point being emphasised in the quotations from the report contained in the phrase "complete containment"? The point that my hon. Friend is making is that the proposals so far advanced by NIREX for these purposes do not afford complete containment.
§ Mr. Mitchell
My hon. Friend is right. The essence of my point is that drilling on four sites does not constitute research into methods of disposal. Complete containment is the matter in question and we are not getting it. NIREX has avowed that we are not getting it, yet the Committee says that it is essential. How can the Chairman accept the possibility of shallow trench disposal on any of those four sites by a method which his Committee did not accept?
§ Sir Trevor Skeet
The hon. Gentleman has quoted paragraph 99 of the report. Surely a public inquiry follows to find out whether containment is complete. If, as my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Sir H. Rossi) says, it is not complete, disposal would not go ahead. Surely that is the whole purpose of a public inquiry, to evaluate the evidence. Sizewell was a general public inquiry and lasted two years.
§ Mr. Mitchell
Perhaps the hon. Member has been fobbing off his own constituents with the claim that this 44 will be the subject of a full inquiry. If the hon. Gentleman contends that after going through this protracted farce of two years of exploratory drilling at huge cost and fixing on one site the whole thing is not prejudged by that and the work will start all over again if the inquiry rules against the site, he has given me a most unlikely proposition. His constituents will also regard it as unlikely.
My simple point is that this has been rushed through by the Department of the Environment. It certainly rushed the special development order through the House before consultations and representations from the people in the areas concerned were completed. Unmannerly would be one way to describe it, but dictatorial would be another. It was steamrollered over local opinion and NIREX and its thugs were then turned loose on the area. That is what it amounted to. I was there and I saw the methods that were used. The Minister of Environment, Countryside and Planning frowns at that. I had great hopes for him. He is a highly intelligent, sensitive, likeable Minister—I hope that I am not harming his career in the Government by saying that—but on this issue he has behaved with an insensitivity and displayed a dictatorial instinct that bode ill for concern about the environment. Having created this situation, the hon. Gentleman effectively washed his hands of the whole business, like a gutless wonder hiding behind NIREX and its bullying tactics. He encouraged NIREX to get on with what he called its "duty" while poncing up and down the country proclaiming his concern for an environment that has been despoiled 10 miles from Grimsby and well within reach of other areas.
§ Mr. Waldegrave
The hon. Gentleman always gets carried away in his attacks. I have never seen him at any meeting ever trying to put forward views rationally against the wishes of many impassioned people, as I did in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes (Mr. Brown). I hope that the hon. Gentleman would have the guts to do that, but I doubt it.
§ Mr. Mitchell
In that instance, the Minister played a doubtful role. He pretended to listen to those people, but his mind was made up. A deputation from Grimsby went to one of the junior Ministers in the Department of the Environment, but the very next night the special development order was moved, after promises that the views of those people would be taken into account. The Minister rushed the measure through in a wholly unacceptable way. That is why I am being so harsh towards him. There was no need for that urgency or for that premature decision in favour of shallow trench disposal. The facilities at Drigg, with compacting, will be able to take all the future low-level waste until 2010. Why, therefore, rush into that decision? Why throw the whole weight of NIREX loose on our areas? Why employ the bullying tactics of injunctions against many people? One of the people involved in the area did not even exist. An injunction was taken out against another for singing "All Things Bright and Beautiful" on the site. Another was asked to deliver the injunction to his friends because the people serving the injunction could not find them. All that legal bullying was employed in a dubious cause which was decided prematurely without proper consideration and without proper thought.
§ Dr. Michael Clark
I am somewhat confused. Does the hon. Gentleman think that public inquiries should take 45 place before test drilling? If so, does he not realise that test drilling is an opportunity to eliminate a site before a public inquiry has to take place?
§ Mr. Mitchell
My contention is simply that the Government have a responsibility to inquire fully into the best, safest and most acceptable method. If they had done that, local opinion might well be more amenable to influence, although there would still he resistance. People would be satisfied that the Government had done their best and had inquired.
§ Mr. Michael Brown
I draw the hon. Gentleman's attention to the statement by my right hon. Friend the Member for Wanstead and Woodford (Mr. Jenkin), then Secretary of State for the Environment, at 4.13 pm on 25 October 1983, when he said that there would be public inquiries into the two facilities at Elstow and Billingham before a test drilling took place. That was the original intention. I have the statement here.
§ Mr. Mitchell
The hon. Gentleman is perfectly right. But my concern is about the speed of action. The Government did not review the position and consider it as fully as was needed if people were to be convinced that they were going for the best practicable option—the Rolls-Royce option—that was safe. If the Government had weighed everything up and had consulted fully, there would have been a different argument, but they did not do so. Instead, they steamrollered the decision through and imposed it on areas that did not want it.
The shallow trench disposal method means that waste has to be carted across the country and dumped on areas that have nothing to do with it. That decision was made prematurely, without research and in defiance of overseas practice. It should not be up to county councils to prepare a report. The Department of the Environment should have investigated. The decision was made in defiance of French practice, which is better than the practice that NIREX intends to impose on the site chosen. In the United States, where shallow trench disposal has been used, the sites are being abandoned because they are not contained and are decaying and disintegrating.
In my constituency at South Killingholme and at other sites, people are asked to accept the effect of such a disposal site on house prices and development. Department of Trade and Industry officials in Leeds said as much, until they were shut up. Manifestly. the possibility that a nuclear dump will be constructed in an area cannot be to that area's benefit. No amount of NIREX talk, soft soap by the Minister or dressing the project up with Angela Rippon and Ray Buckton will help. Two tonnes of Angela Rippon would not make this acceptable to the area. I wrote to Angela Rippon to say that I did not like her practice of hiring herself out for £4,000 a year—which is more than a governor of the BBC gets—to become the acceptable face of NIREX. She wrote back and accused me of being sulky because I had lost on "Masterteam". If that is the level of persuasive argument to be used, it bodes ill for the future.
I conclude with four points. First, the waste problem should have been fully considered by Layfield before any decision was taken on new nuclear power stations. Layfield said that he could not get satisfactory estimates of the cost of waste disposal. Those costs should be high if there is to be an effective and trusted method of waste 46 disposal. They should be taken into account in deciding the costings of the whole nuclear programme and new stations as they are proposed.
Secondly, since Layfield and since this decision was taken, there has been a steady development of new methods of disposal, including methods used by the oil industry, such as the POWER method of undersea disposal. That method has been actively propagated by Dr. Wheeler and his organisation Warrior Resources. It is curious that experts from Japan, the Soviet Union and other countries are coming to Britain to look at that method of disposal of nuclear waste, yet NIREX is not rushing to look at it and the Government are cool on the whole business.
§ Mr. Dalyell
Does my hon. Friend accept that some of us are very concerned about undersea disposal because it cannot be monitored?
§ Mr. Mitchell
My point is that it is essential to look at other methods. There will be controversy about any method, but it is important that full research is undertaken to ensure that the best method is chosen.
Thirdly, I commend the County Councils Coalition. I shall not read out its conclusions as the report has been available to hon. Members but it casts enormous doubt on the case put forward by the Government and by NIREX and shows that this method is not in accord with the best overseas practice.
Fourthly, I express my pleasure about the last Labour party conference which resolved by an overwhelming majority against shallow trench disposal, commended the resisters and committed the party as a matter of party policy to the proposition that there will be no commissioning of new sites, including any site arising from this study, without a full geological study and full study of alternative methods of disposal. That is all I ask.
The decision has been made prematurely. The county council, the hon. Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes and I argue that the project should be stopped because the Government arc wrong. The Government should admit that they are wrong, stop the development and not persevere in their sullen obstinacy with a decision that was wrong and a method that is outdated.
§ Mr. Norman Miscampbell (Blackpool, North)
I am well aware that many hon. Members want to speak in the debate. If my intervention is the shortest in the debate, I shall be well pleased at the end of the evening.
During the nine months since our last debate and the nomination of the four sites I have had a chance to see each one. I shall not comment on them save to say that on a superficial look the Elstow site, which was the site chosen by the Government to start with before the others were announced, was one of the most unattractive, in view of the population size, with Bedford nearby.
Equally, as my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Sir H. Rossi)—the Chairman of the Select Committee—made clear, there is no difficulty. As I said in the House nine months ago, I have no doubt that technically any one of these sites—properly engineered, with proper compaction, proper concrete or metal containers and with all the facilities that we saw being used abroad in the modern context—would do. However, that does not seem to be the question. It is not the technicalities but the public perception that matters.
47 Equally important is the fact that the Government took a very wise, sensible and acceptable step when they said that they will not include intermediate waste in low-level disposal. However, that leaves the question of what they will do with the intermediate waste. The Government cannot say that some form of shallow disposition is adequate. If that is the position, we must see whether we can begin to do the same as the Swedes, who are burying their low-level and intermediate waste in the same facility, but making it safe for the level of intermediate waste.
I agree with the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell), who is not very happy about putting waste under the sea. One of the most important factors about the French experience is their capacity to monitor every container for decades and centuries to come, which is important. We have salt beds which would be eminently suitable for moderately deep entrenchment. They would not be hideously expensive to develop. The salt there indicates that there has not been water there for millions of years.
Instead of saying that we shall go down the road of shallow burial, which no doubt is technically acceptable, but having regard to Chernobyl, and in view of the attack that the industry is under—an industry which I want to defend— it would be better to spend a few tens of millions of pounds more to obtain a facility which is more acceptable. If that were being investigated as well as the present sites, I should be more content than I am today.
§ Mr. David Clark (South Shields)
I congratulate the hon. Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes (Mr. Brown), who has done the House and the nation a service by enabling us to debate the motion.
When I looked at the record I was surprised to see the number of debates that we have had on the subject, which is only right, because, as the hon. and learned Member for Blackpool, North (Mr. Miscampbell) said, the key to the issue is public perception. The more that we discuss the issue, the more likely we are to increase public understanding of it.
I have participated in a number of these debates and it is a matter of regret that most have been initiated by various means by, and at the instigation of Back Benchers. I pay credit to those Back Benchers, but I regret that the Government have not seen fit to bring forward a motion which we could debate.
We have had one debate instigated by the Government, but it did not seek to extend public perceptions or the public debate but sought to inhibit them. That was when the Government were successful in persuading the House to pass a special development order, which stopped the local people and the local democratically elected councils participating and taking a decision under the normal planning lines for the exploratory work at the four sites. We made it plain then, and I make it plain again, that the Government have done a disservice to the whole issue by trying to hush it up.
That raises a serious point. Many people are worried about the Government's obsession with secrecy. I warn the Minister—I think that he shares this viewpoint—that it is of no service to the industry to discuss everything behind closed doors. There must be a full and frank debate if we are to get across the problems involved. There are 48 problems, as has been pointed out to the House, and as I have said on many occasions. We are not only talking about nuclear waste; we are talking about radioactive waste. As the hon. Member for Honiton (Sir P. Emery) has reminded us already, that waste is produced at more than 5,000 establishments and in every hospital in Britain. The problem is there and has to be faced. Let us face up to that debate in public.
§ Dr. Michael Clark
When the hon. Gentleman says that we have to face up to the fact that it is radioactive, nuclear waste, will he agree that when a decision was made nearly two years ago to remove from consideration intermediate-level waste from the sites now being discussed, 99 per cent. of the potential radioactivity on those sites went with that decision?
§ Dr. David Clark
Statistically, the hon. Gentleman is right, but those shallow sites, at which the Government are proposing to deposit low-level waste, are still highly radioactive. They will be radioactive for up to 30 years at full-life and a further 300 years of half-life. Admittedly, in the last 270 years there will be a tailing-off of radioactivity. However, they are still radioactive and while one welcomes the Government's conversion to the view that short-lived intermediate waste should not be dealt with in that way, it is wrong to confuse the issue and imply that that low-level waste is not dangerous and not highly radioactive.
§ Sir Trevor Skeet
We were told in the House the other day about radon gas and natural radiation, which comes from the environment. Will the hon. Gentleman agree that what is likely to come from low-level waste is a minute fraction of what comes from the environment and radon gas?
§ Dr. David Clark
The hon. Gentleman is right in the sense that there is a lot of background radiation. The measurements along the stones and pebbles on a Cornish beach are high. But the point is that this is cumulative, and if one accumulates and disposes of a concentration of radioactive material one is increasing the danger. If we follow the logic of the hon. Gentleman's intervention, there would be no problem—we would just leave waste in open dustbins. However, we are not proposing to do that, because everyone accepts that it is an additional level of high radiation.
I return to the Government's obsession with secrecy, because it is the kernel of the argument against them. That view is shared—perhaps not as openly in some quarters as others— widely in the House. We have seen an example of it today, where a proposal to change the whole countryside planning of Britain was announced in a written answer to a question which was not even on today's Order Paper. That is reprehensible, and the message ought to go out from the House to the Government that in all these things there should be much more openness. I say to the Minister that if there is more openness we will get more consensus. The Minister shakes his head.
§ Mr. Waldegrave
I agree with the point that the hon. Member is making, I shook my head only because 1 am not so optimistic as he is. I am not sure that, however open I had been about, for example. the Billingham anhydrite mine, I could have persuaded his hon. Friend the Member for Stockton, North (Mr. Cook) that that was a good idea.
§ Dr. Clark
There was a consensus in that case. My hon. Friend the Member for Stockton, North (Mr. Cook) persuaded the Minister that it was not a good idea, so we reached a solution.
When we are dealing with long-term problems it will benefit all sides if we can reach a consensus. The Government's obsession with secrecy does no good. There are other examples of that obsession. I understand that a report dealing with research findings about the incidence of leukaemia among people living near nuclear power stations is to be withheld by the Government until after the House takes a decision on the Sizewell B power station. That is pertinent to our debate and it should be considered by the House when we make up our minds whether to approve the Sizewell B project.
If we go ahead with nuclear technology without solving the problems of nuclear waste we shall get into further difficulties. That point has been faced squarely by the hon. Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes and all hon. Members must face up to it. We must examine the consequences of going ahead with nuclear generation before we have found ways of solving the waste problem.
As usual, the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Sir H. Rossi) made a worthwhile contribution. Under his chairmanship, the Select Committee on the Environment produced an excellent report on radioactive waste, which has been widely welcomed throughout the country. In May last year the then Secretary of State told the House that there would be a full-day debate on that report. I ask the Minister to look into that matter and to come back and tell us that we shall have a full-day debate on that important report very soon.
§ Sir Hugh Rossi
My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House has promised me that we shall have a debate in the near future.
§ Mr. Waldegrave
I am sorry to have hesitated before intervening, but I wanted to be quite sure that I was able to make the statement that I now wish to make. The hon. Gentleman referred to a press report that one of the studies coming out of the post-Black report work was being deliberately delayed. I assure him that there is no truth in that report. Publication is expected in late March.
§ Dr. Clark
I am pleased to hear that, but late March will be after the Sizewell debate, which I undestand is to take place before the end of February. If even a summary of the report could be made available before the Sizewell debate it would help hon. Members to come to a decision about Sizewell. It is not good enough to say that the report will be published in March.
I add my tributes to the excellent report from Environmental Resources Ltd on behalf of the County Councils Coalition. One of its key conclusions is that we should examine the possibility of deep disposal of all radioactive waste. The organisation visited Sweden, Germany and—most important—France before coming that conclusion.
Having studied the arguments advanced by Ministers in our previous debates, I begin to perceive a confusion in their philosophical approach. I am not sure that, when they talk about near-surface disposal, they are certain what they mean. My hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) made that point.
50 There are two approaches to the problem of waste disposal— containment, or dilute and disperse. They involve two conflicting engineering concepts and it is not clear which one the Government favour. The Select Committee examines the matter from paragraph 47 onwards and rejects the concept of dilute and disperse because of the problem of hot spots. That important problem must lead us to reject dilute and disperse, whether into the atmosphere, the marine environment or into the sub-strata of the earth.
Therefore, we must go for containment. The Government argue against that policy and cite the French example with their facility at the Centre de la Manche as an example of dilute and disperse. However, as the report of the County Councils Coalition points out, that is a false analogy, because the French facility is aimed at a containment philosophy. Es structure is based above the watershed and any water coming through is collected and monitored. The French are trying to get a double insurance policy on the cheap. That is made plain on page 31 of the coalition's report which argues that the French example is "fundamentally different" from the NIPEX design.
The fundamental contradiction between the alternative philosophies causes us some difficulties when we try to solve the problem. That became clear to me when the Daily Mirror ran a report last September saying that drums containing radioactive waste had leaked at Bradwell I am sorry that the right hon. Member for Castle Point (Sir B. Braine) is not present. He is an assiduous attender at these debates. Indeed, I believe that he has been present at all the debates that I have attended and I know that there is a good reason for his absence. When I read the report in the Daily Mirror I wrote to the Minister and the Department of the Environment replied. It confirmed the story and said that the low-level waste storage facility at Bradwell had been approved by the Department since the early 1970s.
The low-level waste is stored in steel drums in the void cells below the circulation halls at Bradwell nuclear power station. Following an inspection towards the end of 1984, some water penetration into the storage cells was discovered and a small percentage of the drums were found to be corroded. I do not suggest that there was any danger in that instance. The nuclear industry inspectorate looked into the matter and required the CEGB to put things right by encasing the drums in polythene, removing the water and building small walls round the contaminated area.
However, an obvious point arises. We were assured by experts in the 1970s that the storage of low-level nuclear waste in steel drums beneath a power station was a safe and adequate way to store radioactive material. Years later, we see that it was not safe; drums have corroded. Fortunately, we were able to put matters right at Bradwell because the material was retrievable. If it had not been, the situation would have been difficult and dangerous. I am worried because the engineering facilities proposed by NIREX at its four exploration sites do not allow that retrievability and therefore must be rejected.
§ Dr. Michael Clark
As the only Essex Member in the the House with a constituency immediately adjacent to the Bradwell site, perhaps I might comment. I am disturbed by what the hon. Member For South Shields (Dr. Clark) has told us. Is he aware that the engineered disposal 51 repositories proposed can be created only in suitable ground conditions with heavy clay and where the ground movement is less than lm per 100 years? So, even in the event of the corrosion of metal containers—which I hope will not happen—the water movement will be only 1m per 100 years.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I appeal again for brevity. I remind the House that interventions prevent hon. Members with a strong constituency interest from taking part in the debate. I appeal for restraint but I understand how strongly hon. Members feel about the issue.
§ Dr. David Clark
I take your point, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I emphasise that the experts told us in the 1970s that this was a safe method and they now tell us that clay subsoil is safe. We can accept a disposal system only if it is monitorable and retrievable. That is fundamental to any solution.
There has not been sufficient public discussion or research. Massive cuts have been made in research personnel. We need exactly the opposite. We need open debate and more research, both in connection with short-lived radioactive material and with high-level radioactive material.
In addition to the complex current problems of nuclear waste disposal, the decommissioning of power stations will present considerable further long-term problems. We need a carefully researched programme to deal with nuclear waste well into the future. It is essential that such a programme be compiled without secrecy. It is impossible to operate an effective strategy for dealing with the physical, locational and scientific issues without the understanding and involvement of the general public. I wish that the Government would learn that lesson.
§ Sir Peter Emery (Honiton)
I follow the hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) in an unusual way, but with a certain confidence. I am chairman of the science and technology committee of the North Atlantic Assembly. As recently as last autumn, we passed resolutions about nuclear problems—including nuclear waste disposal—and I am delighted to say that the hon. Gentleman and his party were unanimous supporters of the resolutions that I put to the assembly.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes (Mr. Brown), who made an admirable constituency speech which I hope will do him well in his constituency. Nevertheless, it was a constituency speech and did not take into account all the scientific aspects of the disposal of nuclear waste. One of the problems is that so few people understand the difficulties. All too frequently, people are influenced by emotional factors so that the issue becomes emotive and goes way beyond proper consideration.
The problem is international. Nuclear waste is of concern to 27 nations which are all considering the same problem. They include Argentina, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, the Central African Republic, China, Finland, France, Gabon, the German Federal Republic, India, Italy, Japan, the Republic of Korea, the Netherlands, Nigeria, Pakistan, Portugal, South Africa, 52 Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, the United States and USSR. I list those countries to emphasise that this is not a constituency issue but one of international importance.
All nations within NATO meet a proportion of their energy needs by nuclear reactors and, as a result, they have a variety of procedures for dealing with nuclear waste. The disposal of nuclear waste is more than a technical issue. It becomes emotive when people argue against nuclear power because of the problems caused by the disposal of nuclear waste. Many industries produce potentially dangerous waste which can be a hazard to human health and cause environmental damage. Many industries and processes can be extremely hazardous when they go wrong without having anything to do with nuclear industry. There is no better example than that of Bhopal, where 2,000 people died. That incident had greater consequences than anything that anyone envisaged.
Industries which are prone to such risks are subject to regulations and safeguards to protect human life and the environment. I can say without fear of contradiction that the nuclear industry is no exception. It is subject to exceptionally strict controls. As a Minister I was once responsible for that aspect of industry. I come to the House today wearing the tie given to me at Dounreay where the fast breeder overcomes many of the problems by disposing of much of the nuclear waste. I have often wanted to form a society for developing fast breeder reactors. The issues are complicated and the debate is confused. It is confused because not enough knowledge has been conveyed, and the Government may be open to some criticism in that respect. There must be a greater understanding of the subject.
Most of today's debate has been about the disposal of low level nuclear waste, but there are three categories of nuclear waste, each of which has relatively distinctive characteristics. The first, which has hardly been mentioned today, is high level waste consisting of spent reactor fuel, which is a solid waste, and some of the products, which are liquid, arising from reprocessing spent reactor fuel. High level waste is stored to allow thermal and radioactive decay of some of the most active constituents, which in some cases takes up to 50 years, by which time activity will have declined sufficiently for the waste to be prepared for permanent disposal rather than for assessed storage.
Some nations do not process spent nuclear fuel to reclaim nuclear material; others, including ourselves, prefer to do so. Whether or not it is processed, high level nuclear waste remains radioactive for millions of years. It continues to be dangerous for at least several thousand years, even though the radioactivity declines sharply over the decades, as the hon. Member for South Shields said. Such waste constitutes less than 1 per cent. of all the nuclear waste in the world. At present, 17 nations are investigating potential sites for underground repositories and 10 nations are operating, constructing or designing verification plants to deal with this problem. Although high level waste poses the most difficult problem, nations throughout the world are coping with it.
The second category of nuclear waste is intermediate level waste, which normally consists of the cladding from nuclear reactor fuel rods, contaminated equipment and some parts of decommissioned reactors. The third category is low level waste. This consists of contaminated paper, plastic, clothing and building debris and is produced by research facilities.
53 The disposal of low level waste is relatively straightforward. It is important to distinguish low level waste from the other two types, because, as its name suggests, its radioactivity level is low. Disposal practices among the 27 nations that I have mentioned differ. Some nations bury their waste in shallow trenches or in natural or man-made rock cavities. More contaminated waste is placed in trenches or buried deep underground and then usually covered in concrete. Some sea dumping takes place. The waste is placed in containers and the radioactivity generally declines before the container erodes due to the action of the ocean. I accept that that is a much more difficult method to monitor than any of the others, but it is widely regarded as acceptable.
As I have tried to emphasise, this is not just a national but an international problem. My committee of the North Atlantic Assembly is trying to bring in standards that we would like to see accepted everywhere, not just by the Vienna committee of the International Atomic Energy Agency, which was set up by the United Nations. That body seems to proceed at the speed of the lowest common denominator, and Russia and other countries are members of it. If the North Atlantic Assembly could come up with recommendations that were accepted by all 16 member Governments, that would be a major step forward. My hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes could then propose to his constituents a solution that was acceptable not only in this country but internationally.
Will my hon. Friend the Minister do everything in his power to co-operate with the science and technology committee of the North Atlantic Assembly in its work? Will he ensure that the substantial body of scientific and technical evidence from past and ongoing studies and from research and development activities is made available internationally? Will he ensure that research and development continue to be sponsored and backed by the Government so that remaining gaps for particle options can be filled, specific data on sites collected and safety studies refined? Will he ensure that there is periodic reassessment of waste disposal practices and that new policies taking account of our evolving knowledge are formulated? Lastly, will he ensure that there is quality control at all stages— an essential nuclear safety requirement—and that such control is applied through the whole chain of nuclear waste management in this country? If the Minister can give the House those reassurances, it will be much easier for my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes to reassure his constituents that the Government's proposals are, as I believe, reasonable. So long as those proposals are properly monitored, I should be quite happy for them to be carried out in my constituency, and it will be easier for the British public to understand and back the stance that the Government are adopting.
§ Mr. Frank Cook (Stockton, North)
I commend the hon. Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes (Mr. Brown) for giving the House an opportunity to discuss this subject again. I also commend the County Councils Coalition for taking the initiative on the work that has gone into the report, with many of whose conclusions I agree.
I must register my disagreement with my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell), who castigated the Minister for the manner in which he dealt with these issues. My experience of the Minister's attention 54 to the subject, when I led the Billingham against nuclear dumping campaign, leads me to record my utmost respect for the way in which he listened to our representations and handled the affair. He listened so well that the proposals in question were withdrawn; and if he ever tries to reintroduce them he will have an even more bitter battle on his hands. I advise him not to try it.
§ Mr. Michael Brown
I share the hon. Gentleman's experience. My hon. Friend the Minister and I disagree on the policy but he has always received me courteously and listened to our deputations. Therefore, I wish to associate myself with the hon. Gentleman's remarks.
§ Mr. Cook
I thank the hon. Gentleman, but we must not do this too often.
What is the value of nuclear waste? Lord Marshall told me two and a half years ago that most of the waste that was destined for disposal at Billingham— the motion refers to intermediate-level waste— contained rare elements which, by the turn of the century, would prove valuable to industry. We would therefore regret disposing of it in such a non-retrievable way.
What is the value of nuclear waste? Some suggest that its value lies in jobs. The estimates given at the time of the Billingham proposals suggested that 18 jobs would have been created— 18 jobs in an area where more than 14,500 people are unemployed.
At the last nuclear forum I was approached by a senior member of staff who told me that there would come a time when I would crawl back to NIREX imploring it to return to Billingham to dispose of its nuclear waste in the disused anhydrite mines because that would bring employment to the area. He also said that if we had been prepared to accept the proposals we could have claimed much of the engineering work that the nuclear industry pushes out to fabricators and designers. That was a despicable attempt either at being humorous—if so, it was singularly unfunny—or at being serious. If the latter, the remark was so sinister that I suggest the Minister looks into it.
The nuclear industry is unique in two respects. One is the nature of the risk with which it faces society. Here I must dispute to some extent what was said by the hon. Member for Honiton, (Sir P. Emery). That risk not only faces the present generation but is a threat to generations to come, unless we handle it correctly now. We have heard about poisons and the toxicity of radioactive waste but that is a threat similar to that posed by cigarette smoking. It is a threat to the generation that lives with and absorbs the poison, and there is a degree of volition in it. Radiation, however, is much more insidious and much harder to detect. As such, it threatens child-bearing age groups and, therefore, generations yet to come.
The other unique aspect of the nuclear industry is that it handles its waste unlike any other industry. It makes a bigger problem of its waste than it had in the first place. The initial difficulty lies in the containment of it, not in its handling. The industry compounds its problem by its so-called processing, which increases the volume by many times. We have already heard the comments of the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Sir H. Rossi), the Chairman of the Select Committee on the Environment, who freely concedes that a major aspect of the matter is that very problem—the volume.
The problem of containment is magnified. The industry makes more of its garbage to be contained than it did 55 originally. The processing of spent magnox rods is particularly expensive, time-consuming and hazardous. Most of all, it is unnecessary. Such rods may be stored in engineered dry storage, where they can be monitored constantly and retrieved for further attention if necessary. Such treatment would ensure that the minimum space is occupied and that the maximum security is assured.
If that is so, why should we go on making more of the stuff? The justification trotted out is that we now have contractual commitments with other nations to treat their waste in the same nonsensical way in which we treat our own. The industry seeks to absolve itself from stupidity—or should I say culpability?—by pointing frantically to clauses in its contracts which permit it to return recycled waste to the point of origin. I have yet to see any evidence, or even hear any claim, that that has yet been done. In fact, I suspect that if British Nuclear Fuels Ltd. was even to suggest implementing that option our overseas clients would withdraw from any arrangements that they have made.
The situation borders on the farcical. It would be laughable were it not so serious. As it is so serious, what should we do, bearing in mind that we already have the stuff and, having it, must do something with it? First, I suggest that we stop processing other people's. Our communities deserve better than to be condemned to the job of turnkey for the world's worst waste. Secondly, we should stop recycling our own waste. I say "recycling" specifically. There is no justification for it, either as a means of making more fuel or as a means of managing its disposal.
Thirdly, we should reduce the output of such rubbish to a level that is absolutely necessary. First, we should introduce controls on the overuse in the medical profession of radiography. Should anyone wish to question that, I can tell the House that serious assessments have been made which indicate that 1,400 cancers per year in this country are generated by the overuse of X-rays. Secondly, we must maintain our absolute ban on the use of irradiation as a means of treating food. It has been proposed that we should broaden that kind of approach. I say that we should maintain the ban.
Hon. Members will notice that I do not say that we should stop nuclear production altogether. I merely suggest that we should reduce it. I realise that to eliminate such production is impossible. It may be appropriate at this point for me to place on record that I am not antinuclear, as the nuclear industry would assert, any more than I am what I am accused of being by the anti-anything and anti-everything brigade— a paid agent of the nuclear industry. I am not anti-nuclear at all; in fact, I am distinctly pro-nuclear, in the safe sense. In other words, I am pro-safe nuclear and very anti-unsafe nuclear. To continue accusing me of being anti-nuclear is like accusing me of being anti-food when I say that I am anti-food poisoning.
I have already commended the motion on the Order Paper for its sensible approach. It seeks to ensure that there are better technical alternatives to the proposals that have been advanced so far, and to put forward overall cost alternatives. It also seeks to further public acceptance if a truly convincing solution can be found. That job has already been entrusted to NIREX.
56 Let me quote from NIREX's articles of association. I shall not quote them at length, because they are numerous and legalistic, but I ask the House to pay close attention to them. They enable NIREX to do almost anything and everything with anyone and everyone. In obtaining equipment, it can collude with whoever it chooses, in whatever way it chooses. I suggest that hon. Members seek a copy of the articles and read them at their leisure, as they give sufficient ground for concern. But let me now read to the House, word for word, page 3 clause (L) of the objectives. It states that NIREX is empoweredTo make loans or donations to such persons and in such cases (and in the case of loans either of cash or of other assets) as the Company may think directly or indirectly conducive to any of its objects or otherwise expedient.
That is only one of the many clauses that give NIREX carte blanche to conduct its affairs in almost any way that it sees fit. Let us compare that with the manner in which our communities have had to beg and borrow resources with which to prevent an alternative view. NIREX has unrestrained permission to bribe, bludgeon and blackmail, and unlimited finances with which to fund such nefarious activities.
I commend the hon. Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes for his clear denial of the NIMBY syndrome, to which other hon. Members have referred, the "not in my backyard syndrome". He has learnt that and good for him. I remind the House of the time when I was the lone voice opposing such proposals in this Chamber. On those occasions many hon. Members, especially Conservative Members, appeared mildly amused by my protestations. Some sniggers were also heard from Labour Members. At that time I said that smiles would not be so wide once other communities came under similar threat. It gives me no satisfaction today to say "I told you so."
The Government will be compelled by public pressure to re-examine their stance on these issues. They will be forced to rethink their whole approach, and rightly so. While they are doing that I ask them to think about what I have said. First, do not recycle foreign waste. Secondly, do not recycle our own. Thirdly, do not make so much of it in the first place. Those are all negative points. Let me put on record what should be the positive side. While I am doing that, I ask the House to remember that I have thought long and often on those issues. The positive side is, put it where it is well isolated from inhabited communities. It is lunatic to do otherwise. Put it in engineered storage where it is well maintained, well managed and well monitored. It is lunatic to do otherwise. Put it into stores from which it can readily be retrieved and redeemed if things go wrong.
I must admit that to implement all those three suggestions of course makes the process more expensive. However, we cannot afford to sell the safety of tomorrow for the sake of saving a few bob today.
§ Sir Trevor Skeet (Bedfordshire, North)
You enjoined, Mr. Speaker, that we should make brief speeches. I will comply with that. My hon. Friend the Member for Bedfordshire, South-West (Mrs. Madel) is present, and he may have a chance to catch your eye.
I shall take up the last remark of the hon. Member for Stockton, North (Mr. Cook). Of course we must be clear about the disposal of nuclear waste where a large population is involved. A large population must be remote 57 from such a site. Of the four sites, that consideration would rule out as unsuitable Elstow and Killingholme. However, the two sites which should be carefully scrutinised as possible locations are Bradwell and Fulbeck. Ultimately the site should be decided on the basis of geological surveys, hydrology and a full public inquiry.
One matter has not been raised today which Sir Frank Layfield dealt with in the Sizewell report. In chapter 2, paragraph 112, volume 3, he stated:The CEGB's conclusion that the safe disposal of all types of radioactive waste was technically feasible was not disputed…Storage space on the site would be provided for up to one year's waste.That is at Sizewell. The report continued:If necessary the storage capacity could be increased to hold waste for the whole life of Sizewell.The cost of storing 40 years of low-level waste and intermediate-level waste, which does not arise in this particular case, was estimated to be about £10 million.
It is interesting that a man who has examined the matter of nuclear waste carefully for a number of years has come to the conclusion that it can safely be stored at power stations for some time. Another proposition that he made was that the radiological effect of solid wastes on the public near the site was assessed by the CEGB in chapter 32, paragraph 29 of the report to be "effectively zero".
His final conclusion after he had posed nine questions and then set out his answer to them in chapter 47, paragraph 66, was:There are no safety problems caused indirectly by the operation of Sizewell B, such as radioactive waste management, that could give rise to intolerable risks.I make that point because one of the sites involved is Bradwell, which has a power station. Today we learnt that it has been storing nuclear waste for some time. There is no reason why it should not be considered as a storage facility for some years hence.
The hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) asked the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Energy on 15 December 1986 about the CEGB and the SSEB and was given the answer:The CEGB and SSEB have agreed to analyse the technical and economic aspects of backfitting dry stores to Magnox stations."—[Official Report, 15 December 1986; Vol. 107, c. 383.]They are also considering the position of AGRs in this country. Therefore, if the Opposition believe that nuclear waste could be stored at power stations above ground within the United Kingdom, and if backfitting is proceeding, this should be explored much more realistically.
I shall discuss rapidly another point that I have in mind. I am in favour of the shallow burial repository, as is my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Sir H. Rossi) who chaired the Select Committee on the Environment. Shallow burial, properly engineered, has the backing of the experts who produced the "Assessment of the Best Practical Environmental Options" report, those who produced the Sizewell B report, and those on the Radioactive Waste Management Advisory Committee, who advise the Minister. Others, including the Government, are in favour of a shallow burial repository and have implemented it, through a policy which has operated over several years from 1982 in the publication of the White Paper Cmnd. 8607. The Government's response to the Environment Select Committee report has shown perfectly clearly that their policy is consistent.
§ Mr. Frank Cook
Will the hon. Gentleman ponder the fact that many of the references that he has just made are simply a number of aliases for the same incestuous crowd?
§ Sir Trevor Skeet
I shall make it perfectly clear that I must not be led away by certain arguments which I should like to enter into on another occasion. I have been asked to speak briefly, and I shall. The built-in error of the argument that we have heard today is that the ERL report forgets that low-level waste only is being considered and that intermediate-level waste has now been excluded. Disposal of low-level waste does not involve such expensive treatment as has been laid down in Sweden, which incidentally uses shallow land cavities for low-level waste. The waste consists of clothing, paper towels, air filters and resins and things of that description. Even in Sweden there are at least three sites that I know of where low-level waste is disposed of in cavities and not at deep level. Surface disposal of waste is also used in Canada, the United States of America, arid France and plans are being considered in Belgium and Japan.
I appreciate that I must bring all my points together rapidly to allow other hon Members to speak, but in conclusion I would say that Elstow is unsuitable for a number of reasons, especially on the ground of the nearness of the population to it. Bedford is only 3 miles away. The two other major sites which I have recommended are between 7½ and 10 miles away from any significant population centres. That is one of the prime reasons for the exclusion of Elstow. I hope that at the public inquiry all the arguments which are being used in this Chamber today will be fully and firmly ventilated before experts and critically examined.
§ Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)
I shall speak for about three minutes, and my speech will consist of a number of questions. First, I shall address myself to Sweden. The three counties' report states:In radiological terms there is merit in the claimed desire to limit exposures from a NIREX repository to 0o1 milliSievert per year. Sweden has a design limit 100 times lower of 0.001 milliSievert a year.The NIREX response welcomed the coalition's recognition of the stringent safety standards but commented:However, it is incorrect to imply that the Swedish safety limit is 100 times more restrictive than the UK target.It added:It is also likely that the NIREX safety case will be better than 0.1 milliSievert a year, but it shall not exceed this figure. This is substantially less than the variations in natural background radiation in the UK.It is of great importance that we should hear the Government's view on which body is right, the coalition or NIREX.
Secondly, I take up the remarks of the hon. Member for Honiton (Sir P. Emery) in asking about international matters. I am of the belief that it is of overwhelming importance that in reprocessing we do the very best job as human beings rather than as a nationality. If we British, as I believe, are better at reprocessing than anyone else on the face of the planet, it is better for humanity that we should do it. I believe also that our engineering expertise merits that, quite apart from employment considerations.
Thirdly, as the Minister intervened at an early stage of the debate to say, I have indeed said that if the geological conditions were right I would hope to have the guts to 59 argue that the Linlithgow constituency should be used as a site. Since I said that, however, there has been a great deal of distortion. I realise that such a statement can bring a hornets' nest around one's ears, and I understand the hornets' nests to be found at Killingholme and elsewhere. I do not retract from what I said previously, but my statement was linked to another matter. When I made it, it was suggested that there was a problem with the submarine nuclear reactors. It was felt that the submarines would have to be decommissioned and that there would therefore have to be a coastal site.
Why should we have an inland site at all? Is there not an argument for having a coastal site? I am friendly with NIREX and many of those who work within it, but I do not understand why it is necessary to bring a hornets' nest to bear and create a great deal of fuss. If the material is as safe as it is claimed to be, why does it have to be deposited in areas of considerable population in certain forms of clay? If it is as safe as those at NIREX say, it could be placed in depopulated areas. There is great confidence in Dounreay on the north coast of Scotland as well as in the Atomic Energy Authority. I wish to emphasise that I am strongly against any sort of under-sea burial, which means that the material cannot be monitored or retrieved.
What about the obligations to the Ministry of Defence when it comes to the decommissioning of submarines? Why cannot the material be concentrated in one coastal site? As others with constituency interests wish to contribute to the debate, I shall now resume my place.
§ Mr. Richard Alexander (Newark)
I join all those who have congratulated my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes (Mr. Brown) on his good fortune in the ballot and on initiating the debate. I congratulate also the three county councils which produced the report that gave rise to the debate.
I think that I am the only hon. Member to have participated in the debate so far who has a constituency near the Fulbeck area, but I shall come to that later. I do not think that the Government or NIREX have gone about matters in the best way if they want to bring public opinion along behind them. They had the advantage of the Select Committee on the Environment's report, the Committee on which I had the honour to serve, in which there was clear guidance on how NIREX and the Government should proceed with the placing of a site.
Having proposed a nuclear site on my doorstep, as it were—the site is technically in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Grantham (Mr. Hogg), the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, who has been in his place throughout the debate and who for reasons of elevation to higher things has had to bear an uncharacteristic Trappist silence—the realities of public anxiety and fear are brought home. In effect, that is what the debate is all about. It reflects a perception that things nuclear are something of which we should be afraid.
§ Mr. Frank Cook
The hon. Gentleman takes issue with NIREX for not heeding the contents of the report of the Select Committee on the Environment, which he rightly accepts is eminently sensible. Will he bear in mind that that 60 is hardly surprising when we recall that the Secretary of State for Energy rubbished it the moment it was published?
§ Mr. Alexander
I do not share the hon. Gentleman's view of my right hon. Friend's comments on the report. It was clear that he had his reservations, but I do not think it can be said that he rubbished the report.
We should not be debating matters nuclear in general; instead, we should focus on low-level waste disposal. I fear that the way in which we have gone about disposal so far has brought into the anti-nuclear lobby many who have not previously been anti-nuclear which is a great shame. The anti-nuclear lobby has been swollen gratuitously by those who are concerned about the safe disposal of nuclear waste, especially low-level waste.
The Select Committee on the Environment tried to show how the public could be brought behind the industry, not alienated from it. It recommended that it should be accepted that people's fears are genuine and that disposal must be in the form of what it described as a "Rolls-Royce solution." It recommended that we should follow the French example and compensate communities and individuals more than generously, put waste in areas where there is not a high population and keep the stuff away from areas where water can penetrate over hundreds and perhaps thousands of years hence.
Instead NIREX produced proposals which had several common denominators, hardly any of which, so far as I could tell, bore any relation to the safeguards sought by the Select Committee. The common denominators seemed to be that the sites should be placed in areas where the ownership is in the public domain, that they should be in areas of quite high population, that they should be placed in areas where there is a high water table, and that the sites should be in areas of known geological disturbance.
We cannot blame NIREX entirely. I have taken issue on previous occasions with my hon. Friend the Minister and the Department of the Environment generally, but I have been given to understand that NIREX was told that it should not even consider Scotland or Wales. It appears that it was told to confine itself to the part of the United Kingdom that is England. I find that restriction of NIREX's ability to find sites astonishing, bearing in mind that within Scotland and Wales there are areas where the considerations that I have mentioned would be of little concern to the public.
That which the Government and NIREX are proposing is not the "Rolls-Royce" solution. The shallow burial proposals are considered by the experts to be safe, and I have no personal scientific knowledge on which to base an argument that they are not, save to say that the only countries using the method are those that have dry ground and dry climates. In parts of the United States where that method has been used, I understand that it has been abandoned because of the incidence of water in the area. Those examples do not augur well for public confidence.
So the county councils went to see for themselves, and in the countries that they visited—Sweden, France and West Germany—they found that hardly any of them were willing to risk shallow trench disposal such as we propose. They found that all those countries were going for what we call the Rolls-Royce solution. In Sweden, the councils found that it was proposed to spend about £125 million on deep underground and deep sea disposal facilities.
61 In a useful and interesting briefing that NIREX gave to many hon. Members this weekend, NIREX says that if one were to adopt the deep sea disposal method it would cost £500 million. I suggest that the difference between the amount of money that we are proposing to spend and what it would cost to use the deep sea method is minimal when one takes into account the amount spent in our nuclear industry. Thus, we should go for that solution and abide by it. We should take note of the findings in that excellent report and of what was said by the county councillors who went abroad.
In deference to your injunction. Mr. Speaker, I propose to be brief. In conclusion, it is totally wrong that cost and convenience should be the determinant factors in this case. Unless we adopt the Swedish system, more people will believe that cost and convenience are the determinant factors. The Government cannot stand back and say, "So what. Our experts say that it is safe. We must follow what we are told now." Experts over the centuries have been wrong, and they may well be wrong again. The public must be reassured. If they are not behind the nuclear industry in all its aspects, we are building up problems for ourselves for many years to come. The public need reassurance. The county councils' report showed how that reassurance could be achieved. My constituents and those of my hon. Friend the Member for Grantham urge that the report be accepted. I believe that nothing less will now reassure them.
§ Dr. Michael Clark (Rochford)
I thank you for calling me, Mr. Speaker. Time is pressing on, so I shall condense my speech considerably and make just a few points.
I, too, congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes (Mr. Brown) on his motion. I am the only Member representing an Essex constituency in the House this afternoon. My constituency is adjacent to Bradwell, which has been referred to several times, particularly by my hon. Friend the Member for Bedfordshire, North (Sir T. Skeet), who pointed his finger towards Bradwell as a suitable site. I dare say that we are all pointing fingers at one another's locations and saying that that is the most suitable site, so I should like to defend Bradwell. I speak as a friend of the nuclear industry. I am not in any way against it, or, indeed, the proposals for dumping low level waste. While we have a nuclear industry it has to be done, and we must find a site for it somewhere.
I am not opposed to the site being at Bradwell on safety grounds. Indeed, I have every confidence in NIREX and in the nuclear installations inspectorate, but I do not believe that Bradwell is a suitable site. The NIREX report says that it has to find a site where the geology is suitable and where there is a low level of water movement in the ground. We know that in the past Bradwell has suffered earthquakes, so there will be movement of the geological formation. Water will be moving more than we want for the site of a nuclear repository. NIREX has also said voluntarily that it wants its sites to be away from high densities of population, so Bradwell, which is close to the whole of south-east Essex with its half million population, hardly seems to qualify on those grounds.
Conservation is another of NIREX's criteria. Bradwell is an ancient site. It has early Christian connections, with a little church that was built there. Also, accessibility to the Bradwell site is poor. There is only one road to the site, and it is not suitable to take the several lorries that would 62 be required every day. I also object to the site being at Bradwell because south-east Essex has already taken a large amount of rubbish from London and southern England. My objection is on the same grounds as those mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Honiton (Sir P. Emery) and others, including the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Livsey). The question has been asked: would anyone volunteer for the site to be in his constituency? I would not volunteer for it to be in my constituency or anywhere near it, not because I think that it is unsafe or because there may be some radioactive danger, but because it is yet one more waste tip, and Essex has plenty already, both in my constituency and in that of my hon. Friend the Member for Basildon (Mr. Amess). On those grounds, I object strongly to the site being at Bradwell.
I congratulate the County Councils Coalition and its report. The councils have done a workmanlike job in making their proposals and recommendations. They have been critical of NIREX and full of praise for institutions abroad, but they have not come up with a firm alternative proposal. They say that the NIREX proposals are not good enough and they concede—certainly in private conversation—that there must be a nuclear dump site somewhere, but they do not come up with the engineered site that they want, where it should be or how it should be instituted.
There is no doubt that we must have a site somewhere in this country, where it will be safe. During the autumn, for medical reasons, I had to undergo 12 X-rays. I made inquiries and found out that those X-rays gave me as much radioactivity as if I had been sitting on the edge of a low level nuclear repository for 20 to 30 years. One would have to sit there for every hour of every day for 20 or 30 years to get as much radioactivity as I had in my 12 X-rays.
Therefore, the sites are not dangerous. We must be cautious. I take the point made by the hon. Member for Stockton, North (Mr. Cook). We are pro-nuclear industry as long as it is a safe nuclear industry, but we must make sure that the sites that are selected are proper. Those of us who have had enough rubbish in our constituencies one way and another do not want this site added to them.
§ The Minister for Environment, Countryside and Planning (Mr. William Waldegrave)
It will have been apparent to the faithful Members of the House who have sat through the debate that I am not in the best of health. I hope that the fact that I had to shoot out of the Chamber from time to time during hon. Members' speeches will be recognised for what it was—the need for reinforcement of cough mixture. On one occasion, a lurid pink pill was given to me by my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, South (Mrs. Currie), the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Security, who is in charge of such matters. It has made me feel very peculiar indeed.
My hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes (Mr. Brown) has done the House a service by giving us the chance to have a relatively relaxed debate on the subject in which, if not all at least the majority of those who wished to speak have spoken. I congratulate my hon. Friend on that and on his motion, which is level-headed and sensible. I want to make one or two points in response to my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes and, although the other speeches were important, in one 63 sense this is my hon. Friend's day. I accept the points that my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes made so eloquently about compensation. I have nothing to announce to the House today with regard to that. However, he is aware that NIREX has been considering the possibility of further compensation. I hope that it will be possible for NIREX to announce further measures soon. I am sure that NIREX will take account of the comments made by my hon. Friend today and the correspondence he referred to from two of his constituents.
It is difficult to assess what in particular has affected property values in a specific area. An estate agent may take one view. I have consulted the district valuer who said that he believes that the village of South Killingholme is affected primarily by factors other than the proposed nuclear waste dump. However, these views must, to some extent, be subjective. We must carefully examine what compensation is available to a community which may have to take a facility. I say "may" because we must always remember that it is possible that the inquiry will find that none of the sites is satisfactory. However, if any of the communities had to take the facility, it would be fair to ensure that there was no individual damage to people in terms of property values.
My hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes and hon. Members who have spoken representing constituencies in affected counties have drawn our attention to the county councils' report. I am in some difficulty with regard to the report. I have great respect for Environmental Resources Ltd. which my Department uses frequently. The founder of that company is one of the most distinguished environmentalists in the country. I am sure that the company could have produced a very eloquent report if we had been considering the Swedish solution which has been referred to today—and that is not exactly a deep mine, rather a shallow burial site under the sea—and there may well have been a coalition of seaside towns which might have commissioned ERL. The company would have produced first-rate scientists who were willing to sign the report claiming that the Government were not only crazy but extravagant and absurd to consider that option. They would claim that we had the best clay in western Europe for such a scheme. The scientists would want to know what we were doing fiddling around with permeable stone just below the seabed when we have a more Rolls-Royce type solution in the clay in this country. It is that crescent of clay which is, above all, the determinant of why the four sites have been chosen for investigation.
As the recipient of so many different protests on these issues, I am aware that powerful arguments can be made against any specific proposal. However, if we had gone down the road and spent what my hon. Friend the Member for Newark (Mr. Alexander) described as "only" £500 million, there would have been powerful scientific voices attached to persuasive arguments in the House from those communities claiming that we should be doing the obvious thing.
My hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes referred to consensus. I do not believe that we would have secured consensus—and the hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) made this point— even if we followed the Swedish solution. I visited Canada and saw 64 the investigations being carried out at Whiteshell. Whiteshell is miles from anywhere and I stress that spaces are rather bigger in Canada than they are here. However, in Canada they had to tell the local communities that the investigations were only temporary because there was still opposition. I asked the Canadians, "How wide is a back yard in Canada?" I was told that it was at least 150 miles. These matters are somewhat objective.
I was grateful to the county councils for commissioning the report which is very useful. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Grantham (Mr. Hogg), who has made this point to me frequently in the past, will be aware that that is the kind of submission that, once it is greatly fleshed out with further work, will be submissible to the public inquiry on this matter if one or two of the sites are brought forward to a public inquiry.
I stress to my hon. Friend the Member for Grantham and those of my hon. Friends from Bedfordshire who are by convention allowed to speak so eloquently and those who, by convention, are not allowed to speak but are on the Front Bench to listen to their spokesmen—and I have been interested to discover how easy it has been for silent constituency Members to find eloquence for their views in these matters—that there is no easy way of achieving consensus on this matter. I fear that any proposal will find opposition. One of the satisfactory points about the debate is that we have had a good debate in the Chamber and this point has not run across party lines. Most of my hon. Friends would have taken it for granted that there would have been two views expressed from the Liberal Benches and that is perhaps standard practice. I know that the hon. Member for South Shields is aware that his hon. Friend the Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) is on record as saying that there is nothing inherent in the method of disposal to which the Labour party in the House is opposed, although there may be others outside who take a different view.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Sir H. Rossi) made an important and powerful speech. It must have been agonisingly difficult for an all-party Committee to come to what is potentially an unpopular decision. For once they were not going to say that the Government were completely crazy, wrong and loopy on the matter. I have been a member of a Select Committee and I know that there is always a temptation to make up a different policy and claim that the Government should follow the Committee's recommendation. My hon. Friend's Select Committee had the discipline to state that, with one very important proviso about intermediate waste which the Government immediately met, they did not think that the method was necessarily out of court. However, any specific proposal must be tested against the safety criteria.
The hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) characteristically covered much of the important ground in three short points. I want to clarify one or two of his points. The apparent dichotomy on the Swedish safety levels is explained as follows. The Swedish safety level laid down by the regulatory authority is very comparable to that which we are laying down. However, the facility, because of its design, will be 100 times safer than that. We have laid down a safety standard for NIREX. It is very likely, especially after listening to the comments made by hon. Members tonight, that NIREX will engineer a facility which exceeds the one in a million chance that we have laid down. NIREX will want to demonstrate that if it comes 65 forward to an inquiry. NIREX will show that the system is well below the accepted safety limit, like the Swedish system.
§ Mr. David Madel (Bedfordshire, South-West)
On this question of NIREX and what it might propose, is my hon. Friend able to say after some months of test drilling in Elstow—and, as my hon. Friend will know, Elstow was the first site to be named—whether NIREX is anywhere near any conclusions after all this test drilling?
§ Mr. Waldegrave
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for enabling me to make a few comments on that important point. No, NIREX is not yet at the stage when it can announce preliminary results on the test drilling. Test drilling has been continuing since October, as access was obtained only in September. I have been advised that this is the most comprehensive programme of geological investigation work ever undertaken in this country for any purpose. NIREX is not yet able to make preliminary conclusions about the results. After the 12 months and more of drilling, NIREX will need at least another six months of intensive investigation before any final conclusions can be reached. I believe that the consultants employed by the various county councils will confirm that— as the relations between the geologists and the consultants have been warm and close— that a very thorough investigation of the geology is being carried out.
My hon. Friend the Member for Rochford (Dr. Clark) made a point which was echoed in a powerful letter from my right hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Sir B. Braine), who is in America today, on behalf of my right hon. Friend the Member for Colchester, South and Maldon (Mr. Wakeham), the Chief Whip. My hon. Friend the Member for Rochford recounted the arguments about the unsuitability of the geology. The investigations will set out to test those points. NIREX has sensibly said that if, early on, it was to find something surprising which showed that a site was a wash-out, it would drop consideration of that site in order not to prolong any anxiety in the community.
The hon. Member for Linlithgow mentioned submarines. We thought it important to make that change in response to public pressure, which was led by my hon and learned Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Lyell), who said that we must have the widest comparison of sites before a public inquiry. As two types of solution are available—seaside and inland sites—it would be fair to consider both alongside each other. If an inland site was chosen, the Ministry of Defence would have to find another site for its submarine waste. But nothing would go into those sites except low-level waste, so the reactor cores of submarines are not part of this discussion. They would have to be disposed of as intermediate and high-level waste at some time in the future.
§ Mr. Waldegrave
That is possible.
So many points were made in the debate that I may have to search Hansard to make sure that I have taken them all on board. The point that my hon. Friends have been repeating is that they want to assure their constituents that the inquiry will be serious and that no secret decision has been taken in advance to fix the entire matter. 1 give them that assurance. It is not penny-pinching to say that, with Britain's geology, clay is the best 66 solution. We do not have the large salt mines that the Germans have, nor the remote sites of Sweden, but we have some of the best clay in Europe and, for a variety of chemical and engineering reasons, clay is extremely helpful in this area.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green was kind enough to say that the Government had listened to several important points made by the Select Committee, as we listened when deciding to go for the special development order. I should tell the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) that the purpose of the SDO was somewhat to diminish the period of blight that might lie over a community. If there were two large inquiries, one after the other, it would place intolerable pressure on those communities. After listening to representations, especially from Bedfordshire, we decided on that approach.
My hon. Friend the Member for Honiton (Sir P. Emery) made an important point about international standards and research. We are extremely closely in touch with the Commission of the European Community and other international organisations, and I will ask my officials to consider carefully having closer contacts with the science and technology committee of NATO. That would seem to be a sensible solution.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bedfordshire, North (Sir T. Skeet) made a characteristically learned and robust speech. He has a deep knowledge of the industry. He said that the principal independent advisory organisations have all said that this method of disposal should be safe if it is done properly. The question whether it is done properly must be examined at the public inquiry with the specific proposal and site in mind.
I repeat that an important change that we made after reading the Select Committee's report was our undertaking not to include intermediate level waste, which greatly increased the inherent safety margins. That was an important watershed. I urge hon. Members to be a little chary of the argument that it does not matter what we spend, but we must buy public acceptability and consensus. I have come to the conclusion that there will be no consensus. Even in Canada, when the sites were miles away from anywhere, anxieties remained. If we were proposing the Swedish method, we would not be having a very different debate in the House today. Different hon. Members would have taken part, but the debate would have been the same. The Rolls-Royce solution in British terms may—we must test this at the inquiry—involve clay. It is the sensible way of absorbing radiation and retarding water.
The hon. Member for Great Grimsby and I clashed a little over personalities, but., apart from that, we have avoided clashes in this debate, which I welcome. I was touched by the joint succour I hat was offered to me by the hon. Member for Stockton, North (Mr. Cook) and by my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes—an unusual combination on any subject other than this. But they united in this instance against the hon. Member for Great Grimsby, and I was grateful to them for that.
The Government have listened and will continue to listen. We shall scan the Hansard report of the debate carefully, because I am conscious that I may not have had time to answer all the points. I congratulate my hon. Friend on introducing the debate so carefully and in such a scholarly way.
§ Mr. Michael Brown
With the leave of the House, Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. Friend the Minister for his speech. He listened to every speech made during the debate, and I am only sorry that he was unable to hear speeches from my hon. Friends the Members for Bedfordshire, South-West (Mr. Madel) and for Gainsborough and Horncastle (Mr. Leigh). They were both here throughout the debate and have taken an interest in the sites in Bedfordshire and in Fulbeck, Lincolnshire, for several years. I am grateful to them and to others for attending the debate. It shows how right I was to select this subject. Although we have been short of time, we have not been short of contributors.
I should tell my hon. Friend the Minister that I agree with much of what the hon. Member for Stockton, North (Mr. Cook) says about these matters because he has taken on the Department of the Environment and won the battle on behalf of his constituents. He has been a doughty fighter for them and I hope that I can learn from his experience. What he has achieved for his constituents is what I, my hon. Friend the Member for Grantham (Mr. Hogg), my right hon. Friend the Patronage Secretary and my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Lyell) wish to achieve for our constituents. We can all follow his example.
I welcome the speech of the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Livsey). However, as my hon. Friends told him, it does not accord with the actions of the hon. Member for Liverpool, Mossley Hill (Mr. Alton), who supported the recommendation of the Select Committee. I am grateful for the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Sir H. Rossi), who is Chairman of the Select Committee. I disagree with his assessment, but his interpretation of the Select Committee report was correct. I was most grateful for what he said about the need for compensation. Although I recognise that my hon. Friend the Minister can go no further than the representations that I have already made to him—I 68 am glad that he acknowledged them today—I hope that he will be swayed by the arguments of my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green.
I was grateful for the contribution of the hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark). He did not depart from the statement made by the hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) in answer to me last year. I draw the attention of the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr.Mitchell) to the fact that, whatever the Labour party may have decided outside the House, the hon. Member for South Shields, in a measured speech, did not dissociate himself from the comments made by the hon. Member for Copeland in May last year.
This has been a useful debate and I am grateful to all those hon. Members who took the trouble to speak about an issue that is important to us all. From what my hon. Friend the Minister has said, I understand that we shall return to the subject in the near future. It looks as though we shall soon have a debate on the report from the Select Committee on the Environment and that we shall have a debate on Sizewell B. I remind my hon. Friend the Minister that I still want him to change his policy and that I shall continue to fight to that end, but I am grateful for what he has said.
§ Question put and agreed to.
That this House welcomes the report prepared for the County Councils of Humberside, Lincolnshire and Bedfordshire regarding the disposal of low level nuclear waste; notes the coalition's view based on an international comparative study that: (i) there are better technical alternatives than those presented by UK Nirex for the disposal of such wastes which may also be used for intermediate level waste; (ii) the overall cost of alternatives may be greater than for a shallow repository but would be less than one per cent. of the costs of nuclear electricity generation; and (iii) if public acceptance is to be gained a truly convincing solution to the disposal of low and intermediate level nuclear waste must be found; and urges Her Majesty's Government to give full consideration to this report before final decisions are taken regarding the disposal of nuclear waste.