HC Deb 09 April 1957 vol 568 cc958-60
45. Mr. Hastings

asked the Prime Minister whether, in view of the danger resulting from accidents, malicious or otherwise, in connection with the processes in which nuclear energy is applied, he will institute an inquiry as to the best first-aid treatment and arrange that such information is made available wherever it may be required.

The Prime Minister (Mr. Harold Macmillan)

The Atomic Energy Authority takes the most exhaustive precautions against accidents and there are extensive measures for detecting radioactivity in all laboratories and plants where radioactive or toxic material is used. Emergency arrangements to deal with accidents which might occur are tested regularly in exercises designed to cover every foreseeable contingency. A draft code of regulations covering the protection of workers in factories against ionising radiations is in preparaton. A code of practice for the: protection of workers in hospitals in the National Health Service is also being published. In view of these arrangements, I am satisfied that there is no need for the inquiry suggested by the hon. Member.

Mr. Hastings

As the results from heavy and even fatal doses of ionising radiation are not at once apparent, is it not especially important that in every area where such accidents could occur there should be a definite statement, easily read by all who may be affected, as to the danger involved and what should be done in the circumstances?

The Prime Minister

Yes, Sir. I quite appreciate the hon. Gentleman's anxiety about this matter, but I do think that the Authority is taking every possible precaution. In the laboratories and plants of the Authority, everything is done to ensure that high standards of protection against the absorption of radiation are general, and continuously observed. Personal records of radiation received during occupational exposure is kept for all persons whose work exposes them to such radiation.

Mr. H. Fraser

Would my right hon. Friend consider the report of the National Academy of Sciences in America, which states that within the foreseeable future the problem of the disposal of atomic waste from power plants will greatly overshadow the problem of the disposal of radioactive material from weapon tests? Would he, perhaps, push on with the idea, which was suggested in the Bermuda communiqué, of setting up some general nuclear control, at least between ourselves and the United States?

The Prime Minister

Yes, Sir, but, of course, the disposal of the waste is not one connected with the military uses of nuclear energy but is part of the inherent problem of its civil development; and one to which, of course, the Authority is giving considerable study.

Dr. Summerskill

In view of the fact that the greatest authorities in this matter agree that there are certain aspects which are obscure, would not the Prime Minister say that this is the time when an inquiry should be instituted? Could he say what are the objections to an inquiry?

The Prime Minister

I would certainly consider an inquiry if I thought it would help the work of the Authority carrying on all this atomic development in its care of those employed upon it. But I am satisfied that at the present time everything possible is being done, and I do not think that an inquiry would help its work; it might even at present impede it. If, however, at any time I felt that some outside inquiry by experts not available to the Authority would be valuable, I would, of course, discuss it with the Authority and consider whether it would be useful.

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