HC Deb 17 April 1957 vol 568 cc1920-2
45. Mr. Hector Hughes

asked the Prime Minister if he will make a statement, based on scientific data available to him, of the effect of the radioactivity caused by nuclear tests to eels, salmon and other fish which, having become contaminated in the sea by radioactivity, move in the course of nature from the sea to British rivers and streams carrying radioactive contamination with them; and what steps he is taking to protect British rivers and streams and British people from the dangers to which they will be thereby exposed.

The Prime Minister (Mr. Harold Macmillan)

I have nothing to add to the Answer I gave to the hon. and learned Member on 2nd April.

Mr. Hughes

Is the Prime Minister aware that the extreme gravity of this matter has just been indicated by the Council of the Atomic Scientists Association, which has reported that the explosion of a large hydrogen bomb in Bikini in 1954 is today causing bone cancer in people thousands of miles away?

The Prime Minister

That matter, if it arises at all, would arise on the next Question on the Paper, With regard to the contamination of fish in the sense used in the Question and the hon. and learned Member's previous Question, I have nothing to add to the reply which I then gave, in which I made it clear that there really was no risk in this connection. If the hon. and learned Gentleman wishes me to give him further detailed information, I should be very happy to do so, either by writing to him, or by seeing him on the matter. I have a very long passage here on the subject with which I will not weary the House, but I will be willing to give it to the hon. and learned Member.

Mr. Hector Hughes

Will the Prime Minister circulate in the OFFICIAL REPORT the long and detailed statement which he has just mentioned?

The Prime Minister

I will certainly consider that.

Following is the information:

Ocean currents carry some contaminated water, seaweed. etc., for very great distances but there is a natural process of great dilution going on all the time. Moreover, the bulk of the radioactive products of an explosion are comparatively short-lived and soon decay to harmlessness.

European eels migrate to breeding grounds in the Sargasso Sea from which they never return. The eel larvae are carried back by the North Atlantic drift and reach our coasts as elvers at the age of about three years. Salmon spend their early life in our rivers. They migrate to the North Atlantic and after an absence of from one to four years return to their native rivers to breed.

Danger of radioactive contamination to human beings from fish, as suggested by the Question, could arise, even in the case of low-level explosion, only if an area declared dangerous during a nuclear test were extensively fished within a short period following an explosion; there is no risk if the area is not fished until it is reopened.

Any danger of fish which are themselves radioactive contaminating sea, or river, water, plants or other fish is negligible.

A Committee has been set up under the Chairmanship of Lord Rothschild (who is also Chairman of the Agricultural Research Committee) consisting of representatives of the Agricultural Research Council, the Medical Research Council, the Atomic Energy Authority and the Development Commission (which is primarily concerned with fisheries development) to study all biological problems, other than medical, of nuclear physics. The Committee is pursuing research into the contamination of fish (both sea-water and inland fish) from radioactivity from all sources. The Committee are not yet in a position to make any statement.