HC Deb 22 October 1973 vol 861 cc695-7

Dr. John A. Cunningham (by Private Notice) asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry if he will make a statement on the safety and security hazards arising from the situation at the Windscale British Nuclear Fuel site in Cumberland where, due to an industrial dispute, security, emergency and nuclear monitoring services are no longer operating.

The Minister for Industry (Mr. Tom Boardman)

Managerial supervisory and security staff are not involved in the dispute and are maintaining all essential security, emergency and nuclear monitoring services. The plant has been shut down apart from one reactor which is operating at less than half power to provide a source of steam and electricity. Inspectors of nuclear installations are making frequent visits to the site and are satisfied with the measures being taken by the management.

Dr. Cunningham

I am grateful for the reply, but will the Minister confirm that the normal safety and security staff are not doing their jobs and that in the event of a fire none of the regular fire services could be provided within the site? Will he also say what is to happen to those elements which may be in transit either by sea or rail to the Windscale plutonium factory and what precautions are being taken to safeguard them if they arrive in the Cumberland area and cannot gain access to the factory?

Will he further reassure the House that everything is being done by his Department and his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry to resolve this dispute? Is he aware that because of the nuclear incident at Wind-scale some weeks ago a considerable number of workers were heavily irradiated, some of them still not having been given medical clearance? In view of that the trade unions have used the full negotiating procedure to try to reach a settlement with the management of British Nuclear Fuels. They have been rebuffed and no date has been set for a further meeting. Is that not a serious state of affairs?

Mr. Boardman

I must reassure the hon. Member again. All emergency and security services are being fully maintained. As for the fire services, while it is true that the works fire brigade is taking part in the dispute, the management has made arrangements with the local fire brigade to ensure that all these services are available and will be properly manned.

As for the transfer of spent fuel elements, these will be retained at the respective power stations until conditions are suitable for them to be accepted. There should be no problem here. The hon. Member asked about intervention to resolve the dispute. He will not expect me to comment on the dispute. Perhaps it is sufficient to say that I understand that there are meetings of the joint industrial council tomorrow and no doubt the differences will be discussed. I hope they will be resolved.

Mr. Benn

As the dispute is linked to an incident involving the safety of the plant and as that incident and earlier incidents occurred when the plant was working normally, does not the Minister see that there is a case for intervention not only to give assurances about safely of the public at large but also so that those working there recognise that the Government take the question of safety as seriously as I am sure they do?

Mr. Boardman

Every assurance to the public about safety is given in the statement I made. If there is doubt left in any hon. or right hon. Member's mind, let me repeat that all necessary security emergency and monitoring services are being fully maintained so that there is no risk.

It would be inappropriate for me to comment on the incident itself. I would refer the right hon. Gentleman to a reply I gave to the hon. Member for Shoreditch and Finsbury (Mr. Ronald Brown). There will be a report in due course from the nuclear inspectorate which will be considered when it is received. But it would not be appropriate to comment upon the incident while the investigation is proceeding.

Forward to