HC Deb 21 February 1977 vol 926 cc1013-4
5. Mr. Thorpe

asked the Secretary of State for Energy what recent discussions the Nuclear Inspectorate has had with its United States counterparts about the safety of fast breeder reactors.

Mr. Benn

The Nuclear Installations Inspectorate has periodic discussions with the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission in accordance with an exchange agreement. The most recent occasion was in October 1976, when a range of nuclear safety matters, including fast reactors, was discussed in the United States of America.

Mr. Thorpe

May we assume that the Inspectorate and the Minister himself attach due weight to the views of President Ford when in office—namely, that it is no longer inevitable that plutonium should be recycled? That being so, will he consider following the position of the American Government and declare a moratorium on the reprocessing of spent oxide fuel until much more scientific evidence is available?

Mr. Benn

I follow very carefully, as I know the right hon. Gentleman does, the worldwide discussions about nuclear matters, because it is not only in this country that Ministers and others are looking carefully at various factors, including the plutonium factor, the speed with which fast breeder reactors should be considered and the problems of reprocessing. I try to keep abreast of the discussions elsewhere but base myself on the position that safety must be a dominant consideration. But I think that the House also knows that in the case of reprocess- ing we have an inherited nuclear programme going back to the Magnox station, authorised in 1956, and that there are many fuel elements that must be reprocessed. I made it absolutely clear when I met a recent Japanese delegation about the Japanese contract that we were in the same position as the Japanese, that we needed reprocessing facilities and that the planning arrangements under the supervision of the Secretary of State for the Environment were at present the governing factor.

Mr. Hannam

As the Flowers Report was received last September and the Secretary of State has had his question-and-answer session, may I ask when we shall have an official Government response to that report and then a chance for the House to debate it?

Mr. Benn

I have had the opportunity of discussing the report with the chairman of the committee. The report contained many important recommendations, and I think it right that the Government should give a detailed and measured response to the recommendations, some of which impact upon the organisation of government itself. The work of preparing a response is in hand, discussions are in progress, and it will be published as soon as possible.