HC Deb 23 February 1977 vol 926 cc1393-6
7. Mr. Galbraith

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what is his policy regarding the granting of planning permission for the storage of nuclear waste.

Mr. Milan

In any such case the planning authority would no doubt wish to be assured—as I would, if I were to call the case in—that the nature and scale of the proposals were acceptable and in particular that the waste would be stored safely and without harming the environment.

Mr. Galbraith

Is the Secretary of State aware of the considerable public concern which exists about the possible health hazards resulting from such storage? In order to set at rest public anxiety on this matter, could he give some indication of the criteria that would guide him in allowing planning permission for storage and in allowing planning permission for prospecting for possible storage sites?

Mr. Milan

That latter question is a a matter for the local authority, not for me. Unless a planning application is called in all planning matters are in the first instance for the local authority con- cerned. It is not for me to intervene unless it is absolutely necessary. Concerning safety and other aspects, I refer the hon. Gentleman to the answer which I gave to one of his hon. Friends on 10th February indicating the statutory provisions under which I, as Secretary of State, operate at the moment and would operate in the future. In all these matters, I know that there is public concern and feeling.

On the current issue, all that is involved is exploration. There has been no request so far for permission to store nuclear waste. That would be a long way ahead, and there would be all sorts of hurdles and safeguards to be gone through before that happened. If we are to continue with the nuclear programme, and even on the basis of the existing nuclear programme, it is absolutely essential that we bear in mind that we must find long-term solutions to problems of nuclear waste. It would be in everyone's interests to find those solutions.

Mr. Dalyell

Is my right hon. Friend in a position to say anything about the discussions that the Government have had with the European Community on this difficult issue?

Mr. Millan

The particular exploration programme that affects the South of Scotland, for example, and other parts of the United Kingdom at present is something that is being done with EEC co-operation. It is not even a United Kingdom effort. It is an international effort, because there is a joint responsibility not only at EEC level but, I think, even wider than that, of all nuclear nations to find satisfactory solutions to the problem of the disposal of nuclear waste. We approach this matter with the intention of having—as we have at present—the most rigorous standards of safety.

Mr. Grimond

Is the Secretary of State aware that in this matter and in the related question of uranium mining his assurance that he will have the greatest concern for the environment is very welcome? Will he also assure us that, as well as the safety angle, he will take into fullest consideration the views of local inhabitants affected, and particularly the structure plans which have been drawn up with such tremendous efforts in these areas?

Mr. Millan

Yes. Again, I have to have regard to all these matters. In the particular case of the controversy over Orkney, I do not think that I should say anything more at present, because, as I think the right hon. Gentleman recognises, in certain circumstances I might have a quasi-judicial planning function to carry out. However, I shall take fully into account all the matters that have been mentioned by hon. Members.

Mr. Monro

Will the right hon. Gentleman accept that I am very glad that he has made this reassuring statement to the people of Scotland in relation to test borings and nuclear waste? Will he also bring home to the Harwell laboratory the fact that it must not prospect and carry out boring operations without planning permission in the near future?

Mr. Millan

I think that in this case the local authority has taken the view—about which I understand that at an earlier point there was some dispute—that planning permission is in fact required. Certainly that is now what is happening. However, I think the hon. Gentleman will realise that on some of these matters involving individual applications it is difficult for me to say anything without appearing to prejudge an issue that will ultimately come before me.

Mr. Sillars

Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm with regard to the expansion of the nuclear programme that we are now looking for disposal sites because of the CEGB's programme? Will he also confirm that Scotland is well endowed with generating capacity for many years to come?

Mr. Milan

No, I do not think that I could say that, because, proportionately, Scotland has rather more nuclear power at present than have England and Wales, and that would certainly be true if the SGHWR or another generating station went ahead at Torness. This is not an English problem. Scottish waste is going to England for disposal now.

Mr. Thompson

Considering that the vast majority of the people of Galloway, and probably of South Ayrshire as well, are utterly opposed to having a nuclear dump in our hills, is it not the case that this scheme of test borings is a complete waste of time and energy because the results will never be applicable in our hills?

Mr. Millan

I do not know whether I accept what the hon. Gentleman has said. Again, I do not want to prejudge the issue. However, as far as I am aware, the people of Galloway and South Scotland are at present happy to have the benefits of cheap nuclear power from Hunterston.

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