HC Deb 22 March 1978 vol 946 cc1537-676

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Graham.]

Mr. Speaker

Before we begin the debate I must inform the House that this is another day when a very large number of hon. Members have indicated to me that they hope to catch my eye during the course of the debate. Each one has a strong claim to speak. As a result of the statement, we have lost the extra hour proposed by the suspension of the rule. It will be possible for hon. Members to be called, therefore, only if those who precede them exercise strong self-discipline.

I honestly think that it is not asking too much to request hon. Members to co-operate in this way. It is selfish and inconsiderate for any hon. Member to ignore the fact that other hon. Members who feel equally strongly may be denied the chance to speak if their colleagues take more than their fair share of the debate.

I have one last request. Please do not come to the Chair in supplication. In the mining village in which I grew up, the local store displayed a notice which said "Please do not ask for credit, as a refusal often offends." The same applies here.

4.35 p.m.

The Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Peter Shore)

I welcome this debate because I believe that the matters covered by the Windscale report go far beyond those normally raised by a planning inquiry and because it is right that these matters should be debated in this House.

Under the Town and Country Planning Act when major cases are called in, they are decided by me as Secretary of State. Let me say straight away that only in the most exceptional circumstances would I wish to depart from this normal procedure under which I exercise my decision-making power under the planning Acts.

On this occasion I have chosen a different way. What is unique to this case is that the planning application itself—for outline planning permission to construct a major chemical engineering plant for reprocessing spent oxide nuclear fuel at Windscale—is patently of small importance compared with the major environmental, national and international issues which took up the greater part of the 100-day inquiry and which form the core of Mr. Justice Parker's report.

The major issues, to which I shall return later, are as follows. The first is the contribution to our total energy supply that nuclear power stations will make over the next 25 years and more. The second is the best and safest way of disposing of the nuclear wastes and emissions that nuclear energy inevitably creates. The third is how to secure nuclear installations and nuclear fuels against attack and theft without unacceptable damage to the civil liberties that people cherish. Last and by no means least is the issue of how the legitimate demand of non-weapon States for a secure supply of nuclear materials for power generation can be met with the least danger of misuse or diversion as source material for nuclear weapons.

In dealing with these problems in the context of the Windscale report we are in fact facing the essence of the dilemma which the use of nuclear power poses for mankind. From the very beginning of the nuclear era, that is to say, from the first explosion in the New Mexico desert, and the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, the world has known of the terrible potential for destruction that splitting the atom has brought—both its immense explosive power and the even more fearsome and ongoing consequences of nuclear radiation, and, at the same time, of its tremendous potential as a new source of power for peaceful purposes. This dilemma, I repeat, has been there from the start, and with it the key question of how the peaceful development of nuclear power can be promoted without radiation and harm to our own and succeeding generations and without at the same time opening up the threat of the ever-wider spread of nuclear weapons.

The problem has become ever more pressing and more widespread, first, because in the period up to 1973 one country after another—19 in all—has constructed reactors for nuclear power, with our own country for some time in the lead; secondly, because, since 1973, when the price of oil quadrupled and its supply became subject to overt political control, and when it was brought home to us very vividly that known and recoverable supplies of oil and gas were in any case finite, vastly extended programmes for nuclear power have been approved. I understand that over 200 reactors are now under construction and that a further 150 are planned in about 27 countries, that is more than double the number built in the whole period up to 1973.

No one can be certain about future energy supplies and the demands that will be made upon them. Forecasts of the extent of the so-called energy gap and its effect on different countries are inevitably subject to wide margins of error. But even with the most rigorous policies to conserve energy and the most energetic pursuit of new sources of energy supply, substantial further development of nuclear power in the main industrial countries and in the newly industrialising countries, too, seems now unavoidable.

In the United Kingdom our reliance on nuclear power is likely to be more modest by comparison with some other highly industrialised countries, mainly because of our large reserves of coal, oil and gas, but even so it is clear that we must have a nuclear component if we are to maintain our industrial base and an acceptable standard of living. The existing Magnox reactors, together with the advanced gas-cooled reactors already operating or under construction, will provide about 10 gigawatts of capacity, and should contribute about 20 per cent. of our electricity in the 1980s. By the year 2000 thermal reactor capacity is likely to be substantially greater.

This is the broad context in which the Windscale inquiry must be set, and, indeed, these were the background thoughts that led me in the first place to establish the inquiry. But before I turn to the issues raised by the inquiry let me deal with what has, I believe, been a widespread misconception.

It is often said that the proposal to reprocess oxide fuel is inseparably linked to a major nuclear programme involving FBRs. This is not so, for two separate and quite different reasons; first that the plutonium retrieved by reprocessing could be used again in existing thermal reactors, though less efficiently; and, second, that we in Britain already have sufficient plutonium from our existing Magnox reprocessing plants—and shall have more in the years ahead—to enable us, should we decide to do so, to fuel not only the CFR1 but seven more fast-breeder reactors, taking us well into the 21st century. As the inspector rightly concludes, the case for reprocessing can be judged on its own merits, independently of the question whether we decide to embark upon a fast-breeder programme.

It is no secret that initially many interests were opposed to the inquiry. To BNFL and a large section of British industry, to the Japanese Government and power industry, to many trade unions and to many others deeply concerned, as we all are, with the future of our economy and our standard of living, the prospect of delay was very unwelcome. Even so, I decided to have an inquiry for two simple reasons. The first was that I was not satisfied that all the relevant information was available either to the Cumbria County Council or to myself on which to base a fully reasoned and informed decision. The second was my strongly held belief that major new developments in nuclear power must be a subject of public scrutiny and of impartial examination, so that a decision could be reached in full awareness of the views of ordinary citizens as well as of experts from outside the agencies directly engaged in the production, operation and regulation of nuclear facilities. To help secure this I appointed, as the House knows, a very distinguished judge as inspector, and I further appointed as his assessors two men of outstanding eminence in the fields of radiology and chemical engineering.

In my letter of appointment, I made it plain that I wanted the inspector to consider not only the conventional planning issues but the larger questions of the implications of the proposal for health and safety and for the national interest. In the 100 days of inquiry that took place last summer, more than 4 million words of evidence were heard and every aspect of the matter was raised and made subject to cross-examination before the inspector. The scope of the inquiry was exceptionally wide-ranging and I have heard of only one of the parties who thought that the inquiry arrangements were inadequate.

Indeed, I doubt whether any country in the Western world has had a more open and thorough examination of a major nuclear proposal than we have had at Windscale. It has attracted world attention and respect, not least in those countries experiencing public disquiet at their own proposed nuclear developments.

But in my own view, the open procedure would have been incomplete if, at the end of the day, when all the parties to the inquiry had been heard, Parliament itself had been excluded from the debate. I make no apology, therefore, for making use of the special development order procedure that permits the House and me to debate the report before a final decison is made.

I have already said, in my statement to the House on 6th March, that I found the inspector's report to be cogent and persuasive. It is now my duty to say why. The proposal that the inspector had to consider was, as the House knows, the application by British Nuclear Fuels Limited for outline planning permission to build a plant with the capacity of 1,200 tons a year to reprocess spent oxide fuels at Windscale.

In examining the report and in considering its recommendations, I had three considerations that weighed heavily with me. The first concerned waste management and whether the proposed development posed any unacceptable risk to the environment and to the health of our people. The second was whether it presented security problems of such a kind as to pose a new challenge to our democratic way of life. The third was whether the development would adversely affect our policy to prevent proliferation of nuclear weapons. These three matters are dealt with extensively in Mr. Justice Parker's report, and I shall deal with each in turn.

First, then, the risk to the environment. There can be no escaping from the fact that spent fuel has to be dealt with in some way. If we do not reprocess it we shall have to store it for long periods. This is not an easy environmental option.

So we have to consider very carefully whether reprocessing offers the better choice. But let me say at once that if I considered that reprocessing involved any significant radiological danger to the general public, to workers or to the environment, there would be no question of my giving outline planning permission for the proposals which BNFL has put forward.

The inspector examined the various risks in great detail. He concluded, first, that he had no reason to doubt that BNFL would achieve its objective in limiting routine discharges to the environment from the proposed new plant, and that these discharges would be kept to a level which, with all other emissions from Windscale, would still leave the maximum dose to the most exposed members of the public at a fraction of the limits derived from the recommendations of the International Commission on Radiological Protection. Secondly, because of the number of safety arrangements which would be built into the system, he saw the risk of a major accidental release of radioactivity as remote. Thirdly, he saw no significant increase of risk from accident during the transport of materials.

I agree with the inspector's analysis, but we do not live in a static situation. If new evidence causes us to revise our view of the radiological risks, whether to the work force or to the public at large, we have both the obligation and the means to enforce higher standards. The design, construction and operation of nuclear installations are subject to a system of licensing by the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate.

Discharges of radioactive wastes to the environment are controlled under the Radioactive Substances Act 1960 and require my ministerial authority and that of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. The basic principles which we observe are that the resultant radiation doses to the public shall, irrespective of cost, be kept within the limits recommended by the International Commission on Radiological Protection—I repeat, irrespective of cost—and that, as far as is reasonably practicable, these doses shall be reduced far below these levels. Should it prove necessary, in the light of fresh scientific evidence, to impose tighter requirements on BNFL, the Government would be able to do this, and those requirements would have to be complied with if the reprocessing plant were to operate at all. I am satisfied that the level of risk, and the controls at our disposal, are not such as to require me to refuse planning permission on those grounds.

There are, however, more compelling as well as more positive waste management reasons for reprocessing. As the House will recall, the Government, in their White Paper "Nuclear Power and the Environment", welcomed the report of the Flowers Royal Commission. We accepted the Commission's view that we must put much greater effort into the management of nuclear wastes, and develop means for their ultimate disposal. The nuclear waste management function became one of my responsibilities as Secretary of State for the Environment, along with my Scottish and Welsh colleagues. I have, therefore, examined with particular care the views of the inspector on matters of waste management and disposal.

Broadly speaking, there are two possible ways forward. The first is the storage of spent fuel for eventual disposal either in its complete form or after some form of treatment. The second is reprocessing and vitrification of highly active waste, pending ultimate disposal. I accept the inspector's conclusions about the storage of waste. Our Magnox fuel cannot be kept for more than a year or so before we have to reprocess it. Nor can we store our AGR spent fuel indefinitely in ponds. There is a risk that it might deterioriate to a point where it presented a serious hazard.

If we decided not to reprocess, we should have to design and develop new facilities for long-term storage. This would be expensive and would take time. I share the inspector's view that, in the end, we should be unlikely to decide to dispose permanently of spent fuel without reprocessing—partly for reasons of safety, and partly for reasons of fuel economy. In that event the risks would be increased. The fuel would be older, and therefore, perhaps, in worse condition. The expertise would have been dispersed, and to make up for lost time we might have to start reprocessing on a bigger scale than we should have done initially.

Reprocessing and the vitrification of highly active waste seems the more promising approach, in our circumstances, to nuclear waste disposal. To begin with, reprocessing reduces the volume of highly active waste that we have to dispose of. It means that the plutonium and the unused uranium in the spent fuel would not be left in the waste for permanent disposal, with whatever hazard that entails. Having removed the usable fuel, it is possible to vitrify the high-level waste that remains.

I find the inspector's view convincing that highly active waste in the form of glass is likely to be safer for long-term disposal. My conclusion, therefore, is that for environmental reasons we should pursue the reprocessing and vitrification route to long-term disposal, where our research and development is much further advanced, rather than adopt a new and less promising approach.

Mr. Arthur Blenkinsop (South Shields)

On this point, does my right hon. Friend agree that the vitrification process is one that is so far not proved?

Mr. Shore

The vitrification process has been subject to a great deal of research and pilot demonstration. I believe, again, that the evidence is clear that it offers a promising solution to the problem.

Dr. Colin Phipps (Dudley, West)

There remains, however, the problem of disposal of the vitrified waste itself. Is my right hon. Friend aware that an international geological symposium on this very question, held at Strathclyde University before Christmas and attended by over 100 geologists from all over the world, came to the conclusion that at present there is no safe geological formation in which such waste could be buried at any stage?

Mr. Shore

My hon. Friend knows, and I think that the House knows, that in the sense in which my hon. Friend used the word "safe", there is no perfectly safe way of disposing of either non-reprocessed waste or reprocessed waste. It may well be a case for not proceeding along the paths of nuclear development at all. We shall have to get to that particular argument. But frankly, that is not the major argument that is implied in the permission sought by BNFL.

There is, additionally, the resource argument that the plutonium and uranium contained in the spent fuel represent too important an indigenous energy resource for us to waste it. The bulk of uranium resources is concentrated in North America, Australia and South Africa, and only negligible amounts are available within other Western industrialised nations. This is an important argument. But if environmental risks pointed in the opposite direction, the loss would have to be accepted—because the safety of future generations must be of paramount importance.

I come next to the question of terrorism and the fear that the measures that we might have to take to protect plutonium produced in reprocessing could be incompatible with a free society. I recognise and respect this fear, and I certainly cannot give any absolute guarantee against terrorist attack on this or any other major installation.

Nevertheless, the Government have long recognised these hazards. We have considerable experience in maintaining the security of existing stocks of plutonium derived from the reprocessing of Magnox fuel. Strict security precautions are taken both at the Windscale site and for the transit of plutonium to and from Wind-scale. The measures taken have been greatly strengthened in recent years. The arangements are based on international guidelines recommended by the International Atomic Energy Agency. They include the provision of perimeter fences and associated equipment, secure inner areas, and armed guards. The security measures, of course, apply to movements of fuel assemblies or plutonium by all modes of transport—by land, sea and air—whether entirely within this country or whether they start or finish overseas. They are designed to cope with attempts at malicious interference, as well as possible accidents.

The House will not expect me to go into detail, but the measures taken are kept under review and inspected periodically by the Government's security advisers with a view to maintaining the highest standards.

The inspector has made it clear in his report that the reprocessing plant would be designed with as much inbuilt security as possible. This is in line with the Government's policy set out in our White Paper "Nuclear Power and the Environment".

The House will recall that these questions engaged the serious attention of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution, figuring prominently in the Flowers Report. The Commission was satisfied that the risks at the present level of nuclear development were small and that the security measures in force or planned were adequate for present circumstances. The Commission's concern was directed to the security situation which might exist in the next century, in which there were much larger stocks, and more frequent movements, of plutonium than at present.

I now turn to the important question of civil liberties.

Mr. Tom Litterick (Birmingham, Selly Oak)

Does the Secretary of State agree, however, that the chapter in the report that deals with terrorism and civil liberties is far less explicit, far less detailed and far less informative than any other chapter in the report? Perhaps we all understand the logic of the inspector, but it means that the public and the country cannot be as well informed on this matter as, for instance, the Secretary of State, and therefore we have no way of judging whether the Secretary of State's judgment is a good one.

Mr. Shore

I understand and, to some extent, I sympathise with the point made by my hon. Friend, but I believe that it is an inherent difficulty, just as at the Parker inquiry itself there was general agreement between the inspector and the witnesses that they would not go into details of either possible threats or possible counter-measures. I believe that the House itself is faced with precisely that dilemma. It is a dilemma from which I personally cannot see how we can escape.

Mr. Litterick

Let us have a closed sitting.

Mr. Shore

I was mentioning the question of civil liberties. It is, of course, the threat of terrorism which poses a threat to democratic society, not the peaceful use of nuclear power. I share the inspector's view that the building of a reprocessing plant will not itself involve any significant new interference with civil liberties. I am certain that the Royal Commission was right to warn us of the possible dangers for the future which will need to be assessed before we decide on a major commitment to large-scale, nuclear development. Meanwhile I am sure that the Government, and I know this House, will be vigilant in protecting our liberties against encroachment.

The third and major consideration I mentioned was whether the development would adversely affect our policy to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons. The House will recall that as long ago as March 1976 the Government decided that BNFL should be allowed to take on further contracts from overseas customers for the reprocessing of irradiated fuel. This was subject to provisos that contracts included an option to return the residual radioactive waste to the country of origin and that suitable understandings in support of this option should be reached between the United Kingdom Government and the Government of the country concerned. The proposals for the new plant include providing a capacity for foreign reprocessing, including reprocessing under a contract already on offer to us from the Japanese utilities. No contract has however been signed since I called in BNFL's planning application and set up the Windscale inquiry.

The foreign business, particularly the Japanese contract, offers considerable financial and economic advantages. By building a bigger plant, we should achieve significant economies of scale. There would be big gains to the balance of payments. The value of the Japanese contract was put to the inquiry as some £200 or more million at the prices then obtaining. European contracts might be worth as much again. In addition, there would be a further contract to transport fuel from Japan to both Windscale and to the French plant at Cap de la Hague which could be worth another £200 million to £250 million.

Foreign business does mean, however—and this for many is the crux—the return of the plutonium separated in the course of reprocessing. Clearly this raises issues that go far beyond the calculus of economic gain, and we should need to be fully satisfied that by so doing we would not be undermining our major interest in making effective the non-proliferation treaty. If we were not so satisfied we could not, and should not, proceed. My right hon. Friend the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary will cover this ground in more detail at a later stage in the debate. But I want to touch on some aspects now.

The key question which the report poses is whether non-proliferation is more likely to be helped by existing nuclear weapon States providing processed fuels under strict safeguards or whether the effects of denying reprocessed nuclear fuels to non-weapon States is more likely to encourage, if not to drive, them to develop their own reprocessing plants. Let us face these facts. The basic information about the technology of reprocessing is widely available. Many countries could develop it with a sustained effort. Several non-nuclear weapon States already possess pilot reprocessing facilities and others have some experience of the basic technology. Moreover, many of the countries concerned believe that both for energy and environmental reasons reprocessing is to be preferred to storage.

It has been argued that it makes little difference whether our customers reprocess their own plutonium or we return plutonium to them. I disagree. When plutonium is returned under the proposed contractual arrangements it will be in known quantities under safeguards and for known peaceful purposes. That is a very different matter from local production of plutonium which inevitably would be far less easily controlled or supervised. As the House will know, the inspector concluded that the reprocessing of fuel from non-nuclear weapon States, far from conflicting with our policy of non-proliferation, would in fact reinforce it.

However, I scarcely need remind the House that there are other routes to making nuclear weapons than through extracting plutonium via reprocessing. We must continue to apply safeguards to them all. It is for this reason that through the Nuclear Suppliers Group, in which we have been prime movers, we have agreed to apply internationally aproved controls to all our nuclear supplies.

Mr. Robin F. Cook (Edinburgh, Central)

Before my right hon. Friend leaves that point, may I ask him whether he is aware that Mr. Justice Parker recommended that the fuel could be returned in the form of irradiated fuel rods? Can my right hon. Friend give the Government's response to that suggestion and say whether we may expect to see that in the contract?

Mr. Shore

I would not go that far at present. All I can say is that in the nine or 10 years that will elapse between now and the completion of this new plant—if we are to go ahead with it—various ways and methods of reducing the possibilities of misuse of nuclear fuels—including the possibility of irradiating them—will most certainly be examined.

Mr. David Penhaligon (Truro)

Can the Secretary of State possibly give the House some guidance as to what effect the costing of the whole Windscale plant would have if it goes in for the spiking of returned plutonium?

Mr. Shore

Inevitably the costings cannot be precise, but there is no reason to believe that irradiating fuels would in itself lead to such an escalation of price as to make the thing economically unviable.

These controls will extend to the plutonium received for reprocessing and returned to our customers. To prevent nuclear proliferation is a major national objective. If we thought that the Windscale proposals would encourage it, we would most certainly not allow them.

I have dealt so far with the issues determining whether we approve reprocessing. But when we have reached a conclusion on these we still have to turn to two other questions—should the plant be built to the full size that BNFL suggest, and should it go ahead now?

The answer to the size question emerges from points I have already made. We shall need in any event to reprocess fuel from our own AGRs and, even with a minimal nuclear programme, we are likely to need a plant with a throughput of some 600 tonnes a year. There are important financial and economic advantages in providing extra capacity for foreign reprocessing. We believe we are in no sense undermining, but are enhancing, non-proliferation objectives by undertaking the reprocessing of fuel from non-nuclear weapon States. It is therefore right for us to allow the plant to be built to the size BNFL proposes.

Next, the question of timing. It was argued at the inquiry that there would be great advantage in delaying a start on the new plant. It was suggested that this would not close any of our options so long as the spent fuel was stored for future retrieval. I understand that it is likely to be argued today—the Liberal Leader has said so, and outside bodies have focused upon it—that work on the plant should be delayed at least until the outcome of the international fuel cycle evaluation is known in about two years' time.

Let me say a word about INFCE first. Its work will cover the whole fuel cycle, and there is, of course, no obligation under the terms of our participation for us to defer a decision on nuclear projects. We and other countries agreed to take part on that understanding. But, more important, it is not realistic just to assume that the participating Governments—all 40 of them—will come to an agreement that reprocessing, which many of them have long anticipated, is now not necessary and should be abandoned. We hope, however—and we shall work for it—that INFCE will recommend better safeguards, with perhaps greater international participation, for sensitive nuclear plants and movements of nuclear materials.

As the inspector reported, there are a number of reasons why delay is not acceptable. First we must decide our future policy for dealing with spent oxide fuel which is already arising from our existing AGRs and which will increase as new reactors come into operation. I have told the House why I think that reprocessing is the better long-term route for ultimate disposal. I do not believe it is realistic to hope that if we delay construction, the need for the new plant might meanwhile disappear. Our future waste arisings rule this out. And without the plant we shall, of course, lose all prospect not just of the Japanese contract but of contracts with other countries in Europe.

Mr. Frank Dooley (Sheffield, Heeley)

One point on which my right hon. Friend has been absolutely silent so far is the United States decision not to reprocess. It is incorrect to suggest to the House that this is a contract simply between this country and Japan, for example, because the United States is a contractual party and would have a right to decide whether the contract went through or not. At this moment the United States is opposed to reprocessing.

Mr. Shore

I am aware of the United States proposals, which were discussed in the course of the Windscale inquiry. I shall leave it to my right hon. Friend when he winds up the debate to go into the larger issues involved. However, there are very clear differences of situation between the United States and ourselves. First, the United States uses zircaloy-clad fuels which have a much longer life than the steel-clad fuels that we use. This means that the United States has a longer time before it needs to make a decision on reprocessing. Another factor is that the United States has probably the largest concentration of natural uranium in the world.

I attach importance to the arguments about not dispersing the professional and management expertise on which we have to rely in designing and operating the plant. I see the advantages of building up the scale of operations at a reasonable rate so that experience can be gradually gained of a new technique for dealing with heavily irradiated spent oxide fuel.

I agree with the inspector that if we are going to reprocess, it is preferable to start without further delay. To those who ask, "Why the hurry?", I say only that several years have passed since negotiations with overseas countries began, and it is now two years since the Government gave approval in principle to the overseas contracts. It will be another nine to ten years before the plant will begin to operate.

Mr. D. E. Thomas (Merioneth)

Before the Secretary of State leaves the question of timing and the start of expansion at Windscale, will he accept that the basic issue has not been considered in the context of the inquiry—namely, the issue of the extent to which the necessary reprocessing facilities must be related to the percentage of energy generated by nuclear power in Britain? Has he taken account of the evidence given to the inquiry by Professor Odell, who is an adviser to the Secretary of State for Energy?

Mr. Shore

On the immediate expectations of our own nuclear thermal plant and the future nuclear power programme of a conventional kind, we shall need a reprocessing plant with a capacity of 600 tonnes a year.

To sum up then, the Government believe that Mr. Justice Parker's report, based upon all the mass of evidence submitted, and assisted, as he was, by the great expertise of the most distinguished radiological and chemical engineering assessors we could find, has shown that this reprocessing can be carried out without any significant increase in radiological risk; that environmentally it offers a better option than the alternative of storing our spent fuel for disposal in a form which includes the plutonium and unused uranium; that the security risks can be contained in ways compatible with our democratic way of life; and that the reprocessing of foreign fuel does not run counter to our policy to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons.

For all these reasons I commend the report to the House. In the light of its conclusions, I propose, subject to the views expressed in this debate, to lay before the House a special development order to permit the development for which planning permission has been sought.

At the end of his report the inspector made a number of recommendations which he clearly regards as important steps to improve existing arrangements. Some of them are now accepted practice—for example, setting specific discharge limits for each significant radionucleide. A start has already been made on implementing others—for example, a more systematic monitoring of all discharges to the environment.

BNFL has informed me that it proposes, in the light of the inspector's recommendation, to pursue the necessary research into the development of a Krypton arrestment plant and that it will design THORP so that the plant can be added if and when this becomes reasonably practicable.

I can assure the House that the Government intend to give careful attention to all the inspector's recommendations, and I will make a statement as soon as we have reached decisions. In addition, I shall be imposing conditions along the lines he has recommended in chapter 14 of his report in the special development order that I propose to lay before the House.

Mr. Michael Jopling (Westmorland)

The matter about the recommendations is of crucial importance to all those who live in Cumbria. We welcome the intention of a statement of Government reaction to the recommendations. Will this happen before the next debate on the order?

Mr. Shore

There are two separate points here. It was suggested that some of the inspector's recommendations should be part of the planning permission itself. I intend to embody these recommendations in the special development order. However, he makes other more far-reaching recommendations which we are examining and which we shall proceed to adopt as speedily as we can when we have finished our study of them.

Finally, I want to look at the broader picture ahead. I repeat my own strongly held belief that new and important nuclear projects must be the subject of public scrutiny and impartial examination. In this case the public inquiry has been a major element in such a process. This debate is another. What procedure we should follow in future cases is still open. This is new territory and we are still working out our ideas.

There is a whole variety of ways in which we can ensure that the development of our nuclear policy results from deliberate decisions taken after full examination and wide public debate. As the House knows, I have already undertaken that there will be a wide-ranging public inquiry in some form if we were to embark on the first commercial fast breeder reactor, and the Government have undertaken that a special procedure for public consultation should be established if at some stage a full-scale programme of fast breeder reactors was proposed.

Furthermore, I and my environmental colleagues are determined, in exercising our responsibilities in this uniquely important field, to draw on the expertise of as wide a range of independent scientific opinion as we can, and, by making their advice widely known, to open up discussion of the relevant issues so that the public as a whole can play its part.

To this end we hope shortly to announce the appointment of the radio- active waste management advisory committee foreshadowed in the White Paper we published last May in response to the Flowers Commission. By this means we shall, we hope, secure the most expert advice available to us on the management of radioactive waste. On the wider front, the House will have noticed that the Government now set up, under the chairmanship of Sir Brian Flowers, the Commission on Energy and the Environment. This new body will consider the interaction of energy policies and the environment across the board. It will be concerned with all forms of energy, including renewable sources.

I have tried to set out my own approach to and my own thinking about these serious issues. I think, Mr. Speaker, I have said enough to demonstrate that the Government will not be pushed or rushed into crucial decisions on the future of our nuclear programme.

I do not doubt that when the House has completed its own consideration of the Windscale report, public debate on this and on other aspects of nuclear power will continue. That is right in an alert democracy. There are of course a minority among the objectors, who, faced with the dilemma—the menace and the benefit inseparable and inherent in nuclear power—that I described at the beginning, will say "No" to all new development. Logically they would wish to close down the nuclear installations that we already have and they are—quite courageously—prepared to accept the immense economic consequences of such an act of self-denial. There are those, on the other hand, who are so impervious to the dangers, so persuaded by the advocates of nuclear technology, so convinced of the coming calamity of energy shortage, that they dismiss with impatience all deliberation and delay.

But I believe that the great majority of our people, including many of the objectors and the protagonists at Wind-scale, as well as a minority of the Members of this House, will take a different view, and that they will approve—perhaps with reservations—the open and cautious approach that we have adopted. They will have confidence—but not blind faith—in the skill and integrity of our scientists and engineers. They will be fully conscious of—but not paralysed by—the great risks as well as the benefits that increased nuclear power can bring. They will know that all major new developments in the nuclear field now and in the future will be openly and stringently examined. Finally they will be assured that this Government—and I believe all their successors—will proceed, and be allowed to proceed, only when the weight of evidence and all the relevant factors indicate that it is the right and responsible thing to do.

5.21 p.m.

Mr. Tom King (Bridgwater)

I should like to start by congratulating the Secretary of State for the Environment on his speech. He has had to master a complex and involved subject with which some of us with energy responsibilities have to live a little more. I think that the whole House will have been impressed by the way in which he presented the Government's case. We are also grateful to him for the fact that he has made this debate possible by the somewhat unusual procedure to which we readily acceded. We did so because we shared his view that it was unthinkable that Parliament should not have a part to play in this important decision.

However, one is bound to add one's regret and surprise that the Secretary of State for Energy is playing no part in this debate. I mean no disrespect to the Foreign Secretary, since the overseas implications are real, but the Secretary of State for Energy is the sponsoring Minister for BNFL, the Minister who authorised BNFL to proceed with negotiations on the Japanese contract which is at the heart of this matter—yet he is to be a silent passenger throughout the debate. We must regret that.

Mr. Shore

The hon. Gentleman will wish to be fair, I think. I am sure that if the debate had been closed by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy—as he would have been quite happy to do—there would have been equal objections from other hon. Members that the Foreign Secretary had been excluded.

Mr. King

I think that the Secretary of State will understand the point that I am making. I would add that we welcome the strikingly different and non-equivocal approach to this subject from that which we more often have from the Secretary of State for Energy.

Mr. Litterick

You are obsessed with him. Get on with it.

Mr. King

I sincerely congratulate the Secretary of State on affording us the opportunity for this debate, but I think that the House will agree that that opportunity carries a major responsibility. Mr. Justice Parker has played a valuable part in the process of this decision, but he is not the final arbiter. Parliament has an important role to play.

Mr. Justice Parker referred to his report as an element in this decision, and that is correct. Now it is Parliament's turn to discharge its responsibilities and we have to approach this decision in the wider political context. We know that there have been some criticisms of the report, some of them due perhaps to the fact that people were expecting too much of Mr. Justice Parker—as though he could resolve the political issues and take the ultimate political decisions as well.

When one considers this wide and major issue, involving considerations of Government energy, environmental and foreign policy, one understands why this finally has to be a political decision taken by Ministers accountable to Parliament. Towards that process, Mr. Justice Parker's report is a valuable contribution.

In exercising the responsibility that we owe the country on this occasion, I hope that we shall be able to avoid the sort of scaremongering and the exaggerated claims which have marked some of the debate on this issue in the, country and in the newspapers. Every hon. Member—whether or not, like me, he has nuclear power stations in his constituency—knows that there are causes for concern over nuclear power. Mr. Justice Parker specifically says that there are grounds for anxiety.

But I hope that hon. Members will tonight put these matters in a proper perspective. It was interesting to see in the report how easily misunderstandings and confusions arise. The incident of the blistered fish in the Irish Sea was one example of something which turned out to have been a long-established event. Perhaps the Foreign Secretary will be able to give us the medical title for the virus involved. However, it was not attributable to the subject that we are discussing tonight.

In one Sunday newspaper, which had better be nameles on this occasion—[HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] When I have told hon. Members what it said, they will understand. In an authoritative article, it said that, by the year 2000, there would be 1 million reactors in the world, and that, because the probability of accident was postulated at one million to one, it was therefore probable that there would be one reactor accident every year.

If the public are served with that sort of ludicrous and misleading information, it is no wonder that there is concern. I hope that the House will play its part in avoiding such exaggeration.

I certainly hope that this debate will not be used for the sort of political opportunism which the issue does not require. If the report that I have heard is true—that one political party, which perhaps also had better remain nameless, has thought of dividing the House on such a serious matter—I would regard that as the cheapest form of political involvement.

I hope also that we can recognise, as do the more serious commentators and those concerned about this issue, that we should avoid polarisation. I was pleased to see in the report Mr. Justice Parker's tribute to the balanced moderation shown by the Friends of the Earth at the inquiry—which is exactly what I would have expected of that organisation. That tribute unfortunately was not extended to all the witnesses. Any of us who studies the subject knows the problems.

I hope also that we shall recognise that this is not a battle between nuclear enthusiasts and the environmentalists. There are plenty of sincere people who believe that the nuclear solution is the best environmental solution and who, from an environmental standpoint, have come to support the nuclear case.

As was made clear in an intervention earlier, some people see the root of this problem in the basic concept of nuclear power. It is therefore my duty at the start to make clear the Conservative Party's position on nuclear power itself. All our problems and all the discussions flow from the basic adoption of a measure of nuclear power.

My first agreement with Mr. Justice Parker is in his refusal to adopt any specific energy forecast for the future. Anyone who has studied this problem knows that the only certainty about any energy forecast is that it will be wrong. The hon. Member for Merioneth (Mr. Thomas) was concerned that Professor Peter Odell's forecasts of energy supplies had not been taken into account by Mr. Justice Parker. Professor Odell would have been the first to be surprised if they had, because he is well aware that he represents a minority view in that respect.

I think that I am right to say that, although certain objectors have tried to claim that Professor Odell is an adviser to the Secretary of State for Energy, he is not an adviser in that respect. The Secretary of State may like to correct that, but I think that it is the position. I therefore agree that one cannot take a specific energy forecast for the future.

Therefore, with that uncertainty, we take the same view as was expressed in the Flowers Report. We have no interest in nuclear power for its own sake. We have no desire to see nuclear power expanded beyond its needs. We do not accept an inevitable commitment to expansion of nuclear power, first because we believe that there is the greatest scope for conservation. I think that that theme was implicit in certain interventions. We certainly believe that there is much greater scope than has been shown for a reduction of the growth of energy demand—perhaps even a net reduction.

We also believe that the possibilities of alternative new sources of energy must be investigated much more vigorously. We certainly hope that those will be successful. The fact that every hon. Member has to recognise is that there is no single guarantee, in any one of the new so-called renewable energy sources, either as to in what quantity or at what date such supplies might be available. It is against that background, with no guarantee of alternative energy sources, and with the knowledge of the possibility—I do not make any more claim than that—that our fossil fuel reserves will diminish, that nuclear power could have a role to play.

We think that it would be an act of the gravest irresponsibility to abandon that option now. We believe, with Mr.

Justice Parker, that it is right for that option to be kept open. But we recognise that, if that option is kept open, it brings with it the problems of waste and the question of re-processing. We know, as the Secretary of State has said, that the problem of re-processing is not new. It is not implicit in some future programme. It is `with us now, with our Magnox, our advanced gas-cooled reactor programme, and the planned programme of nuclear reactors round the world.

It is against that background that I turn specifically to Mr. Justice Parker's report. I pay tribute to this remarkable document. I slightly regret the tone of one or two of the comments about the witnesses, but that may be a reflection of the sheer physical ordeal that we imposed on Mr. Justice Parker. I believe that the report is a quite remarkable achievement in very many respects.

I should like to identify some common ground. I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine) may be referring to some aspects of the conventional planning issues. These seem to be well covered in Mr. Justice Parker's report, and I do not propose to spend time on them. The longest chapter, dealing with routine discharges, is very thorough and useful, and there are important recommendations on monitoring. I noted the Secretary of State's comment that he would proceed to adopt the recommendations after studying them. I am not clear whether that was an undertaking that they would all be adopted. Perhaps his right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary will clarify that in his winding-up speech. We attach great importance to those recommendations. I know that those of my hon. Friends with constituencies in the area certainly do.

I turn next to the issues of need, safety and proliferation. The Secretary of State has covered very well the issue of need. There will be waste, and we believe that the arguments for reprocessing set out in the report are persuasive. The point is made in the closing chapter that reprocessing will be a necessity for at least one of the weapon States for the fuels which fail in reactors or deteriorate in storage. I know that a considerable number of hon. Members will wish to deal with the question of need, and I shall not seek to deploy some of the arguments of the Secretary of State on this aspect with which I agree.

Need can be split into two parts. First, there is the need to reprocess. Secondly, there is the question whether we need to reprocess now. Do we need to start this plant so soon? Reference was made to INFCE in this connection. I accept Mr. Justice Parker's arguments about a delay as meaning that maybe later we shall have to rush, with all the hazard that that may involve.

My understanding is that if the House approves and the Secretary of State authorises this procedure, there will be no start on construction at THORP before 1982 in any case and the first concrete will not be poured before that date. The only thing that will be needed is the construction of the storage ponds, and it will be impossible to sign the order without the knowledge that those ponds can be constructed. But construction of the THORP processing plant will not start before 1982, and that covers abundantly the problem of INFCE. The Foreign Secretary might like to confirm that later, as it is an important point.

Mr. Leo Abse (Pontypool)

If there is no need at all for the order for the necessary design work and the construction of ponds, why cannot we wait for the international fuel cycle evaluation before any decision is made?

Mr. King

I did not quite understand the hon. Gentleman's question about there being no need for the order. There is a need, as I understand it; if the plant is to proceed on the scale required. Obviously in this connection the Japanese contract makes a valuable contribution to the commercial case. I shall say something later about the way I put commercial arguments in the relative order of importance. But if we are to include the Japanese contract in our calculations, there is a need to confirm that we are prepared to proceed with the order, for which the storage ponds will be required. The hon. Gentleman's intervention raises an important point, and it will be valuable to have the answer at the end from the Foreign Secretary.

I now turn to the arguments about safety. I said that the commercial arguments have a place, but I am not prepared to consider any commercial arguments first, since it seems to me to have no relevance whatesover unless we accept that the project is basically safe. There was an exchange earlier in the course of which claims were made for absolute safety. I accept that this is a relative matter. The Secretary of State referred to the menace and benefit of nuclear power. That phrase can be applied to many other energy sources as well.

The House is debating the threat of nuclear energy at the very time when "Amoco Cadiz" is belching out vast quantities of oil across half the Brittany coast. I recall that only three months ago we heard about the King Report—no connection with myself—dealing with gas explosions, which cost many lives in our cities, as a result of the use of natural gas. We also know that Mr. Scargill has quoted, somewhat misleadingly, the figures of deaths in the mines. Even as clean a source as hydro-electric power, involving the use of dams, can also result in accidents. These hazards exist right across the board. I recommend to hon. Members the very important report issued by the Health and Safety Commission, which discusses the relative hazards of conventional sources of energy.

It is against that background that I make no apology for saying that we cannot talk about absolute safety in these matters. We can talk only of relative safety. In that respect, it must be accepted that the current record of the nuclear industry is quite remarkably good.

Mr. Litterick

Does the hon. Gentleman not concede that there is a qualitative difference between a man being killed or maimed in a coal mine and a matter of possible genetic mutation, which is a different order of risk for the entire race?

Mr. King

That is just the sort of thing that I was referring to earlier when I spoke about the misleading fears that could be spread. The hon. Gentleman has no evidence to back up what he has said.

Mr. Litterick

Who has?

Mr. King

The current record of the nuclear industry is remarkably good. If I were employed in one of the energy industries, I have no doubt in which I should feel safest.

We have the figures in the Health and Safety Commission report. I accept that the problem with nuclear power is not what has happened, because the record has been outstanding, but fears of what might happen, but these fears are unproven and the evidence is extremely slender. Dr. Stewart's evidence in the Parker Report and the arguments about what should be the level of emissions and what are hazardous levels lead me to accept that there are dangers and problems that need further investigation.

However, I know of no field of energy in which there are not potential hazards that need further investigation. For example, the transfer and shipment of liquified natural gas is one area which may occupy increasing attention. We must recognise that there are problems in many areas.

Mr. Arthur Palmer (Bristol, North-East)

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that trade unions in the industry and trade unionists, who are closer to this business than almost anyone, are in favour of the expansion?

Mr. King

I endorse what the hon. Gentleman said. Of course, he knows the industry extremely well.

I am also aware that Friends of the Earth, with whom I have discussed these issues, are not actually opposed to the continuing development of thermal nuclear reactors. They may see them as a way to avoid dependence on fast breeder reactors and they may feel that they face Morton's fork. I hesitate to quote Mr. Justice Parker, because I know that some of those who were quoted claim that they were taken out of context, but Walter Paterson is alleged to have said that he was far less worried about pollution from Windscale than about lead from the exhaust of a car. This is, again, a question of balance.

There is one area of safety in which I identified one apparent difficulty of Mr. Justice Parker on which I hope the Foreign Secretary will comment. On the question of safety and the environmental performance of the plant, it is said that the ultimate responsibility will be with the nuclear inspectorate. Mr. Justice Parker then goes on to question the calibre of the representatives of the inspectorate, but ends his report by saying that ultimately it will have the responsibility and that it does not matter because these aspects will ultimately be under the inspectorate's control. That is a point that should be clarified, because it is not clear.

I understand entirely the point made earlier that the security and civil liberties aspect is the thinnest and least adequate part of the report, but there are obvious reasons for that. Clearly the recommendations for an independent vetting procedure are important and in this area, as in others, security will ultimately be the responsibility of Ministers and it will be for them to see that it is adequately enforced. It is almost impossible for us to debate this matter, because of the lack of evidence and, arising from the nature of the subject, because of our inability to investigate it further.

The key issue is the question of non-proliferation. I share the Secretary of State's view that Mr. Justice Parker's arguments are persuasive on this subject. Perhaps he put some slightly undue emphasis on the legalistic interpretation of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. Whatever one reads into that treaty, the logic of it is clear. There is an implicit bargain in the treaty that, for the consideration of not engaging in their own programmes of nuclear weapons, third countries will not be prevented from access to civil nuclear power. If we say that there will be no reprocessing, it is a positive incitement to third countries to do it themselves. It seems infinitely preferable that reprocessing should be concentrated in the existing weapon States with proper controls on return of fuel.

However, I do not know how many hon. Members appreciate the strong feelings of third countries about the major nuclear Powers' future attitude to nuclear power. They see the major nations deciding to opt out of nuclear power, buying increasing quantities of fossil fuels and outpricing them in the market. They see the major nations outbidding them for scarce conventional energy supplies and forbidding them access to nuclear power. Even if that is not a recipe for world friction and conflict, it will certainly lead to great difficulties.

It is important that hon. Members should appreciate that there is very strong feeling in third countries. The Foreign Secretary will be able to back up that fact. That has been my experience of the views of those countries on this sub- ject, and it is an important point which we must consider.

If, therefore, we decide that, in the interests of non-proliferation, the best way of controlling the hazardous aspects of nuclear fuel would be to concentrate reprocessing in certain weapon States, as at present, we have to recognise that is is not an issue in which we have the sole determination. I hope that the Foreign Secretary will say something about how he sees the future of the project.

Mr. Justice Parker reminded us that no matter what he had said in his recommendations, they were no guarantee that the project would go ahead. There are technical questions, such as whether BNFL will satisfy the nuclear inspectorate about the design of the plant and be able to meet the emission standards.

There is also the fundamental point whether the Japanese—not the Government, but the 10 utilities who will be co-signatories of the contract—will be authorised to ship the fuel to this country. That is the MB 10 procedure which, I understand, has been strengthened by the recent Act. Obviously it is a crucial element in whether there will be any Japanese contract.

I appreciate that the Foreign Secretary may not be able to say much about this matter, but it is important for us to realise that this is the situation. When the House approves the order that will be brought forward, it is not fully guaranteed that the project will proceed.

As far as Mr. Justice Parker has been able to go within his terms of reference, and subject to the conditions that he has recommended, we believe that he has produced a valuable report and we support his recommendations. We recognise that this marks an important development in the democratic procedure for discussing major projects of this kind, though we recognise that it is not perfect in every respect.

Mr. Justice Parker drew attention to a number of problems. Nevertheless, on balance we regard the report as a major success. I think that we can learn from the lessons of it. If we proceed, as the Secretary of State indicated, to an inquiry on the fast breeder, we can incorporate the lessons learned to ensure that in issues of this kind, there is a procedure that will enable people to feel that they have been consulted and that the issues have been fairly discussed. Against that background, bearing in mind that a start has been well made and in support of the final conclusions of Mr. Justice Parker, we welcome this debate.

5.52 p.m.

Mr. Leo Abse (Pontypool)

I agree with the hon. Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King) in regretting the absence from this debate of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy. My right hon. Friend would have been able to repeat what he said in the debate which I had the privilege of initiating on 2nd December last year, when he said: In my political life I have never known such a well-organised scientific, industrial and technical lobby as the nuclear power lobby. It is not so much the Friends of the Earth as what Eisenhower might have called the nuclear industrial complex of which I am aware as a Minister."—[Official Report, 2nd December 1977; Vol. 940, c. 972.] In that debate there was a request from both sides of the House that no decision on Windscale should take place without publication of the report and full public and parliamentary involvement in the ultimate decision. Just as the Secretary of State for the Environment has described how British Nuclear Fuels Limited was irritated by his bold decision to call in the planning application, so equally was that organisation and the nuclear industry vexed at the suggestion that there should be the public debate that is now proceeding. They hardly attempted to disguise their impatience.

The nuclear power lobby from the time of the debate in December set up a well-orchestrated campaign to ensure that the debates should be held speedily and a decision made without delay. That this debate has been so speedily convened two weeks after publication of the report, and that we are threatened with the laying of the order so soon after the recess, must be a source of great satisfaction to the nuclear lobby as it is one of dismay to those of us who recognise the awesome nature of the decision we are making and the compelling reasons that exist for delay.

In my opinion, we are being hustled into a decision. The House is entitled to ask why, given the time scale revealed at the inquiry, the nation should be so stampeded. The House will be aware of the reasons offered by BNFL on the need to construct this reprocessing plant. It is claimed that reprocessing is desirable as an energy conservation measure and would help to secure indigenous fuel resources; that it would keep open the option which many of us dread—namely, that we could move into the plutonium economy by way of the fast breeder reactor; that the project is needed on waste management grounds; and that the plant should be large enough to reprocess Japanese spent fuel to bring in foreign business and help our balance of payments.

While BNFL has been putting forward this demand, President Carter has put forward his requests to the world to halt reprocessing. Those requests have been delicately made, from a State which has learned its lesson of the dangers of hubris following the searing experience of Vietnam. The statement was made with such modesty that last week some of America's most distinguished Senators and Representatives, alarmed that President Carter's tact should be malevolently interpreted by the nuclear lobby in Europe, felt compelled to ask the President to be more abrupt in the presentation of the case and to make his proposals clear to all—even to those who, for sinister reasons, wish to obfuscate the issue.

President Carter's policy found expression in the Downing Street agreement and in the fact that more than 14 nations joined together to use the time created by President Carter's bold initiative by unilaterally deferring indefinitely commercial reprocessing. to have an international nuclear fuel cycle evaluation to explore and assess, in what President Carter called "the pause", the development of technology, including safer arrangements and improved safeguards to permit all nations to achieve their energy objectives while preventing the spread of nuclear weapons.

Mr. Geoffrey Johnson Smith (East Grinstead) rose

Mr. Abse

No, I do not wish to give way, because if I and others do so, very few Back Benchers will have an opportunity to speak.

This evaluation of the international fuel cycle is now taking place, and it includes a new assessment of the world uranium supplies which might emancipate the world from early dependence on the plutonium economy which is threatening our lives and liberty. The evaluation is likely to be substantially completed in 18 months' time.

In my opinion the key question in this debate is whether the reasons proffered by BNFL are so immediately compelling that, although it may be seen—as it will be seen to the world—to be sabotaging President Carter's initiatives to arrest nuclear proliferation, nevertheless post haste we must give BNFL the go-ahead to construct the reprocessing plant. The question is whether the reasons are so clamorous and threatening to the nation that we could find ourselves a few decades hence with a terrifying energy gap if we delay the decision by 18 months or perhaps two years.

Let me be fair to BNFL. When I put the question last week to the assistant managing director of BNFL, he in no way sought to suggest that three of the four reasons I have just adumbrated would bring any serious disadvantage. I refer to energy conservation, keeping the options open, and waste management. Nobody who has read the Windscale evidence or who has considered the time scale could reach any other conclusion. The answer given to me as the reason repeatedly publicly canvassed in recent months by Mr. Con Allday, the BNFL director, was that delay would result in economic disadvantage and that we would put at risk the gaining of the Japanese contract.

The nation should clearly understand that the proposition put to us is that if we do not immediately agree to the demands of Japanese commercial and financial interests to become their nuclear dustbin, and out of the bin to return to them the potential atom-bomb plutonium, we could lose hundreds of millions of pounds. But a terrible price will need to be paid by us to gain what, despite its seductive financial advantages, is no fairy godmother contract. It means that we are entering into an export business which will have appallingly malignant side effects.

When, ignoring Mr. Carter's pleas, we hold out ourselves as a reservoir of the world's nuclear waste and the exporter of plutonium, let none pretend, least of all the Foreign Secretary and the Foreign Office, that whatever gloss they may put upon the matter there do not immediately come into existence, if we go ahead, fundamental differences between us and the United States of America, which the Foreign Secretary rightly described a few weeks ago as our trusted ally. There would be fundamental differences between ourselves and the United States on energy policy.

Let us not pretend that we can, by any inspectorate system yet devised, control the plutonium which we shall dare to export. Victor Gilinski, the Commissioner of the United States Nuclear Regulating Commission, whose cogent explanations of United States policy should be compulsory reading for every Member of Parliament and every official in the Department of the Environment and the Foreign Office who may seek to smudge the issue, has put the matter squarely. He has mocked those who, panting for profit-making in the export of plutonium and enriched uranium, absurdly claim that all that is needed is to beef up the IAEA current inspections, to have more inspectors and equipment.

Let me quote some of Mr. Gilinski's comments, because they bear entirely on the responsibility we are taking upon ourselves if we say that we shall be the exporter of plutonium to other countries. He said, talking about this question of the use of inspections to control plutonium if we export it: Periodic inspections of nuclear power programmes involving only power reactors can provide a significant degree of protection by providing international warning of possible wrongdoing. This is because it takes many months or years to obtain the plutonium separation capability to turn reactor fuel into a form usable for weapons awareness of a reliable advance warning system which would spot such activity serves as a deterrent to illicit bomb programmes. It is important here to appreciate that vital element of time: the object of international inspection is to frustrate the purpose of the diversion by ringing an alarm in time to alarm for counter-action by the international community. If sufficient time for effective response is not provided, safe guards' won't work. In other words, from the moment spent reactor fuel is translated into separated plutonium and stored"— something we intend to do when we export it— the element of 'timely' warning, on which our present safeguards system has been relying, evaporates. Mr. Gilinski also said, warning us: So long as individual nations are permitted to keep nuclear explosive stockpiles"— as we are intending to allow nations if we export plutonium from the Wind-scale plant— they are, in effect, in possession of an option to make nuclear weapons almost literally overnight. There is no possibility of having any inspectorate once we have taken the decision to export plutonium outside.

What has Parker to say to all these admonitions? What has the Secretary of State for the Environment to say about them? Even though Parker desperately seeks to extrapolate some United States policy statements to justify his conclusions—the devil quoting scripture for his own purpose—he has, reluctantly but clearly, to accept that to export plutonium would be to thwart the United States' efforts to halt nuclear proliferation. In paragraph 6.23 of his report he states the position abundantly clearly. He says: it appears to be clear that the building of THORP itself would not be counter to US policy so long as no plutonium produced by it was exported. So limited there would be no direct increase in proliferation risks. But it is not intended to be so limited. Ultimately, Parker has no alternative, as the hon. Member for Bridgwater said, but to challenge the whole basis of the carefully thought-through policy of the President.

Parker gives the absurdly unconvincing response that we should expand our reprocessing plant and provide facilities and plutonium to others because otherwise other countries will go ahead and do it themselves. The argument was adopted by the Secretary of State for the Environment. That is an argument which has been heard in this House before. It was heard when the slave trade was being conducted, when it was said that if we did not do it, others would. That was the argument used to justify our involvement. It is being used now to justify our being involved in the exporting of plutonium.

In this context the contention is both false and humbug. It is false because if it takes a country as sophisticated as we are in nuclear technology a decade to develop the reprocessing plant, how long would it take a novice country— unless, of course, we collude, as already British Nuclear Fuels is colluding through a consortium, with Germany, to provide, as is the evident intention, to countries such as Brazil, which have not even signed a non-proliferation treaty, the nuclear know-how and enriched uranium that will eventually enable Brazil to achieve its declared goal of having its own plutonium processing plant?

This contention is humbug because Parker is not genuinely concerned about proliferation. No one who reads paragraph 6.25 can doubt that he makes it abundantly clear, with a nationalist flourish, that he would sweep aside such concerns, which people like me have and which he would undoubtedly regard as namby-pamby. Parker believes that such concerns should be swept aside in the interests of needed absolute resources independence for this country.

The House has learned much recently of the unself-conscious prejudices of too many of our judges. Parker's response to the internationalism of President Carter is replete with puny provincialism. He reacts to the hazards of the twenty first century, if we ever reach it, with all of the dated chauvinism of the nineteenth century. Then, to mitigate his bellicosity, he says that in any event we can diminish the dangers by spiking the plutonium we export—a method technically unproven, undoubtedly prohibitively costly, probably in breach of the Japanese contract and certainly involving total and varied redesigning of any nuclear reactor intended to receive the material.

It is no wonder that even Parker, in the conclusion of his proliferation chapter, has to acknowledge that this is a matter which I cannot assess. Its assessment is a matter for the Government and depends amongst other things on information on the reactions of other countries to the policy. It depends not only on the Government and other countries; it depends on this Parliament, on the people of this country and in particular on parents and the young people.

If, without waiting for the international evaluation, we go ahead, we confirm to the world our role as nuclear hawks and destroy our credibility as a nation genuinely concerned to make the attempt to arrest nuclear proliferation. We also dissociate ourselves from the nuclear doves, from the United States, Holland, Canada. Instead, we shall be contributing, with a Germany hell-bent on making money out of the Brazilian atomic contract and with a France wishing to make money out of her Pakistan deal, to ensuring that the world will be awash with plutonium.

I intend to use emotive language, language which, apparently, some people are diffident about using over such an issue. I believe that some of the atomic salesmen are like pimps peddling a diseased harlotry, eager for profits, ready to put into world circulation cancer and death—

Mr. J. W. Rooker (Birmingham, Perry Barr)


Mr. Abse

I will not follow prim Mr. Parker who so bitterly complained that even words such as "the plutonium economy"—words coined by the distinguished and responsible Royal Commission—should not be used. Mr. Justice Parker suggests that they are too emotive. Cool language and a determined strangulation of effect will not in reality distance us from the awesome consequences of allowing, through the development of the civil nuclear industry, plutonium to fall into the hands of the Amins, the Gadaffis, the PLO and the Red Guards.

I commend the Daily Mirror when it draws to our attention the potential dangers that exist even in Japan. I am well aware, as anyone is who is perceptive and has visited Japan, that not all the Japanese are committed to the pacifist stance that they sometimes publicly present. There are dangerous elements within Japanese society that have never forgotten Hiroshima. They react to it not with pacifism but with ill-feeling towards the West, which they believe was responsible for the catastrophe.

We are about to adjourn for Easter. I look back to my forebears in Palestine 2,000 years ago, to Jews like Jesus and Paul. They were preaching to a world that received its message and continued with its message, largely because it believed that it was a world in which Doomsday was coming. It felt that the end of the world was coming. I recall, too, that in the year 1000 all Europe was in a frenzy, fearing that that was to be the fateful year.

Those superstitions and beliefs proved to be ill-founded. The world did not end. It did not end in the first century or during the year 1000, but could any of us have the same sense of confidence about the year 2000 if we had plutonium all around the world, which could be translated into horrific atomic bombs in a matter of hours? Can any of us feel convinced that we have a future?

I am a man of 60 years of age. It is time for all people of my age to contemplate death. That must come to us all. However, for the first time in human history man has to contemplate the possibility of the destruction of the human species. It is the first time that man has had that capacity. I do not say that we alone as a nation can prevent that catastrophe. However, I do know that we can make a contribution towards its prevention.

I deplore the fact that Britain has far from co-operated with the initiative that has come from President Carter. I deplore the cynicism that suggests that the President is motivated because the United States has large uranium supplies. Because we are not doing too badly for energy supplies ourselves, we should, without difficulty, respond wholeheartedly to President Carter's initiative. The fact is that when each hon. Member takes a decision at the end of these debates he will be taking on the most awesome responsibility to befall any Member of Parliament in the history of the House of Commons.

6.15 p.m.

Mr. Patrick McNair-Wilson (New Forest)

I begin by declaring an interest. I am associated with a company that produces graphite that is used in moderators in nuclear power plants.

I do not believe that the hon. Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse) has added much to the debate on this difficult problem. The hon. Gentleman is someone to whom I enjoy listening, but the immoderate language that he used in some parts of his speech did nothing to help us understand this difficult matter. In this debate and in all debates on nuclear energy we must try to separate fact from fiction, and justified and necessary concern from statements that create unjustifiable fear and nervousness in the minds of those who do not understand the intricacies of the problem.

There is so much jargon that it is easy to frighten old ladies and others in my constituency and in other constituencies when giving them the facts. I want to see nuclear reprocessing and nuclear power set in the context of being an essential and integral component of an energy equation which we in the developed world have to solve if we are to give prosperity, and, I hope, peace, to our own citizens and to those of other countries.

I agree that energy forecasting has proved fallible in detail, but over the past 20 years forecasters have shown themselves fairly accurate in their forecasts of the total demand for energy. Therefore, we can say with some degree of certainty in respect of our oil and gas resources, those under our own hand on the Continental Shelf, that they will tend to peak out during the 1980s and early 1990s, and that the alternative sources to which the Secretary of State referred—solar, wind, wave, tidal and geothermal—will not be able to make any significant contribution to our energy needs until well towards the end of the 1990s. If we look even further ahead towards fusion, we are looking well into the middle of the next century.

Coal is plentiful in Britain, and some argue that we do not need nuclear power. They contend that the coal industry is able to bear the whole strain. It is true that there are large resources, but we have to face the rising cost of production and, perhaps, eventually the difficulty of recruiting miners to do what is becoming, quite rightly, a much less attractive job.

If we are to have a flexible and sensible energy policy, the nuclear power element is essential. The cost per kilowatt hour of the stations commissioned by the CEGB over the past 12 years demonstrate that on average nuclear power comes out far cheaper than coal or oil. As most of us already know, nuclear power is producing just under 20 per cent. of our present requirements. However, very soon when the new stations come on stream the production from nuclear power will be well over 20 per cent.

We are talking not about a novel gimmick but about an established form of power that has been serving the nation excellently for 25 years. We have noted with satisfaction that it is a form of power that has proved itself to be thoroughly safe. There have been far fewer accidents in the nuclear power industry than in many other forms of generation.

It is right that we should be concerned about the real problems and health hazards to which reference has been made. However, as recently as last year the Soviet deputy Minister of Health wrote in Pravda as follows: Nuclear power stations have considerable advantages over thermal stations from a health point of view. Nuclear power stations do not consume oxygen and do not pollute the atmosphere with sulphurous compounds… As for the disposal of radioactive waste, this was comparable with the discharge of thermal power stations, since organic fuel contains natural radioactive admixtures. I am making the point that no form of power is without its health hazards. It may be safely said that every time we try to kill a fly with an aerosol or fill up our soda water siphon with a CO2 bottle we are adding to the layer of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. In that way we may ultimately be doing ourselves far more harm than that which may be caused by radiation from our power stations.

A nuclear generation programme without nuclear reprocessing facilities is like owning a car without having access to a filling station or a garage. The fact is that we need the reprocessing facility for our programme. We need it if we are to carry out our programme successfully. Our spent fuel has to be reprocessed somewhere, or stored. If we have the Windscale facilities, which is the case, they should be built upon and expanded.

Secondly, we already have an excellent enrichment programme at Capenhurst. Therefore, we are again talking about something that already exists. However, we are concerned about how big the facilities should be.

As has been pointed out on a number of occasions, if we can get the cost benefits of scale that the expanded Windscale plant can give us, we can not only make money from overseas orders but reprocess our own spent fuels more cheaply and so in turn give a greater service to the customers who use electricity.

Much play has been made about the attitude of the American Administration to nuclear reprocessing. President Carter's attitude has been variously described in the debate. The fact is that, as the Foreign Secretary will no doubt point out tonight, there is nothing in what President Carter has said that suggests that those who have reprocessing facilities should not continue with them. Indeed, he has clearly said: They have a perfect right to go ahead and continue with their reprocessing efforts. He said that in April last year, when he was outlining his nuclear programme. Therefore, the idea that has been put about that this runs contrary to American policy is absolute rubbish.

Mr. Penhaligon

Is the hon. Gentleman saying that when President Carter said that, he was keen on countries other than his own building more reprocessing plants?

Mr. McNair-Wilson

President Carter has made it clear that he does not want new reprocessing plants in countries that do not already have them. He has said absolutely nothing about curtailing the activities of countries that do enjoy them. Indeed, we must make clear, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King), that the United States has colossal resources of uranium. Like all precious commodities in the world, uranium is a finite commodity. For the United States, talking in these terms, the problem is quite different from that which faces us. Anyhow, the United States Administration has not in any way suggested that we should not continue with our reprocessing efforts.

Another worry which has been canvassed concerns plutonium. It is suggested that terrorists and others can get into the act by blackmailing the world, but to try to make explosive devices out of reactor grade material is not only highly dangerous for the constructor; it is almost certain to be thoroughly unreliable for the user. Terrorists already have the ability to obtain all the normal forms of explosive that they require. Therefore, I cannot believe that they will set out to construct weapons using plutonium, which is unsuitable for the purpose. After all, there is plenty of military-grade nuclear material available which could presumably be hijacked by a terrorist group. I do not regard that as a serious threat.

However, I recognise that the proliferation of nuclear weapons world-wide should be discouraged.

Nothing in the argument of the antiWindscale lobby leads me to believe that if we prevented this expansion going ahead, or even if we were prepared to stop the whole of our nuclear programme dead in its tracks, it would have the slightest effect on the determination of those in the Communist world, the Brazilians, or whoever, to get this kind of power under their control. I do not think that the argument that if we stop, the world will stop is valid. We live in a world in which nuclear power exists. It is doing a first-class job—in my estimation, at any rate—and we are bound to see it expand.

Finally, there is the question of the storage of waste. I was very interested in what the Secretary of State said about vitrification. Obviously, that is the longterm answer. Even using the double-skin stainless steel tanks that have been in operation for 25 to 30 years, we have had no accidents. That is a matter not for self-congratulation, but of record. There is always a first time. However, if we can move to a safer form of storage, using the glass technique, we shall be taking that element of danger further out of the problem. I very much hope that that possibility will be further explored.

Nuclear power at all levels has shown itself to be a thoroughly useful, safe and valuable addition to our economic life. If we in Parliament were to stop or to hinder the expansion of an essential part of that programme, namely, the reprocessing element, by any decision taken tonight, we should do great damage not only to this industry, which has served us so well, but to ourselves.

The future is clouded with doubt, but let us hope that we live in a world of expanding opportunity—a world in which more energy and material goods will be required by many. Nuclear power can make its contribution in that world. I believe that it is up to us to give it every encouragement.

6.26 p.m.

Mr. Arthur Palmer (Bristol, North-East)

Many of those who wish to take part in the debate will perhaps be fairly new to this subject. I am not complaining about that. My memory of the subject goes back about 10 years, when the Select Committee on Science and Technology first started to look at nuclear matters generally. That Select Committee, in that Parliament, recommended that an independent State-owned nuclear fuel company should be set up. The recommendation was adopted by the then Labour Government.

My right hon. Friend the present Secretary of State for Energy appeared before the Select Committee and gave quite a lot of evidence on nuclear matters. I think that, in retrospect, it is worth quoting what he said on that occasion, because a member of the Select Committee at that time was my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary, who is to reply to the debate this evening. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy, who, under another ministerial guise, was then responsible for nuclear matters, as he is now, referring to the proposed fuel company, said that it will itself probably earn over the years very substantial sums, it may well be more money than can be acquired from the sale of reactors. I cannot be sure which way it will go, but I think just as tobacco manufacturers make more money than pipe manufacturers"— I recall this part of the evidence, which was rather dramatic, because my right hon. Friend produced his pipe from his pocket to emphasise the point— probably there will be a very great export market in nuclear fuel. That was nearly 10 years ago. When examined more closely on this matter, my right hon. Friend added: What I am saying is the commercial function of the nuclear fuel company in selling fuel, services and reprocessing over the years is going to be very big business indeed". So there is nothing new about this. It is interesting to reflect that, whatever doubts there were in the past about the fast-breeder reactor—I share some of those doubts—and about the use in this country in the future of the pressurised water reactor, nuclear fuel and reprocessing hardly ever came under attack. Mr. Justice Parker refers in his report to this change of attitude by the Friends of the Earth. It contains a telling quotation from Dr. Patterson's book, published in 1976, which almost praised the benign effect of reprocessing. He later repudiated that view.

Very little was said by the critics of nuclear energy against reprocessing until fairly recently. Much of the opposition started when one of the newspapers—I think it was the Daily Mirror—referred to the possible winning of the Japanese contracts and the bringing here of Japanese spent fuel as turning this country into a nuclear dustbin. That was the start of the recent strong agitation against Windscale, both as it stands and in its proposed expanded form.

Mr. Hooley

I feel that the major public disquiet arose from the authoritative document produced by the Royal Commission. Certainly my mind was more influenced by that document than by anything that I have read before or since.

Mr. Palmer

Yes, but as I said in our last debate in December, that report is a great quarry of information and opinion, some of it contradictory. The chairman of the inquiry was Sir Brian Flowers, who is a distinguished member of the Royal Society. He has said several times in public that he favours going ahead with an experimental commercial fast-breeder reactor, quite apart from the issue of reprocessing, on which he did not pronounce judgment. However, I agree with my hon. Friend that the Flowers Report has been an element in the general controversy.

I am by training and practice an engineer. I try to avoid technical arrogance and I therefore say this with some diffidence and humility. I do have genuine difficulty in understanding why the treatment of spent nuclear fuel in order to extract from it all the useful uranium is different from many other dangerous activities carried on in factories and manufacturing plants in advanced industrial countries. I know that this commodity is radioactive, but radioactivity is not unknown in nature. The point is that it can be fully controlled in the artificial setting because the technical means to do that are available to those who know their business. Whatever else can be said against British Nuclear Fuels Ltd, no one can suggest that it does not know its business technically.

Let us consider the attitudes of the unions in this matter. Two days ago a very valuable document was published by the power engineers' union: I commend it to all hon. Members who collect this kind of thing as a useful addition to their libraries. It deals with some implications of radioactive waste from nuclear power generation in the United Kingdom up to the year 2000. It is a detailed study by those who are deeply and daily concerned with the design and operation of nuclear power plants.

The Electrical Power Engineers Association—I declare my interest in it—is the technical staff union but its view does not differ from the views of the other unions in the electricity supply industry. Those who work in the industry, who know these plants and are closest to any dangers that may exist, wish expansion to proceed.

But I wish to be moderate, for it is the fashion. Fears have been aroused, and I agree with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State—I was glad that he said it—that it is important that all public doubts and reservations, even those of the oldest inhabitants of, say Bournemouth, should be met and explored in public discussion and debate. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy has assisted in this process, certainly by his Church House conference. But we must accept—there has been some misunderstanding on this—that in March 1976 the Cabinet decided in favour of going ahead with the negotiation of the Japanese contracts. There has been a tendency for many who have come into this controversy more recently to overlook that key fact. The impression has got about that the Government have been waiting for the House of Commons to decide. Perhaps they should have done, but the Cabinet made its decision, I think quite rightly.

Today's debate is not related directly to the March 1976 decision. It is not a formal challenge to it. It arises because of a separate consideration—the independent decision of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State that an extension of this magnitude is too great to be left to the say-so of a local planning authority. In that matter I agree with him. It was important to have a national planning inquiry, and Mr. Justice Parker was appointed to that end.

Mr. Justice Parker was obviously competent to judge evidence, and was well advised by those who are expert in these matters. Here I agree with Bertrand Russell, who wrote somewhere that although experts could be wrong, those who studied a subject and had experience in it were more likely to be right than those who had not studied it and did not have experience. That is a rational judgment on the value of experts by a great rationalist.

If the substantial conclusion of Mr. Justice Parker that outline planning permission for the extension should be granted without delay is not acceptable or palatable to some, it is because the facts are not on their side. Perhaps the conjectures on the possibilities of danger that might arise in the future are on their side, but not the facts as currently known. I have never had any doubts about the facts and I am certainly relieved for the industrial future of this country, of which the nuclear industry is a very important component that will grow in importance, that Mr. Justice Parker has understood these facts so well.

My hon. Friend the Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse) made a remarkable contribution to the debate we had in December, but I wish that he would not refer all the time, as he did again today, to a sinister nuclear lobby. Nearly all the organisations that are involved—I say this as a Socialist—are very good examples of public enterprise. British Nuclear Fuels Ltd. is a completely State-owned company. The Atomic Energy Authority is a State concern and the Central Electricity Generating Board is nationalised, too. They may be wrong, but to describe as a kind of evil nuclear conspiracy the devoted scientists, engineers and technical staff who, faithfully, in the service of their country, carry through and defend the work that has been given to them, is unfair.

I shall, therefore, take out of the Parker Report four outstanding points and summarise them briefly. Although the alternative sources should make a very greatly increased contribution to our energy resources once the fossil fuels are gone, they cannot entirely fill the gap once the oil runs out, followed by coal. It may be said that with more research we could make the alternative sources go further. That remains to be seen. We should certainly develop them, including the Severn barrage scheme. I am much in favour of doing that. But to suggest that alternative sources of energy can fill the gap left when fossil fuels run out is incorrect.

It cannot be done on any present calculations.

Also, I agree that while total power and conservation schemes need very much to be developed—they can make another increased contribution—the gap will still yawn if it is not filled by nuclear energy.

If reprocessing is not expanded at Windscale in step with increased numbers of advanced gas-cooled reactors which will be coming on the line very soon and those that are projected, the spent fuel will build up in the ponds at the power stations—and, of course, at Windscale—until they can take no more. On balance one has greater control over the spent fuel through reprocessing than if one leaves it naked in the ponds.

Finally, I am glad that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs is back with us again. I referred to him when he was away as a member of the Select Committee on Science and Technology, when we first looked at these questions of reprocessing. I am glad that he is replying tonight.

I made the point when I opened my remarks that to obtain foreign contracts was always the purpose of British Nuclear Fuels Limited. That was one of the reasons why it was set up. Evidence in favour was submitted by Ministers to the Select Committee at that time. So one must not blame BNFL for being successful in its own business as given to it by Parliament.

However, that apart, the United Kingdom has a moral obligation—many of us in favour of nuclear power feel as strongly about moral questions as those who are opposed to nuclear power—to take on this work as a contribution to non-proliferation. If we do not, the non-nuclear States will have every reason to do their own processing. Then, instead of plutonium being concentrated and controllable it will be widely spread and less controllable.

Mr. Justice Parker, in his able, good, penetrating and generally fair report, made all these points. I therefore supports its conclusions and hope that when the time comes to vote, whether it is tonight or after the Easter break, the House will give Mr. Justice Parker and the Government its support.

6.44 p.m.

Mr. Richard Page (Workington)

I very much appreciate your calling me in this debate, Mr. Deputy Speaker, especially as Windscale is only about 10 miles down the road from my constituency. There is a natural concern and worry in Cumbria about the proposed expansion, particularly on the West Coast, which is so near it and which also has a big unemployment problem. The situation there is a little clouded, and I feel that it is my duty to make sure that I am satisfied about the safety aspects before I even consider whether this will reduce the unemployment problem.

I endorse the complimentary remarks that have been made about Mr. Justice Parker for bringing this report before Parliament, and it is easy to see why the inquiry took 100 days. Reading the report, I can see that Mr. Justice Parker and his assessors must have worked extremely diligently to present it to the House within nine months from beginning to end, and to present it in such a form that it is understandable and not cluttered up with technical jargon and figures.

I also thank the Secretary of State for the Environment for manipulating the procedures of Parliament so that we could have the debate. I believe that the result of the eventual decision—which I believe will be in the affirmative—will contradict his remarks that it will not ultimately and inevitably commit us not only to a nuclear programme but a fast-breeder society. I believe that this will become inevitable.

If that is so, I wonder whether five or six hours of debate, welcome though the debate is, will be sufficient to launch a vast programme of expenditure that will cost not simply hundreds of millions of pounds but thousands of millions, and which will continue year by year.

Before dealing with points of definite constituency interest, I should like to mention two points on which I have neither the expertise nor the time to hazard an answer. For this we must put our trust in experts. The first question is whether the plant will be able to operate profitably on the figures presented. Secondly, will it be able to operate effectively as a process?

Various figures have been produced to show that this is the most economical and profitable way, but in my very short time in the House I have developed a healthy scepticism for official and Government forecasts. They have a depressing habit of being wrong. It would not surprise me if in five or 10 years' time we had what I call a parliamentary stable door debate, the Windscale reprocessing horse having galloped into the pastures, nurtured by public money to join one or two other beasts, such as those from British Steel and British Leyland. One could spend the rest of the debate in that vein, and in doing so I am not distinguishing between private and public concerns; I am talking of the principle that the House tends to debate things after they have happened and does not exert its influence before they happen. That is where the House is failing in its duty to the country today. But that is another issue.

I come to my second point. Will the process in fact work? It is simply a matter of scale. Will this 1-in-5,000 model work when it is scaled up? Like the hon. Member for Bristol, North-East (Mr. Palmer), I have been trained as an engineer and I know of many an engineer who has in the past come dramatically to grief when his very accurate working model has not performed as expected when scaled up into full operation. We do not have the research facilities to check these matters, and we must leave this judgment—at a hazard—to the experts and remain with our natural reservations.

I am grateful to the inquiry, because it has chased away from the local scene the local worries—what I call the little local bogymen. Mr. Justice Parker presented his answers in understandable, day-to-day terms. I think that the House can appreciate that anybody who is ignorant of the facts—and, indeed, the nuclear question is highly technical—will naturally suppose the worst. It is natural to have doubts, worries and concerns about the environmental effect upon one's health.

As such, I was grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King) for drawing attention to the blistered fish. There is a beautiful story going around that one should not have fish from the Irish Sea because they have blisters on them as a result of radiation. As the report says, this viral infection has been recorded in the Irish Sea since 1904.

From the report, and not being an expert. I can say with absolute confidence that if one sat in the mud at Raven-glass, for 24 hours a day every day, drank 10,000 litres of water and ate 30 tons of potatoes and 50 lbs of scallops every day, one would still be within the radiological limits, and anyone who can do that deserves a medal.

I am considering the matter purely from a constituency point of view because my constituents and I have to live there. It is all right to have abstract debates, but I wonder how many hon. Members have walked around Windscale and can talk about it with confidence. Perhaps those hon. Members who have done so would care to raise their hands. We could have an instant vote—but I suppose that that would be too modern.

There are four points of concern touched on by both Front Bench speakers—first, the accident risk; secondly, security; thirdly, the high-active waste; and, fourthly, the low-grade waste, and I am most concerned about the low-grade waste.

Great play has been made of the dangers of moving spent and reprocessed fuel to and from the plant. It is a natural constituency worry, but, having visited the plant and a plant that makes the containers, I was very impressed by the meticulous engineering and the care that went into their manufacture. I have no fears that the type of accidents that have been suggested would, if they occurred, bring about any form of leakage. Therefore, I agree with the report's finding that it is extremely unlikely that there would be any form of accident or hazard of this kind.

Because of rumours in the constituency, I am also pleased to see from paragraph 11.2 that there is no chance of a nuclear explosion at the plant, either accidentally or through a safety failure.

The security of the plant is hard to assess, because there is a natural reluctance to talk about it and when I visited the plant, the people there were very reluctant to discuss it with me. If they adopt that attitude, with an independent monitoring of the security arrangements, I believe that this is a matter that we can leave with safety, adopting the report's recommendations in paragraph 17.8 which I believe brings about a natural solution.

This leads on to the question of terrorist attack during reprocessing and the transfer of the fuel from one place to another. I believe that the suggested irradiating of the rods will present an almost impossible technical problem to any terrorist or hijacker if he is successful in obtaining any of the rods.

There has been much talk about proliferation. I do not intend to become involved in that argument, but I believe in the old saying "Where there's a will, there's a way". If any nation wants to obtain nuclear power or a nuclear deterrent, it will eventually do so if it puts its mind to it, undesirable as that may be, no matter what treaties are signed and what obstructions are put in its way. Unless we stop the nuclear programme throughout the world, we shall inevitably see the proliferation of nuclear sources.

Turning to the high-active waste to be dealt with on site in the silos which, when it has been sufficiently deactivated and has lost most of its heat, will then be vitrified; there is a body of opinion that the time in the silos is going to be longer than has been expected. It is no good putting the waste into the glass while it is still too hot, because the heat will build up and there will be pitting inside the glass, resulting in the spread of this highly active waste. If that waste has to be kept in the silos longer than expected we shall need more cooling silos for a longer time if the plant is to operate at full capacity.

I regard the low-grade waste as one of the most important matters, because it is a bigger unknown. The other matters are really mechanical. If we are not happy with the security, we can double the guards. If we are worried about a container bursting on impact if it falls from a lorry or a train, we can double the thickness of the metal. But with the low-grade waste we have the problem of assessing the effect on the environment. We must make a balanced judgment on whether the ICRP limits are correct and safe. All hon. Members have been bombarded with figures, some saying that the limits are safe and some that they are unsafe.

British Nuclear Fuels operates not only well within the existing levels but, according to the report, aims to create an operating level that will reduce the risk to members of the public to less than they would experience if they were living in Aberdeen—not that I want to bring about a mass exodus from Aberdeen.

In its recommendations for specific discharge limits of significant radionucleides the report makes the important point that that was a matter on which the plant has fallen down in the past. Even though we bring the initial levels below these limits. we must go further in continuously monitoring all discharges and a continual evaluation and checking of the ICRP limits. I owe it to my constituents to see that it is a continuing monitoring process which must be done by an independent body to ensure complete impartiality. We must ensure that the critical pathways to man are covered and monitored and that no one in Cumbria is put at risk. I do not want to see a slow build-up of this type of radioactivity leaving us with a long-term health or genetic problem.

In this the report has exposed a flaw which I think will be checked in time under the proposed monitoring system. But if the report's recommendations are implemented, especially those on monitoring, I shall be happy to support the application. If they are implemented, indeed, the operation of the plant will be safer.

6.58 p.m.

Mr. Robin F. Cook (Edinburgh, Central)

I begin by adding my tribute to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. It is now 18 months since I and my hon. Friends the Members for Sheffield, Heeley (Mr. Hooley) and Mitcham and Morden (Mr. Douglas-Mann) went to see my right hon. Friend to urge him to call in the application. I do not suggest that he infringed the planning legislation when I say that he met us before the application had even been made. We are very grateful that he took the course that he eventually did. We know how hard he had to fight to obtain agreement.

We should also congratulate my right hon. Friend on having found a device—I am not sure that "manipulation" is the best way of expressing it—whereby we can debate the issue. He deserves the thanks of the House for having sat here throughout the debate so far. It is the only time that I can recall when there have been two Cabinet Ministers on the Front Bench at the dinner hour.

Having said that, I must add that my right hon. Friend has perhaps led the House into some difficulty by the extreme speed with which he has been able to arrange a debate on the matter. The haste with which we have had a debate on the Parker Report contrasts curiously with the fact that we still have not had a debate in Government time on the Flowers Report. That is all the more odd as the Flowers Commission at least recognised that there were questions requiring a political judgment, whereas Mr. Justice Parker is prepared confidently to wade in and use his own judgment without leaving the matter to the discretion of the political representatives.

I think that this haste is rather unfortunate, too, because it is now becoming evident that some of the witnesses who are quoted in the report rather resent the way in which they have been quoted. I should like to refer in particular to the case of Mr. Peter Taylor. He is a gentleman whom I have known for the past 18 months. As those who have met him will, I am sure, agree, he is by no means an extremist. He is a very mild mannered scientist, working at Oxford where he is a member of the political ecology research group. He attended two-thirds of the hearings at Windscale, in the course of which he made a very comprehensive and formidable case for rejecting the application.

There are only two references to Mr. Peter Taylor in the report. The first is in paragraph 10.37. In that paragraph Mr. Justice Parker dismisses the submission that BNFL would be unable to build to the standard which it itself is putting forward in the design. He says there: I share the confidence expressed by Mr. Taylor on behalf of PERG that their designer Mr. Warner"— the BNFL designer—

could design to meet any standard which was set. It should be made plain to the House that what Mr. Taylor was doing when he expressed that sentiment was criticising the low standards that he believed BNFL was setting and, in particular, the high rate of discharges that it was setting for the reprocessing plant—rates much higher than the rates of discharge in the proposed German reprocessing plant. What Mr. Taylor actually said was that since it was obvious that BNFL had the expertise to design to a higher standard. he could not understand why it had not designed to that higher standard. That is a different thing from what he appears to be saying in paragraph 10.37.

However one might argue about that. there can be no disagreement about what happens in paragraph 8.46. In that paragraph Mr. Peter Taylor is quoted as saying that an expansion of nuclear power was the only way of maintaining a growth economy". What he in fact said was that he believed that the German nuclear development was the only way in which the Germans could meet their own proposed industrial demand. He did not make any general statement about growth economy, and when asked to do so he explicity said that he was not an economist.

It is perhaps appropriate to read into the record an exchange that occurred on Day 90 of the hearings, in which Mr. Justice Parker himself intervened during the cross-examination of Mr. Taylor and said to, I think, the advocate for BNFL: Dr. Little, you cannot really open up the whole economic problem with this witness. He has not spoken to it. You asked him a question; he gave you a short answer to it, but he does not purport to be an economist. Yet it is precisely that witness whom Mr. Justice Parker cites in support of his contention that the nuclear industry is essential to the growth of the economy.

It is perhaps unfortunate that because of the haste we have been unable to get the reaction of many of the witnesses who are Americans. During the last fortnight there has barely been time for the report to reach the United States and for responses to be mailed back from the United States. However, I noted that in the Observer of last Sunday, Dr. Tom Cochrane is quoted as saying: I am writing to Mr. Shore to express my shock and dismay at the way in which the judge misrepresented my testimony to support his own findings. I do not know whether the Department of the Environment has yet received that letter from Dr. Cochrane, but, again, it would be unfortunate if we were to be rushed into a decision before we had the opportunity to have replies from the many United States witnesses who took part in the inquiry.

But even if we are unable to have their responses, we are at least aware of one quotation from an American source which I do not think could pretend to be representative of that source. About eight or nine months ago the Ford Foundation produced a major report on nuclear power. Most hon. Members who are taking part in this debate will be aware that it is 400 pages long and contains an entire chapter on reprocessing. At the end of that chapter, it comes down firmly against reprocessing, on the grounds that it is disadvantageous economically, unnecessary for waste management and not necessary in the fuel cycle.

Mr. Justice Parker makes one reference to that volume. From those 400 pages, what does he take? It is not any comment from the nuclear industry, and not any part of the conclusion on reprocessing; it is a quotation about the hazards of the coal industry.

We are all practising politicians. We are all familar with how telling the judicious choice of quotations can be. But I am hound to say that during the last week it has begun to appear as though Mr. Justice Parker's skill in the selection of quotations puts us all to shame.

Having made those introductory remarks, perhaps I could turn to the three issues that the Secretary of State outlined to the House in his opening speech and take them one by one. First, there is the issue of environmental pollution, to which the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Page) referred at some length.

I do not dispute for one moment that BNFL's designs will be within the ICRP limits. I do not dispute that BNFL can design well within those limits. But the question is really not whether the pollution will be within the ICRP limits. The real issue of contention is why those discharges, for which the plant is being designed, should be so much higher than the proposed controls that are being discussed in America and in Germany.

The differences are dramatic. The standards laid down by the Environmental Protection Agency in America, which will be in force from January 1979, suggest that the discharge rate from a reprocessing plant should be 15 millicuries per year. That is one of the reasons why their three reprocessing plants are not in operation—two of them have no hope of meeting that standard. The discharge rate for which the Wind-scale plant, the THORP plant, is being designed is 6 million millicuries per year. That is a difference of six orders of magnitude.

If we turn to the German standard, we find that it is one curie per annum for all discharges—much larger than the American standard. It is still several hundredfold less than the discharge rate for which the THORP plant is being designed.

This is not new information. I made similar points in the course of the debate on 2nd December. In reply to that debate, the Secretary of State for Energy did not reply to that particular issue. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment did not refer to it in his introductory speech today, and I shall not be terribly surprised if the Foreign Secretary does not refer to it in his reply this evening.

After all, they all have reasonable grounds for side-stepping the issues. It is one of those curious quirks of interdepartmental responsibility that the responsibility does not rest with them but rests with, of all people, the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.

It may be that they are quite correct to ignore this issue. It may be that there is no reason for concern that our standards are a thousand-fold lower than those of the Americans, or hundreds-of-fold lower than the German standard. It may be that these nations are unduly namby-pamby and squeamish in their attitude to environmental issues. It may be that they lack the robust common sense of the British nuclear industry. But it is one of the reasons that makes me approach the application for THORP with grave doubts and reservations, which are not removed in any way by the Parker Report, which does not touch on these comparisons in any way.

Secondly, I turn to the issue of civil liberties, which my right hon. Friend identified as the second major area of concern. Far from finding myself obtaining no comfort from the report under this heading, I must say that when I read the chapter on civil liberties I was left with grave alarm. It is perhaps appropriate to remind the House of the conclusion that was offered by the Flowers Commission: The unquantifiable effects of the security measures that might become necessary in a plutonium economy should be a major consideration in decisions on substantial nuclear development. Security issues require wide public debate. There can be no doubt—I do not imagine that any hon. Member would deny it—that this is a substantial nuclear development, whatever view we may take about it. Yet one can only say that the treatment of the civil liberties aspect in the report is perfunctory. Indeed, the greater part of the discussion is to say that there cannot be a wide public debate because of security considerations. This is not because Mr. Justice Parker rejected the fears expressed by the Flowers Commission. On the contrary, he is abjectly fatalistic about the erosion of civil liberties. What does he say about the erosion of civil liberties? He says: I can see no solution at all. If the sort of activities under consideration are to be checked, innocent people are certain to be subjected to surveillance, if only to find out whether they are innocent or not. What a remarkable assertion. We are accepting that it is perfectly legitimate to carry out surveillance of innocent people, not—mark you—to find out whether they are guilty, but to find out whether they are innocent; and this in the course of a discussion about a definition of subversion which is any case so wide that it includes people who are not necessarily guilty it includes people who are not guilty of any violent intent or any illegal activity, but merely people who may be suspected of subversion or may be liable to subversion.

I can only say that I came away from the chapter on civil liberties with grave concern. Any doubt I had that nuclear development posed a substantial threat to civil liberties was removed by that chapter, which confirmed that it did. And there is a solution to the problem—it was pointed out by the Flowers Commission—which is not to proceed with any development until we are absolutely convinced that there is no reasonable alternative and that the development is absolutely necessary.

I want to move on to the major issue which is of obvious concern.

Mr. Shore

Is my hon. Friend suggesting that the Flowers Commission recommendation—that we should not go forward with major nuclear development without a most exacting examination of the problems of security—was referring to the THORP application?

Mr. Cook


Mr. Shore

Therefore, that recommendation does not relate to the matter that we are now discussing.

Mr. Cook

I would not wish to leave that impression. The Flowers Commission leaves us in a delicious ambivalence as to the THORP application, because one can find no guidance as to whether it should proceed or not. The Commission specifically said that since this was a matter for separate inquiry it would not give any advice. But the Commission plainly states that the security aspect should have a major weight in any decision about a substantial nuclear development. Quite clearly that is what we are discussing tonight.

I turn to the issue of proliferation which, I believe, will carry most weight with the House when it comes to its decision. It is right that it should do so. Mr. Justice Parker advances three arguments why this development would not necessarily prove a proliferation hazard. First, he relies on the suggestion that the plutonium could be returned in the form of irradiated fuel rods—the procedure known as spiking.

It is very difficult to give that recommendation any great weight. First, there is no provision in the contract that the plutonium be spiked in that way. Nor is there the slightest reason to believe that the Japanese would be willing to accept that it be written into the contract. On the contrary, a number of noises have been made in Washington suggesting that the Japanese would not be prepared to accept that. It is symptomatic of the whole issue that this matter was raised with the Japanese by the American Government before it was raised with them by the British Government.

Even if the contract included the suggestion that we should turn the plutonium into fuel rods, we would have to build a fabrication plant to do that. We would have to construct a plant which was designed to the specifications of Japanese reactors, which we do not necessarily know. Nor would the Japanese be particularly willing to tell us the specifications. In addition, in order to irradiate fuel rods, we would need to place them in a reactor. That reactor would need to be the same as the reactor to which the rods would go in Japan—a light water reactor. We do not have such a reactor in Britain at present. However, we could agree to construct a light water reactor. That raises a number of questions; first, whether we would wish to build such a reactor secondly, whether we would give it planning permission; thirdly, the very serious issue of costs. It is difficult to conclude that one could agree to all those processes without adding to the costs of the procedure several fold.

We have been told several times that this is not a debate on costs nor a debate on economic advantages. We have been told that if such a process were necessary or desirable, the money would be found. If that were the case, would there be advantages in spiking the plutonium before we returned it? We have before us the evidence supplied in the Nye letter, which was sent to the Foreign Secretary only two months ago. That letter stated that irradiation would prove no obstacle to any threshold country in obtaining the plutonium. There is also the conclusion of the recent report of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in America, that spiking would not be useful at all in restraint of national proliferation". In other words, even if we went through with the process—with all the additional requirements and costs—it would not stop the Japanese—if they wished—from getting at the plutonium. Therefore, the first leg of Mr. Justice Parker's argument falls to the ground.

The second leg is founded on a strict and legalistic interpretation of the nonproliferation treaty. Mr. Justice Parker came to the conclusion that the nonproliferation treaty lays upon us the obligation to carry out reprocessing services for non-nuclear weapon countries which seek those services from us.

It is a very odd reading indeed of the non-proliferation treaty to come to the conclusion that we are obliged to facilitate the transfer of the technology or material which would be necessary to build a nuclear weapon. It is a paradoxical interpretation of the treaty which sets out to help that very development. Not only is it paradoxical, but it cannot possibly be the interpretation placed upon it by the Government. The Government have played an active part in the setting up of the Nuclear Suppliers Group. In fact, they played so active a part that at one time it was known as the "London Group". The whole point of the group was to restrict the transfer of sensitive nuclear technology. Does my right hon. Friend accept the interpretation of the non-proliferation treaty which is offered in chapter 6 of the Parker Report? Does he accept that there is an absolute obligation upon us to provide reprocessing services to third countries? If so, what about the activity of the Nuclear Suppliers Group?

The whole point of the NSG regime is that it would provide a timely warning of any country seeking to develop a nuclear weapon. But if we give them the plutonium in such large quantities as envisaged in the Japanese contract, there is no way in which we shall get that timely warning in order to bring diplomatic pressure to bear, or to stimulate domestic political debate in order to reverse the decision. There is no way in which that can be achieved. That is the whole point of the regime which the Nuclear Suppliers Group is attempting to set up.

Mr. Justice Parker bases the third leg of his argument on United States approvals of shipments on a case-by-case basis and on the suggestion that the United States therefore recognises the case for such a facility. I noted in yesterday's Guardian that BNFL has similarly claimed that the most recent approval of shipments is a vindication of the Parker Report. I also noticed that in today's Guardian the United States State Department has rushed in denying that interpretation of the approvals for shipments, and pointing out that the approvals were issued before the Parker Report was published.

I can understand BNFL seeking to put the best gloss on this problem. It has a clear interest, and if any hon. Member fails to make adequate allowance for it, he has only himself to blame. But Mr. justice Parker cannot plead the same excuse. At the time he penned his report he was in possession of the Nye letter which explicitly says that the United States does not support the development of reprocessing plants by nuclear weapon states. If we are in any doubt whatever about United States policy in this matter, we have since had the letter from Senator Glenn to President Carter, dated 8th March, in which the Senator, chairman of the appropriate Senate sub-committee, states that To grant reprocessing approvals for fuel of US origin on a scale necessary for keeping the enterprise alive"— he refers to Windscale and La Hague— would be to make a mockery of our policy".

Mr. Tom King

The hon. Gentleman says that Mr. Justice Parker had the Nye letter in his possession when he penned the report. Does the hon. Gentleman have any information as to whether Mr. Justice Parker was entitled to consider that letter, since he had closed the inquiry? My understanding was that further evidence could not be taken after the inquiry was closed.

Mr. Cook

I entirely accept that submission. That was a perfectly precise legal interpretation of the situation. Indeed, it would be appropriate for Mr. Parker to say that this was evidence that he was not able to consider, and evidence which would not shape his mind in putting his report. Yet the Nye letter sets out explicitly to correct a misunderstanding which arose at the hearing. If we take the interpretation of the role of reporters at an inquiry as being that they are not allowed to consider letters aimed at correcting misunderstandings, we are getting ourselves into an Alice-in-Wonderland situation.

Mr. Abse

In view of the intervention from the Opposition, may I point out that the Foreign Office reply to Dr. Nye unequivocally stated that, despite the fact that the inquiry had been formally completed, it was being arranged for the secretary of the inquiry to see a copy of the letter and the reply? There is no question but that the matter was brought to the notice of the inspector—unless the secretary refused to give it to him—before he penned his report.

Mr. Cook

I am grateful to my hon. Friend.

The important question here is not whether Mr. Parker misunderstood American policy. The question is, if this is American policy, is it correct? I belong to a wing of the Labour Party which is not normally impressed if it is told that any action it proposes is contrary to United States policy. However, despite my political prejudices, I believe profoundly that in this case United States policy is correct.

Hon. Members will have seen on the front page of yesterday's Daily Mirror a rather large and alarming headline about "Bomb Alert in Japan." This was followed by a CIA report about the possibility of Japan eventually deciding to develop nuclear weapons. I do not know whether that story really merited such splash treatment. However, I was struck by the argument put forward by the CIA that a factor in any Japanese decision would be "global permissiveness about such activities." For once I think that the CIA is perfectly correct. One of the things that has influenced States to proceed with nuclear developments—not just decisions to manufacture weapons, but decisions on developments which are ambiguous as to the end products—has been this global permissiveness.

When Britain decided to develop nuclear weapons it was not a clear-cut decision made one day. Margaret Gowing has provided us with a service in outlining the history of early nuclear development in Britain. This shows that it was difficult to pinpoint a specific occasion when the decision was taken to develop nuclear weapons. We first decided to separate and stockpile plutonium. India and France also took this decision as a first step before they developed any nuclear weapons. In India the separation plant began five years before nuclear weapons were developed. Other ambiguous developments have included the sale of reprocessing plants to Pakistan, which does not have a single reactor capable of burning plutonium.

This sort of global permissiveness is what nudges States into getting into the nuclear weapon game. If we aid and abet them by providing a nuclear reprocessing plant which is available to all on a commercial basis, we are nudging everyone into the nuclear game, and encourage permissiveness in the international climate and permissiveness among domestic opinion which may believe that these developments are acceptable.

The question is not whether a nation can obtain a nuclear weapon. We all know that it can if it is determined to do so. The question is how we can best discourage it from becoming so determined. President Carter's policy to discourage the separation and isolation of plutonium is an important step towards discouraging countries from such determination. That policy is worthy of support, not sabotage.

The hon. Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King) said that this was a serious issue and then he said—and I feel sure it was a slip of the tongue—that therefore he felt it was inappropriate for a Division at the end of the debate. I am sure this is not what he intended to say. It is a serious matter and because of that it might be valuable if we do have a Division so that the public outside can clearly see how the balance of opinion rests in this House.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bryant Godroan Irvine)

Order. During the last one hour and thirty five minutes we have had five speeches. If that rate of progress is maintained there will be a great many disappointed hon. Members.

7.27 p.m.

Mr. David Penhaligon (Truro)

I note what you have said, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and I shall certainly speed up the operation. I am pleased to follow the hon. Member for Edinburgh Central (Mr. Cook). I have 100 per cent. sympathy with much of what he said.

I believe that the House has underestimated the significance of the international fuel cycle evaluation programme initiative by President Carter. Whatever hon. Members may feel personally about the initiative by President Carter, they should at least consider why there should be panic and why it is necesary to make a decision now before the evaluation takes place.

When it does report, it may well come to conclusions that will break the back of the financial arguments for the Wind-scale plant. It is possible that the United States may well say to countries through- out the world to which it supplies enriched uranium that if this uranium is exported to third countries, it will cut off further supplies.

If the United States did that, the whole idea that Britain could scoop the world pool of international reprocessing would be yet another myth alongside so many other myths that this House has swallowed in the past 15 to 20 years.

That makes the arguments for not saying either "Yes" or "No", overwhelming. We should wait until the American evaluation body has reported. It would be interesting to put on the record what President Carter proposed. In order not to upset the pro-Windscale Members, I shall give Mr. Justice Parker's version of President Carter's initiative announced on 7th April 1977. The first point of it was: Indefinite deferment of commercial reprocessing and recycling of plutonium. He wanted no more recycling to take place until there had been an evaluation of the possibilities. President Carter's initiative also said that there would be Increasing United States capacity to provide adequate and timely supplies of nuclear fuels to countries that needed them so that they will not be required or encouraged to reprocess their own materials'. There was a significant commitment to allow the inquiry to take place with a minimum amount of aggravation and pressure from the countries concerned. The United States would supply the amount of material required to those countries that already had reactors so that at least there would be no pressure on them to go in for reprocessing.

President Carter announced an embargo on the export of equipment or technology that could permit uranium enrichment or chemical reprocessing. He announced that he was pursuing discussions on a wide range of international approaches and frameworks that would permit all countries to achieve their own energy needs, while at the same time reducing the spread of the capabilities of nuclear explosive development. That is the crux of what the President announced, yet today, by an overwhelming majority I expect, we are about to cast that initiative to one side like so much fluff from a Third world country, to say that the President's initiative is of no consequence and that we shall plough on, using the opportunity to become the world leaders in reprocessing. While the technologies of other countries might not be used to the full, we intend to use this lull to take the lead. That is a decision for which this House will be poorly remembered in years to come.

I would enjoy the irony if, in the final analysis, the Carter regime had the courage to announce that it would not allow the transfer to third countries of materials that it had sold, because that would smash once and for all the financial economy of the plant that we are suggesting.

Before the outcome in three weeks or a month, I should like this Government to produce some evidence to show the cost of what we are voting for today. It would be helpful to have one paper which assumed that President Carter will agree that there is no alternative to reprocessing—the assumption that we are making today. Let us have another on the premise that he will say that there shall be no re-export of original nuclear material to third countries.

A third document should concentrate on a possibility which I rate as more likely than does the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Central—the possibility that the international pressure will be for spiking plutonium when it is returned—and should outline the cost of that. What the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Central said about countries obtaining plutonium for spiking is basically right. If plutonium is spiked and left under protection for eight or 10 years, that artificially introduced radioactive material will of itself reduce enough by natural decay so that the plutonium can be handled again.

There is also a short-term benefit in spiking when it comes to transporting the stuff. It is a credible response by the nuclear industry to those like myself who have used the terrorist argument a great deal. But let that, too, be costed. How is it to be spiked? Is it necessary to build special little power stations to do the spiking? How much does the process change the cost of the material to the country which asks us to do the treatment?

The hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Page) was concerned about plant safety in his constituency. He may be surprised to know that I agree with much of what he said. I do not believe that the Wind-scale reprocessing plant represents more of a hazard than many other technological installations. One does not have to look further than Italy for an example of a chemical plant which was a serious hazard.

If the world is to increase its technology, I recognise that we shall build potentially dangerous plants—and I put the Windscale plant no higher than that. But going ahead makes a farce of the fast breeder debate by public inquiry which we have been promised later. I cannot conceive of that investigation being uninfluenced by evidence of enormous and increasing stocks of plutonium in this country.

The question will be posed, as so many of the arguments are posed and won, by the nuclear lobby: "What do we do with this material? Where shall we put it? It has a half-life of 22,000 years or more. We can use it in fast breeder stations. It will be safer there, so we must build such stations." That is a substantial move towards a favourable decision for fast breeder reactors.

Mr. T. H. H. Skeet (Bedford)

Will the hon. Member answer the question that he himself has raised? If one does not use the 50 tonnes of plutonium in fast reactors, what does one do with it?

Mr. Penhaligon

I understand from those who know more nuclear science than I do that it is possible to build a thermal reactor which will burn up the plutonium fuel—

Mr. Skeet


Mr. Penhaligon

Many eminent scientists say that it is possible to build a thermal reactor which would burn the plutonium after it had produced electricity, a process which would result in less plutonium than had been put in. I am in no position to say that those people are crazy.

Mr. Shore

It is precisely because I agree with the hon. Gentleman that I do not accept that this is any irretrievable commitment to a major programme of fast breeder reactors.

Mr. Penhaligon

I am delighted to hear that. At least it seems that the Secretary of State has had similar conversations to mine, whereas most of the nuclear lobby in the House apparently did not even recognise that that was an alternative.

I have made my next point many times. I believe that the gaps in the disposal scenario are so big that we are committing ourselves to spending money at the wrong end. It is said that we shall separate the nasty stuff, put it in glass and bury it in granite below 400 ft. or 500 ft. of concrete. That might work, but it does not alter the fact that no one has yet succeeded in putting this material into glass.

Mr. Skeet

Yes, they have. The French have.

Mr. Penhaligon

They succeeded in doing that in 1957, but, 21 years later, it does not alter the fact that nobody has done it today. I take the view that someone will succeed in doing this. It is a strong likelihood. If we were being asked to vote money for that research in isolation. I should be far more enthusiastic for the reprocessing plant.

If it is proved in the end to be impossible to make large suitable glass blocks with this nuclear waste, the whole scenario of waste disposal that we have heard today falls apart and the very validity of the reprocessing plant has to be questioned.

There is also the problem of reassuring public opinion, of finding a suitable granite structure in which this material can be finally disposed of. As a Cornishman, it gives me some delight to be able to say that it has been discovered that Cornwall—proud, and sticking out into the Atlantic as it is—is not quite stable enough to be considered as a possible site for the disposal of waste nuclear material. I have no doubt that our granite will be strong enough to keep Cornwall where it is, but it is not of quite such high quality as to be a reasonable possibility for the storage of nuclear waste.

Some suitable granite will no doubt be found somewhere. I understand that experiments are being conducted in the Cheviots and in the South of Scotland. and perhaps also in some of the islands off the North of Scotland. New drillings will take place and in the end the geologists will pick the best site for dis- posal of the waste. But we in this House ought to know what is going on in this respect, so that we can be sure that the right decisions are taken.

Mr. Hector Monro (Dumfries)

The position is that planning permission has only just been applied for in the hills of South Galloway and the Cheviots, and there are many processes to go through before there is any likelihood of planning permission being given.

Mr. Penhaligon

That intervention very largely backs my argument. Planning permission has not yet been granted for the drilling of holes in the rocks, yet we are talking of spending £400 million on the re-processing plant, on the assumption that the waste can be safely buried in some way in the granite. With this sort of background, I wonder whether the House is ready to take a decision.

As to security, it would appear that the only way in which to find out whether security in a nuclear processing establishment is adequate is for someone to break into it. We are not, apparently. to be told anything about the security arrangements. This is a quite extraordinary and unsatisfactory situation.

Certainly the question of civil liberties arises. I imagine that there will have to be the very deepest and most conclusive investigation of the background of anyone who is to have access to these establishments. A person's political opinions will be of extreme importance when he makes an application for work in such an establishment. No doubt his parents' political opinions and his children's political opinions will also be considered as relevant for investigation. There will also be checks on those with whom the applicant is in contact.

These are all questions of the utmost importance from the security point of view. In the setting up of this sort of plant there will undoubtedly be a major erosion of civil liberties for a large number of people. This process will be extended to virtually anyone who at some time or other is to be responsible for the security of the material. Perhaps we have to accept this, but we should clearly recognise that that is the sort of reduction in civil liberties that is bound to occur.

We shall certainly be voting against the motion—admittedly only a motion for the Adjournment—in order to indicate our dissatisfaction with the development at this precise moment, mainly on the lines that we cannot see the necessity for the rush. We cannot understand why President Carter's initiative cannot first be allowed to run its course, in order that we may be able to see the report and evaluate the findings. President Carter may well in the end come to the conclusion that reprocessing is inevitable. If that were the case, surely it would be better to set up, under the auspices of the United Nations, an international reprocessing plant, with the whole security problem in one particular area. That possible decision, and the possible encouragement that President Carter could give, have been pushed to one side by the Government. I regard it as most unfortunate, when we are so near to knowing the results of the inquiry.

I ask also, very seriously, for more information on the financial aspects. President Carter said in his report—and no doubt he was basically right—that his responsibility for conducting a planning inquiry did not include checking out the financial possibilities of any scheme. That was clearly understood.

Similarly, when the Secretary of State for the Environment receives a planning application from my constituency for some development, it is not up to him to decide whether the applicant will make money out of the project. The Secretary of State has only to decide whether it would be a good or bad thing for the community for the project to go ahead in the area concerned. Indeed, that was the approach adopted by Mr. Justice Parker. But the House of Commons is responsible for how much money is spent. It is also responsible, surely, for giving some guidance whether a project is likely to be successful.

It is not long since Concorde was put before this House as a financial and economic proposition. It is not long since assurances were given that in no circumstances would the people in my constituency hear the boom-boom when the aeroplane was flying 30 miles off the Cornish coast. If hon. Members were to come to my part of the world, they would hear at 6.20 p.m. and 8.50 p.m. every evening the boom-boom of Concorde when it is flying off the coast of Cornwall. Not long ago the scientists were telling us that in no circumstances was it possible for this to happen.

I ask the Secretary of State for a serious and detailed document, which we can study, on the financial consequences of this proposition, and dealing with the courses that I have outlined.

7.47 p.m.

Mr. George Thompson (Galloway)

I am one of those people who have a daily calendar giving little improving thoughts for every day of the year. When I looked at my little calendar this morning, I found that for Wednesday 22nd March the improving thought was: How, like a moth, the simple maid Still plays about the flame! There may be a moral for us tonight flowing from that thought, because in this debate we are playing with the flame, as the hon. Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse) explained to us earlier.

We are taking decisions—although the principal decision will not be taken until we deal with the special development order—which could be of very grave and even fatal consequence to people in the future. It behoves us, therefore, to give due consideration to all the problems which face us in coming to a decision tonight.

The hon. Member for Edinburgh, Central (Mr. Cook) has pointed out how easy it is for us to slide from one position and one decision to another, and to say that a decision here tonight will not, perhaps, influence the decision on the special development order, and then later that that has nothing to do with the decision about fast breeder reactors, and so on. Yet from one decision tonight we can easily slip to another almost without noticing it.

I very much take the point made by the hon. Member for Truro (Mr. Penhaligon), that by going ahead with re-processing at Windscale we shall be rejecting President Carter's lead on the matter. We shall be throwing aside his advice, and the advice of other countries, when we could instead quite readily wait for some years before talking any decision at all. I should have thought that where there is doubt, and where there are good authorities supporting and maintaining this doubt in our minds, we ought to decide against something rather than for it.

It is to the great credit of the Secretary of State that he yielded to the request of many hon. Members that this debate should take place, and that he found a procedural method by which it could be done. It is further to his credit that the final decision will be made by Parliament. Democracy is certainly at work, at least at the parliamentary level. So far so good. But, as has been pointed out by several hon. Members, the House is bound to notice the delay that we had with the Flowers Report and the haste that we are having with the Parker Report. It is incredible that the only debate we have had on the Flowers Report was when the hon. Member for Pontypool was successful in the Ballot for Private Members' motions. It is at least curious that the Government should put a debate on the Flowers Report on the same level as the Lord President tells me they put a debate on forestry. They consider it to be a suitable subject for hon. Members to raise, but not of sufficient importance to merit Government time.

Mr. Justice Parker tells us in his report: This report is, as I understand it, intended to form, as was the Inquiry, an element in a wide public debate on nuclear issues. How can it be an element in a wide public debate of nuclear issues if the matter is to be rushed through the House in this way? In that respect, at least, the learned judge was wrong.

Hon. Members are being asked to form opinions on many difficult matters that took the judge 100 sitting hours plus many more hours pondering and formulating his report. I have not been able to discuss the matter with Professor Tolstoy, who is in America, and I should have valued the opportunity to do so. No doubt many hon. Members face similar difficulties and a number of objectors have expressed this view.

According to the Secretary of State, the rush has been caused by the Japanese contract and the possibility of other foreign contracts. In heaven's name, why should we be in such a rush over a Japanese contract?

Mr. Skeet

Because we may lose it to the French.

Mr. Thompson

Some of us may think that it would be a good thing if we did.

Mr. Skeet

If we do not discharge the contract, the French will do so and the reprocessing will still take place. If the hon. Gentleman is concerned about reprocessing generally, does it make any difference whether it is done in England or in France?

Mr. Thompson

No, but I hope that public opinion in France could be stirred up to prevent the reprocessing taking place there.

Mr. Skeet

They have signed up.

Mr. Thompson

Public opinion may still have something to say about it and, anyway, I do not think that we should model ourselves on how France behaves in many matters. In any case, there will be plenty more waste to deal with later.

I wish to raise the whole matter of the reprocessing generated from the furth of these islands. If I wish to oppose foreign reprocessing, I have to oppose the report. There is no way of supporting one bit of the report and not another.

As to wastes generated in these islands, there is no need to hurry with THORP. We shall not then run the risk of Wind-scale becoming a white elephant. We have done this before in other matters and could easily do it again.

The parts of the Flowers Report and the Windscale inquiry report that interest me most are those concerning the problems of nuclear waste, because my constituency is close to the hill chosen for some of the test borings that have been referred to. Speaking of the high level waste and methods of final disposal, the Flowers Report said: We are confident that an acceptable solution will be found and we attach great importance to the search; for we are agreed that it would be irresponsible and morally wrong to commit future generations to the consequences of fission power on a massive scale unless it has been demonstrated beyond reasonable doubt that at least one method exists for the safe isolation of these wastes for the indefinite future. Mr. Justice Parker, referring to our obligations to future generations said: These obligations include the obligation to find a safe resting place for our waste, if we can, rather than leave it for them to do so. Inevitably we have to ask ourselves "And if we cannot, what then?" Mr. Justice Parker also said: Professor Tolstoy stressed that neither the HARVEST process for vitrification nor any other process had yet been finally proved. This is correct. On the other hand BNFL's witnesses were confident that the feasibility of vitrification had been established. What remained was to optimise"— whatever that means— and demonstrate it on a large scale. I accept the evidence that a vitrification process will be successfully established. The stage of development has, I consider, been reached, when success can be confidently predicted. Indeed success must, either by the HARVEST process or some other process, be achieved. On what compulsion must it? Let Mr. Justice Parker tell us that.

We who live in areas bordering the Irish Sea, which is a partially land-locked sea, are naturally concerned by the amount of nuclear development in our area and about the search for sites for the permanent disposal of the high level of nuclear waste when it has been vitrified—if it ever is—in a commercial way. We are bound to be concerned because the EEC document that we debated some time ago spoke of a network of nuclear disposal sites in the Community. How far will this process go? Are we to end up with a network of disposal sites all over the world? How many will there be? How long will this go on—one century, two centuries, a millenium? How long can it go on before disaster supervenes for the human species? As I have said many times before, this is an international problem and we should be seeking an international solution on disposal sites if they can be found. I am determined that we in South-West Scotland will not accept any such waste on any conditions at any time.

Mr. Teddy Taylor (Glasgow, Cathcart)

The hon. Gentleman's colleagues in the SNP who represent other parts of Scotland advocate the expansion of nuclear energy and the building of an advanced breeder reactor. As the hon. Gentleman does not want it put in his constituency, can he tell us where his party believes that nuclear waste from Scottish power stations should be stored?

Mr. Thompson

We are talking not about storage, but about permanent disposal.

Mr. Taylor

Answer the question.

Mr. Thompson

The hon. Gentleman is the most impatient hon. Member in the House. He always demands answers before other hon. Members get the chance to answer him.

Mr. Taylor

I shall wait.

Mr. Thompson

That is most gracious of the hon. Gentleman. I am pleased that patience is prevailing at last in Cathcart.

As an international community, we should be looking at the whole business of disposal of vitrified high level waste. I am convinced that, for the sake of the whole human race, we must find a way of putting it outside the biosphere. I thought that if a search were made under the ice cap in Antarctica, suitable geological formations may be found which could take this material without danger to human kind.

Mr. Taylor rose

Mr. Thompson

No, I shall not give way. The hon. Gentleman has never come in on debates in which I have spoken before.

Mr. Taylor

That is untrue.

Mr. Thompson

We are running out of time, and I do not think I should indulge in interventions from a sedentary Member.

Mr. Taylor

The hon. Gentleman is saying that the SNP would like to defer further nuclear development in Scotland until this matter is resolved. He referred to storage in Antarctica and elsewhere. Is he aware that some of his colleagues in the North of Scotland want the programme to go ahead speedily? The hon. Gentleman is now saying that it will have to wait until Antarctica is examined as a possible place for storage.

Mr. Thompson

I am giving my personal opinion. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] I am entitled to do so. An hon. Member is in order in defending his constituency and the surrounding area. It is news to me that the immediate construction of a fast breeder reactor is part of my party's policy.

Mr. Hamish Gray (Ross and Cromarty)

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the SNP candidate in Caithness and Sutherland has demanded that the commercial fast breeder reactor should be sited at Dounreay.

Mr. Thompson

He may have made such a demand. It is one thing to say that a candidate is demanding something, but quite another to say that that candidate is committing his party as a matter of policy. [Horn. MEMBERS: "Oh."] After all, the hon. Member for Cathcart is on record as saying that he wants hanging brought back to Scotland. He is portrayed in the Press as always wanting to see that practice brought back, but I never regard that as a clue to the policy of the Conservative Party.

The House will be glad to hear that I shall now continue, following the foolish interruptions from Scottish Tories.

I believe that research into alternative energy sources has lagged far behind research into nuclear energy, because the United Kingdom has been seeking weapons rather than energy for peaceful purposes. According to yesterday's White Paper on North Sea oil, we have the means to research into and develop these alternative sources. Of course, we could have chosen to do this long ago, but Governments chose not to do so. To push ahead with these projects is indeed a challenge—a challenge to mankind—whether we seek, as rapidly as we can, non-polluting and renewable energy sources.

The hon. Member for Pontypool, in an emotive speech, almost made me believe that I heard the four riders of the Apocalypse cantering across Parliament Square, ready to come into New Palace Yard and carry us all off. We have not quite reached that situation, but I believe I can hear hoof beats in the remoter distance.

8.15 p.m.

Mr. John Evans (Newton)

The hon. Member for Truro (Mr. Penhaligon) mentioned the effect on people's lives of the security aspects of this subject. I must inform him that anybody who works in the defence industry is subject to restrictions of that kind and has been for a long time. Almost ten years ago I applied for a humble position as an armourer in an ordnance factory and was subjected to positive vetting. Therefore, there is nothing new in the suggestion that positive vetting is involved in defence matters. Security and civil liberties are an important aspect of this argument. It is not a major consideration, but it is important.

I should like to declare an interest because I know that it is the tradition of the House to do so. I am sure the House appreciates that I have no financial interest in this debate, but I have major constituency interests.

My constituency contains the Northern Division headquarters of the Atomic Energy Authority, the headquarters of BNFL, and the joint headquarters of the Nuclear Power Corporation. In the village in which I live with my family there is the safety and reliability division of the AEA. A total of 6,000 people are employed in the nuclear industry in my constituency. Furthermore, I am a sponsored Member of the Amalgamated Union of Engineering Workers (Engineering Section), which is on record repeatedly and publicly in support of an extension of the nuclear programme, along with the TUC and most unions affiliated to it.

My support for the nuclear programme does not spring from any constituency interest. I have a large constituency with over 100,000 electors. It contains three coal mines and two power stations, and there is a licence to drill for natural gas within the constituency. Therefore, the Newton area can well be described as an energy-conscious constituency. Whatever pressures may be put on me in my area, I must emphasise that they are always counterbalanced by pressures from another area.

It has already been said that this debate is one of the most important this House has ever held. The Government are to be congratulated on the manner in which they have conducted this exercise. I and others wish to pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment for the way in which he has conducted himself on this topic. He opened the debate with a well-balanced, moderate speech and put forward his arguments in a rational and reasonable way. Indeed, it says a great deal for the British people that we can conduct this important exercise in such a rational way.

We have all read about the disturbances and problems in other parts of the world when the nuclear argument has been conducted, with pitched battles in the streets between police and population. At least so far in the United Kingdom we have conducted the debate in a civilised and rational manner. The environmental lobby, which has played such a large part in the argument, deserves considerable praise in that respect. It speaks well for the future of this country that so many people have a keen and determined interest in man's environment.

I hope that those who oppose the nuclear programme will not assume that those of us who support it are any less passionate in our defence of the environment. Those of us who were brought up in the inner conurbations of our society and who when almost children had to work in heavy industry and suffer the consequences of pollutants are passionately interested in the environment. Many constituencies have had more than their fair share of industrial dereliction caused by chemical plants, and there have been subsidence problems in mining areas. Therefore, I wish to emphasise that hon. Members who represent such areas are still keenly concerned about man's environment.

In some respects it is a great tragedy that this debate did not take place 30 years ago when the United Kingdom embarked on its nuclear programme. I do not wish to speak with hindsight but I wish to point out that Mr. Justice Parker in his excellent report said that BNFL had had 25 years' experience of reprocessing. Therefore, it is not an innovation on which we are about to embark, but a process which has been going on for a very long time indeed. The industry has been carrying out its work without any hysteria or problems and without anybody becoming bitterly upset about reprocessing. It is also recognised that, as the nuclear programme continues to expand in this country and the rest of the world, the demand for reprocessing facilities is bound to accelerate.

We cannot assume that we can dispense with reprocessing and allow the accumulation of debris that flows from nuclear reactors. Mr. Justice Parker asked three questions at the outset of his inquiry and we have centred our debate around them.

My view is that the first question, whether reprocessing should take place at all in the United Kingdom, is the most important. If the answer to that is "No", obviously the other two questions fall to the ground. It is clearly brought out in the report that the shortage of spent fuel could present a much bigger problem than reprocessing. I believe that the answer to the first question is "Yes".

Dealing with the second question, the answer is that Windscale is the obvious choice. If we as a Parliament say "No" to that question we shall puzzle the British people very much, bearing in mind that reprocessing has been going on for 25 years. They will ask why we are stopping the process now. If the answer to that question is "No", it presumably means that we must stop all reprocessing, not simply that which would be involved in the building of a new plant. Stopping all reprocessing would he difficult to justify.

By far the most difficult question is the third. It is this which divides us, across the political parties and within them. People who agree on almost every other subject find themselves on opposite sides of this argument. There have been some outrageous and emotive statements from some journalists and others. With their constant references to "nuclear dustbins" they have played up people's natural fears. When people hear the term "nuclear power they immediately think in terms of Nagasaki and Hiroshima and all the horrors that came from them.

I recall one television programme in which the cameras cut from a discussion with some people about Windscale to shots of a nuclear bomb explosion and then showed interviews with those who had suffered the dreadful effects of the bombs at Nagasaki and Hiroshima. I have this to say about the emotional argument, with the greatest respect to my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse) who is, unfortunately, not present at the moment. Some of us could become emotional if we were to talk about losing our fathers in mining accidents when we were six years of age, or about losing other members of our family in the same way. We could become emotional if we were to speak about the people we represent who have suffered the tortures of diseases created as a result of working in the mining industry. We have to conduct the debate at a rational level so that we can arrive at correct answers.

In considering the third question we have to ask what is the alternative. If the answer is "Yes" to the first two questions and "No" to the third question, that would be rather odd. We would be saying that we would reprocess our own fuel but not the fuel of anyone else. In my view this would drive those who currently have no desire to process their own spent fuel into doing so. As a result, there would be a proliferation of reprocessing facilities. In view of the arguments about the dangers which flow from reprocessing, that must be the worst of the alternatives. In forcing people into reprocessing their own fuel we would be ensuring that, as a spin-off, they had the facility to produce their own bomb. That is the essence of the Parker Report.

I accept that some people will not agree with these arguments. I put one aspect of the case. There would be no difficulty for countries which wanted to move into this area to entice with high salaries European scientists and engineers who could assist them in the building of reprocessing plants.

Mrs. Audrey Wise (Coventry, South-West)

Would my hon. Friend like to meet the argument put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Central (Mr. Cook) who pointed out that handing the plutonium to other countries gives them the opportunity to make nuclear weapons without warning whereas if countries undertake the reprocessing themselves we shall all know about it and it will be possible to take steps?

Mr. Evans

I was about to make the point that it is recognised that any country which has a modicum of skill and engineering expertise and the financial wherewithal can make a bomb at present. We have seen examples of that over the past few years. I accept that there is a fine balance. The argument that reprocessing facilities should be kept in the minimum number of hands, in what are generally regarded as "safe" countries, seems to be an argument of common sense. I accept that there are dangers involved, no matter which way we go. There are various alternatives, such as the spiking of the rods.

We should bear in mind that it has not so far been proved that other countries want to make the bomb. The argument about reprocessing is that we should keep the reprocessing facilities in as few hands as possible and should assist the Third world countries in particular.

Those who are opposed to the general concept of the nuclear programme will not accept any of these arguments. I have heard and read the argument that we should abandon the nuclear programme. That is a legitimately held position and people have the right to take it. If they hold that position they have to tell us what the alternatives are. While I, like every other hon. Member, support the proposals for alternative sources of energy, it has to be recognised that at the present stage of man's knowledge all of the suggested alternatives can add but a tiny fraction to his energy requirements.

I hope that the House will accept that this is a world-wide argument, not simply a British argument.

We are fortunate in being so well blessed with regard to fuel. We have coal, oil, gas and nuclear technology. A great deal of the world is not blessed with any of those resources, which we possess in such abundance. In his opening remarks my right hon. Friend said that the countries of the Third world looked to the Western industrialised world. Are we now to turn to the Third world and suggest that it be denied the alternative of nuclear power? This is a powerful argument and as the Third world seeks to improve its standard of living, one of the areas to which it will turn will be nuclear power.

I look forward to a debate on fast breeder reactors. It has to be recognised that one of the problems facing the nuclear industry is the desperate uncertainty which has hung over it for a decade. I do not believe that the House has taken sufficient cognisance of that. What is happening in the nuclear industry is that many of the highly skilled and highly qualified scientists, technicians and engineers are approaching retirement. There is, consequently, an age gap with our scientists which is causing serious concern. It is fair to say that the attitude of the workers in the industry is one of bewilderment. They do not know which way the Government will make up their mind about the nuclear programme—or whether there is to be such a programme. Those workers have as much right as any other workers to know what the future holds for them.

It has been said that the views of the workers are biased because they come from within the industry. That is true. They are as biased as the views of any other workers, whether they be in the motor car industry, the shipbuilding industry, the docks or anywhere else.

One thing has to be recognised by those who put forward that argument. Those who work in the industry are sufficiently highly skilled and trained that they can get a job in almost any other industry. I do not refer only to the scientists and engineers. I include, for example, the fitters, electricians and boiler makers. They are all highly skilled and highly trained men. They are proud of the tremendous safety record that their industry possesses.

I have worked in many industries, including shipbuilding, ship repairing, marine engineering, heavy engineering and chemicals. I am prepared to state categorically that there is not one industry in the United Kingdom, or in the world, that has a safety record matching that of the nuclear industry. That is something of which to be proud. It is something that I should like to see equalled by other industries, especially the other energy industries.

It is right that we have debated these matters. I agree with every hon. Member who has suggested that the more information we can get, the better, as that will lead to the British public being better informed and to better decisions being taken.

I have spoken to many workers in the nuclear industry, and I appreciate their feelings of uncertainty. We are having a long debate and there have been debates in the past. I hope that once we have gone through the due processes the Secretary of State will put the appropriate order before the House, that we shall start removing some of the uncertainty from the minds of those in the industry, and that we shall move forward with an industry that has given such great service to the United Kingdom over the past 25 years.

8.22 pm.

Mr. Peter Rost (Derbyshire, South-East)

No one has campaigned harder in the House over the past few years than I have to try to urge the Government to adopt a more meaningful policy on energy conservation. However modest I may be, I have to make that statement. It may be that it is not widely enough appreciated. My effort has been directed at impressing upon the Government the need to cut out the appalling waste in heating our buildings, in industry, in industrial processes, in transport and in the way in which we produce our electricity. Similarly, I have worked hard to try to impress upon the Government the need to encourage new sources of energy—for example, more research and development on tidal wave power, solar power, wind power and fusion.

However, even if we were to start taking more seriously conservation and the new sources of energy, we have to admit that conservation will succeed only in slowing down and at best achieving a nil growth rate in our already increased energy consumption over the years. We have to admit that even if we started to take more seriously the development of new resources, they could be phased in to replace oil and gas probably only after the turn of the century. I am not alone in making the assumption that that leaves the probability of a gap that is likely to widen after the turn of the century, and so far only coal technology and nuclear power are certain to fill it.

I support the conclusions of the Parker Report for four reasons. I shall go through them briefly as I do not want to go over ground that has already been covered. First, the reprocessing of oxide fuel will be needed even if we do not develop the fast breeder reactor because spent fuel from the AGRs is building up and untreated plutonium is, in my view. a greater environmental hazard.

Those who argue against reprocessing did not, to my recollection, make a great deal of noise in the House when the Government recently announced that they were to go ahead with the construction of further AGRs. Why did they not carry through their argument to its logical conclusion and say "We must not go ahead with more nuclear power stations because we do not support reprocessing plants"? It is illogical on the one hand to encourage, or support, the Government when they propose to build more nuclear power stations, while on the other hand seeking to deprive the industry of the opportunity of reprocessing the material that will inevitably be required.

Secondly, I support the proposals because we must maintain a viable nuclear option for reasons that I have outlined. Conservation and alternative sources of energy do not seem likely to fill all the gap. Therefore, the nuclear building programme will have to continue.

Thirdly, reprocessing systems will undoubtedly produce huge indigenous energy reserves that would otherwise be wasted. We do not know whether they will be needed, but there is no justification for allowing those huge potential reserves to be wasted.

Fourthly, I believe that the risks of pollution and terrorism have been exaggerated. I believe that they are unrealistic and that if we accept and implement the recommendations in paragraph 17.8 for improved safeguards, the risks will be less than if we did not go ahead. Those who do not support that argument—we have heard some of them today—and do not support nuclear reprocessing in Britain, or a future nuclear expansion, have so far failed to propose any alternative option. The anti-nuclear lobby refuses to face a realistic alternative.

I have considered the alternatives and I support them absolutely, but I accept that they do not at the moment assure us of a guaranteed energy future. Those who are opposed to reprocessing and a nuclear future in terms of its being environmentally unacceptable must surely consider the alternative options.

What are those options? Even if we can find our way to developing economically and in large enough quantities new renewable sources of energy, as I more than many would prefer to see, and even if we develop wave power, wind power, solar power and, in time, fusion, we must accept that those forms of power, too, imply serious environmental hazards.

For example, wave power would have to be harnessed off the North-West coast of Scotland. It would involve hundreds of miles of pipes, probably worse than six-lane motorways, running through large parts of the country. Wind power, if it makes a contribution, will involve about 500 200-ft. high towers for each 1,000 megawatt power station equivalent. How many 500 towers each of 200 ft. will that involve around the coasts of the British Isles? Opencast coal mining, if it were to replace the nuclear power that we shall not be allowed to have if the antinuclear lobby gets its way, will have to be expanded. Thousands of acres will be at risk.

The report of the Health and Safety Commission on the hazards of conventional sources of energy, which has just been published, gives some interesting comparisons which emphasise that there is no easy option which will give us energy without some environmental hazards.

On average, there have been 50 fatal accidents a year in non-nuclear energy industries. There is a much higher proportion of deaths in non-nuclear industries than in the so far excellent safety record of the nuclear industry. But, even if we overlook the deaths in industries which produce alternative sources of energy to nuclear energy, there are far greater environmental hazards if we reject the nuclear option.

Apart from the deaths and ill health of those involved in the coal-mining industry, coal production by the turn of the century would have to be trebled and liquefied and gasified to begin to replace oil and gas. Will the trebled production of coal be automated? Will miners be redundant? I cannot see it coming as quickly as that. The consequences are far more environmental hazards to larger numbers of the population involved in the extraction of coal.

As we explore deeper waters to extract oil and gas, the risks of accidents, damage to pipelines and spillage of oil in transportation are only now becoming realities. We know how serious they may become in future unless we accept the nuclear alternative.

There are risks of serious accidents from explosions in the huge plants which will have to be developed to convert coal into gas and oil. How many Canvey Islands shall we have to construct to convert and then to store the converted coal, plus the transportation risks which will be involved?

Those who are opposed to the nuclear option must get these matters in proportion and accept that there are serious environmental as well as health risks in the alternative solutions. There are greater threats than those I have outlined to the wider population.

Consider the accidents which have occurred from the harmless-looking hydro-electric power. In Italy in 1963 a dam burst killing 2,000 people. Many alternative sources of energy, which appear environmentally more acceptable than nuclear power, produce far more serious hazards than the nuclear option.

I shall mention one further threat which I regard as the most serious of all if we reject the nuclear option. I refer to the environmental pollution which will undoubtedly increase from greater coal-burn. My hon. Friend the Member for Bedford (Mr. Skeet) has worked hard on exposing the serious risks of sulphur dioxide discharge from our power stations. We know about the acid rain in Scandinavia and elsewhere. We also know about the risks of carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxide fumes. That is on a coal-burn of about 120 million tonnes. What will it be like at the turn of the century with three times that amount of coal-burn as an alternative to the nuclear option?

There is still the completely undetermined hazard from the increase of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere which many scientists are seriously predicting is likely to lead to serious climatic changes around the globe.

I note that all these scare-mongering stories of mine are not mentioned by the anti-nuclear lobby. I put a simple question to the House: what sort of argument is it that exaggerates in alarmist fashion the case against nuclear power by over-emphasising unknown hazards in emotive terms, playing on the fears and ignorance of many people, yet refuses to put into any sort of realistic perspective the possible alternative risks?

The only way to adopt a true perspective is to recognise that all forms of energy production and consumption carry environmental and safety hazards, and that these should be assessed realistically. It is only those who put the antinuclear case who appear to be ignoring the alternative risks.

The emotive rubbish which is talked about the nuclear risk would, perhaps, carry more weight if those who argued it used the same criteria as were given at the Windscale inquiry and are used for the currently acceptable minimum safety standards in nuclear power development and applied them to some of the other everyday hazards which we appear to accept without challenge or emotive language.

For example, if the same criteria were applied today to coal, coal mining would undoubtedly end immediately and the burning of coal would be prohibited. If the same criteria were applied to tobacco, cigarette manufacture would be banned overnight and cigarette smoking would be illegal. If the same criteria were applied to the motor car, its production would be closed down and its use would be immediately prohibited.

Let us have a rational debate and keep a sense of proportion about nuclear hazards, known and unknown, putting them in perspective by at least discussing what the alternative environmental hazards are, or are likely to be, if we do not go nuclear.

On my assessment, all the energy options involve risks. I believe that the nuclear contribution to our energy resourcces is inevitable. I hope that we shall not be over-dependent upon it, but I regard it as inevitable and I support it because I believe that it will involve us in less environmental risk than will the alternatives. Those who are so eager to arouse fears and doubts about the risks of nuclear development would sound far more convincing and far more sincere if they applied themselves with equal vigour to the even greater risks of not going nuclear.

8.37 p.m.

Mr. Frank Hooley (Sheffield, Heeley)

The Windscale inquiry is part of the great international debate on nuclear power which will continue for a long time. In the United States, there was the massive report from the Ford Foundation, to which one of my hon. Friends has already referred, and I shall quote from it a short passage about reprocessing: Reprocessing would complicate waste management by broadening the spectrum and potential difficulty of problems … without reprocessing and recycle, there would be time for a more orderly and assuredly more error-free process in both management and disposal aspects of waste. Again in the United States, on 28th October 1976, we had a State decision by President Ford that The United States should no longer regard reprocessing of used nuclear fuel to produce plutonium as a necessary and inevitable step in the nuclear fuel cycle … the avoidance of proliferation must take precedence over economic interests. In fact, it was President Ford, not President Carter, who set this process in motion.

Understandably, the Nye letter has been referred to, and I shall quote two passages from it because the Parker Report is extremely misleading on the question of the American attitude. In that letter Mr. Joseph Nye said: we cannot give any assurance that BNFL may count on MB10s"— that is, permission to transfer fuel— as a matter of course for feed for a new plant or in support of any long-term reprocessing commitments it may enter into. He went on: The enclosed excerpt from the Windscale hearings incorrectly concludes that we are prepared to consent now to retransfers of such products after reprocessing which will not take place for at least 13 years. I find it difficult to believe that the United States Department of State would go out of its way to write to the Foreign Office on those points unless the Parker Report itself had been misleading. Of course, I do not say that British policy must be determined by the United States, but, clearly, American policy on reprocessing generally must have a bearing on our general argument.

In Australia there was the report of the Fox Commission. In Sweden nuclear power became a General Election issue. In West Germany it has become a constitutional issue, and in France there have been riots and civil disturbances. In Britain we had the Sixth Report from the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution and the Windscale inquiry. The Government have promised a major public inquiry on the fast-breeder reactor. So across the world there has been and is major international debate on this issue. It is by no means resolved.

I should like to deal with the report of the Royal Commission because it is widely quoted in the Parker Report. Further, it has greatly influenced my thinking on this subject. It is not antinuclear. It says in recommendation 45, on page 204, that The abandonment of nuclear fission power would, however, be neither wise nor justified … But a major commitment to fission power and a plutonium economy should be postponed as long as possible. The central message of Flowers is contained in paragraph 512, on page 195. It says that The basic belief of the Department of Energy and the AEA is that nuclear fission using the fast breeder reactor is the only real option for meeting our future energy needs. We fear that on this premise there may be a gradual, step by step progression."— that is what worries me about Wind-scale— to overriding dependence on nuclear power through tacit acceptance of its inevitability, and a gradual foreclosing of other options that might have been available had they been exercised in time. It goes on to say that: We recommend that it should be an aim of policy to lessen our future dependence on fission power to the extent that this would command public acceptance in the light of a full understanding of the implications and of the issues involved. In other words, the message from the Royal Commission is quite clearly that we should proceed with the utmost caution and examine with the greatest care all the oher alternatives before committing ourselves to this particularly dangerous approach.

In striking contrast to Flowers is the Parker Report, in which every argument for delay is swept aside. What is worse, whenever Mr. Justice Parker runs up against a serious and difficult argument he simply dismisses it. That occurs repeatedly in the report. I take as an example page 21, paragraph 6.34, on the very important question of the international nuclear fuel cycle evaluation programme. It was put to him very fairly. He was asked what would happen if, as a result of that evaluation, international agreement was reached not to reprocess fuel commercially. In that case, Mr. Justice Parker said, THORP would become redundant. We are proposing to spend perhaps £1,000 million on this highly complex plant, but it seems that the Government are not prepared to wait a couple of years until this important international study has been carried through to see whether we are embarking upon a project which we may find ourselves required to abandon by international treaty. That argument is met by Mr. Justice Parker by the attitude "In that case we shall not want it".

Professor Tolstoy said that neither vitrification nor any other process for solidifying waste had been finally proved. Mr. Justice Parker says that that is correct, but he simply adds Success must either, by the HARVEST process or some other process, be achieved. He simply gets rid of the difficulty by saying that we must find a solution.

What worries me about the Parker Report is this attitude to serious objections which are advanced by highly qualified scientists in the various aspects of the matter. They are simply met by this dismissal of the arguments without their ever being taken into consideration.

Mr. Rooker

On my hon. Friend's first criticism, I support my hon. Friend in the way in which he dismisses Mr. Justice Parker's arguments. But surely the plant would not be built by the time international agreement was made. We should only have wasted the expenditure incurred between now and perhaps three years' time, and that would not involve constructing the entire plant.

Mr. Hooley

I do not think that my hon. Friend could seriously argue that absolutely nothing will be done and no expenditure will be incurred in the next three years. I agree that the plant may not have been completed, but we shall be going ahead on that basis and presumably the organisation of the whole fuel cycle will be done on that basis if we agree to THORP. I cannot for the life of me think what is the point of launching a scheme and going on with it for two or three years when we are aware, as the Parker Report says, that there are very important international negotiations taking place which might put us in a position of having to abandon it through the signature to some treaty on this issue.

Mr. Abse

Is not the whole point that all the designing work and all the expenditure earmarked for the building work could come about without any planning order at all? There is, therefore, no need for the House in the next debate to take the decision if all that is intended is to do the preliminary work.

Mr. Hooley

That is another part of the argument. I accept that. But what is a little ironic is that a great many of the arguments against building THORP at all are set out with considerable cogency in paragraph 8.9 of the Parker Report, on the ground that we should for some time proceed on the basis of storing the spent fuel. The advantages of doing this and not going ahead with THORP as set out in the report are as follows. First, the plutonium and uranium would still be available for recovery if it was decided at some future date to go ahead with a reprocessing technique and the use of plutonium. It would still be there. It is not destroyed. The problem is that one cannot destroy this stuff. That is the whole problem with nuclear power.

Secondly, if it is stored and not reprocessed there would in the meantime be no separation of plutonium, no addition to plutonium stocks and no movement around the country of this extremely dangerous substance.

Thirdly, there would be no discharge of radio-activity into the environment, which is involved in reprocessing. It would be avoided for the near future, and we might avoid it indefinitely.

Fourthly, the additional plutonium that we would get from going ahead with this process is not needed. The report makes absolutely clear that even for those who are passionately attached to nuclear power and who want to go ahead with a fast-breeder programme, this could be achieved without the THORP programme, because the necessary basis exists from the Magnox scheme. Even those who are passionately attached to nuclear power and want the fast-breeder system do not need THORP to go ahead with that for a period of at least until the end of the century. If we hold up this scheme we can gain extra knowledge and experience of the control of radioactive discharge. We might be able to reduce it by various techniques or eliminate it altogether.

There would be time to strengthen and increase the safeguards against the proliferation of nuclear weapons. This is a complicated argument, and one in which there are also pros and cons, but on balance, if it were felt that there was advantage in safeguarding against nuclear proliferation by delaying reprocessing—the American Government clearly regards that as a serious advantage—we should put that against the odd economic and other considerations which seem to weigh so heavily with BNFL.

The report states that alternative sources of power coupled with conservation measures might satisfy energy needs to an extent which would make it unnecessary to resort to nuclear power at all. I believe that this is the key argument. It follows on the argument of Flowers.

We have heard a very great deal of argument about the energy gap. My view is that Mr. Justice Parker got hooked on the energy argument at an early stage in the inquiry and could not bring himself to reject the nuclear case because he felt that if we did that the energy problem would not be soluble.

But we must look at some of the suggestions that the nuclear industry has made about the need for nuclear power at the end of the century. The record is amazing. From a footnote to page 78 of the Flowers Report it appears that only a few years ago the nuclear power lobby was seriously suggesting that by the end of the century we should need 285 gigawatts—the equivalent of nearly 200 nuclear power stations—to satisfy this country's electricity needs. The forecasts rapidly came down to 104 gigawatts. In the current energy consultative document of the Department of Energy they are down to 40 gigawatts. I believe that even that is beyond this country's economic and engineering capacity by the year 2000, in view of the speed at which nuclear power stations would have to be commissioned and built.

Over a period of only about three years the official calculations and projections of the AEA have come down from 285,000 megawatts to 40,000. Heaven alone knows what the AEA will produce next year as its calculation. Can one take seriously the arguments of such people about energy gaps? I find it impossible to believe their projections.

Mr. Bruce Douglas-Mann (Mitcham and Morden)

I fully accept what my hon. Friend says about the needs in this country, but does he not accept that if the world population increases in the way that is virtually certain the only prospect of feeding the world is to have plentiful supplies of energy to desalinate water, pump water and produce fertiliser? Without nuclear energy, can my hon. Friend see any real prospect of our dealing with that problem?

Mr. Hooley

Indeed I can, because this planet is not short of energy. There are masses of energy in the physical system in which we live. I agree that there is a technology gap. We have not yet advanced sufficiently in the technology of harnessing solar power, the wind, waves, water, geothermal energy, and so on, to produce the renewable energy.

We are using up the energy capital of the planet—oil, gas and coal—instead of using our massive natural energy revenue. We have not solved the technology. I want to see the world tackling that technology problem along the lines that the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South-East (Mr. Rost) mentioned, so that we can exploit the infinite energy potential on the planet.

What worries me about the Windscale inquiry is that we are not heeding the warning of the Flowers Report. Flowers said "Don't exclude the other options. Go careful, careful down the nuclear road, if you go there at all." Parker says "To hell with that. Get on with it. Build this thing and never mind the consequences of proliferation, radioactive accidents, terrorism and the rest. Do the thing tomorrow." That is a fundamentally mistaken attitude.

Several Hon. Members rose

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Myer Galpern)

Subject to the Business Motion's being carried, the debate may continue till 11 p.m. I understand that the winding-up speeches will probably take about an hour. Twenty-one hon. Members are still anxious to take part. When I was in the Tea Room the other day I was greeted by some hon. Members as "Bashful Brevity", because of my repeated appeals for brevity. So, uncharacteristically, I do not propose tonight to appeal for brevity, but I have stated the facts.

8.54 p.m.

Mr. Michael Jopling (Westmorland)

I told Mr. Speaker that I should be brief, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and I intend to do as I said. I regard this subject as being of huge importance to my constituents. My hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Page) said many of the things that concern those who live in Cumbria, which makes it rather easier to be brief.

My own constituency is only 15 miles from Windscale. Before the Parker inquiry took place, I shared with many of my constituents fears about what was implied in the reprocessing plant at Wind-scale. It was for this reason that I was one of those who originally joined in the call for the inquiry.

I have been immensely impressed by the Parker Report. Also, if I can say this without giving myself apoplexy, I was equally impressed by the speech of the Secretary of State at the beginning of the debate. It was an extremely impressive speech.

I oppose totally those who are opposed to the Windscale project and are expressing their opposition by turning on Mr. Justice Parker. I notice that very few of those who attack him are levelling an attack on the two very eminent assessors who sat with him. The fact that those assessors are left out of the attack means that there is very little scientific ground on which the report can be attacked. I feel very much happier in my mind about this project than I felt before the inquiry took place. I think that my feelings now are fairly widely shared in Cumbria.

It would be helpful for the House to know the local attitude to this development. First, the economic development and planning committee of Cumbria County Council wrote me a letter this week, of which I want to read just two sentences: The Committee welcomed the conclusions reached by the Inspector and by the Secretary of State. In their opinion, this fully vindicated the view they had originally reached, namely that the application could be approved with appropriate safeguards. Secondly, the application is supported by the district council.

Finally—and this is one of the most important things—the application is supported by the trade unions whose members are already working on the site at Wind-scale. The hon. Member for Bristol, North-East (Mr. Palmer) referred to the trade union attitude to this development. I think that those hon. Members who were in the Grand Committee Room last night to see the film that was shown by BNFL, which was attended by a panel of shop stewards from Windscale, could only be impressed by the enthusiasm that the shop stewards clearly showed for the development.

Having read the report, it seems to me that it is perfectly clear that this country must have a nuclear energy capacity. It becomes clear that, with the supply of fossil fuels becoming finite, particularly oil supplies, coal leaves us with too narrow a resource to embark on the future. I agree totally with Mr. Justice Parker that a go-ahead for the reprocessing plant at Windscale does not constitute a pre-emption of a decision on the fast breeder reactor later.

My main point is concerned with the safety of the plant and the risks that might be involved. It is on the recommendations that come at the end of the report that I want to end my speech. These recommendations are crucially important to the people who live in that part of England. It is the people who live in Cumbria, and in the Isle of Man, who are at the sharp end of any dangers that might exist.

I do not feel prepared to say "Yes" to the Windscale development until I know fully what the Government intend to do about those recommendations. BNFL told us last night in the Grand Committee Room that so far as those recommendations put an onus on BNFL to take action, it is fully prepared to take it.

When I asked the Secretary of State during his speech to give an assurance that the statement which he promised about the Government's reactions to these recommendations would be made before the next debate on the order, I realised that perhaps he was not immediately able to give a full affirmative reply to that request. However, I must make that request again. It is of the greatest importance in view of the interests of the people who live locally.

I should also like to bring in the Isle of Man. I have a copy of a letter that was sent to my hon. Friend the Member for Essex. South-East (Sir B. Braine) from the administrator and secretary of the Isle of Man Local Government Board. I should like to read out parts of that letter which are of great relevance.

It states: all radioactive discharges to the sea from nuclear installations in the United Kingdom arise from the Windscale Plant and these, as you will know, are piped into the Irish Sea only some 30 miles from the Isle of Man. The Isle of Man Government is particularly anxious to ensure that the conditions attached to the Special Development Order which the Secretary of State has said he will lay before Parliament shortly after the debate on 22nd March, are meaningful and enforceable. The letter goes on: it is important, in our view, to seek to ensure that they are fully and satisfactorily implemented at an early date by the appropriate Government Departments. The interests of the people of the Isle of Man, and the interests of those who live in Cumbria, are of the greatest importance. These recommendations cover a variety of matters including transport security, whole body contamination, radiological protection standards, discharges and their limits, the nuclear inspectorate and, perhaps most important of all, local emergency arrangements if an accident should happen. One of the most disturbing things in the report was the way in which it was shown that local emergency arrangements were extremely unready. That is something which must be looked at.

I hope that we shall have the assurance for which I asked from the Foreign Secretary. If not, I hope that the Secretary of State will be able to make an early statement on the recommendations in time for the House of Commons to take the final decision. That is of the most crucial importance.

I also hope that in the implementation of Mr. Justice Parker's recommendations, the Government will consult Mr. Justice Parker. As I began by saying, my attitude at the beginning of the inquiry was one of questioning. I have come to have the greatest possible respect for the judgment of Mr. Justice Parker in these matters. I should like to think that the Government will consult him about the implementation of the recommendations which he has made at the end of the report.

But if the House should divide tonight I do not feel in a position to vote in favour of the plans going through. I am not prepared to do that at this stage until I know from the Government what they intend to do about the most important recommendations which Mr. Justice Parker has made. I hope that the Government will be able to give the assurance I seek at an early date.

9.4 p.m.

Ms. Maureen Colquhoun (Northampton, North)

I wonder whether people find it extraordinary, as I do—having listened to the whole of the debate—how Members of Parliament constantly get up and congratulate themselves on holding a debate at all. It seems an extraordinary situation that we praise ourselves and either thank someone for allowing us to hold a debate or congratulate ourselves on having a debate, when this is perhaps one of the most serious debates that this House has ever held.

Although I want to associate myself with those hon. Members who have said how impressed they were with the Secretary of State's speech—it was the kind of creative speech that we have come to expect from him—I am totally dismayed by its undertones. What did his speech mean to those who oppose Windscale, and what are the Government's intentions?

I think it was Disraeli who defined the practical man—I do not think that there were many women around at that time—as: A man on whom one can rely to repeat the mistakes of his forebears. That seems to sum up Mr. Justice Parker's report on Windscale.

Indeed, it sums up the whole situation into which we have got ourselves over public inquiries and inspectors' reports. This causes me great concern because Windscale is a classic example of the general imperfections of the present system which we laughingly call public inquiry, public accountability and grass roots democracy. These public inquiries are meaningless nonsense to people outside. The objectors are either wealthy and able to afford counsel, or middle-class and articulate. It is very difficult for us to gauge the working-class reaction. Therefore, the inequalities, the dehumanisation, the exploitation of resources and the pollution arising from this kind of report are predictable.

These predictable findings of such people as Mr. Justice Parker are the result of allowing the power of science and technology to fall into the hands of over-large institutions, Government and industry. It is a shame, but it is a fact that the report totally destroys the concept that big companies and Governments must become more accountable and responsible in their activities and must take account of human needs and ecology. This report does not take account of these factors.

The inquiry's findings are a disaster for Britain if this House does nothing about them. I believe that Parliament is pathetic in what it is able to do and what it is prepared to do in such a situation. It does not want to take decisions. It wants decisions taken for it. Either that, or its decisions are bypassed completely.

Many ordinary people in this country are terribly depressed about the fact that Britain may become the world's nuclear dustbin. There is no sense of responsibility for the future in the report, which puts life in jeopardy in Britain in the long term—not in the next few years, but in the time of my grandchildren and our great-grandchildren.

Mr. Ronald Brown (Hackney, South and Shoreditch)

Is my hon. Friend aware that the TUC has come to a contrary view? The evidence which it gave to the Parker inquiry was precisely the opposite to that which she has stated.

Ms. Colquhoun

I thank my hon. Friend for reminding me of that, but I ask him to be patient. I shall come to our comrades in the TUC in a few moments.

It is time that politicians put communities first and it is time to examine public accountability of high-level technological decisions, many of which have been totally wrong for communities. Yet public inquiry reports have been accepted by this House and by the great Departments of State which are supposed to be accountable to us. An example is Dr. Beeching's report on the railways—a first-class job of brilliant thinking, but only in terms of his brief to rationalise the railways. For people in different communities, the acceptance of that report was and will continue to be a disaster for Britain.

Mr. Shore

The great distinction between Dr. Beeching and Mr. Justice Parker is that while Dr. Beeching was indeed given a specific brief to rationalise the railways, Mr. Justice Parker was appointed to examine the facts and given no brief except to probe and to find as much of the truth as he could.

Ms. Colquhoun

My right hon. Friend must accept that I am talking philosophically. He is a creative political thinker. The Windscale report is a disaster in my view, and I am using my right as an elected Member to say so clearly and loudly. The Government's commitment to a plutonium economy is one of the most important issues of the day. It is a great tragedy that, on the Wednesday before Easter, so few people should be in the House to debate this dreadfully important matter. It deserves not a few hours but a few weeks of debate—but that just brings up the conflicts that hon. Members have.

One fundamental matter that did not come out at the inquiry—because it was not in the brief—is that this plant is needed for the Common Market. Before any decision on Windscale is hustled through this House at the treble, Parliament and the country should be able to discuss the United Kingdom's energy policy and its contribution to a European energy policy.

At the inquiry, the Central Electricity Generating Board said that a two-year delay would not be critical. So even those who are totally hooked on nuclear power take the view that a decision by this House now is premature.

The decision that we shall take to go ahead will effect the fabric of this nation's ecology. It is not only a question of new technology. It is far more wide-ranging. The TUC and the unions, sitting on their backsides in committee, have narrowed the debate to a question of continuing employment, in a society in which the Treasury view of cyclical unemployment is replaced by the unions' dreadful fear of structural unemployment. Thus they accepted the need for a dirty industry unwanted by any other country.

I understand the fears about unemployment but it is unforgivable that the unions cannot provide radical answers such as earlier retirement, work sharing, a shorter working week and a wage below which an employer is not allowed to pay. To support Windscale, a magnificent 1978 folly which will have the most deplorable repercussions, is a piece of shortsightedness of which the unions—and this Labour Government, if they accept the report—should be totally ashamed.

Mr. Palmer

I accept my hon. Friend's great sincerity in this matter, but I am sure that she would not tell us that she is in the House of Commons as a Member of Parliament simply because she wants employment.

Ms. Colquhoun

I can certainly tell my hon. Friend that as a member of the Select Committee on Employment I seek employment wherever I can find it. But I hope that this House will conclude that the Secretary of State can keep the special development orders in his office, unused and unwanted, because it seems to me from his speech to the House today that those special development orders are ready and that, whatever may happen today, the project will be pushed through.

It is not only people outside who are cynical about politicians. There are people inside this House who are equally cynical of politicians and of the corrupt two-party system that we often see in this House of Commons, by which deals are made between the two Front Benches and the Back Benchers are merely left as voting fodder—and regarded as slightly ridiculous and emotional if they make a fuss about it.

The Windscale inquiry may well mark the end of the middle-class pressure group, made of up people who do not live in the area concerned. It may be that the Friends of the Earth conceded in a logical and reasonable way that there may be a compromise over nuclear waste disposal, but the Friends of the Earth in my constituency would concede nothing of the kind.

But where were the voices of ordinary people at the inquiry? This is something that ought to concern Parliament. Are they so downtrodden, so inarticulate, so unhappy over unemployment, or so bemused by the language of the technologists, the experts and the politicians, that they cannot use the system? It would still be important that they should in future be encouraged to participate, otherwise it makes the idea of democracy even more laughable than the two-party system that we have in this House of Commons.

9.17 p.m.

Mr. T. H. H. Skeet (Bedford)

Like the hon. Member for Northampton, North (Ms. Colquhoun), I pay tribute to the Secretary of State for an excellent speech.

President Carter's contribution to the nuclear debate centres upon the examination of the thorium-uranium cycle, thus avoiding, he says, the plutonium economy. This has been adumbrated on behalf of the Liberals by the hon. Member for Truro (Mr. Penhaligon). He wants to await the report of the international nuclear fuel cycle evaluation. But I assure the Secretary of State that, although this is the nub of the Carter proposals, there are one or two great difficulties in it which should not be overlooked.

The spent fuel will have to be reprocessed in a plant which has not yet been designed or built. The recovered fuels, thorium and uranium 233, will have to be fabricated in a plant which is more complicated to operate than the materials of the uranium 235 cycles, due to radiation from uranium 232 and thorium 228. Enrichment would be required to start up the cycle, and the time scale would probably be the mid-1990s.

The impact of non-proliferation is limited, since plutonium is formed in the process, albeit in a small volume, and both fossil uranium 233 and uranium 235, together with the substantial enrichment facilities required, would carry a proliferation risk. Those are President Carter's own proposals.

I back the Parker proposals, supporting the building of a new thermal oxide reprocessing plant at Windscale. They are correct, and should be endorsed by the House. It is both obvious and sensible to make use of indigenous fuel, namely, plutonium, the byproduct of spent fuel reprocessing. Such a step would substantially reduce Britain's future uranium requirements, all of which, as the Secretary of State said, have to be imported and would reduce the pressure on world stocks of uranium, thus helping to keep the prices of uranium oxide within manageable limits.

Without the fast reactor, the annual requirements of uranium will rise continuously, to approach 17,000 tonnes by 2025 and, according to Dr. T. M. Marshall, the cumulative requirements of uranium would reach a maximum of 250,000 tonnes with the fast reactor and approach 1 million tonnes by 2050 with thermal reactors only. I hope that the Minister will bear this in mind, together with the fact that the added value element is significant.

The uranium-plutonium recovered from the project envisaged at Windscale operating at full capacity would, if reused in thermal reactors, be equivalent to 35 million tonnes of coal—one-third of the production of mines in 1976.

In my view, recycling is a conservation of energy resources not entirely dissimilar in concept, as my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, South-East (Mr. Rost) said, to the reclamation of waste paper and coloured glass.

Plutonium may be used as a mixed oxide fuel for thermal reactors to produce electricity and for incineration in fast reactors to produce electricity. In turn, fast reactors will utilise depleted uranium 238 which would otherwise have no further use. Perhaps it would be significant to quote Dr. Walter Marshall, who said in November last year: Some 60 per cent. of the energy in uranium could be extracted instead of 1 per cent. (in thermal reactors) making each tonne of uranium the equivalent of up to 2,000,000 tonnes of coal. The world's known uranium resources then become the largest and cheapest energy sources available. My second reason for supporting Windscale is that thermal reactors and the fast reactor are complementary. While all thermal reactors produce plutonium, there should be a fast reactor available to incinerate it. Advance reactor technology produces, at once, additional power and the protection of the environment by running down plutonium inventories.

A thermal oxide plant would not be necessary for the fast reactor scheme up to the eighth station, but it would be necessary after that to reprocess the AGR fuels for further plutonium. Moreover, our commitments to the EEC, Sweden, Japan and others would have to be undertaken in a new plant, since the old B204 plant at Windscale has been closed since 1973 and has yet to be reopened.

While all thermal reactors produce plutonium, a fast reactor may be adjusted to consume the material and produce virtually none itself—as Dr. Marshall put it— to adjust the balance between plutonium produced and plutonium incinerated". However, it will be recollected that Magnox produces 600 kilowatts of plutonium for every 1,000 megawatts of electricity generated. The light water reactors produce 330 kilowatts and the fast reactor, unadjusted, 189 kilowatts. One would have thought that the "antis" would be very much against the Magnox system which has cumulatively produced up to 50 tonnes of plutonium which is available for use in a fast-reactor programme and will have to be accepted in the United Kingdom after debate in the House.

My third reason for supporting Wind-scale and the nuclear programme is that the advance of nuclear power is required to fill the energy gap which will develop later and produce relatively cheap electricity.

Nuclear power is safer than many suppose, while the combustion of fossilised fuels, particularly coal, is a greater contaminant of the environment than many thought. Paragraph 8.55 of the Parker Report says that The possible need for a considerable nuclear programme may include the need to reduce reliance on coal since coal fired stations are probably at present a greater source of harm than nuclear powered stations. Curiously enough, we had only two days ago the report of the Health and Safety Commission on the hazards of conventional sources of energy. The report disclosed that the number of workers killed in the production of each 1000 megawatts of electricity in the United Kingdom were as follows: for coal-fired stations, 1.8; oil-fired stations, 0.3; and nuclear stations, only 0.25. More specifically, in 1975 alone coal mining gave rise to 64 deaths and 586 serious accidents. Furthermore, there were 31,871 cases of pneumoconiosis in the mining community.

I wish to make two additional points. Sulphur dioxide emitted from stacks has a serious effect on respiratory diseases, such as bronchitis, and the severity is likely to increase the greater the tonnage burned. On ecological issues scientists are concerned about the growing insulation provided by a layer of carbon dioxide resulting from the combustion of fossilised fuels and its likely effect in terms of extensive climatological changes.

Another problem was the adverse effect of nitrous oxides from combustion on the ozone layer, and thus on the amount of cosmic radiation reaching the earth.

The fourth reason why I suggest that we should go ahead with thermal oxide plants is that the majority of reactors in the free world are light water reactors which use oxide fuels. As few countries have had any experience in reprocessing it—the Americans have no thermal oxide reprocessing facilities—it was sensible that Britain, with many years' experience and expertise, should enter this lucrative business by providing services and undertaking commitments on the fuel cycle. This would more than atone for failure to achieve success on the export of nuclear reactors. This would prevent the inexperienced, developing States, which have a right to nuclear power for peaceful purposes, from entering this field and inhibiting the growth of a multiplicity of plants around the globe.

As BNFL has established a reputation in enrichment technology and reprocessing, it would be folly to hand over the Japanese contract entirely to the French. Further, by having fewer and larger reprocessing centres in the stable industrialised States, the dangers of proliferation would be diminished.

I come to my fifth and final reason. The arguments against long-term storage —the only alternative to reprocessing—of spent nuclear fuel elements are several. While PWR zirconium-alloy-clad elements may be retained for about 20 years, the safe life of a stainless-steel-clad AGR element is about five years, due in part to the fact that the fuel in the latter operates at much higher temperatures than in the former and becomes more vulnerable to corrosion. In fact, over the longer term it would prove less expensive to reprocess them than not to do so.

The growing volume of waste, together with the decline of radioactivity with the passage of time, would make the cumulative mass more vulnerable to thieves, since it becomes by human intervention a potential "plutonium" mine. Reprocessing offers the prospect of separating and transmuting the actinides, the long-lived radioactive components, to render them harmless by incineration. With the "throw-away" cycle a greater volume of actinides would require disposal. Through abstracting the plutonium and the fission products there is less plutonium in waste to return to the environment via the plutonium site.

Mr. William Molloy (Ealing, North)

I am listening very carefully to the hon. Gentleman's interesting submission. I agree with him about the dangers, which have been proven, in respect of the use of coal. There is no doubt about the superiority of this other form of energy. What perturbs ordinary folk more than anything else is that we do not know about the possible effects of radiation, about what might flow from the processing operation. We know about the dangers connected with most other forms of energy—oil slicks, and mining disasters. What we do not know, and what the scientists disagree about, is whether there are dangers inherent in this other form of energy which we are not capable of assessing. Scientists say that it is possible that this might be better or that there might be danger in that.

Mr. Skeet

It would not be fair to the House if I took up much time in answering that point. I have with me an extract which says that in the 15 years since 1963 no fatal or serious accidents within the United Kingdom nuclear industry were caused by radiation.

The Secretary of State referred to a nuclear waste management advisory committee. This was mooted by the Prime Minister some time ago. It has taken 10 months for us to reach the situation when the right hon. Gentleman says that he hopes to form this committee but unfortunately does not yet have the consent of the chairman. This is far too slow. May I help the right hon. Gentleman out? There is already legislation before the House dealing with the establishment of a nuclear waste disposal corporation and a nuclear waste management advisory committee. This legislation implements the Flowers recommendations and would enable the Government to do, in a statutory framework, with parliamentary control, what the Department now proposes to do on a somewhat narrower footing. The right hon. Gentleman can have this structure if only he has the sagacity to support the legislation which I introduced a few months ago.

The Americans are moving along similar lines. Senator Charles Mathias of Maryland has introduced into the Senate a nuclear waste management Bill which establishes a nuclear waste management authority with functions to deal with nuclear waste. It is strange that the Government, with all of their resources and advisers, have made so little progress compared with private initiatives freed from the problems of departmental restraints.

I hope that I heard the Secretary of State correctly this afternoon when he said that he intended to accept certain of the recommendations of the Parker Report, specifically that dealing with paragraph 10.115, which says that In the future there should be … specific discharge limits for each significant radionuclide whether the discharge is to sea or atmosphere. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman accepts this entirely and explicitly. There are limits on ruthenium 106 and strontium 90, and I hope that they will be extended to other elements, such as caesium 134 and 137, iodine 129 and tritium. I hope, too, that the right hon. Gentleman will tell us when he proposes to bring about a modification of the Radioactive Substances Act 1960. This was introduced some time ago and will require modification.

Mr. Speaker

Order. I dislike making a second appeal, but we are nearer the time when normally the Front Benches would begin to reply to the debate. I hope that hon. Members will help me to enable others to take part in the debate.

9.34 p.m.

Mr. Arthur Blenkinsop (South Shields)

I have heard your appeal, Mr. Speaker, and I shall cut many comments in my speech and concentrate on one issue. I do not regard myself as being part of the anti-nuclear lobby, nor can many of those who have properly criticised this report and some of its findings be regarded in those terms. Many of us support the view expressed in the report of the Royal Commission, which was not anti-nuclear but which argued strongly that we need to retain the nuclear option as one of a series of energy options.

My great anxiety, very sincerely held, is that the concentration of capital resources upon this one field of potential energy will be so great as to deny any effective development of alternative possibilities. This can be of importance not only for us but for so many other coun- tries, too. It is an assurance on that issue that I want from this debate. It is because of my doubts on that issue that I am strongly tempted to vote against the Government at the end of the debate. I am even more strongly tempted to vote in that way when my right hon. Friend lays the order before the House.

I share entirely in the good will towards my right hon. Friend for the action that he has taken up to now. Unlike some of my hon. Friends, I think that he has done an outstanding service in ensuring that the debate takes place and that a widespread debate is taking place throughout the country. We lead the world in our attempt to ensure that this issue, which is of profound importance to us all, is being honestly and sincerely discussed. Although I share many of the criticisms of my right hon. Friend as expressed, especially, by my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Central (Mr. Cook), I feel that the inquiry was well worth holding. It brought out a good deal more information than otherwise would have been available. I hope very much that the further inquiry on the fast breeder reactor to which my right hon. Friend referred will go forward.

I hope that there will be a reasonable delay between today's debate and my right hon. Friend laying his order. I do not believe that there is any overwhelming pressure requiring him to lay the order within, for example, a few weeks. It is important that some time should be allowed to elapse from this debate to the real decision that will have to be taken when my right hon. Friend brings the order before the House. I appeal to him to consider allowing reasonable time for consideration of these issues throughout the country before the order is finally laid.

I do not see how we can make a reality of the assurance that we seek that energy options are left open. How can we carry that out within our limited resources if the one claim on our resources in the nuclear sector is to be as much as is threatened by this proposal plus the potential possibility of the other developments that will follow? That is the issue that I find to be of overwhelming importance.

There are those who seem to think it amazing that some of us are deeply concerned about the possibilities of the development of nuclear energy in future, especially as regards plutonium. They quote the dangers that we have lived among and known so well in mining and other industries. Can they not see the distinction that with this development we may be committing ourselves, and generations ahead in a way that none of our industrial developments has done previously?

Nearly everything else in which we have been involved has allowed us to retreat. We are moving into an area with dangers from which future generations will be unable to retreat, even if they wish to exercise that option. As one who has been in the House for quite a long time, but will not be here all that much longer, I fear those dangers. That is why I believe that the Royal Commission was right to say that we must use every caution—every protection—to ensure that we do not make commitments that land us in a situation from which future generations will not be able to escape.

9.41 p.m.

Mr. John Hannam (Exeter)

The significance of this debate is borne out by the fact that the four Front-Bench speakers taking part are concerned with the three major Departments of Energy, Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs and Environment. Therefore, we should be grateful for the opportunity to debate the Parker Report. The introduction by the Secretary of State for the Environment has set the tone of what I consider an interesting and important discussion.

In previous debates on nuclear power I have expressed my belief that a substantial percentage of the world's electricity generation in the coming 50 or 100 years will have to come from nuclear generation. I believe that as oil begins to run out at the end of the century and as coal becomes more and more the resource from which we shall want to replace our diminishing resources of gas and oil, rather than that they be used purely as boiler burning fuels, so will the countries of the world be building nuclear power stations. At the same time, those same countries will be pursuing every possible research avenue and exploration into alternative renewable energy sources.

I do not believe that it is feasible to regard solar, wind, wave or thermal power as possible replacements for coal and nuclear electricity generation within the foreseeable future. I only wish that it could be so.

Whilst there are differing views about the time scale for the using up of our non-renewable sources of energy, there is general agreement throughout the world that, even with a low projection of growth and a substantial increase in energy conservation, there remains a widening gap which can be filled only by nuclear generation. I do not intend to use this debate as a vehicle for rehearsing those arguments in detail.

We have before us a proposal for the treatment of the accumulations of nuclear spent fuels and whether we should accept the findings of the Parker 100-day inquiry into further reprocessing facilities for the oxide-spent fuel which will come from the second generation AGR reactors.

Debates have a habit of widening out into other subjects. From my own post bag in recent weeks it is obvious that many people believe that, by stopping or delaying the Windscale expansion, we are in some way striking a blow against nuclear power. In fact, as Mr. Justice Parker pointed out, the granting of outline planning permission does not necessarily mean that this reprocessing unit will be built. The BNFL may, in the final event—in 1982 possibly when it comes to the final stage of making the decision to proceed—decide not go ahead, possibly for economic reasons or because, in the meantime, this country may have decided internationally not to proceed with that degree of reprocessing.

I believe that the Parker Report weighs up the pros and cons of reprocessing and, having allowed an opportunity for all interests to present their cases, comes down in favour of the oxide reprocessing plant in order to reduce the size of stocks of the more radioactive spent fuels.

I support that conclusion, although I fully understand the emotions which have been aroused amongst those who have deep fears about nuclear technology and its implications for the future. Those fears relate to the dangers of radioactivity from waste emissions, from possible explosions in reactors—I believe that to be an unjustified fear—from terrorist activities and nuclear proliferation—that is a very important aspect—and from long-term storage problems, which I consider to be probably the most important aspect.

However, it is important to remember that the BNFL has more than 25 years of reprocessing experience with 19,000 tonnes dealt with, producing over 10 tonnes of plutonium, of which 7½ tonnes are still in store.

In the United Kingdom some 12,000 tonnes of irradiated fuel have been transported over a total distance of more than 3 million miles in servicing our power stations. That is a wonderful accomplishment, and it has been done without incident of any kind. This is going on, and will continue, because if it did not our Magnox reactors could not produce the base-load of electricity upon which our industries depend.

Whatever decision is now made about the new oxide plant, the reprocessing of Magnox fuel will continue, and this will mean that by the year 2000 some 52.5 tonnes of plutonium will have been separated, plus a large amount of highly active liquid waste if none has been vitrified by that stage.

The BNFL vitrification process development, which started in the 1950s and then, because of lack of support by successive Governments since then, was put into abeyance, is now back in full operation and should result in a full-scale plant within the next 10 years. This is obviously of tremendous importance, and in March 1977 Parliament, through the Secretary of State, gave planning permission for that development, and the Government began the process of finding the finance for it. So we are already in the process of overcoming the vitrification problems.

With the AGRs producing the oxide-spent fuel with 10 times the radioactivity of the older fuels for Magnox, unless we have provided for ourselves adequate and safe reprocessing facilities we shall have some 4,150 tonnes of spent fuel, and this will have to be dealt with in some way or other by the year 2000. On top of that, we shall have some 200 tonnes from the prototype reactors at Windscale and Win-frith. If further reactors are built, as I am sure they will be, the total will rise to some 6,000 tonnes from United Kingdom reactors alone. To put the matter in global figures, for the non-Communist world we are talking about 40,000 to 50,000 tonnes of nuclear waste.

BNFL has been reprocessing spent fuels from several countries and, indeed, exports plutonium to various authorised countries. The United States itself has just authorised three more shipments totalling 48 tonnes of spent uranium oxide fuel, and this is now on its way to Wind-scale.

I have never believed that President Carter intended to halt reprocessing in the major nuclear partners. Indeed, I should be prepared to wager that a fast breeder technology will be well under way in America by the turn of the century.

However, having said that, I should add that I believe that the United States President was right to use his nuclear muscle to bring the world together to discuss and resolve the problem of international control of plutonium proliferation. His initial moves were somewhat counter-productive, but the subsequent enlightenment which he gave at his Press conference in April redressed the balance somewhat. He stated then that the United States were not trying to impose their will on those countries like Japan, France, Britain and Germany which already have reprocessing plants in operation. … They have a perfect right to go ahead and continue with their own reprocessing efforts. Mr. Justice Parker, however, is not altogether clear on the United States position in this regard. I take the view, especially in the light of Mr. Joseph Nye's letter to our Foreign Office in December, that the Americans quite possibly, under President Carter, will not agree to reprocessed materials being exported. This could hit the Japanese contract on the head, which could in turn kibosh the whole of the THORP project, although I still think that there is a case for a plant for United Kingdom reprocessing.

The other development which also could cause a delay in the project could be the international fuel cycle evaluation programme—INFCEP. This is due to report next year, and if an agreed international policy on the fuel cycle is produced, the Windscale extension may not be needed. This could in turn affect the decision—it is still to be made—in about 1982 by BNFL.

I hope that the Foreign Secretary will give us some more information about the United States attitude, since it bears importantly on this future development.

Mr. Hooley

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Hannam

There is great pressure of time, and I should prefer to complete my remarks.

The other important subject which the inquiry covered was that of radiation dangers, both from the point of view of employees and from that of people in the surrounding areas. In the last nuclear debate I gave some comparisons of the likely incidence of accidents in the nuclear industry. I referred to other possible disasters, and I shall not go over those except to add that I believe that our peaceful nuclear power industry has a safety record second to none. The probability of nuclear radiation deaths for its employees is less than the probability of accidental deaths in manufacturing industry. In some industries, such as construction and mining and quarrying, the accident rate is 10 times as high.

The position concerning local communities is equally reassuring. Even if that once in 10 million years an accident occurred in which substantial radioactivity was released, and if, pessimistically, all 10,000 people in the area received that radiation, all available evidence predicts that there would be only 15 fatalities. Compare that one in 10 million chance with the existing death rate from cancer of 25 per 10,000 people. That is happening now. Radiation exposures from the discharges at Windscale would be less than from a granite house in Aberdeen and far less than from certain places on Dartmoor.

It is unfortunate that the headlines always seem to distort the truth about nuclear power. If two men fall off a scaffolding the headline reads "Atom deaths in France". If a minor plant malfunction takes place the inevitable headline appears "Atom blast at Wind-scale". My hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King) quoted other irresponsible items from Sunday newspapers.

Mr. Justice Parker has called for a tightening of safety and security precautions at Windscale, and that makes sense. When it comes to protection against terrorist activity he was vague, and presumably that was for security reasons. But the fact that for some 25 years or more all plutonium movement has taken place by sea, air and land shows that effective security precautions are in operation. But with the increasing and accessible stocks of plutonium at Windscale one can feel some concern about the lack of detail in the report on these points.

Let me reiterate my belief that we shall need a substantial nuclear contribution to our electricity generation in the coming 50 years. Our nuclear industry has the skill and ability to maintain a safe and dependable supply, and the problems of vitrification and disposal of waste can be overcome if the hysteria which surrounds the subject can be dispelled.

I welcome the report and I am glad that we have had the opportunity to debate it. I also support having a further debate on the fast breeder reactor when and if the time comes. I thank the Secretary of State for allowing us to debate this very important matter tonight.

9.53 p.m.

Mr. Ronald Brown (Hackney, South and Shoreditch)

I, too, pay tribute to my right hon. Friend for his clear speech and the way in which it has helped us to address ourselves to the report of Mr. Justice Parker. I take issue with him on one aspect. He said that the report was unique, but I do not agree. The only unique part about it was the planning fiddling that went on. In 1967 the Government of the day had already made up their mind on reprocessing. They did not go to the people, and therefore Mr. Justice Parker is dealing not with a novel issue but merely with an extension of the existing facility.

I shall keep my remarks brief, since I have offered to sit down early so that one of my hon. Friends can speak in the debate.

I wish to address myself to the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse). It was distressing to listen to him, with his strictures on British Nuclear Fuels Limited and the way in which he couched his contempt for it. That seemed to me to be absolutely appalling, particularly since I do not recall any criticism from him on the fact that the Americans have exported their light water reactors throughout the world, and I regard them as inherently dangerous.

I have never heard my hon. Friend a any stage express his contempt at the fact that that was done for sheer profit and that at no stage was safety ever considered. I listened to him with interest, and in the brief time that was available to me this evening I searched the records to see whether he had commented on the various safety factors—for example, on the question of an emergency core cooling system. Perhaps he did comment, but he did not do it very loudly, certainly not as loudly as he expressed his contempt this evening for BNFL. If he did comment, I can find no trace of it.

Not having made that sort of criticism in the past, my hon. Friend is yet tonight able to assert that he accepts lock, stock and barrel all that the Americans have said. He says that the TUC does not know what it is talking about. He refuses to understand his friends in the TUC. He would much rather hear what the Americans have suggested to him. This is a society which up to a few years ago refused to have an independent regulatory function. It originally had, under the AEC. The regulatory person and the adviser to the President were one and the same person. Of recent date the Americans have come round to the concept that they ought to have a regulatory function separate from the advisory.

My hon. Friend is basing the whole of his future on what the current fashion of the Americans happens to be. What he did not tell the House was that he was not quite sure what the fashion will be next week. All he knows is that for this purpose today, 22nd March, it happens to be suitable to him. Therefore, he was able to cast aside all the other arguments.

My hon. Friend did not address himself to the other important factor. The question really is, as we have the material to deal with, whether we bury it or burn it. His argument was that to burn it was wrong. He went through a tortuous speech lasting 24 minutes explaining that.

What my hon. Friend did not explain was how one deals with burying the material. Is he arguing that posterity will thank him that much more if he leaves it with that problem, rather than burn it and use the results of the burning? He did not argue this case. I am sorry that he did not spend some time dealing with that. It would have helped the House.

It is easy to say that something is wrong. Thousands of people are arguing that there is something wrong. My hon. Friend argued in a destructive way. Very few people can suggest constructively how to deal with the problem.

It is said that the matter is being raised in every country in the world, There is only one common factor in all these countries, particularly in our own area of Europe, and that is the travelling salesman, Dr. Walter Patterson, who "has hag packed, will travel". It is the same story wherever he goes. It is not credible, but he gets it across. He will keep on saying it wherever he is. He has very little regard for the truth in terms of the total issue. He trades on the people's fear. He is a fear salesman. I was sorry that my hon. Friend should have chosen to follow that course.

I pay tribute to Mr. Justice Parker's report. Few people could hear such a massive amount of evidence and produce a cogent report that people can understand. People can make up their minds about it. But it cannot be gainsaid that Mr. Justice Parker attempted to evaluate the options available. I hope that the House will support my right hon. Friend tonight.

9.59 p.m.

Mr. Paul Hawkins (Norfolk, South-West)

I am most grateful to be called on this matter. I have thrown away two-thirds of my speech because what I would have said has been much better said than I could have said it. I have a constituency interest.

I refer to the "Essential background" in the Parker Report, paragraph 2.1 This report is, as I understand it, intended to form, as was the Inquiry, an element in a wide public debate on nuclear issues. Moreover it was repeatedly stressed by one or other party in the course of the Inquiry that the public are badly informed and should be better informed. I have no doubt whatever that this is so, in the sense that the public should be provided with more in the way of digestible and reliable information. Mr. Justice Parker goes on in the same strain and finishes that paragraph by saying: Furthermore the anxieties which are felt, and deeply felt, however irrational and misplaced they may be, undoubtedly exist and are elements which must be taken into account. About 10 years ago the Central Electricity Generating Board bought 300 acres of land in my constituency within two miles of my home town, where my family had lived for the past 10 years, within a mile and a half of the town of Down-ham Market, within the village of Denver. It bought this land from the drainage authority. It was waste land which was left after the completion of a drainage scheme.

The CEGB has notified the Norfolk County Council of its interest—

It being Ten o'clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.

Ordered, That the motion in the name of the Prime Minister for the Adjournment of the House may be proceeded with at this day's sitting, though opposed, until Eleven o'clock.—[Mr. Bates.]

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Bates.]

Mr. Hawkins

People living in my constituency particularly those living in my town of Downham Market, need to be given assurances—assurances that any community can demand when faced with the possibility of the building of a power station, which I am sure will be nuclear. We want the Government to tell us as soon as possible whether there will be such a power station, to tell us that there is no better site—none that is further from a built-up community.

In such cases cost must not be the deciding factor. I am prepared to listen to the case for the power station, and I have met the CEGB, which has been most helpful. If the need is proved, the Government and their agencies must bring the county council, all other councils, involved, and the people of the district into the picture at the earliest possible stage. The people must be kept informed and given assurances.

I am told that when the power station is completed it will give employment to between 400 and 600 local people. That would be of immense benefit to my constituency, which has high unemployment. But there is another side to the matter. While the doubts exist, there is stagnation in development and blight to property. That cannot be allowed to continue indefinitely.

There can be great difficulties during construction, which I believe takes six years. During that time the work force builds up to 2,500 at its peak. What has been done to arrange for extra police and extra schooling, and to prevent the destruction of local roads? Downham is a very friendly and delightful town, but even its even temper could be tried by many of the troubles that can come in the wake of such a work force.

We have attracted many retired people, and they must not have their lives made a misery or their property values depreciated.

Mr. Brian Sedgemore (Luton, West)

Is the hon. Gentleman for it or against it?

Mr. Hawkins

I am sitting firmly on the fence. I am trying to point out how the people in my district feel about nuclear power. They should be reassured at the earliest possible date and given as much information as possible. I need that information, and I trust that we shall get it throughout the period between now and whenever a nuclear power station is built.

Several Hon. Members rose

Mr. Speaker

The winding-up speeches will begin, I hope, at 10 minutes past 10 o'clock.

10.4 p.m.

Mr. Bruce Douglas-Mann (Mitcham and Morden)

I am grateful for the opportunity to speak briefly, as I have for many years been president of the Socialist Environment and Resources Association, and I was among those who urged on my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State that the inquiry should be held. I must confess that since then, having read the report and having considered the matter over the past few months, I have come to the conclusion that my views should be changed and that the plant should be built, notwithstanding my previous opposition to it. The reason for my view is that I think that Mr. Justice Parker has demonstrated that if we are to rely on nuclear energy at all, the plant is a requisite for continuing to do so.

I fully accept that many of my hon. Friends would argue, as I have argued in the past, that it was not necessary for us to have to rely on nuclear energy for the generation of electricity, and that if one does so, there is undoubtedly a very grave risk. Mr. Justice Parker has reduced the fears, but by no means has he fully allayed the fears of all the consequences of the storage of nuclear waste and all the risks dealt with in the report.

However, there is one overriding factor that has caused me to support the plant from now on. That is that we know that the world population, even on the most optimistic estimate, will increase by 50 per cent. by the turn of the century, and may well have doubled by very soon after then, on a rather less optimistic estimate. We know that there is scope for expanding world food production sufficiently to meet the need for food by the turn of the century—for the next 30 or 40 years. We have had the Cabinet Office paper "Future World Trends", which investigated this matter in depth, and the conclusion of that study was that world food production was capable of being expanded but that the limiting factors were money and energy.

I have come to the view that if we do not have the energy supplies necessary within the rich countries to generate a relatively wealthy society, and if we do not have the energy capacities to use for desalination, the pumping of water and the production of fertilisers, we shall not have either the resources or the will to resolve the world food problem.

Therefore, I accept that this plant is a necessity because it is necessary for us to continue to rely on nuclear energy. However, although I accept it as being a necessity, we cannot justify continuing to use the resources that nuclear energy will produce to provide ourselves with yet higher and higher standards of living. The object of the gravely dangerous course that we are undertaking is to ensure that the world population can survive and be fed. Therefore, I say to my right hon. and hon. Friends, please support this plant because of that.

After reading Parker, I am certainly not satisfied that the risks are as small as he suggests, but whereas there are risks in having the plant, world starvation if we do not have the energy resources is a virtual certainty. Therefore, I believe that we should have this plant.

10.8 p.m.

Mr. Michael Heseltine (Henley)

I say at once that this has been one of the best parliamentary debates that we have had for a very long time. It is a great tribute that the Secretary of State, in response to many cries, found the opportunity to debate a subject which as obviously been of great concern to hon. Members on both sides of the House.

I think that the whole House will recognise that Mr. Justice Parker has provided a report which, broadly, has covered all the subjects that were of main concern to hon. Members. There has been very little raised today in the debate that was not dealt with at considerable length in the report. I think that the overwhelming consensus from both sides of the House is that we owe a great tribute to Mr. Justice Parker for his work in this matter.

All of us are aware that in dealing with the advance of high technology there is always a deal of quite legitimate anxiety which is based as much on the uncertainties and ignorance of the facts as it is on the genuine problems themselves. Perhaps remembering the early days of Concorde and some of the more worrying suggestions about radiation, noise and damage to the environment of one sort or another which surrounded the 10 years of development of that project, to see Concorde now in commercial service makes one wonder what a great deal of the argument at the time was all about. The fact is, however, that the Windscale proposals are obviously in a dimension that is different from the Concorde project.

The development of THORP at Windscale presents us with an issue of bewildering complexity. It is only right that we should try to find as many of the answers as possible. It is quite true, as some hon. Members have suggested, that there are some answers which it is not possible to establish with certainty.

Like the Secretary of State and my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King), I start with the question of our judgment whether we should build into our forward energy plans a significant nuclear role. I do not believe that anyone has today seriously questioned that there is no way in which we can responsibly discharge our obligations to the future unless we were to assume that—whatever judgment one makes about the availability of energy in the next century—nuclear energy will be a significant part of national requirements. In that situation we cannot neglect the continued development of our nuclear capacity.

The fact is that the expansion of Windscale may not be essential for our on-going energy programme. But in the best use of the materials—and perhaps more important, of the disposal of wastes—there seems to be absolutely no argument whatever that the Windscale programme is necessary. The fact is that the wastes exist. It is not a question whether we should start nuclear energy production. It is not a question whether we have an option of that sort. We are now producing waste materials, and they will greatly accumulate along with all the established risk which is at this moment unavoidable.

The reprocessing which Windscale involves is one method of dealing with an existing quantifiable problem. Perhaps one of the things not stressed with clarity by some hon. Members who have anxieties about Windscale is what they think should happen with the wastes if we do not reprocess in the way that Windscale involves. I think everyone would acknowledge that there are risks whatever we do. But the balance of risk is very much in favour of moving in the Windscale direction rather than in storing the existing wastes on an ever escalating scale.

I believe that the hon. Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse) exaggerated the case in a way in which very few other hon. Members were prepared to do. I simply do not believe that it is in accordance with the facts to suggest that we are being stampeded by Japanese industrialists into the decisions that are being considered today. At the very least, by that analysis, the Japanese would be entitled to say that the debate had been going on for a long time in this country. The inquiries, reports and the whole range of consultations are things which the Japanese have watched being conducted in Great Britain and they have reached a point where they feel that a decision should be taken.

The hon. Member for Pontypool did not answer this question: if we were to wait another 18 months or two years, does anyone believe that the issues would be easier than they are now? Would the Japanese contract still be on offer? The balance of probabilities is that it would not. If it is possible to move forward in the limited sense in which we are doing at present, and still maintain for ourselves the economic benefits that could come to this country from the Japanese and other overseas contracts, it must be right to make that decision today.

The whole matter was put in context in the three questions which appeared early in the report. Should oxide fuel from nuclear reactors be reprocessed in this country at all? If the answer is "Yes", should it be at Windscale? If that answer is "Yes", should the plant be large enough not only to meet our national requirements but also those of overseas countries? The processing of oxide fuel must depend on one's fuel views of future energy needs, and I have said what my own view is on that.

The second point raises questions of local safeguards. I shall come to that at the end of my speech. My hon. Friends the Members for Workington (Mr Page) and Westmorland (Mr. Jopling) stressed the vital local interests which are of particular concern to the people living close to Windscale.

The third question deals with the whole issue of praliferation, and tied up with that are the issues surrounding terrorism and civil rights. My hon. Friend the Member for New Forest (Mr. McNair-Wilson) was right to point out that the materials coming out of the Windscale process, if Windscale develops, are particularly unsuitable for hijack or terrorist theft. One can minimise this risk by the spiking process. The hon. Member for Edinburgh, Central (Mr. Cook) shakes his head. I believe that he is concerned that in the hands of the Governments to whom the fuel is delivered, the fuel could be despiked. However, in the context of terrorist abduction the spiking process is a very real safeguard.

The House will agree that Windscale itself does not introduce a new dimension into the complexities of modern society. There are available in this country tactical nuclear weapons and bacteriological techniques, both of which add up to the same sort of threat as that which it is argued is posed by the Windscale fuel.

The same argument could apply to the extension of threats to civil rights. All these problems are built in wherever human beings have invented techniques of mass destruction. We are not introducing any new principles. We are merely extending the areas in which we must take steps to find solutions to our immense difficulties. We must recognise that there is a national interest which justifies the introduction of the security techniques that are now available.

I was surprised to hear the hon. Member for Truro (Mr. Penhaligon) attacking the Parker Report because it was vague on the subject of security. He seemed to argue that details of the security system to be introduced at Windscale had not been examined by Parker and until this House was told what the security systems were, how they could or could not be foiled and the weaknesses in them, we should not agree to them. That is the most naive statement that I have heard. The House does not have access to security systems throughout the United Kingdom. If it had, it would make a nonsense of those systems. The hon. Member cannot believe that that is a serious criticism of the Parker Report. It is just a debating point.

This is a matter of ministerial judgment. Ministers must be responsible, and very few Ministers in any Government have access to the security systems which are of central importance to this country. It is within the prerogative of a tiny number of people in Government to have this information.

There are broadly two arguments put forward on the question of proliferation. One has been put by the Friends of the Earth, and this is similar to the argument of the United States Government. There is an alternative argument which I shall set out.

That argument is that if we do not reprocess fuel for nations that are using nuclear power for civil purposes, they will be tempted to move on to gain the capabilities to produce enriched fuel, together with the military capability that comes with it. The argument is that in this country we should have available on offer on agreed conditions, the techniques which enable us to carry out for other countries those processes which we do not wish them to carry out themselves.

If there are nations which are determined to have a nuclear capability, they will get it regardless of all the niceties of the debate to on non-proliferation. But, if they are open-minded and are prepared to consider the highly desirable pleas of the Americans and the Western world in general, it is much more likely that we can persuade them not to move towards obtaining reprocessing facilities if we are prepared to offer those facilities in this country. We then have a much better chance of persuading them that that is the course to follow.

In that context, the suggestion that we should wait for the international nuclear fuel cycle evaluation programme is in no way precluded by the decisions that the Secretary of State has put before us. All that he is saying is that today we are having a debate on the Adjournment that will not commit Britain to vast expenditure on nuclear reprocessing. Today we decide nothing. We are simply having a broad debate on the issues.

We are then to have a special development order which will grant planning permission. That will be a long way from anything practical happening on the ground. As my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater said, the date on which something physical would happen, when concrete could start being poured, is about 1982.

By that time, the results of INFCEP will be known and it will be possible then—perhaps only half-way to the process of actually building anything—to pull out if that were thought desirable. It would be possible to do so for a range of other reasons.

Mr. Justice Parker makes it clear that his report does not say, even if we give the planning permissions, that Windscale will ever be built. All that is being said is that it would be right to move on now through the planning processes and not to allow the arguments which are put forward to delay us.

I want to say why I think that that argument is conclusive. Let us assume that, however much we want the INFCEP or the nuclear non-proliferation treaty to work, they do not work, and that in two, three or four years we are back more or less where we are now, having to make up our minds what to do about the accumulating wastes in Britain. The argument then would be that the wastes are that much bigger and the problem is greater and that we need Windscale on stream faster. We would then be forced to push forward faster and on a larger scale with a complex and potentially dangerous innovation.

In order to avoid getting ourselves boxed into that situation, we should now take a more leisurely pace, at which we could hope to learn to cope with the problems on a much more relaxed basis than we should be forced to do if we left it for several years. So the argument for moving forward is correct.

No doubt the Foreign Secretary will want to talk about the non-proliferation treaty and the use of MB10 certificates. These have not been greatly discussed today because, by the nature of things, we shall have to wait for the Foreign Secretary's speech. But it would be helpful, as we shall be moving to the SDO debate which is critical for this matter, to hear something about the MB10 certificates and the current American policy as the Foreign Office now sees it.

First, what about the coincidence of the recent decisions to grant MBIOs, which came almost coincidentally with the decisions and announcements of the Parker inquiry? Does that imply, as people have taken it to imply, that there will be a continuation of such certificates? If there were no such continuation, if there were to be a positive refusal of these certificates, would the Windscale plans then fall or would it still be intended, in the absence of a Japanese contract, that the proposal should go forward for domestic use only?

Will the right hon. Gentleman also deal with the point which the leader in The Times raised, particularly as regards the interpretation of the non-proliferation treaty? Is it right to assume, in the Government's eyes, that the definition of the treaty itself commits us to a situation where we do all in our power to provide reprocessing facilities in order to encourage those nations with civil nuclear capability not to move forward into a military posture?

The detailed anxieties raised specifically by my hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland and by my hon. Friend the Member for Workington are very largely covered towards the end of the report. The Secretary of State, in his speech, went some way towards explaining the matter. I think he said that he would consider every one of the recommendations very carefully, and announced that in the case of two or more of them he had already specifically decided to move towards acceptance.

Will the Foreign Secretary say whether, by the time we come to the debate on the special development order, we shall have a rather more detailed and fuller answer to each of the recommendations of the Parker inquiry? My hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland feels that apart from the good intentions, there are too many loose ends left lying around in relation to the dangers about which his constituents are anxious. He and others of my hon. Friends would like to have some clear understanding about these matters.

Anyone looking at the Parker Report from the angle of environmental and safety recommendations must recognise that it has done everything it humanly can to anticipate every aspect on which there could be legitimate public concern on the part of people living in the area. Recommendations have been put forward to deal with them.

The hon. Member for Edinburgh, Central mentioned the standards of the Environmental Protection Agency in America. We have also heard about the standards to which the Germans are to be committed. In each case these standards are a great deal tougher than those suggested as being relevant to Windscale. It seems to me that there is a question here which is entitled to receive a full answer from the Foreign Secretary.

I have no doubt at all that the subject is one which has greatly benefited from the debate that we have had today. I only hope that the Secretary of State, when he considers the procedure by which these massive planning decisions have to be taken, will feel that there is a legitimate lacuna in our planning procedures which usually prohibits this House from being involved in the process in the way in which it has been involved today.

We shall be moving at some stage to a debate on the fast breeder reactor and on the Belvoir coal face. Both have very considerable implications over and above the usual sort of planning inquiry. The House is grateful to the Secretary of State for his device which has enabled this debate to take place, but device it is, and the House would, I believe, feel that it would be more appropriate to regularise the position and to have a procedure, recognised under the law of the land, to enable the parliamentary deliberation of issues of this sort to become part of the parliamentary process.

My party will certainly not wish to divide the House tonight. Indeed, if there were to be a Division, I would certainly recommend that my colleagues support the Government.

10.29 p.m.

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Dr. David Owen)

The central issue before the House is brutally simple. The world is increasingly forced to look to nuclear power as a means of sustaining life, in the full knowledge that nuclear power, if misused, adds to the danger of destroying life once and for all. These are. therefore, major issues, we are right to debate them in this House, and we are right to question carefully and to proceed cautiously.

Different views have been expressed in the debate, but everyone is agreed on the importance of the issue that we are discussing. We have not been stampeded. We have not acted hastily. We have acted with deliberation and only after careful thought.

I could have highlighted many of the-contributions in the debate. I agree with the hon. Member for Hendon (Mr. Heseltine) that it has been of very high standard. I single out the contribution of my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, North-East (Mr. Palmer), who has taken a lifetime's interest in this whole question, and who, in the Select Committee and elsewhere, has played a considerable part.

In facing the basic dilemma, which is how to reconcile the continuing need for nuclear energy with the need to control the dangers of nuclear proliferation, most speakers have accepted that this country has a nuclear power industry and a continuing need for nuclear power. This means that nuclear fuel elements are being irradiated and will continue to be irradiated in our present nuclear power stations, and in those which will be coming into production in the next few years. The basic question facing us is what should be done with our irradiated fuel. We cannot escape that question. Under any option, there are varying degrees of risk of proliferation. We already reprocess the fuel from our Magnox reactors. We have no alternative. Magnox fuel detiorates rapidly and there is effectively no choice but to reprocess it.

But the THORP proposal does not concern Magnox fuel. It concerns oxide fuel. From our domestic programme the fuel comes from advanced gas-cooled reactors. If we build PWR, the fuel will come from light water reactors. The question is therefore whether we reprocess oxide fuel.

It has been suggested that instead of reprocessing the fuel from our AGRs we could store it, temporarily for two or three years, or for a longer period. Even this last choice can be broken into the alternatives of a stowaway route, where the fuel is stored with a view to its being recovered to be reprocessed one day, and the throwaway route, where the fuel is disposed of finally with no intention of ever recovering it.

Irradiated oxide fuel is stored for a number of years, in most cases in ponds, to reduce the heat and radioactivity before reprocessing takes place. If there were any advantage to be gained from storing this fuel for an additional two or three years, it could be done, though at the cost of providing additional storage capacity.

The existing AGRs are already producing irradiated fuel. This will, in any case, have to be stored for about 10 years until THORP is built. With AGR fuel, we do not yet know how it will behave in storage ponds after about 10 years, but we do know that after a shorter period the fuel elements show signs of corrosion.

If we follow the stowaway alternative, we commit ourselves to storing accumulating quantities of irradiated fuel, which require careful management, and which, over the years, with the decrease of radioactivity, would become increasingly accessible to anyone with the capability of separating out the plutonium. In other words, we and the world, if it also adopts this course, would be building an ever-increasing number of potential plutonium mines—and still with the prospect of eventually building reprocessing plants of a size and type capable of dealing with this accumulation.

The throwaway route means throwing away more than 90 per cent. of the energy value of nuclear fuel—roughly the equivalent of throwing away seven pints out of every gallon of petrol that a motorist buys. It also means finding suitable and acceptable geological sites for the permanent burial of bulky, increasing quantities of irradiated nuclear fuel. Anyone who knows the problems involved in planning inquiries in this area can have no doubt that it would be a very difficult course.

By contrast, the reprocessing route recovers the unused material from nuclear fuel, reduces to manageable proportions the amount of high level waste that must eventually be disposed of. It allows us not only to reserve the recovered uranium but also preserves an option of using the separated plutonium, instead of allowing it to accumulate indefinitely.

I stress the word "option". We gain the full energy resource value from reprocessing only if the plutonium is re-used as fuel. We have not yet taken a decision on fast reactor policy and will not do so for some time to come. We shall have an inquiry before we embark on the first commercial fast reactor, and neither that, nor any subsequent decision on whether, and how many, fast reactors should be built will be decided solely by the existence of stores of plutonium. Windscale is not critical in that respect, since the fuel which we already reprocess from our Magnox reactors provides enough plutonium for a sizeable fast breeder programme.

Nor is there force in the argument that the substantial investment needed for the Windscale reprocessing plant somehow generates political momentum towards a large fast breeder programme. The cost of such a programme is of such a magnitude that any decision is bound to be taken on its own merits, and only after very careful consideration.

The Government have therefore come to the same conclusion as the inspector that, on technical, environmental and energy policy grounds, we should reprocess rather than store our own irradiated fuel.

It has been argued that we should defer our decision to go ahead with Windscale until INFCE is over. This study is intended as a clearing house for ideas and for the evaluation of technical alternatives. Underlying all this was our basic political objective. I was present at the Downing Street Summit when the issue was first discussed and the process of developing INFCE was first discussed. Nobody who heard that discussion with seven countries involved could have been under any illusion but that there were strong and soundly based scientific differences of opinion. It would be optimistic to find that at the end of next year 40 Governments, starting with quite different views in many cases, have agreed that reprocessing is or is not necessary or that fast breeder reactors are or are not necessary.

It will be a useful opportunity to try to pool knowledge and scientific experience and, one hopes, to reach a broader consensus than at the moment. Because of the difficulty of reaching agreement, the Governments taking part agreed—and many made this agreement a condition of taking part—that INFCE would not be used as an excuse for delay in reaching necessary decisions on nuclear policy.

In suggesting that we should await the outcome of INFCE—and a number of hon. Members mentioned this matter, including my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse) and the hon. Member for Truro (Mr. Penhaligon)—hon. Members also suggested that by going ahead we are acting in opposition to President Carter's non-proliferation policy. I want there to be no misunderstanding in this House about the American view. They would prefer us to defer decisions pending the results of INFCE, and this has been conveyed to us by the Administration. We should know that, and take that decision in the full knowledge that that is their view.

However, construction of the reprocessing part of the plant will start only in late 1981–82, though work on the ponds will need to start right away. I am advised that we need to lay the order now so as to be able to go ahead with the design work, obtain planning permission and go out to tender. Yet this timing will allow us to take full account of the results of INFCE as it proceeds—a point mentioned by both Opposition Front-Bench speakers—in how we design, safeguard, protect and manage the reprocessing plant and its products.

The Government, however, fully share President Carter's objective, which is to limit as far as possible the danger of nuclear proliferation. I have made a number of speeches in support of that policy. I believe that successive British Governments have a proud record in championing the issue of non-proliferation. We have been campaigning for it when many other countries, not least the United States, were not taking as much interest in this subject. President Carter's interest in this subject is, in my view, totally genuine. Although we share the aim of limiting the spread of reprocessing plants, where we differ is that we believe we can best achieve this by offering other non-nuclear-weapon States the services of the new plant at Windscale.

I was asked about United States policy, and particularly about what has been referred to as MB 10—namely, the formal approval for the transfer from one country to another of material enriched in the United States. They have said that they will deal with this on a case-by-case basis where the Government concerned has demonstrated a clear need for reprocessing. It will be some years before any approvals are needed for the transfer of material to the new plant at Windscale. Furthermore, the responsibility for obtaining the approval will lie with Japan or any overseas customer, except for our European partners, because of the right of freedom of movement within Euratom.

In a television interview on 2nd May 1977, President Carter replied to the question Could nuclear fuel elements supplied by the United States be reprocessed in several countries? with the following: Yes, they are now and I think would be permitted to be reprocessed in the future Dr. Joseph Nye has however said We cannot give any assurance that BNFL may count on MB l0s as a matter of course for feed for a new plant. We have INFCE and after that we have a number of years in which we hope to convert the Carter Administration to our view of reprocessing on non-proliferation grounds.

I shall try to demonstrate why I believe that our view is sound. Japan already has a small reprocessing plant. There are already reprocessing plants in 12 countries, including small, pilot and laboratory plants, and at least three other countries are planning to have them. The most that we can try to do is to limit the number of additional plants, and we believe that the best way to do this is to remove the incentive for their construction by offering the services of our own expanded plant, particularly to non-nuclear weapon States.

If we were to wait for two years what would happen? Few can deny that reprocessing would continue in the world. Some Governments, who might not otherwise have done so, might decide to build their own plants. We could not expect them to change their decision if we were to decide to go ahead, after all, in two or three years' time. We would accumulate irradiated fuel and would run the risk of having to build and operate a new plant at Windscale in a greater hurry than would be the case now, and most certainly at greater expense.

If we need to reprocess fuel irradiated in the United Kingdom on grounds of better use of our energy resources and better waste management, and there is a case to be made for that, it is only right that we should offer the use of the plant to other Governments who share our view that reprocessing is a necessary part of the nuclear fuel cycle. In this way I believe that we shall reduce the need for other Governments to build their own reprocessing plants. In offering our services to other Governments we hope to satisfy their, and our, concern about the possible misuse of plutonium.

I was asked by the hon. Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King) to say something about the view of non-nuclear-weapon States. Many hon. Members know that we have had great difficulty in getting more countries to adhere to the non-proliferation treaty. There is a considerable anxiety that the non-proliferation treaty merely stops horizontal proliferation but allows nuclear-weapon States to have vertical proliferation. Further, there is a suspicion, and sometimes it is openly and hostilely stated, that under the guise of non-proliferation we are trying to hold back countries from acquiring the technology.

Some argue that while it may be acceptable to reprocess our own fuel and to separate plutonium since we are a nuclear-weapon State, it is quite a different matter to reprocess other countries' fuel. They fear that we shall be separating plutonium and returning the plutonium to the country of origin and we shall be adding to the risk of the spread of nuclear weapons.

First, we must recognise that plutonium is not the only weapons-usable material, and reprocessing is not the only sensitive technology. Highly enriched uranium, which is not the same as low-enriched uranium used as reactor fuel, can also be used in weapons. Enrichment technology, of which there is an increasing number of varieties, could well prove dangerous to the world, by making highly enriched uranium available. We need to control very carefully this technology and material. Plutonium also occurs in the fuel cycle apart from as a result of reprocessing.

The issue of non-proliferation is clearly of central importance. I do not challenge any hon. Member who has raised this as a matter of concern.

Mr. John Mendelson (Penistone)

The Foreign Secretary will recall that in the controversies over nuclear weapons and the use of nuclear energy for peaceful and other purposes over the past 10 years there have been many who were not nuclear disarmers but who were in favour of confining the use of nuclear energy to peaceful purposes. Why does the principle now outlined require that Britain should become the central production place for reprocessing?

Dr. Owen

With respect, we are not the centre for reprocessing. It is a mistake to think that decisions are being made only in this country. The technology is advanced in many other countries. France is taking a contract from Japan for reprocessing. The existence of reprocessing plants is already fairly widespread. It could be said to be too widespread. I am second to none in wishing to try to restrict reprocessing, where possible, to those who are nuclear-weapon States.

Mr. Abse

Will my right hon. Friend explain why he believes that when we, a sophisticated country with all our technology, know that it would take at least a decade to get a reprocessing plant, a novice country would get the process, if we held up matters for two years, without the technology and without the capital at its disposal? He has not answered that basic question.

Dr. Owen

I listened to my hon. Friend's speech and I intended to answer that question. However, I shall answer it now. Some of the countries contemplating reprocessing are not in the novice category when it comes to technology. No one would think of Japan as a novice country in high technology. They will acquire the necessary skills. The knowledge of reprocessing is already all too widely spread and others are probably able to match our ability in construction and design.

Article IV(ii) of the non-proliferation treaty states: All the parties to the Treaty undertake to facilitate, and have the right to participate in, the fullest possible exchange of equipment, materials and scientific and technological information for the peaceful uses of nuclear energy. We do not regard this as an obligation to sell reprocessing plants, nor do we in our view have a legal obligation to reprocess for others. We do, however, have a responsibility to further the aim of the non-proliferation treaty. As a member of the Nuclear Suppliers Group we have accepted an obligation to exercise restraint in the transfer of sensitive facilities, technology and weapons usable materials". We shall certainly apply this restraint to the sale of reprocessing plants or technology. We have never made such a sale, nor do we intend to do so.

The storing of plutonium is not new. Under present contracts BNFL stores plutonium belonging to foreign custommers until those customers have satisfied us that they have a legitimate need for it for peaceful purposes. The plutonium is then returned only under IAEA safeguards. The safeguards cannot, of course, be guaranteed to prevent proliferation, but they mean that States have to declare design information, maintain detailed material accounts and accept frequent visits by international inspectors. This system acts as a means of detection and as a deterrent to the diversion of material to explosive use.

Nobody believes that the present safeguards system is perfect. Continuing efforts are being made in the IAEA, the Nuclear Suppliers Group and INFCE to improve and strengthen the international system of safeguards. As the system is improved, so the safeguards applied to our plants in the United Kingdom and to material sent to our foreign customers will be strengthened. We shall do our utmost to see that that happens. We already accept European safeguards on all our civil nuclear installations and we have made a voluntary offer to place all such installations, including Windscale, under IAEA safeguards and inspection.

For the future we want to buttress the arrangements with an additional control. We shall do all that we can to improve the calibre of our safeguards in this whole sector.

Mr. Rooker

As regards the transporting of plutonium and the exporting of it, is it right that we fly it out of the country? That is what I understand from the managing director of BNFL. Do we use civilian or military aircraft for that purpose?

Dr. Owen

We do not use military aircraft. Mostly it is transported by ship. I shall return to the questions that have been raised on transport.

We have been working in the Nuclear Suppliers Group, in the IAEA and in INFCE to reach international agreement on a system of international plutonium management. Such a system would mean that plutonium produced in Windscale and other reprocessing plants would be stored under international control and returned to its owner only when he had demonstrated a genuine requirement. Even then, we would return the plutonium only under IAEA safeguards, and only in a form that would reduce the risk of plutonium being stolen and misused by terrorists.

International plutonium management is currently the subject of active international discussion. It probably offers the best prospects of ending the risk, or reducing the risk, of proliferation. It will be some time before details are worked out and agreed. But this should happen long before the new plant at Windscale has started reprocessing fuel for foreign customers. Equally, it will be some years before we have to determine the form in which the plutonium should be returned.

The hon. Member for Bridgwater asked me to comment on whether we shall irradiate plutonium. The form in which we return plutonium will be determined in consultation with our customers who actually own it. But, in discussion with the Japanese Government, we have already agreed that this matter of concern must be resolved to the satisfaction of both Governments before any plutonium is delivered to Japan. The same will apply to any other customer.

I was asked to deal with the recommendations in the Parker Report. We hope to be in a position, when the order is laid, to answer at least the great bulk of the recommendations. Some may require a little longer time for study. We shall not delay any longer than necessary.

Mr. Nigel Forman (Carshalton)

The Government obviously set great store by reinforcing the, International Atomic Energy Agency and particularly its safeguards directorate. Therefore, will the Secretary of State give the House an assurance that Her Majesty's Government will back American efforts to see that the staffing on that side is substantially increased in the near future to cope with this additional international responsibility?

Dr. Owen

Yes, we shall. We are prepared to take any measures in this area which are aimed at the common objective of reducing what we all believe to be a serious risk to the future of the whole world.

Mr. Tom King

Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that, on the question of the return of plutonium—this point was queried by the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Central (Mr. Cook)—the British Government reserve the right and have the power to determine in which form that fuel is returned?

Dr. Owen

The Government have to be satisfied. It is a question not only of the relationship between the utilities and the BNFL but of the Government being satisfied.

I should like to explain in more detail about international plutonium management. The statute of the IAEA includes a provision for the deposit with the agency of any excess quantity of plutonium in order to prevent stockpiling. There is also provision for the prompt return of plutonium to its owner under safeguards for use in research or in reactors. There are many details still to be discussed, but I attach a great deal of importance to this, and it is something that the Government have constantly pushed.

Agreement has already been reached between the Governments of the United Kingdom, the Federal Republic of Germany, the Netherlands and Brazil that ally plutonium derived from Urenco low-enriched fuel supplied to Brazil would be stored in this way. We have not, as my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypool suggested, colluded over the provision of reprocessing technology to Brazil. We are against it. But we have used our membership of Urenco positively to minimise any risks. I stress that the plutonium store will be under the physical protection of the host Government.

The danger of proliferation concerns not only possible diversion of material to weapons programmes by Governments but the possible seizure of weapons-usable material by terrorist groups. I criticised the stowaway version of indefinite storage as meaning the continuing growth of stores of irradiated fuel containing un-recovered plutonium which, with the passage of time, would become more accessible.

The same criticism cannot be made of plutonium stores for two reasons. The volume of material to be protected is less than one-twentieth of the volume of irradiated fuel. The proposal is that these stores should be associated with reprocessing plants which must continue to be the most carefully protected of all civil nuclear installations. While the plutonium is in store, it will be safe. When it is to be returned to its owner, one of the provisions of its return is that it should continue to be properly protected.

It is during the journey between store and owner that it is vulnerable. It is for this reason that many speakers have rightly laid stress on the need to determine the best form in which to return the plutonium. Japan has accepted that this matter should be resolved by the two Governments.

Aside from the particular case, nobody intends to ship large quantities of plutonium metal around the world. Consideration is constantly being given to how it can most safely be shipped. It may be that it should be in the form of mixed plutonium/uranium oxide or it may be that it should be in the form of fabricated fuel element, possibly combined with a source of radiation which would offer its own lethal protection against any unauthorised opening of the container. There is no one magic solution to all this, and other possible options remain open to us which will be examined very seriously.

The physical protection of nuclear material against terrorism is a major matter of concern. The IAEA has published its recommendations on the physical protection of nuclear material. The Nuclear Suppliers Group has made public its recommendations, which are almost identical with those of the IAEA. Negotiations are taking place for the preparation of an international convention on the physical protection of nuclear material. It is a difficult subject for international agreement. Physical protection is basically a matter of police and security measures, and this is an area in which Governments are reluctant to surrender their national sovereignty or, indeed, to disclose in detail what they are doing.

Many hon. Members have raised the fundamental question which underlies some of this subject—civil liberties and how one both protects the community and protects the rights of the citizen. But as nuclear trade involves movement from one country to another, there is need for the closest possible agreement between governments on how the material will be protected while in transit, whose responsibility it is to afford that protection, and what action will be taken should anything go wrong.

The protection afforded to nuclear material in transit varies according to the type and quantity of the material involved, and the protection varies in character. In some cases armed guards are necessary. In other cases massive containers offer their own protection. I have already explained that by selecting the most appropriate chemical form it is possible to ensure that the material being shipped would prove to be of little or no value if it were stolen.

I do not wish to hide the gravity of the problem. Equally, I do not, for obvious reasons, wish to disclose too many details. Several hon. Members have commented that the Parker Report was rather short on this subject, recognising that the reason was that if one starts revealing to the rest of the world the counter-terrorist measures one is taking, it will not be long before the terorists come up with some new ruse or a new way of dealing with this whole problem.

We have had a thorough and extremely interesting debate about all aspects of our nuclear power programme in future years, and on some of the more central questions relating to nuclear proliferation. I have made clear to the House that there are differences of view. There are differences of view among many Governments, and differences of emphasis. I have been quite honest about the differences of view between the United States Government and ourselves. As one who, as the House knows, supports the United States on many issues, I am not afraid openly to acknowledge the fact when I think that they have been wrong.

Mr. Leslie Spriggs (St. Helens) rose

Dr. Owen

However, I believe that there is a probability that, as the debate continues over the next few years, there will be a gradual growing together and convergence of view on this issue. Scientific opinion in all countries is divided on many of the questions involved. There is not a single scientific view in the United States any more than there is a single scientific view in this country.

Our task is to try to exercise the best judgment we can make on what is a highly technical and scientific problem [HON. MEMBERS: "Why in such a hurry?"] There is no hurry. I urge hon. Members, who take a serious view of these matters, to hesitate before they say that we are in a hurry. My right hon. Friend was criticised by many people for insisting that there be the fullest inquiry and that this procedure should take place. There was a delay, and rightly there was a delay. The fact is that the House has been able, through a process of open consultation, to be involved prior to the decision being taken. I believe that this is something of which we can be proud, conscious that

the House and our democratic processes are capable of adapting themselves to the technological society in which we live.

Question put, That this House do now adjourn:—

The House divided: Ayes 56, Noes 186.

Division No. 153 AYES [10.59 p.m.
Abse, Leo Grist, Ian Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)
Bain, Mrs Margaret Henderson, Douglas Ryman, John
Bidwell, Sydney Hooson, Emlyn Sillars, James
Blenkinsop, Arthur Howells, Geraint (Cardigan) Skinner, Dennis
Braine, Sir Bernard Jeger, Mrs Lena Spearing, Nigel
Brown, Sir Edward (Bath) Jenkins, Hugh (Putney) Stainton, Keith
Butler, Mrs Joyce (Wood Green) Johnston, Russell (Inverness) Stanbrook, Ivor
Canavan, Dennis Kinnock, Neil Steel, Rt Hon David
Colquhoun, Ms Maureen Latham, Arthur (Paddington) Thomas, Dafydd (Merioneth)
Cook, Robin F. (Edin C) Lee, John Thomas, Ron (Bristol NW)
Corbett, Robin Lewis, Arthur (Newham N) Thompson, George
Crowther, Stan (Rotherham) Loyden, Eddie Thorpe, Rt Hon Jeremy (N Devon)
Davies, Bryan (Enfield N) Madden, Max Whltehead, Phillip
Evans, Gwynfor (Carmarthen) Mendelson, John Whitlock, William
Ewing, Mrs Winifred (Moray) Mikardo, Ian Wigley, Dafydd
Flannery, Martin Molloy, William Wise, Mrs Audrey
Fletcher, Ted (Darlington) Ovenden, John
Freud, Clement Pardoe, John TELLERS FOR THE AYES
Gould, Bryan Price, C. (Lewisham W) Mr. Frank Hooley and
Gow Ian (Eastbourne) Richardson, Miss Jo Mr. David Penhaligon.
Archer, Rt Hon Peter Eadie, Alex Kellett-Bowman, Mrs Elaine
Armstrong, Ernest Edwards, Nicholas (Pembroke) King, Tom (Bridgwater)
Arnold, Tom Ellis, Tom (Wrexham) Knox, David
Atkins, Rt Hon H. (Spelthorne) Emery, Peter Lamborn, Harry
Barnett, Guy (Greenwich) English, Michael Lamond, James
Barnett, Rt Hon Joel (Heywood) Ennals, Rt Hon David Lawson, Nigel
Bates, Alf Evans, John (Newton) Leadbitter, Ted
Benn, Rt Hon Anthony Wedgwood Ewing, Harry (Stirling) Le Marchant, Spencer
Benyon, W. Fairgrieve, Russell Luard, Evan
Biggs-Davison, John Farr, John Luce, Richard
Bishop, Rt Hon Edward Foot, Rt Hon Michael Mabon, Rt Hon Dr J. Dickson
Booth, Rt Hon Albert Forrester, John McDonald, Dr Oonagh
Brooke, Peter Fowler, Gerald (The Wrekin) McElhone, Frank
Brotherton, Michael Fraser, Rt Hon H. (Stafford & St) Macfarlane, Nell
Brown, Hugh D. (Provan) Fraser, John (Lambeth, N'w'd) MacGregor, John
Brown, Robert C. (Newcastle W) Freeson, Rt Hon Reginald McGuire, Michael (Ince)
Brown, Ronald (Hackney S) George, Bruce MacKenzie, Rt Hon Gregor
Butler, Adam (Bosworth) Gilbert, Dr John Maclennan, Robert
Callaghan, Jim (Middleton & P) Glyn, Dr Alan McNair-Wilson, P. (New Forest)
Campbell, Ian Goodhew, Victor Marks, Kenneth
Carter-Jones, Lewis Grant, George (Morpeth) Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)
Clarke, Kenneth (Rushclitfe) Grant, John (Islington C) Mates, Michael
Cocks, Rt Hon Michael (Bristol S) Gray, Hamish Mayhew, Patrick
Cohen, Stanley Hamilton, James (Bothwell) Meacher, Michael
Coleman, Donald Hamilton, W. W. (Central Fife) Mellish, Rt Hon Robert
Cope, John Hannam, John Millan, Rt Hon Bruce
Costain, A. P. Hardy, Peter Miller, Hal (Bromsgrove)
Cox, Thomas (Tooting) Harrison, Rt Hon Walter Miller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbride)
Cryer, Bob Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy Moate, Roger
Cunningham, G. (Islington S) Havers, Rt Hon Sir Michael Monro, Hector
Cunningham, Dr J. (Whiteh) Heseltine, Michael Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw)
Davidson, Arthur Horam, John Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)
Davies, Denzil (Llanelli) Howell, Rt Hon Denis (B'ham, Sm H) Morrison, Charles (Devizes)
Davis, Clinton (Hackney C) Huckfield, Les Morrison, Hon Peter (Chester)
Deakins, Eric Hunter, Adam Moyle, Roland
Dean, Joseph (Leeds West) Hurd, Douglas Mulley, Rt Hon Frederick
Dean, Paul (N Somerset) Jenkin, Rt Hon P. (Wanst'd&W'df'd) Murray, Rt Hon Ronald King
Dell, Rt Hon Edmund John, Brynmor Neubert, Michael
Dodsworth, Geoffrey Johnson, James (Hull West) O'Halloran, Michael
Dolg, Peter Johnson, Walter (Derby S) Osborn, John
Dormand, J. D. Johnson Smith, G. (E Grinstead) Owen, Rt Hon Dr David
Douglas-Mann, Bruce Jones, Alec (Rhondda) Page, John (Harrow West)
Drayson, Burnaby Jones, Arthur (Daventry) Page, Richard (Workington)
Dunlop, John Jones, Barry (East Flint) Palmer, Arthur
Dunnett, Jack Jones, Dan (Burnley) Perry, Ernest
Durant, Tony Judd, Frank Price, William (Rugby)
Dykes, Hugh Kaufman, Gerald Radice, Glles
Rees, Rt Hon Merlyn (Leeds S) Steen, Anthony (Wavertree) Walker, Harold (Doncaster)
Rooker, J. W. Stewart, Rt Hon M. (Fulham) Ward, Michael
Roper, John Stoddart, David Warren, Kenneth
Scott-Hopkins, Jamep Stradling Thomas, J. White, James (Pollok)
Sedgemore, Brian Strang, Gavin Whitelaw, Rt Hon William
Sever, John Strauss, Rt Hon G. R. Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Swansea W)
Shepherd, Colin Summerskill, Hon Dr Shirley Williams, Alan Lee (Hornch'ch)
Shersby, Michael Tebbitt, Norman Williams, Rt Hon Shirley (Hertford)
Shore, Rt Hon Peter Temple Morris, Peter Wilson, William (Coventry SE)
Silkin, Rt Hon John (Deptford) Tinn, James Winterton, Nicholas
Silkin, Rt Hon S. C. (Dulwich) Tomlinson, John Woodall, Alec
Silvester, Fred Urwin, T. W. Woof, Robert
Skeet, T. H. H. van Straubenzee, W. R.
smith, John (N Lanarkshire) Varley, Rt Hon Eric G. TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Snape, Peter Viggers, Peter Mr. Ted Graham and
Spicer, Jim (W Dorset) Wainwright, Edwin (Dearne V) Mr. Joseph Harper.
Spriggs, Leslie

Question accordingly negatived.