HC Deb 18 July 1979 vol 970 cc1760-2
8. Mr. Dubs

asked the Minister of Transport whether he is satisfied that the transport of nuclear waste by rail across South London is safe.

28. Mr. McNamara

asked the Minister of Transport whether he is satisfied with the safety of containers carrying nuclear waste from Hull to Windscale by railways; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Kenneth Clarke

Yes, Sir. I am fully satisfied that the very high international standards applied in this country to all movements of irradiated nuclear fuel provide adequate protection for the public.

Mr. Dubs

Is the Minister aware that the transport of nuclear waste is causing great concern to people living in populated areas? Will he make available to those people the full reasons why he is so satisfied that everything is all right?

Mr. Clarke

I realise that it causes great concern. Therefore, I have taken a personal interest and looked into the testing and research that is done. I shall happily make available to any Member of Parliament the details of such research as we have and the films made. These vehicles have been tested to the highest international standards to withstand very high-speed crashes of the kind that do not occur even once in a lifetime.

Mr. McNamara

The House will be relieved to a certain extent by what the hon. Gentleman said. Is he happy with the cargo-handling methods being used for the transhipment of these cargoes brought into our ports? Is he satisfied that the people involved are sufficiently aware of the risks and are properly trained in the tasks that they undertake?

Mr. Clarke

I shall look into the cargo-handling facilities at the ports to see whether there is cause for concern. Recent press reports dealt with the flasks inside the main vehicles that were used only when the materials were being handled inside Windscale. Otherwise the materials are encased in large 50-ton containers, which can be handled as ordinary rail traffic with perfect safety.

Sir Bernard Braine

Is my hon. Friend aware that nuclear waste is not the only hazardous substance conveyed by rail and road and that there are anxieties about the transportation of hazardous chemicals and liquefied gases, especially from constituencies such as mine? Will he say what progress is being made in introducing stricter control measures, especially in the routing of such substances by road or rail?

Mr. Clarke

Nuclear waste has a higher standard applied than any other dangerous substance. I entirely accept what my hon. Friend said about the need to look at the precautions in respect of other dangerous substances. We take a continuing interest in that. I understand my hon. Friend's concern about the routing of these substances, but that must remain a matter for British Rail as long as the vehicles used are fully safe.

Mr. Arthur Lewis

The Minister and I have had considerable correspondence on this subject, especially about the carriage of these substances in the East End of London in peak hours. Is it true that at no time has anyone discussed the matter with the trade unions in the railways, fire brigades and safety services? Surely the matter should first be discussed with those who are doing the handling as they must handle the material in an emergency.

Mr. Clarke

I always look forward with pleasure to my correspondence with the hon. Gentleman. I am assured that consultations have taken place, where appropriate. The fire and emergency services are aware of the procedures that exist if an emergency ever occurs. But there has not been one in 17 years.

Mr. Lewis

Of course there has not. There is always a first time.

Mr. Clarke

There is no danger whatever to the public travelling in London at peak hours.