HC Deb 05 November 1979 vol 973 cc11-4
7. Mr. Abse

asked the Secretary of State for Wales what are the intended terms of reference of the public inquiry into the planning application for a nuclear power station at Portskewett; whether they will require the intended type of reactor and all operational safety studies to be made known to the inquiry; and whether they will require the inquiry to investigate the issues of need, safety and security.

Mr. Michael Roberts

The public inquiry, the date for which has not been determined, will consider the applications made by the CEGB which specify a nuclear power station of the advanced gas-cooled reactor type. All the relevant planning matters will be considered.

Mr. Abse

Given that it has not yet been unequivocally stated whether it is intended to proceed with an AGR or a station of the type which suffered the accident at Three Mile Island, will the Minister confirm that the application will undoubtedly be only for consideration of an AGR? If it were any other type of station and an accident occurred similar to that at Three Mile Island, is he aware that the result would be 11,000 deaths from cancer—given an east wind—in Cardiff, and 7,400 deaths in Newport? Does he agree that it is highly important that the terms of reference of this inquiry should include everything specified in my question, namely, safety, physical security and, of course, need?

Mr. Roberts

It is not my responsibility to speak about the incident to which the hon. Member referred, but, so far as I am aware, no death occurred as a result of it. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will be most relieved to know that. I wish to assure him that the application is for an AGR, and that if there were any proposals for any other type of reactor, such as the pressurised water reactor, there would have to be a fresh application which would be decided under the planning and electricity Acts as they apply to this matter. As for need, safety and security, I can assure him that the planning inquiry envisaged will consider the need for a nuclear station at Portskewett, the safety of that station and security on the site.

Mr. Roy Hughes

I put a question to the Secretary of State for Energy last Monday about the proposed nuclear reactor and he said that he knew nothing about it. Since then I have received a written apology from him. Does the Minister appreciate that there is serious concern and mounting indignation about this very dangerous project, as witnessed by the well-attended meeting that we held in Newport a fortnight ago?

Mr. Roberts

I recognise the great public concern and interest in these matters. I therefore consider it to be especially important to have an inquiry which provides the maximum flexibility and a full opportunity for public participation. It seems to me that this will best be effected by a public local inquiry which will have the benefit of wide-ranging expert advice.

Sir Raymond Gower

Is my hon. Friend aware that while it is most important that we should all share the anxities and concern expressed by the hon. Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse), and that there must be the utmost care and vigilance in the matter, it is also important to bear in mind the long history of illness, disease and death in the coal mining industry, and to remember the deaths that have occurred in the course of North Sea oil development? Does my hon. Friend agree that in many respects the history of injury and death in those industries has been far more terrible than it is in the case of nuclear power?

Mr. Roberts

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his observations on the question of safety in the energy industries in Wales. It does the cause of the opponents of nuclear energy no good when they exaggerate their case.

Mr. Wigley

May I, in supporting the point made by the hon. Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse), ask the Minister whether he will give an assurance that there will be an inquiry, not only into the Portskewett proposals, but into any other proposals that may come forward for any other nuclear power stations in Wales, and particularly in respect of any proposals for the dumping of nuclear waste there, which is a matter of deep concern to the people of the Principality?

Mr. Roberts

There are no such proposals at the moment, but, if they were made, the usual planning procedures would, of course, be followed.

Mr. Best

Does my hon. Friend agree that, whilst it is perfectly right to take cognisance of people's anxieties in this matter, it is also somewhat irresponsible for people to indulge in scaremongering, which necessarily plays on the fears of the people of this country when they do not have access to the full facts? Will my hon. Friend console Opposition Members with the fact that the safety requirements in this country are far more stringent than those which apply in the United States?

Mr. Roberts

I am sure that there is a nice balance somewhere between complacency and scaremongering. I hope that we all strike it.

Mr. Alec Jones

The hon. Gentleman indicated quite clearly that there would be a full inquiry. I am sure that all parties in the House will be most grateful to him for that. I should not want to be party to any scaremongering, but there is genuine fear among the people who live in that area. My hon. Friend the Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse) particularly asked that any operational safety studies should be made available to the people who have this fear. I ask the hon. Gentleman please to keep this matter very seriously in mind.

Mr. Roberts

I shall certainly consider that. I am sure that my right hon. Friends the Secretary of State for Wales and the Secretary of State for Energy will take all these matters into consideration when they set up the public inquiry.