HC Deb 07 April 1982 vol 21 cc943-4
13. Mr. Flannery

asked the Secretary of State for Transport if he will review the measures at present being taken to provide for the safety of the transportation of nuclear waste.

Mr. Eyre

The measures for ensuring safety in the transport of radioactive materials, which are fully in accordance with the stringent safety requirements laid down by the International Atomic Energy Agency, are already kept under review as a normal part of a continuing process.

Mr. Flannery

Does the Minister accept that there is widespread and deep worry about the movement of nuclear waste—which, as we all know, is so deadly—as a result of several accidents that have occurred in built-up areas in the centre of large cities? Recently, such an accident occurred in Leeds, when a group of railway wagons were derailed at 8.30 in the morning after having travelled through the night. Fortunately, they were empty. Will the right hon. Gentleman review this matter, because it is quite clear that, irrespective of the safety precautions that are taken, they are inadequate, as such waste will remain toxic for a long time? The only proper safety course is the abandonment of the entire programme, because then there will be no nuclear waste.

Mr. Eyre

I hope that it will reassure the hon. Gentleman if I emphasise that radioactive material is carried in accordance with stringent international safety requirements. The standards require flasks containing radioactive fuel to withstand extreme accident conditions. As to the minor incident mentioned by the hon. Gentleman, I emphasise the excellent safety record in this area. There has been no significant accident nor any release of flask contents in more than 20 years' operating experience. All rail incidents are investigated, and any incident on a running line or which involves damage to a nuclear container is reported to the Department and investigated by us. If an inquiry is necessary, it will be promptly held.

Mr. Kenneth Carlisle

Does my hon. Friend agree that the facts that he has just given about the safety record and the rigorous tests show that there is no danger in the transportation of nuclear waste and that it is highly irresponsible to raise public fears by asking the sort of question that has just been asked?

Mr. Eyre

I appreciate the validity of my hon. Friend's point and I wish to emphasise the importance of our excellent safety record.

Mr. Snape

Will the Minister confirm that nuclear power stations actually exist in this country and that, because of their existence, it is necessary to transport waste to a place of safety? Does he agree that the best way to transport that nuclear waste is by rail, because in the real world, in which most of us live, we believe that that is the safest method of transportation?

Mr. Eyre

The hon. Gentleman will know that a large quantity of the material is carried by rail. I remind him that the safety aspects of the movement of irradiated fuel were examined during the Windscale inquiry. The inspector said categorically that he was completely satisfied with the transport arrangements made.

Mr. Jessel

Do the regulations include any restraint on taking nuclear waste through built-up or urban areas?

Mr. Eyre

My hon. Friend will appreciate that the stringent application of the international safety standards obviates the need for control of routeing.