HC Deb 13 June 1984 vol 61 cc906-8
10. Dr. Mawhiney

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what responsibilities his Department has for continuing monitoring of air and sea ionizing radiation levels within the United Kingdom.

Mr. Waldegrave

My Department, together with the Scottish and Welsh Offices, is responsible within Great Britain for co-ordinating monitoring of environmental pathways for radioactive pollution. Similar responsibility is exercised by the Department of the Environment of Northern Ireland. These responsibilities are exercised in close collaboration with the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the National Radiological Protection Board.

Dr. Mawhinney

Will my hon. Friend accept that, because I am a professional radiation biologist, I understand that the populace are not in danger when exposed to normal environmental levels of radiation? Will he also accept that we are not getting that message across to our fellow citizens? Will he redouble the efforts of his Department to try to find a way to communicate the facts better, in order to ease the anxieties of many of our fellow citizens?

Mr. Waldegrave

My hon. Friend is a formidable man with whom to discuss these issues. He is right. People forget that there is such a thing as natural background radiation and that human beings are naturally slightly radioactive. All the time we have to work to explain the facts and also to make clear the real dangers.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

Do the repeated references to cost-effective techniques in relation to environmental damage as laid out in the London summit declaration the other day indicate any renewed interest by the Government in the principle of ALATA — "as low as technically achievable" — for reducing nuclear discharges? When shall we see the translation of the words in the declaration into Government action.?

Mr. Waldegrave

The hon. Member will have studied closely what BNFL has said about discharges from Sellafield and will have welcomed its tone. It is better to consider the limits on what goes out rather than to worry too much about the words in the formulae. We must continue to ensure that the controls are tight.

Mr. Alexander

Does my hon. Friend agree that the publication of radiation statistics sometimes causes unnecessary anxiety in some communities? Does he agree also that, for tourist communities in particular, the precise level of danger, or lack of it, needs to be made known equally prominently?

Mr. Waldegrave

I agree with my hon. Friend, so long as he is not asking us not to be entirely open with the publication of the facts. We must publish all the facts, but both he and my hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough (Dr. Mawhinney) must help us to put across the message of what the real dangers are in the different circumstances.

Dr. Cunningham

Although it is true that emissions from the nuclear industry contribute less ionizing radiation than the natural background or diagnostic health X-rays, will the Minister encourage British Nuclear Fuels Ltd. to press ahead with all possible speed towards its aim of eliminating discharges to the marine environment? In the meantime, when will the Secretary of State reply to my letter asking for a definition of "as low as reasonably achievable"?

Mr. Waldegrave

The hon. Gentleman knows that the courts may provide another forum where that is a matter for argument. The hon. Gentleman is right in the first part of what he said. I know that the Secretary of State welcomed the recent statement from BNFL.

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