HC Deb 23 April 1986 vol 96 cc287-8
8. Mr. Meadowcroft

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what recent representations he has received concerning the disposal of nuclear waste.

Mr. Waldegrave

I have had a wide range of representations, from hon. Members and others, mostly concerning the recent announcement of alternative possible sites for the disposal of low-level and short-lived intermediate level wastes.

Mr. Meadowcroft

Given the immense and proper concern about nuclear waste disposal, will the Minister give us two undertakings: first, that the Select Committee's report will be debated before the orders are laid; and, secondly, that the debate on the Select Committee's report will not be regarded as the debate on the orders themselves?

Mr. Waldegrave

Those matters are obviously for consideration by my right hon. and hon. Friends, and I am sure that they will have heard what the hon. Gentleman said.

Mr. Michael Brown

I thank my hon. Friend for visiting my constituency on Monday morning. In connection with the representations to which he referred in answer to the question from the hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. Meadowcroft), will he confirm that many of those representations come from South Killingholme and from my constituency? Will he urge his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to give serious consideration to the point made by the hon. Member for Leeds, West about the need for a debate on the Select Committee report? Does my hon. Friend stand by his parliamentary answer to me when he said that he would lay the special development order before the end of April, as that is nine days away?

Mr. Waldegrave

I confirm that the point made by the hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. Meadowcroft) was also made to me by my hon. Friend and by many of those whom I met during the enjoyable but anxious day that I spent on Humberside. As for my hon. Friend's latter point, I cannot yet give him the exact date on which the special development order will be laid, but I hope that there will be no undue delay about that.

Mr. Frank Cook

I thank the Minister for the courtesy that he showed last week in forwarding to me on publication the report made on the contribution of nuclear establishments to acid deposition, which reported that the degree of deposition was practically nil. Can he therefore understand the astonishment that I felt when I saw the minutes of the Dungeness local liaison committee meeting of 6 December 1985, which reported on the Central Electricity Generating Board's proposals to strip Magnox cladding from fuel rods, to dissolve that cladding in acid and to dispose of the sludge directly into the sea? Will the Minister explain how that process was licensed and why it was started? How can he square the open proposals to have dry storage at Trawsfynydd with the covert proposals to pollute the ocean?

Mr. Waldegrave

I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's first point about the contribution by nuclear power stations to the acid rain problem. The research has shown that that is not a problem. The CEGB proposals to which the hon. Gentleman referred would proceed only if the sludge came within the existing authorisation which my Department laid down for that power station. If that technique is to be used, it would have to be used within the existing authorisation so there would be no significant addition to the amount of radioactivity in the sea.

Mr. Hickmet

Will the Select Committee's report be debated before the special development order is laid? If not, why not?

Mr. Waldegrave

I cannot yet give a clear answer to my hon. Friend on that point.

Dr. Cunningham

Does the Minister accept that the Labour party would like a debate on the report of the Select Committee on the Environment on this matter? Is it not clear that the useful life of the Drigg disposal site in my constituency is quickly coming to an end and that it is a national requirement that an alternative site for the disposal of low-level radioactive waste should be found? Is it true that most people believe—and I hope that the Government accept—that the discharge of low-level waste to the marine environment should be abolished, not increased? Why will the Government not set a target date now for the abolition of discharges to the Irish sea and impose an annual reduction on those discharges until that target is met? In that connection, it must be foolish to agree that the CEGB should dispose of additional waste from Dungeness. No such authorisation should be granted.

Mr. Waldegrave

I have had only a brief opportunity to study the hon. Gentleman's last point, but I believe that no new authorisation would be needed, as it would be within the existing authorisation. I agree with the hon. Gentleman's first point. Some people see a great extension of Drigg as being the way to solve all the problems. I do not believe that that is so. If, as some people say, there were to be intense compaction of waste, which would then be deposited at Drigg, Drigg would have to take more radioactivity than should properly be posited there. The Government agree on that point.

There is a steady diminution in the amount of radioactive material that is placed at sea. We are now putting to sea a tenth of what was being deposited 10 years ago, and in 10 years' time we shall be depositing only a tenth of that. That is steady progress. I think that there will always be some trivial outputs to the sea from Sellafield, but our objective is to reduce the level to the best in the world, which is at Cap la Hague.

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