HC Deb 10 March 1986 vol 93 cc651-4
5. Mr. Kenneth Carlisle

asked the Secretary of State for Energy how many deaths from accidents have occurred in coal mining, in the oil industry in the United Kingdom sector of the North sea, and in the nuclear electricity industry since 1970; and whether he will make a statement.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Energy (Mr. Alastair Goodlad)

Between 1970 and 1984 the National Coal Board recorded 746 deaths in its coal mining operations, while there were 116 deaths in the United Kingdom offshore oil and gas industry and 10 in the civil nuclear industry. I shall publish fuller details in the Official Report.

Mr. Carlisle

In the argument over the nuclear industry, does my hon. Friend agree that one should look at fact rather than at theory? Does he accept that his answer shows that the nuclear industry has the best safety record of the industries to which he referred? Will he confirm that none of the deaths was due to radiation? Does my hon. Friend also agree that the nuclear industry has two further advantages: first, that it does not create acid rain, like the coal and oil industries; and, secondly, that it produces cheaper electricity, which is good for industry and for jobs and is greatly welcomed by those who have to heat their homes by electricity?

Mr. Goodlad

I agree entirely with what my hon. Friend said about acid rain and cheap electricity. I confirm that none of the deaths in the nuclear industry was related to radiological hazards.

Mr. Ryman

With respect to deaths in the coal mining industry, is the Minister able to give the number of deaths at Bates colliery during the last three years? Is he aware that there have been frequent breaches of the mining and quarries legislation at that colliery and that that was drawn to the attention of the regional director, who said that he would look into it but that it did not matter very much because the pit was due to be closed soon, in any event, by the National Coal Board?

Mr. Goodlad

I cannot give the hon. Gentleman the figure for which he asks, but I shall look into the matter and write to him.

Mr. Patrick McNair-Wilson

I congratulate the nuclear industry on its safety record. However, is my hon. Friend aware of the fact that there is public concern about future developments? In view of that concern, is he able to deny that his Department is bringing undue pressure to bear on Sir Frank Layfield to hurry forward his report on the pressurised water reactor inquiry at Sizewell, and is he able to say when the report might be published?

Mr. Goodlad

I can certainly give that denial to my hon. Friend. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy has repeatedly made it clear to the inspector that he is anxious to have his report on the Sizewell inquiry as quickly as possible so that timely decisions can be taken about the future of our nuclear programme. He has made available the considerable resources that the inspector thought were necessary, and he remains ready to ensure that any further resources that are required are made available so that an early conclusion can be reached on this inquiry, which is of great importance to the nation. The inspector had earlier said that he hoped to let my right hon. Friend have his main conclusions in the spring. I now expect his report to be somewhat delayed, but my right hon. Friend is currently seeking more precise guidance from him.

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory

Does my hon. Friend agree that nuclear energy is safe, clean and cheap, whereas to burn coal is dirty, dangerous and expensive? Does he also agree that the inspector's announcement that the Sizewell report is to be delayed is a great disappointment to this House? Is he able to say when Britain might get a nuclear reactor, which is required on economic and social grounds?

Mr. Goodlad

As I have just said, I cannot give that date to my hon. Friend. I agree that nuclear power is safe, clean and cheap. The National Coal Board also constantly aims to improve safety standards both above and below ground.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

Are not the efforts that we are all making to destroy the myths surrounding the nuclear industry being grossly undermined by the British Nuclear Fuels Ltd. management, which took the deliberate decision to release 402 kg of uranium into the Irish sea? That was a deliberate decision; it was not even an accident. Does the Minister accept that if the BNFL management insists upon going down the route of ignoring public concern, it is the management, and only the management, that threatens the future of this industry and the 22,500 jobs in west Cumbria that are at stake? Will he tell the BNFL management to raise its standards and to take into account the high level of public concern? We want to protect this industry.

Mr. Goodlad

I agree with the hon. Gentleman about the necessity for the nuclear industry to present the facts—which it does—in a simplified way. I cannot agree with him about the release of uranium into the Irish sea. It was well within the limits authorised by the Department of the Environment. It was assessed by the Department's radiochemicals inspectorate as radiologically minute. The incident is being investigated by the radiochemicals inspectorate in the usual way to ascertain that the discharges were kept as low as could reasonably be achieved and that they presented no hazard to the work force or to the public on either side of the Irish sea. The discharge was no larger than two days' regular discharges of uranium from a phosphoric acid plant, of which there are a number in the United Kingdom.

Sir Trevor Skeet

Is my hon. Friend aware that it is a total disgrace that the Sizewell inquiry report has again been deferred? Does he recollect that the inquiry has lasted for over two years and that the report has been constantly deferred? My hon. Friend has told us today that only 10 people have died at nuclear power stations. They probably died through construction accidents. Will he now tell the House when he expects Sizewell to be authorised?

Mr. Goodlad

The timing of the report is a matter for the inspector. I note what my hon. Friend said. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is currently seeking more precise guidance from Sir Frank Layfield.

Mr. Allen McKay

There is public concern about deaths in any industry, but, in addition, there is great apprehension about what could happen if an incident occurred within the nuclear industry. Does the Minister accept that the industry has not been forthright on that issue and that the same can be said of its position on the disposal of nuclear waste? These are matters of public concern, and questions and answers on them in this place should not constitute red herrings. Is the Minister aware of the need for all concerned to be more forthright?

Mr. Goodlad

I cannot accept what the hon. Gentleman has said. The nuclear industry publishes a large amount of information, as do the agencies that are responsible for its regulation. I wish that some of those who criticise the industry would read the information that it produces.

Dr. Michael Clark

I am pleased that my hon. Friend agrees that the nuclear industry and the nuclear generation of electricity is safe, clean and cheap. Does he also agree that nuclear generation is a means of providing electricity from assured fuel supplies, especially if we opt for the fast breeder reactor? Will he assure us that positive steps are being taken to secure a commercial fast breeder reactor?

Mr. Goodlad

My hon. Friend will know that the Atomic Energy Authority has a research programme under way into the fast breeder reactor. That programme continues at a high level.

Mr. Eadie

I am sure the Minister will agree that the question is directed to the safety records of the energy industries. Does he agree that on the basis of the statistics which he has presented to the House it would be monstrous to suggest that there should be deregulation of the mining industry by erosion of the mines and quarries legislation? Does he also agree that, with the Gas Bill passing through the House, the House must be assured that privatisation will mean safety in the gas industry?

Mr. Goodlad

The hon. Gentleman will know that the measures contained in the Gas Bill will enhance safety in the gas industry. As for the first part of his supplementary question, the safety records of all three industries are creditable. Between 1970 and 1984 the National Coal Board has recorded 746 deaths in its coal mining operations while there were 116 deaths in the United Kingdom offshore oil and gas industry and 10 in the civil nuclear industry. Detailed figures are in the table. The figure for coalmining is for the period 1 April 1970 to 31 March 1985 and includes surface as well as underground workers. The figure for the United Kingdom offshore oil and gas industry is for the period 1 January 1970 to 31 December 1984 and includes deaths during construction of installations and on helicopters and ships in the vicinity of installations. There were a further eight deaths in 1985. The figure for the civil nuclear industry is for the period 1 January 1970 to 31 December 1984. They relate to operators' employees at all nuclear sites operated by the CEGB, SSEB, BNFL and establishments of the UKAEA concerned with nuclear research and development. None of the deaths related to radiological hazards.

Fatalities in the coal, offshore oil and gas and nuclear electricity industries 1970 to 1984
Coal Civil Nuclear Industry Offshore Oil and Gas
1970–71 92 1970 0 1970 1
1971–72 58 1971 0 1971 4
1972–73 81 1972 0 1972 3
1973–74 60 1973 1 1973 3
1974–75 56 1974 0 1974 12
1975–76 59 1975 1 1975 10
1976–77 38 1976 1 1976 17
1977–78 48 1977 1 1977 11
1978–79 72 1978 1 1978 4
1979–80 31 1979 0 1979 10
1980–81 39 1980 1 1980 4
1981–82 34 1981 1 1981 6
1982–83 44 1982 1 1982 12
1983–84 22 1983 2 1983 9
1984–85 12 1984 0 1984 10
Totals 746 10 116


Figures for the coal industry are on a financial year basis, the figures for the other industries are on a calendar year basis.

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