HC Deb 13 March 1986 vol 93 cc1091-110

4 pm

Mr. Douglas Hogg (Grantham)

The disposal of nuclear waste material has now become an issue of general and intense concern to the British people. Therefore, I am grateful for this opportunity to discuss at such an early time those matters that lie at the heart of the report published yesterday by the Environment Select Committee.

One consequence of that general interest is that so many of my right hon. and hon. Friends are present now to show their interest. I am particularly glad to see my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Lyell), my hon. Friends the Members for Gainsborough and Horncastle (Mr. Leigh) and for Brigg and Cleethorpes (Mr. Brown), my right hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Sir B. Braine), and Opposition Members.

Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours (Workington)

What about the Chief Whip?

Mr. Hogg

I am coming to the Chief Whip. I have no doubt that all of them will seek to catch your eye, Mr. Speaker, during the debate.

We who can speak in this place on this matter are a great deal more fortunate than those who by reason of their office are precluded from speaking. I am referring to my right hon. Friend the Member for Colchester, South and Maldon (Mr. Wakeham), the Patronage Secretary. His opposition to the suggestion that this material should go to Bradwell in his constituency is matched only by my opposition to the suggestion that it should go to Fulbeck—

Mr. Kenneth Carlisle (Lincoln)

And mine.

Mr. Hogg

It is also matched by that of my hon. Friend the Member for Lincoln (Mr. Carlisle). We welcome the presence of the Chief Whip on the Front Bench because he will lend powerful support to my arguments.

On 25 February 1986 my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment made a statement to the House to the effect that NIREX had identified four possible sites for the disposal of low-level and short-lived intermediate level nuclear waste. Those places are Elstow, Bradwell, South Killingholme and Fulbeck airfield, which is in my constituency. I wish to make it plain that my constituents wholly and utterly reject the suggestion that nuclear waste should be brought to Fulbeck airfield. We shall fight this proposal on three grounds. First, we shall contend that a near surface disposable system is not a proper, safe or necessary way of disposing of intermediate level waste. Secondly, we shall say that the hydrological and geological properties that are to be found at Fulbeck airfield are inappropriate for the construction of a near surface disposal site. Thirdly, we shall say that we believe that the road communications to the site are such that no safe system of transporting nuclear waste to the airfield is possible. Those will be our main but not our only arguments.

Today, I should like to concentrate on one argument, the proposition that surface or near surface disposal systems are not a safe, necessary or appropriate way of disposing of intermediate level waste.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

On several occasions, I have given what I believe to be the solution to the problem. Will the hon. Gentlman make it clear during his speech how he thinks we shall ultimately resolve this difficulty? I trust that he will not suggest putting the site in another constituency. Will he put a real and sensible proposition to the House?

Mr. Hogg

I agree entirely with the hon. Gentleman, and I hope that I shall satisfy him on that point.

The proposition that lies at the core of all the arguments is that near surface disposal facilities are not a proper, safe or necessary way of disposing of intermediate level waste. I am supported in that argument by my right hon. Friend the Chief Whip and my hon. Friends who represent affected constituencies and who are present, especially my hon. Friend the Member for Lincoln.

Mr. Kenneth Carlisle

If there is to be any storage of nuclear waste, the method must be absolutely safe. All of us would support my hon. Friend in that.

Mr. Hogg

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. The core of our argument is our grave doubt whether near surface disposal facilities are safe for the purposes of keeping intermediate level nuclear waste. We are at one on that point because we do not believe that it is a safe system.

I recognise that some people will say that we are making narrow constituency points. [Interruption.] I am glad that Opposition Members deprecate that idea, and I hope to persuade them that that is not so. The argument of my constituents and of myself is backed by the great weight of informed opinion. Moreover, it is backed by past practice, and justified by policies that are being or are about to be implemented in most OECD nuclear nations.

Let us take first the report of the Select Committee. Hon. Members will bear in mind that without exception none of the Members of the Select Committee had a direct constituency angle to express. Their report is categoric in its terms. Paragraph 99 states: The poor research in the United Kingdom means that it is impossible at this stage for us to recommend any disposal options with total confidence … We recommend that near surface disposal facilities are only acceptable for short-lived low-level wastes and must be fully engineered on a complete containment basis. NIREX is suggesting that a near surface disposal facility should be used, not only for low level waste, but for intermediate level waste having a half life of 30 years. Therefore, NIREX's proposal flies directly in the fact of one of the major conclusions of the Select Committee's report. That brings me to my second point.

NIREX's proposals are contrary to what is becoming general practice in the nuclear nations. With the exception of the United States and France, all nuclear nations are proposing to store all nuclear waste material in deep geological sites. France has a near surface site at Centre de la Manche near Cherbourg. That site is disposing of intermediate level waste in an engineered container but the site is close to the sea. Therefore, should there be an accidental outflow of tainted material it will flow into the sea and be dispersed. For reasons appreciated by Lincolnshire Members, that is not true of Fulbeck.

In every other nuclear country—Germany, Sweden, Switzerland, Belgium, Canada and Finland—all nuclear waste material, low level or intermdiate level, will be disposed of in deep geological sites. These sites are usually thousands of feet below the surface and are protected from mankind by strata of rock. NIREX's proposals are directly contrary to what has become an accepted policy within all OECD nuclear countries.

Mr. David Alton (Liverpool, Mossley Hill)

Is it not true that the United States is also looking at deep disposal sites? There is a proposed site at Hanford near Seattle, in the state of Washington. Therefore, the United States is moving towards deep geological sites for disposal rather than using the option that NIREX has put forward.

Mr. Hogg

The hon. Gentleman is quite right. However I wish to be strictly accurate. In the case of the United States and France intermediate waste has been, and continues to be, disposed of at near surface disposal sites.

It is frequently argued either expressly or by implication that there is no alternative to near surface disposal sites. That is manifestly untrue. West Germany has a deep geological site in Lower Saxony at Gorleben which is in the process of construction and will be ready to receive nuclear waste shortly. However, no sites in Britain are being examined for that purpose, despite the fact that the Select Committee on the Environment was informed by no less a person than Dr. Feates of the Department of the Environment that some 15 per cent. of this country may be suitable for the disposal of high level radioactive waste.

There are other methods by which this problem can be resolved. There is the seabed option which could use any of three methods. First, there is the method of using oil drilling techniques to drill deep boreholes into the continental shelf, where the waste could be stored. Secondly, waste could be disposed into the deep ocean seabed either by drilling or by emplacement. Thirdly, material could be disposed of in horizontal tunnels and caverns excavated under the seabed and from the coast.

These are no idle or academic dreams and they are already being brought into existence. In Sweden, for example, there is a planned operational site at Forsmark on the east Baltic coast. In three years' time that site will be ready to receive low level and intermediate level waste. The technology is already available for implementing the oil drilling option. The problem is not technology but the fact that the nuclear industry has been so slow to investigate the possibilities that technology offers. I was concerned to learn from paragraph 93 of the Select Committee on the Environment's report that it was not until March 1985 that NIREX placed a contract for examining the oil drilling option.

There are alternative methods for disposing of low level and intermediate waste. The fact that NIREX does not come forward with alternatives to the near surface system does not reflect any lack of available alternatives but reflects the failure on its part to follow any sustained and consistent research into the alternatives. We have the right to expect that research. As long ago as 1976 the Flowers report said: the United Kingdom now appears conspicuously backward among nations with significant nuclear programmes in its consideration and funding of studies related to geological disposal of the radioactive waste". I note with concern that the Select Committee echoes that view when it states: All that we have seen confirms that impression, save that we are now nearly ten years further behind. It is wrong to suppose that there is an immediate and pressing need to find another site for the disposal of intermediate nuclear waste which in any way overrides the paramount need for appropriate research. There is no such pressing and urgent need. It is clear that we have enough capacity for a long time. The life of the facility at Drigg can be greatly extended if the operators on that site would show more discrimination as to the volume and type of material that they store there. If the operators could be induced to use the modern techniques of incineration and compaction, Drigg could carry on longer still. Those materials which are not suitable for Drigg can be stored at existing facilities, most notably at Sellafield, until proper alternatives can be devised.

I do not believe that a near surface disposal system for the disposal of intermediate level nuclear waste will ever be willingly accepted by my constituents at Fulbeck—or indeed by any other community. That is a fact that the House and, as a consequence, the country has to face. The scheme put forward by NIREX is contrary to the recommendations of the Select Committee. It is contrary to the weight of informed opinion and it is contrary to what we have learnt in the past. It ignores the existence and the establishment of alternative methods of disposal. It reflects a certain complacency, a lack of sensitivity, a lack of research and, dare I say, a certain incompetence on the part of the British nuclear industry.

Those of us who represent the people of Bradwell, South Killingholme, Elstow and Fulbeck—we are all present today—will not deliver the British nuclear industry from the consequences of its own omissions or the consequences of its past errors.

4.19 pm
Mr. David Alton (Liverpool, Mossley Hill)

It is a pleasure to follow the speech of the hon. Member for Grantham (Mr. Hogg). He said that there is no pressing or urgent need to take decisions on the NIREX sites. I agree that it is too soon to take these far-reaching decisions, and I have the feeling that we are being bounced into taking decisions that will have enormous consequences for the communities to which the hon. Gentleman referred.

I am glad that the hon. Gentleman talked about some of the other longer-term options. He mentioned Forsmark, and I had the privilege, as a member of the Environment Select Committee, of visiting Forsmark with the other members of the Committee. In the longer-term we shall have to examine such options, although I plead with the industry not to try to reinvent the wheel. Much work is being done elsewhere in the world, and we should examine that carefully before we embark on our own projects.

In terms of geography we are a small country, and one that is congested, with many people living near areas where nuclear waste may be dumped. I suspect that wherever sites are suggested, whether they are shallow sites close to the surface or deep disposal sites, the same arguments of opposition will be advanced. Despite his support for deep geological sites if they had been suggested for his constituency, I suspect that the hon. Member for Grantham would have been advancing the same sort of arguments today. The acronym used in the United States, NIMBY—not in my back yard—would probably apply to any of us if the proposal were to put either a shallow or a deep disposal site near our constituencies.

One or two hon. Members would favour a different acronym, INMBYP—in my back yard please. They take the view, because of job implications in their constituency, that because many people are employed by the industry they have to support it. I can understand that, and will leave those Members to make their own arguments. Some hon. Members are concerned about environmental implications and others about job implications. These things cross party barriers.

This is a timely debate because yesterday the report of the Select Committee on the Environment was published. I regret that we did not go beyond our remit of looking simply at nuclear waste. We should challenge all the assumptions on which our industry has been based. We should be raising questions today about whether we need to maintain and expand the existing nuclear industry at all. That is why I entered many dissenting notes to the report. In my first amendment I said:

the Government should set up an immediate independent inquiry into the continuation of the civil nuclear programme, and that this inquiry shall be instructed to take due note of our comments on the undesirability of nuclear waste. We need to look at the question whether we should produce the waste in the first place. I do not wish to detract from an excellent report, to which I was happy to put my signature, but that limited brief meant that we were able to discuss only such matters as the management of radioactive waste, health and dose limitation, reprocessing, the public, institutions and the law, without looking at whether we should be producing nuclear waste at all. While I welcome the two sections of the report dealing with reprocessing, and institutions and the law, nevertheless I feel that elsewhere the report is both complacent and inadequate. I would particularly pinpoint the management of radioactive waste, the effects on the health of the public and the general concern of the public over the way information is given to them about the nuclear industry.

The Committee heard a number of conflicting statements from the industry about health effects on those living close to nuclear reactors and to people who might be affected by the seepage of nuclear waste. BNFL behaved despicably when it fed wrong information to the Black committee. That resulted in a number of conclusions being arrived at by the House and by the Departments of Energy and of the Environment. The Black report needs to be reassessed in the light of information now put forward by a number of outside sources.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

Will the hon. Gentleman clarify his words? Is he saying that BNFL deliberately misled the Select Committee? If so, is he sure of his evidence?

Mr. Alton

I am saying that the evidence that has come out since the Select Committee considered this question implies that either BNFL did not know, and if it did not know it should have known, or that it deliberately misled the Committee, which would be of great concern.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

The hon. Gentleman used the words "acted despicably". That presumes that he knew what happened. Would he care to qualify what he said?

Mr. Alton

I cannot really qualify it. The chairman of BNFL, Mr. Allday, said: I am satisfied that the safety of the environment around Sellafield is very, very good indeed. I do not share that view. Wrong information was given, and it may have been given deliberately, both to the Committee and to the House. If it was given intentionally, BNFL acted despicably. Figures reveal that in the Seascale ward, in the small village near Sellafield, the area has 24 times the regional average for leukaemia. That is according to James Cutler of Yorkshire Television. Considerable concern has been raised not just by James Cutler but by many other people about the incidence of cancer among people living near nuclear installations and in areas where there could be seepage of radioactivity into the environment.

That is why I was disappointed that Labour and Conservative Members of the Committee were unable to support my recommendation

that the Government establish an inquiry to investigate the incidence of cancer around all nuclear establishments, examining the medical records of those working in, or living near to, nuclear establishments, and that such an inquiry should not repeat the logical and statistical errors of the Black report. There are clear links between the nuclear industry and the cranking up of the nuclear ratchet in the development of our nuclear missile programme. Otherwise, there would not be such a keen desire to proceed with the construction of the thermal oxide reprocessing plant at Sellafield. That is being built at a cost of some £1.3 billion of public money, and was started in 1978. I am glad that the Select Committee has said that THORP should be put in mothballs, because it would be environmentally damaging, uneconomic and unnecessary.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

Will the hon. Gentleman qualify what he has said? Is that precisely what the Select Committee has said?

Mr. Alton

The Select Committee has made it clear that, unless arguments can be brought to the contrary, THORP should be put into mothballs. I am satisfied—

Mr. Campbell-Savours

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. This is very important to me, as I have connections with the nuclear industry by way of my constituency. It is important that we destroy the myths surrounding the industry. It is important that we have facts, not misrepresentations.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Paul Dean)

Order. I realise that the hon. Gentleman feels strongly about this issue, but this is a matter of argument, not a matter for the Chair.

Mr. Alton

I understand the concern of the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours). Many people in his constituency are employed in the nuclear industry and he is concerned about their future. It would be strange if he were not. However, he must also accept that other hon. Members have reservations about the operation of a reprocessing plant at Sellafield and believe that it should not proceed. When the original vote on it was taken in 1978, the hon. Member for Wirral, West (Mr. Hunt), who is now a Minister at the Department of Energy, the Leader of the House and the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow), who is a former Minister, together with many Labour Members, voted against the construction which was opposed by my right hon. Friend the leader of the Liberal party.

Sir Hugh Rossi (Hornsey and Wood Green)

I am sure that the hon. Member would not wish to mislead the House about the findings of the Committee, of which we are both members, particularly as he always displayed himself, if I may say so as Chairman of the Committee, as a concerned member of it. However, his overriding concern was to see the complete abandonment of the nuclear industry in this country. The Committee could not look at this, not because it wished to restrict its remit, but because it had no power to do so because it was concerned not with energy policy but with environmental policy. The environmental policy was concerned with the disposal of radioactive waste, not with whether there should be nuclear power stations in the country.

On the question of medical evidence, the hon. Gentleman will know that it is an axiom of the Committee that we reach opinions or conclusions only upon evidence that has been adduced before us, and we do not seek to make assumptions outside that. Every recommendation that we have made is founded firmly and solidly upon evidence that we have received.

With regard to THORP, our recommendation is simply that inasmuch as the economic considerations that led to a particular policy in 1978 have changed, perhaps one should reappraise whether it is necessary to continue with reprocessing, but against those economic factors one has to take into account the employment effects that abandoning THORP would have. It is a difficult decision to take. Now is the time to undertake a reappraisal, but no more than a reappraisal at this stage.

Mr. Alton

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. As usual, he has been adept in the way that he has put qualifying remarks fairly to the House. They do not represent my views. As he rightly says, both sides gave a considerable amount in order to be able to arrive at a unanimous report. I have put my view to the House.

I take exception to one point that the hon. Gentleman has just made in connection with implications to health. He will recall that I moved an entire new chapter to the report on the dangers of radioactive discharges as they affect people. He will also recall that we were given evidence in the course of the inquiry about the benefits of the new SIXEP plant at Sellafield, and about how it would improve the environment and the prospects for local people's health. We were given evidence that the expenditure of £0.25 billion would save two lives—that was a statement by BNFL. I made the point to the Committee, and I make it to the House now, that I find it strange that the health benefits of SIXEP could be argued with such precision. I think that it demonstrates that the industry once again has put its information and its case across to the public in an appalling way.

It is clear that many Members wish to argue about the effects of nuclear waste and the dumping and disposal of nuclear waste in their areas and to put their cases to the House. I do not intend to detain the House for much longer.

I wish to touch on one other question only, the disposal of nuclear waste into the Irish sea. I hope that there can be unanimity in the House that that is a totally unacceptable practice. At Sellafield we must move to zero discharges as soon as possible—I would hope within two years. Every pressure possible should be put on the industry. It should at least consider the effects on Anglo-Irish relations, if nothing else. Already representations have been made to the Government by the Taoiseach, Dr. Garret FitzGerald, when he was here only 10 days ago, about the real worries and concerns on the other side of the Irish sea. The same is true for those of us who represent constituencies on this side of St. George's channel. There is considerable anxiety throughout the north-west of England about this.

It is clear that the industry is open to considerable criticism. Hon. Gentlemen are right to have raised this important issue, but they must now accept the logic of their position. If nuclear waste is undesirable in their back yard, they ought to ask why it is suitable for someone else's.

4.33 pm
Sir Bernard Braine (Castle Point)

I am particularly grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Grantham (Mr. Hogg) for providing the opportunity for us to debate this matter today. If I may say so, in a speech of rare distinction—clear, compelling, eloquent—he would have completely convinced me, if I was not already convinced.

I am glad too not merely for my own reasons, which I hope to deploy before the House, but for my right hon. Friend the Chief Whip, the Member for Colchester, South and Maldon (Mr. Wakeham), who is here in his place. As my hon. Friend the Member for Grantham said, we all know that, while, by long convention, a Chief Whip is unable to express his views and those of his constituents in the House, his silence today must not be construed as an expression of indifference or inactivity.

Fortunately, outside the House, a Chief Whip is not bound by a vow of silence on planning matters, and my right hon. Friend has already expressed his total opposition to the prospct, remote though it may be—and remoter still by the end of the debate, I hope—that Bradwell in his constituency be a site for the disposal of intermediate and low-level radioactive waste. Moreover, in this, he has the full support of his parliamentary colleagues in Essex and that of Essex county council. My right hon. Friend has told me of meetings that he has had in his constituency, including one in Bradwell itself, where some 250 very angry constituents expressed their total opposition to the proposal. I can understand their anger, as does my right hon. Friend. He is in complete sympathy with their views. I understand that he has further meetings planned.

One reason is that my right hon. Friend's constituents, like him, are aware that Bradwell does not begin to meet the criteria set down by NIREX itself for a site with the greatest potential for a deep-trench repository based on clay. In its information to local authorities, NIREX says that the four factors likely to exert a significant influence upon site choice are population density, accessibility, conservation and geology. On those criteria alone, the Bradwell site ought never to have been included.

But the case does not rest there, as I shall presently show. Let me briefly outline my right hon. Friend's deeply held objections to Bradwell being chosen as a site. First, it is close to areas of rapid population growth—Colchester, Maldon, Rochford, Castle Point and Southend. Over the past 10 years, our county has experienced faster than average population growth, and the trend will continue well into the next century.

Secondly, rail and road access links with the proposed site are totally inadequate.

Thirdly, if by conservation NIREX is referring to the preservation of the environment, then the site is totally unsuitable for reasons which have not been taken into account, notably that the area is subject to flooding and has other inherent drawbacks which make it totally unsuitable for the disposal by burial of any kind of toxic waste, let alone nuclear waste.

Fourthly, the geological evidence in the possession of my right hon. Friend, which I have seen too, because it has been available in the geological survey for Essex since 1980, makes it crystal clear that the site is unsuitable. The water table is very high. The London clay which underlies Bradwell varies in depth below the surface from 3 to 55 m, but only 34 m of this is true clay. Beneath the clay lie significant deposits of chalk which are a valuable aquifer for the supply of water to the west. The possibility, however remote, that contaminated water could pass from the clay to the chalk is clearly an unacceptable risk.

There are, however, two considerations of paramount importance which NIREX could have discovered for itself if it had wished, or had there been proper consultation with the Essex county council. These concern not merely Bradwell but the whole of the Essex coast down to my constituency in the Thames estuary.

First, there is the risk of flooding. I had already been in Parliament some time when, just over 33 years ago, the North sea struck with fury down the whole of the east coast. In the disaster that followed, 119 people lost their lives in Essex alone, half of them at Canvey Island in my constituency. I have a vivid recollection of what happened. I was on Canvey on 31 January 1953 a few hours before the water struck just before midnight. The sea burst through our defences, flooding 12,356 Essex homes. In the next few hours, 21,000 people were made homeless. Over 31,000 were to qualify as flood victims and received help from the Lord Mayor's distress fund. Incidentally, at that time the Lord Mayor was a distinguished Member of this House. Almost the whole of the Essex coastline, from Harwich in the north to the Thames estuary, was inundated. It included the Dengie peninsula, the area where the Bradwell nuclear power station and the proposed waste disposal site are located.

I find it incredible that a site for the storage of nuclear waste should be established in this vulnerable area. In the opening words of her gripping account of "The Great Tide", our county historian, Hilda Grieve, wrote: Essex and the sea have been antagonists for centuries. It is ironic in the extreme that we are still worried about the weakness of our sea defences in this part of Essex. I hope that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment will take due note of this. We are deeply concerned about the inadequacy of our sea defences, particularly in the area from Harwich to the constituency of my right hon. Friend the Member for Colchester, South and Maldon. I suggest to the Government that it should be a high priority to mend those defences before embarking on a crackpot scheme of this kind.

What happened in 1953 along the Dengie peninsula? Close to the proposed site the sea walls gave way and the angry waters poured through. In Hilda Grieve's eloquent words:

The jaws of the North sea had opened wide and engulfed the walls as effortlessly and indifferently as the great fish swallowed Jonah. Can anyone be sure that the great tide will not return? Will there never be a repetition of what happened in 1953? How safe is the Essex coastline, particularly the area to which I have referred? London is now protected by the Thames barrier, one of the technical marvels of the age. Canvey Island is now safe from flooding. Its sea walls have been raised twice since 1953 and it is safer now than it has ever been in its history. But what about the Bradwell area? I do not know whether my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State has thought about the Bradwell area, but I hope that when she replies to the debate she will be able to assure me that resources will be found to ensure proper coastal protection before any order is introduced.

However, a second serious danger must be dragged out into the open. Bradwell lies on a geological fault line which stretches right down from that part of Essex to my constituency. This has given rise, down the centuries, to a number of minor earthquakes. The most serious of these was what the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority's safety and reliability directorate has described as "the great British earthquake" of 1884. It was centred on Peldon, which is about four miles from Bradwell. There is an account of it in the Alderson report which was published as recently as December 1982 by the safety and reliability directorate of the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority. It said: At about 9.20 am on the morning of Tuesday, 22 April 1884 an earthquake occurred, centred in the south-eastern corner of Essex. The area most strongly affected included the villages of Abberton and Peldon lying south of Colchester. The city of Colchester itself was extensively damaged during this event which was felt as far away as Exeter … over 1,200 houses had sufficient damage to require assistance in terms of grants for essential repair work, of these some 400 were in Colchester alone. Thirty-one churches suffered extensive damage necessitating repair and minor reconstruction. Reports varied on the number of deaths due to this event, but it would appear that at least three people died". That happened during the lifetime of my grandparents.

There are also records of earlier earthquakes in the area. There was one in 1692 near Colchester when buildings were damaged. There was another in 1750 which was felt in the Bradwell area, and another in 1755 was recorded in Rochford, a district which I represented in this House for 19 years.

Had NIREX bothered to consult the Essex county council and its archivists, or even me, or any other Essex Member of Parliament who had represented an Essex constituency for any length of time, it could have been told about this. But there was no proper consultation. The first intimation to the county council that NIREX was looking for a site did not even mention Essex. That led one official to say, "This is suspicious. I bet that NIREX has us in mind." Incidentally, NIREX seems to have been completely unaware of the Alderson report. It seems that in this great scientific set-up the left hand does not know what the right hand has been doing.

The significance of all this is considerable. A qualified geologist employed by the Essex county council has confirmed that the proposed site lies on the fault line. She is of the opinion that the layer of soft sediment near the surface would in fact amplify any shock waves. Thus, there is a risk that any seismic disturbance would be enhanced in its effect by that alone.

I am also advised that basic information about the foundations of the Bradwell nuclear power station has been denied to the Essex county council. I do not wish to be alarmist, but the power station adjoins the proposed disposal site. It is inconceivable that such information could be withheld from any public inquiry, but it should not be necessary where public safety is concerned to withhold it now.

On behalf of my Essex colleagues and my right hon. Friend the Member for Colchester, South and Maldon, I must ask that this information is made avaiable to the Essex county council now. It must be made available not at a public inquiry but now. I ask for it to be made available, even if NIREX decides that discretion over the proposed disposal site is the better part of its misplaced valour and withdraws the proposal.

Let me put this in perspective. The nuclear power station is already there. It is feeding electricity into the national grid. I happen to believe that nuclear power generated at carefully chosen and safe sites is good for the nation. But a nuclear power station has a limited life and is not to be regarded as a permanency. What should concern us here is the burial close by of nuclear waste, which must inevitably continue to present a hazard for decades to come. If the site is disturbed in any way—by excessive flooding or by seismic disturbance—that should concern us all. It certainly concerns the constituents of my right hon. Friend the Member for Colchester, South and Maldon, and it concerns me. For the people of Essex this constitutes virtually a permanent hazard. As such, it is simply not acceptable.

I have one further observation to make. We are told that the site is for the disposal of intermediate and low-level nuclear waste. Let us not be mesmerised by words. What, pray, is the definition of "intermediate" nuclear waste? In what respect does it differ from high-risk nuclear waste? I am advised that the difference between high-level nuclear waste and intermediate nuclear waste is that the former generates a great deal of heat; but all such waste emits radioactivity over a very long time span. The impression that is given is that intermediate waste is not very hazardous, although it is prudent to bury it.

My hon. Friend the Member for Grantham went into the matter in great detail and described the conditions for the disposal of radioactive material of this kind. It should be disposed of in dry conditions, deep down in the bowels of the earth, if it cannot be disposed of in the Atlantic trench.

My hon. Friend dealt effectively with the point. To dispose of the waste at Bradwell, where there is a high water table, where there is an aquifer supplying water to the communities to the west, where there is flooding from time to time, and where the sea defences have been neglected, is madness. It must not be.

I should have thought it prudent not to go ahead with boring tests and not to go to a public inquiry but to stop the waste of public expenditure now, and to exclude the area from any order. I am not referring to any other locations; my hon. Friends will make their own cases in due course. I am talking about something that I know is a hazard, and one that confronts our people now.

So I have one last question. What is the point of embarking upon a costly investigation of a site so palpably unsuitable, which must be followed by a long public inquiry? Why waste public money on such a farcical exercise? Other factors should perhaps be taken into account. I do not wish to prolong my speech, but hitherto the debate about nuclear waste disposal techniques has been restricted to matters of physics, chemistry and geology. There is a wealth of knowledge within that framework, but environmental science is discovering new facts which must not be ignored.

A wet environment, such as the Bradwell site, will not be a dead environment; it will be inhabited. Current research in microbiology shows that there is a new factor here to reckon with. Has there been any consultation with the Natural Environment Research Council about the microbiological implications of storing radioactive material in wet, underground sites? I put the question deliberatly because I am aware of research that is taking place. Whether NIREX has caught up with it or has simply suppressed the facts, I do not know, but the question must be asked.

My advice to my hon. Friend on the proposed order is to tear it up and start again. When the Secretary of State is considering the matter he should also give thought to the urgent need to repair the sea defences in Essex.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. At least four hon. Members with strong constituency interests wish to speak. The debate must end at 5.30 pm. I hope that they and the Front Benches will bear that in mind.

4.53 pm
Mr. Michael Brown (Brigg and Cleethorpes)

It is a great privilege to follow my right hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Sir B. Braine), the hon. Member for Liverpool, Mossley Hill (Mr. Alton), and my hon. Friend the Member for Grantham (Mr. Hogg), who must be congratulated on his initiative. I have considerable admiration for the forthright way in which my hon. friend the Member for Grantham has represented the interests of his constituents. Although my right hon. Friend the Patronage Secretary may not speak in the House, the whole House will support the efforts he has been making on behalf of his constituents in Colchester, South and Maldon. He has made his representations properly.

I speak with great feeling on the issue because, unlike my right hon. Friend the Member for Colchester, South and Maldon (Mr. Wakeham) and my hon. Friend the Member for Grantham, we had information about South Killingholme as far back as April or May. Of course, it was denied. Department of Environment Ministers were unco-operative about confirming the rumours that abounded. The Minister of State, when he must have known that my constituency was being seriously considered, led me to believe that it was just one of 2,000 or 3,000 different sites that were being remotely considered. So I totally support the case that has been made outside the House by my right hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point, my right hon. Friend the Patronage Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Grantham, and my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Lyell), who has had to live with the issue for some two years. I know what he has gone through during that time and what my other right hon. and hon. Friends have had to go through for the past two weeks, after the announcement was sprung upon them with no consultation.

In view of the Select Committee report which came out yesterday, there is every case for the proposal to be withdrawn. My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State is more to me than an hon. Friend; she is also a friend. I hope that she remains so during the difficult months when the matter is being discussed. I hope she will tell her colleagues in the Department of the Environment that if their comments yesterday about the constructive nature of the report are to be taken seriously, they must think carefully before they proceed with the order.

I understand that yesterday the Minister of State, who is responsible for the matter in the Department, welcomed the report and said that it was a useful contribution. If his words are to have any meaning, he should not bring forward the order at the end of April, as he said in a parliamentary answer to me a couple of days ago that he still intends to do. If he means to do that, he might just as well say publicly now that he has no regard for the important and detailed report of the Select Committee.

We are basing our arguments on the well-researched recommendations of an all-party Select Committee. In paragraph 99 of its report, as my hon. Friend the Member for Grantham indicated, the Select Committee said: The poor state of research in the United Kingdom means that it is impossible at this stage for us to recommend any disposal option with total confidence … Near surface disposal facilities are only acceptable for short-lived low-level wastes". I do not agree even with that, but the implication is clear. On the terms of the report there is no case for the special development order for the four sites that are to be considered for the disposal of intermediate waste.

I do not want to go over old ground. My hon. Friend the Member for Grantham has eloquently indicated the alternatives which should be considered. The message from the Select Committee's report to my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary and her colleagues in the Department of the Environment is simple: no work has been done on alternative ways of dealing with nuclear waste.

We all accept that nuclear waste arises and has to be disposed of. According to paragraph 114 of the Select Committee report, it was indeed the chairman of the Central Electricity Generating Board, Lord Marshall himself, who pointed out that

the sense of urgency which the Flowers Commission engendered in the industry to formulate disposal policy is no longer so pressing. I have been privileged to have the support locally of my hon. Friend the Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe (Mr. Hickmet) and of my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle (Mr. Leigh) in the arguments adduced against South Killingholme. I want to draw the attention of my right hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point to one thing: I accept totally that there is no case for Bradwell; for similar reasons there is no case for South Killingholme, which also suffered from the floods in 1953. If my right hon. Friend represented Mid-Bedfordshire or Grantham, with the knowledge of this subject which he displayed this afternoon, he would be able to adduce the very arguments that he used in his excellent speech against all four sites. On my way home to my own constituency I drive through the constituency of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire, and within one mile of Fulbeck, before arriving at my home three miles from South Killingholme, where I have lived for the past seven years.

We have a text before us that has been well researched and well argued. Based on facts, the Environment Select Committee has put forward several recommendations.

I acknowledge your injunction to confine my speech, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but I want to draw the House's attention to paragraphs 277, 279 and 280 of the Select Committee's report, and especially to the Committee's view of NIREX—this unaccountable, unelected body that has been stumbling up and down the country, causing the most terrible distress to local people at public meetings. The NIREX representatives have absolutely no idea how to treat local people. I understand that the constituents of my right hon. Friend the Member for Colchester, South and Maldon have experienced the disgraceful way in which NIREX has presented its very bad case, as have I.

The Select Committee's recommendations regarding NIREX are very simple and straightforward and should be honoured by the Department of the Environment. They are:

We therefore recommend that the Secretary of State for the Environment should hold the Government's single special share in NIREX … rather than the Secretary of State for Energy. We therefore recommend that the Department of the Environment should clarify the lines of communication and accountability between themselves and NIREX. In due course NIREX should be made directly answerable to the Department of the Environment". I am getting fed up with my hon. Friend the Minister of State answering questions which I put to him about this matter by saying that it is a matter for NIREX. It is not a matter for NIREX. It is a matter for the Department of the Environment and the Minister here at this Dispatch Box. I shall get very angry if I get answers like that to any more parliamentary questions.

My final point, which supports all that my right hon. and hon. Friends have said, is here in the report:

We therefore recommend that site selection criteria should be established in advance and published for each type of waste disposal route likely to be developed. Thereafter, the Department of the Environment should ensure that any possible future disposal sites identified by NIREX should satisfy the site selection criteria for that disposal option. Thus responsibility for final short listing … should effectively rest with the Department of the Environment rather than NIREX. That is the battle that I have had for the past six months and I am delighted to be joined in that battle by such formidable allies as the Patronage Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point, my hon. Friend the Member for Grantham, my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire, my hon. Friends the Members for Gainsborough and Horncastle and for Glanford and Scunthorpe. We shall defeat the proposals at all four sites. I warn my hon. Friend the Minister that we intend, all of us, to win.

5.3 pm

Mr. Nicholas Lyell (Mid-Bedfordshire)

I shall be brief because I know that others of my hon. Friends wish to speak. The strong feelings expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes (Mr. Brown) will be reflected by all right hon. and hon. Members who are concerned about these matters. He passes through my constituency. My constituency and Elstow were first singled out, and singled out is the right phrase, two and a half years ago by NIREX without any proper forethought.

I am glad to see present my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, North (Mr. Carlisle), who feels as strongly as I do on this. The deep anxiety which is felt by my constituents, and those in surrounding districts has been felt for two and a half years. It is not the view of cranks, but the view of sensible constituents of all persuasions who have thought the matter through. They ask themselves how NIREX can propose to put such a repository, as it calls this dump, two and a half miles from a major centre of population in a crowded county with a constantly growing population, when its first criterion for choosing sites, which it now announces, is population density. That is to turn logic on its head.

We recognise that a solution must be found, but I should like to draw attention to four points in the Select Committee report. The first is the wise advice to be found in paragraph 58. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Grantham (Mr. Hogg) on initiating this debate with a formidable and well thought out speech. Like me, he draws attention to these words: It is essential that research and development is carried out well in advance. It was not. The kind of urgency suggested by NIREX's haphazard activities with regard to Billingham and Elstow is very unhelpful and can only fuel the public's anxiety and distrust. In addition, NIREX's rush risks the loss of what might be geologically prime sites. Those of us who have lived with this for two and a half years probably realise that it has lost possibly the best geological site, at least for low level waste, in the country—the site under Billingham. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] I am not suggesting that it should go there, but NIREX rushed, and the site was rejected on wholly emotional grounds before any proper consideration had been given to it.

I have said for some years that NIREX should split low and intermediate level nuclear waste. I am glad to see that well argued and reflected in the report. If any consideration is to continue to be given to the dumping of waste in what is now called near surface trenches and used to be called shallow land burial—I am not quite sure what the difference is—it should be low level only. My hon. Friend the Minister should remember that there is only one such repository in Europe—Centre de la Manche. It does not rely on absolute containment. It has fail-safe drainage to the sea, which is a formidable difference. I am not saying that that is the right solution, but to rely on absolute containment when it is admitted that the site is waterlogged and has room for that water to escape only on to the surface or to leach down to the aquifers is plainly a wrong solution.

Mr. Alton

The hon. and learned Gentleman will have seen the publicity photograph of Drigg that has been published in the Select Committee's report. Surely that is an example of the worst possible way in which to dispose of low level nuclear waste.

Mr. Lyell

If that be true I know not. I went to Drigg, as did the hon. Gentleman, and it was sworn to me that it was perfectly safe, which shows how confident I am in NIREX, following the report.

There are other sensible solutions which should be considered. I believe that the Select Committee recognises that time is on our side, which it is not in this debate. We should consider dry storage, proper compaction and, above all, the formation of deep mine cavities, perhaps under the sea. When we have had proper and open research and debate, an idea should be proposed which can carry scientific and public confidence.

5.10 pm
Mr. Eric S. Heffer (Liverpool, Walton)

I shall speak very briefly, because, as has been said by another Liverpool Member, the hon. Member for Liverpool, Mossley Hill (Mr. Alton), in whose constituency I live, we in our area are deeply concerned about radioactive discharges into the Irish sea. The Irish sea is slowly but surely becoming a sort of nuclear cesspool. We know that every two years the Irish sea is flushed out, but we also know that a deposit is left. We are trying to get rid of the old problems in the Mersey, and so on, yet we are faced with this new problem, which is growing all the time to an extent that is worrying our people deeply.

It is not only we who are worried. There was a debate yesterday in the Irish Parliament on this issue. The Irish Government are not calling for Sellafield to be closed down, and nor am I, but we have to face what is happening to our areas, and the whole process needs to be looked at again. Do we really need to bring in nuclear waste for reprocessing? Is it sensible, is it safe, is it good for our people? Surely we have to look at this whole thing again.

At its last annual conference the Labour party passed a resolution on future nuclear policy. My party is concerned about this issue. We are not saying that the thousands of workers at Sellafield have to be thrown out of work. We know that a new plant is being built, which will be ready, we are told, in 1990. Be that as it may, this matter is of such concern to us in our area that we say that it has to stop, and that it has to stop now. We cannot allow this build-up, which is causing immense problems for all of us. We are worried about it, we are concerned about it, and we want to see something done quickly to deal with the matter.

5.12 pm
Dr. David Clark (South Shields)

The last few words of my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) sum up the mood of the people of this country. They are deeply concerned about the handling of nuclear waste and want something done about it very quickly. It is our duty to try to ensure that the Government and Government agencies do everything possible to see to it that this problem is tackled responsibly.

I very much welcome the initiative of the hon. Member for Grantham (Mr. Hogg), and I equally welcome the report of the Select Committee. The only unsatisfactory point about this debate today is its brevity. I look to the Government for an assurance that we will have a full day's debate on the Select Committee report, because it is of considerable importance. I am aware that many Government Members who wish to participate in the debate have not been able to do so. I hope that very soon we shall have a debate on the special development order by which means the Government will bypass the local planning authorities on the four specific sites.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Walton said, we are all deeply concerned. Whether it is a civil nuclear engineering problem, or a military one, we have to face the fact that even if we decommissioned every nuclear power station tomorrow—and I am not saying that we should—we shall still have to face the problem of nuclear waste. We expect this problem to be tackled in a much more sensible way than it has been tackled so far and we commend the report to the attention of hon. Members. I am sure that they are reading the report, but it is difficult to comprehend everything. The report is right when it says that we are literally 40 years behind in the way in which we are tackling the nuclear waste problem.

Many hon. Members have put points relating to their own constituencies. Let me emphasise the fact, because it needs emphasising and re-emphasising, that there are 5,000 sites in this country where we use radioactive material. Much of that activity is beneficial to us. I shall cite simply the radium treatment in our major hospitals and the battle against cancer. All the material involved in that procedure has to be dumped, and I do not think that we can store it all above ground. It may well be that very low-level material will have to be stored in trenches.

Whatever decisions are made, we must ensure that if mistakes are found the situation is retrievable. I think that that is what worries many Government Members. They feel that trenches and concrete bunkers will be placed in their constituencies and that, if it is found that a mistake has been made, there will be no way of retrieving the situation.

I take issue with the hon. and learned Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Lyell) on one point, and I think that he would expect me to do so. In a sense I am agreeing with him, because I feel that NIREX has been insensitive in the way in which it has gone about this operation. I agree that NIREX should have a much wider membership and ought not to be the narrow grouping that it is. The anhydrite mine at Billingham may be an ideal site on purely technical grounds. However, we are dealing, not with a technical issue, but with an emotional one, and I see that the hon. and learned Gentleman agrees with me. It does not make sense to dispose of waste under a major conurbation, with a major chemical complex above it. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton, North (Mr. Cook) would have been most active if he had been here.

I think that there is agreement, and that the message from the House to the Minister is that we are not convinced. We have seen the Committee's report, we want to study it, we want a full day's debate on it and we want the Government to take a number of the issues seriously. I think that almost all hon. Members agree with the Select Committee's report that our approach to the dumping of nuclear waste has been "amateurish and haphazard" and that we have tried to do it on a shoestring. I impress upon the Minister the fact that the people of this country do not expect the problem of nuclear waste to be tackled in such a miserly fashion, although perhaps the Committee used the wrong expression when it talked about Rolls-Royce, because that implies cost. I believe that what the report is saying is that we should have the best possible means of tackling this problem of nuclear waste.

It is a matter of deep regret that one of the first things that the Government did on taking office was to stop the deep geological search for sites for radioactive waste. I am not saying that that was the way, but we should have continued with that research, and we have lost five years because of that mistaken decision. We are talking about 200 or 300 years, and we cannot see that far ahead. It may well be that we shall find that we have made mistakes, so whatever course of action we follow, it must be reversible.

5.17 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mrs. Angela Rumbold)

I want to start by saying how grateful I am to my hon. Friend the Member for Grantham (Mr. Hogg) for raising this issue today and making such a powerful and well-argued case. This is the first of probably a number of occasions on which we shall discuss what is clearly a very important matter.

I am sorry that not all the hon. Members whose constituencies are involved in this matter were called, particularly my hon. Friends the Members for Glanford and Scunthorpe (Mr. Hickmet) and for Gainsborough and Horncastle (Mr. Leigh), who I know were anxious to have a say and whose constituencies will most certainly be affected in the same way as those of many other hon. Members who have expressed very real fears during the debate.

I should like to extend my gratitude to my colleagues from the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food for their support throughout the whole of this debate.

I must make it absolutely clear that the Government take the public concern on this issue very seriously indeed. I am extremely grateful to the House for the high level of understanding that hon. Members who have spoken on this matter have brought to the debate today. I certainly appreciate why so many of the constituents of my hon. Friends and of other hon. Members have been alarmed by the recent announcement by NIREX of the four potential sites for the disposal of radioactive waste, and some things need to be said to put that announcement in context. I hope that I can allay some of the fears that have been so eloquently expressed.

It is important to emphasise four general points. First, the Government have a range of strict controls on radioactive waste disposal. In exercising those controls, our paramount concern will be public health and safety. Secondly, only one of the four sites announced is needed, and only if the Government's controls and requirements can be satisfied will one be developed. Thirdly, we shall try to ensure that the process of selecting and evaluating a site is as open as possible. Fourthly, we shall ensure that any radioactive doses from a disposal site are insignificant.

Mr. Richard Hickmet (Glanford and Scunthorpe)

My hon. Friend has outlined four points which the Government will bear in mind, but may I add a fifth point? Whatever may be the truth or the facts of the dangers or lack of dangers surrounding the disposal of nuclear waste, until public fears can be allayed, it will be impossible to persuade those who live in the areas affected that this is a satisfactory or safe method of disposal. Unless the general public accepts that, the Government have no alternative but to accept the forthright opposition of Members of Parliament who are affected by the decisions of NIREX.

Mrs. Rumbold

I fully understand and accept my hon. Friend's point. It is essential that the Government, NIREX and all those involved with radioactive waste disposal have a better understanding of the matter.

My hon. Friend the Member for Grantham outlined three key areas to which he and his constituents object. He said that the geology at Fulbeck is inappropriate for waste disposal and that there is a lack of communications, as he sees it. They are two of the major criteria that NIREX will use. His main objection was that near-surface disposal systems are not a safe, necessary or proven way of disposing of radioactive waste. That is the point that I must answer. My hon. Friend asked whether alternatives to near-surface disposal had been considered. The study of the best practicable environmental option, which was published today, considered alternatives to the near-surface disposal of waste. It examined deep disposal on land or in tunnels under the sea. It considered disposal in bore holes drilled into the coastal seabed, disposal in the deep ocean and long-term monitored storage. It concluded that near-surface disposal is the best practical environmental option for low-level wastes and some short-lived, intermediate-level wastes.

My hon. Friend mentioned the way in which other countries practise or plan near-surface disposal of low-level waste. He mentioned the French site at Centre de la Manche. Canada also practises such disposal and the option is being considered in Japan. Much research has been undertaken nationally and internationally into the seabed option. This relates to the eventual disposal of high-level waste under the seabed. NIREX recently commissioned two feasibility studies into the disposal of waste under the seabed, and that option is also being considered as a possible way of disposing of longer-lived, intermediate-level wastes. However, some significant legal uncertainties and problems with international agreements must be overcome before any such action could be implemented. We shall consider that recommendation carefully.

Any disposal in or under the seabed would require a licence from my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food under the Food and Environment Protection Act. The legal position on sub-seabed disposal is extremely complex. There is as yet no agreement among the contracting parties to the London dumping convention on whether the matter falls within its remit.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Sir B. Braine) made a powerful speech. I couple his anxieties with those of my right hon. Friend the Member for Colchester, South and Maldon (Mr. Wakeham), which I share and understand fully. My right hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point made some telling points about the criteria upon which NIREX makes its suggestions for suitable sites. He mentioned population, accessibility, conservation and geology. Of course, all those matters will be revealed in the general geological investigations that have been proposed by NIREX, and all those considerations will be subject to full consultation through public inquiries. We have commissioned research by the Natural Environment Research Council on the potential role of microbiological processes in releasing radioactivity at a wet disposal site. I assure hon. Members that the results of the research will be taken fully into account in assessing the suitability of any site for radioactive waste disposal. I shall pass my right hon. Friend's request for information on the foundations of Bradwell power station to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy.

NIREX carried out exhaustive studies before selecting those sites. It could not have consulted county councils before announcing its choice. I understand that it considered several hundred sites; had it consulted the councils involved, unnecessary anxiety would have been caused in many places that were not chosen. Hon. Members will understand that point.

Sir Bernard Braine

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for trying to meet all the points that I raised, but was NIREX aware that Bradwell is on a fault line and that seismic disturbance has been a factor in the mind of the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority? Was NIREX aware of the history of flooding in the area?

Mrs. Rumbold

If it was not aware, I am sure that it will soon become aware of the fact when it carries out its geological investigations.

I assure hon. Members of the importance that the Government attach to openness in the investigations. We wish to be as open as possible at every stage, especially during consultation.

It is important to mention Government control. Hon. Members do not always appreciate that NIREX and the Department of the Environment are separate organisations. I stress the rigorous controls to which the NIREX proposals will be subject from the Government. The nuclear industry is probably the most highly regulated in the country, and NIREX will be no exception. We shall provide an independent assessment of the results of the site investigations and of NIREX's proposal for the facilities. NIREX will require planning permission and, assuming that that is given, it will require an authorisation from the Department to dispose of wastes.

My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Lyell) mentioned the nature of the waste to be disposed. At such a facility, NIREX will wish to dispose of low-level wastes and some shorter-lived, intermediate-level wastes. But I give the House a categoric assurance that neither high-level wastes nor longer-lived, intermediate-level wastes will be disposed of at such a facility. The Government would not allow a near-surface facility to be upgraded subsequently to higher-grade wastes, which involve a different and far greater risk.

Mr. Lyell

Would my hon. Friend consider carefully the wisdom of looking at the difference between very low-level waste, which might not frighten anyone—an alarm clock or a pair of gloves perhaps—low-level waste and intermediate-level waste? Separating those three might help the public a great deal.

Mrs. Rumbold

I am extremely grateful to my hon. and learned Friend. This is one of the points to which the Government will address themselves clearly.

I have little time left in which to deal with many of the points which have been made in this extremely interesting debate, but I want to assure the House that there will continue to be many opportunities for discussing this particular subject and for reaching a clearer understanding of it. It is of enormous concern to the whole country. I hope that this is the first of many such debates.