HC Deb 04 November 1987 vol 121 cc923-5
6. Mr. Ernie Ross

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment when he last met the chairman of NIREX to discuss the disposal of nuclear waste.

Mr. Ridley

I have had discussions with the chairman of NIREX from time to time. We last met on 22 October.

Mr. Ross

Will the Secretary of State condemn the irresponsible activity of companies such as Consolidated Environmental Technologies, which, for commercial purposes, purport to speak authoritatively on behalf of NIREX about the dumping of nuclear waste? Will he confirm that there is no intention to dump nuclear waste off Dundee or Tayside? What action does the Secretary of State intend to take against these unscrupulous companies and their activities?

Mr. Ridley

I understand that Consolidated Environmental Technologies has, on its own account, been looking at sites in the North sea where it might suggest how to work out the techniques for deep disposal under the seabed. None of the work has been done for NIREX. At this stage I am not in a position either to rule in or rule out any particular site in the United Kingdom, because NIREX is doing its studies. Until it comes forward with some suggestions, I cannot tell the House what those might be.

Mr. Kilfedder

Since understandable anger has been generated as a result of NIREX's proposal to consider dumping nuclear waste in the seabed off Sellafield, will the Minister ensure that NIREX realises the anger felt on both sides of the Irish sea and realises that people should not be put at risk or the sea polluted?

Mr. Ridley

I must say to the hon. Gentleman that it was not NIREX that suggested that plan, but the hon. Member for Bootle (Mr. Roberts). He visited Sellafield, and I quote from a newspaper—the only source I have —that states: Labour has decided to back British Nuclear Fuels' plans to store nuclear waste under the sea off its Sellafield reprocessing plant as the only solution to the waste problem. I must tell the hon. Member for North Down (Mr. Kilfedder) that NIREX is more cautious and, possibly, more expert than the hon. Member for Bootle and has not yet made any proposals of any sort.

Mrs. Margaret Ewing

Can the right hon. Gentleman tell us when he expects NIREX to be able to announce the results of its current survey? Is he aware of the widespread anger and concern in Scotland, where many sites have been rumoured as possible areas for dumping intermediate nuclear waste, not least at Durn Hill near Portsoy on the edge of my constituency? Is it true that there will be a statement next week, and can he guarantee that the House will have a full opportunity to debate such issues?

Mr. Ridley

NIREX will be issuing a discussion document that on 12 November in which it will put forward the strategies it is working up and will invite public comment on its proposals. I must repeat that neither in that document nor at this time has any suggestion been made about any location that is favoured or ruled out. We are discussing techniques and methods for carrying out the work that must be undertaken in due course.

Mr. Jack

Does my right hon. Friend agree that one of the main points of public concern about the nuclear industry is the disposal of waste? The concept of concentrating the disposal of that waste on such sites as Sellafield would do much to assuage public concern on this matter.

Mr. Ridley

I believe that everybody realises that, whatever the future of the nuclear programme — I believe that it has an extremely good future— there is waste now that must be disposed of. Having ruled out shallow sites, such waste must, as I said in May this year, go to deep sites. It is right to give NIREX the opportunity to do all the studies it needs to ensure that the best solution is found for the ultimate disposal of waste. I shall not prejudge what it might say, but hon. Members will be able to comment when they see the consultative document from NIREX.

Mr. Allan Roberts

Does the Minister not accept that there are no proposals by BNFL or anyone else to dump any nuclear waste under the sea and that the Labour party does not support any proposals to dump waste in the North sea? The only thing that the Labour party has supported is the possible exploration of sites for the disposal of low-level and intermediate waste. Will the Minister undertake that NIREX and the Government will not use special development orders again, as they did for the last four sites that the Government had NIREX investigate, as that alienates the local community? Does he not accept that a public inquiry is necessary and that that should take place at BNFL if its investigations reach a furher stage than at present?

Mr. Ridley

I must explain to the hon. Gentleman that I was not being critical of him earlier, but was merely welcoming his sensible recognition that, the waste must be disposed of and that as I announced in May, it is correct to look for deep sites. I welcome his support for the principle. Unlike the hon. Gentleman, I cannot bring myself to suggest that particular sites should be used, although he has kindly suggested that that site should be in the constituency of his hon. Friend the Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham). However, that was jumping the gun. That was the only suggestion that I made. We must await any proposal from NIREX before considering how we can take it further.