HC Deb 07 February 1989 vol 146 cc791-2
8. Mr. Alton

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what advice is given to area health authorities for emergency planning in the event of radioactive emission from a nuclear-powered submarine while in port; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Younger

Area health authorities are represented on the liaison committees that produce safety schemes for all United Kingdom ports in which there are berths for nuclear-powered submarines. They are provided with information on possible consequences of, and hazards from, any submarine nuclear reactor accident, and advice on suitable protective measures to deal with such an event.

Mr. Alton

Has the Secretary of State had an opportunity to consider a report published recently by academics at the University of Wales, suggesting that the Royal Navy grievously underestimates the effects of a nuclear submarine accident on the civilian population in places such as Plymouth, Liverpool and Cardiff? Has he read today's report from Greenpeace, suggesting that levels of radiation are nine times higher than official acceptable levels in places near to bases in Scotland? Does the Secretary of State agree that safety levels should be reconsidered, that local authorities should reassess their plans for dealing with nuclear accidents, and that restrictions should be placed on submarines entering densely populated areas?

Mr. Younger

We are extremely strong on nuclear submarine safety. We would never allow a nuclear submarine to enter any port unless it was thoroughly approved by the nuclear safety inspectorate concerned, which reports directly to us. The hon. Gentleman can be well assured of that. As to this morning's report from Greenpeace, I see nothing to quarrel with in the methodology used in calculating estimated radiation levels, but I quarrel with the conclusions that are drawn. As I understand it, the Greenpeace study concludes, that, at worst, approximately 1 per cent. of the permitted level of radiation might be suffered by somebody affected in the areas studied. To place that in perspective, it is equivalent to the amount of radiation to which we are all exposed on a return shuttle flight to Glasgow. It is absurd to suggest that that causes any danger to anyone.

Mr. McFall

The Secretary of State knows that the emergency planning procedures for the Clyde public safety scheme have been revised. Will he give an undertaking today that the Ministry of Defence will have meaningful discussions with the local authority, and to demonstrate that approach will the Secretary of State allow the local authorities funding for independent monitoring so that public confidence in the area may be maintained?

Mr. Younger

I can certainly assure the hon. Gentleman that we are consulting local authorities, and will continue to do so, on an ongoing basis to draw up public safety schemes. I understand that authorities in his area are among those taking part in such discussions. With regard to reporting on these schemes, we provide the maximum information that we can, and that should be sufficient for everyone to take a full part in the discussions.