HC Deb 11 June 1990 vol 174 cc5-6
4. Mr. Simon Hughes

To ask the Secretary of State for Transport if he will make a statement about the transport of radioactive material within the United Kingdom.

The Minister for Roads and Traffic (Mr. Robert Atkins)

The transport of radioactive material in the United Kingdom is governed by the regulations of the International Atomic Energy Agency. These regulations are kept under continuous review; major revisions take place every 10 years, and the most recent one was in 1985.

Mr. Hughes

Will the Minister confirm that at present it is permissible to carry nuclear waste on passenger ferries and that it is the Government's policy to permit high-level nuclear waste to be taken through the channel tunnel? Do not the Government consider it a grave dereliction of duty that routes for nuclear waste are entirely a matter for the carrier and have nothing to do with the Government? May we have an announcement of a review of both policies so that people can be assured that nuclear waste is carried on designated, publicly known routes on which it will produce the minimum risk to the safety of members of the public who also use those routes?

Mr. Atkins

I was under the impression that the question was about the transport of radioactive material within the United Kingdom, not outside it. I assure the hon. Gentleman, whose new-found interest in the matter I discovered recently—[Hon. Members: "Oh!"] I draw it to the attention of the House that the Radioactive Materials (Road Transport) Bill recently passed through the House in one-and-a-half minutes and that the Liberal party was completely unrepresented [Interruption.] The serious answer to the question is that the Government take, and for many years have taken, great interest in these matters. We abide by international regulations which are reviewed regularly and we are as satisfied as anyone can be that the regulations are effective, efficient and brought up to date at every opportunity.

Mrs. Margaret Ewing

If the Government are determined to pursue the ludicrous policy of turning the United Kingdom into the nuclear dustbin of the world, does the Minister accept that he has a clear responsibility to ensure that the routes that will be used are reviewed, particularly against the background of the recent statements of the chief executive of British Nuclear Fuels plc that high-level nuclear waste may be disposed of at Sellafield and Dounreay? Will the Minister, therefore, undertake to put pressure on the authority to ensure that the routes are published and that details of the quality of the vehicles used are known to the public?

Mr. Atkins

I hesitate to give the hon. Lady lessons, but there is a difference, of which people should be aware, between nuclear waste and the reprocessing of used nuclear fuel. We have an efficient and effective industry, part of which is in the constituency adjacent to mine and others. Hon. Members should be aware of the regulations that apply when such material is shipped round the country. The safety of the regulations has been demonstrated on more than one occasion, not least in 1984 when a train travelling at 100 mph crashed, causing no damage whatever.