HC Deb 15 December 1993 vol 234 cc1094-104 4.59 pm
The Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. John Selwyn Gummer)

I wish to make a statement on the decisions that my right hon. Friend the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and I have made in respect of the authorisation of radioactive discharges from the British Nuclear Fuels site at Sellafield. Copies of our full decision, together with supporting summary documents, are now available in the Vote Office and will be placed in the Libraries of both Houses.

My right hon. Friend apologises for being unable to be in the House this afternoon: she is attending an Agriculture Council meeting in Brussels on behalf of the United Kingdom.

In April 1992, British Nuclear Fuels applied to Her Majesty's inspectorate of pollution and the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food for new authorisations for the Sellafield site under the Radioactive Substances Act, which would allow for the operation of its thermal oxide reprocessing plant, known as THORP, and a new enhanced actinide removal plant, known as EARP. Those inspectorates considered the application and prepared draft authorisations, which, in accordance with the requirements of the legislation, were made available for public consultation.

Following that consultation, the inspectorates considered the responses that had been made and prepared a report on the issues that had been raised. They concluded that no points had been raised that would cause them to reconsider the terms of their draft authorisations, which they concluded would effectively protect human health, the safety of the food chain and the environment generally". In their report submitted to us on 21 May, however, the inspectorates pointed out that a number of wider policy issues had been raised that they had not considered. I announced to the House on 28 June that further papers would be commissioned on those wider issues, and that my right hon. Friend and I would then hold a further round of consultation. We undertook that no decisions on the authorisations would be made until the results of that consultation were known.

A paper on the economic and commercial justification for operating THORP was commissioned from British Nuclear Fuels, and a paper that provided a statement of Government policy on reprocessing and the operation of THORP was prepared within Government. A paper on the environmental aspects of operating THORP was also presented by British Nuclear Fuels. Those papers, together with the report from the inspectorates, were made available as part of the further public consultation.

That consultation began on 4 August and ended on 4 October, although responses received after that date have been considered. Altogether, 42,500 individual responses were received, 63 per cent. of which were opposed to the operation of THORP. Overall, 29 per cent. of respondents, or just under 12,300, called for a hearing or public inquiry. That total included 85 local authorities, although Cumbria county council and Copeland district council—the two authorities with direct responsibility for the Sellafield area —did not consider a hearing to be necessary. My right hon. Friend and I have been conscious of the great responsibilities placed on us by the Act. We have personally set aside a significant part of our time to consider with great care the points that were made in the consultation, and to reach our decisions. Where appropriate, we have sought the views of other Departments and other public bodies on issues falling within their expertise.

Our responsibilities under the Act require us to consider whether any local authority or other person should be offered a hearing. On this point, my right hon. Friend and I have come to the view that the extensive consultation already carried out—first by the inspectorates and then by ourselves—offered an adequate opportunity for people to make full and informed representations. This is borne out by the quality, quantity and detail of the responses received.

The large amount of information and argument that has been presented provides a fully adequate basis for us to inform ourselves of the weight and substance of the concerns of all interested parties, and to assess and weigh that information and argument.

My right hon. Friend and I have decided not to hold a hearing or a public inquiry, not least because we are satisfied that no issues have been raised that would cause us to conclude that further consultation or debate is necessary.

In reaching our decisions, we have been conscious that any major undertaking to provide fuel for energy production, or to manage the wastes from energy production, carries some element of risk. Risk cannot be eliminated entirely, but it must always be minimised. It is the policy of the United Kingdom to ensure that radioactive discharges from nuclear installations do not result in the public receiving doses in excess of internationally agreed limits designed to protect their health and, furthermore, that those doses are kept as low as reasonably achievable.

In this case, my right hon. Friend and I must reach decisions about authorisations that would permit liquid and gaseous radioactive discharges from the plant on the Sellafield site, including THORP. Our responsibility is to decide under what conditions, if any, the site and its plant may operate. Decisions about whether to use the authorisation to reprocess spent fuel are for others.

In reaching a decision on the authorisations, we have taken account of all the documents circulated, the responses to further consultation and further advice from Departments and other public bodies.

We considered, first, the narrow issues relating to the impact of the proposed authorisations on health and the environment; we believe that only those issues are legally relevant to our statutory duties. On that basis, we have concluded that the discharges permitted by the authorisations would not lead to unacceptable risks to human health or the environment. We have therefore decided that the authorisations should be granted, although we have considered it appropriate to propose a number of amendments to ensure that discharges from the site will be minimised.

The amendments would require British Nuclear Fuels to provide the inspectorates with reports each year on the means for further reducing discharges and on its forward research and development programme for krypton abatement technology. They would also require it to produce, within six months of the authorisations coming into effect, an analysis of different treatment programmes for dealing with the stored wastes once EARP is available.

To provide more clarity and consistency to the authorisations, amendments would include the incorporation of a specific limit on uranium discharges to the sea, and a total beta limit on atmospheric discharges from the Calder Hall reactors.

Under the Act, because of the conditions that we and the inspectorates are imposing, British Nuclear Fuels is entitled to make further representations. We are writing to it to ascertain whether it wishes to exercise this entitlement.

Although those narrow issues are the ones that we considered to be the limit of our legal responsibilities under the statute, we felt it right to consider the wider issues as if they were legally relevant.

The full decision, which is in the Vote Office, sets out how we have approached that task. It shows that we have considered matters of spent fuel and waste management, decisions to reprocess, economic aspects—including local employment benefits—transport issues and nonproliferation concerns.

Having weighed the various risks and benefits, in particular those arising from the operation of THORP, my right hon. Friend and I have reached the judgment that there is a sufficient balance of advantage in favour of the operation of THORP, and we are satisfied that the activities giving rise to the discharges permitted by the authorisations are justified.

For the reasons set out in detail in the full decision, we have concluded that, had these wider considerations been relevant—[Interruption.] Perhaps I should repeat that last sentence. For the reasons set out in detail in the full decision, we have concluded that, had these wider considerations been relevant, we would still have reached the same decision on the authorisations.

Subject, then, to British Nuclear Fuels' decision on the question of making further representations, the inspectorates will be instructed to issue the authorisations to British Nuclear Fuels, taking account of the amendments that we have required. In accordance with the provisions of the Act, there will be a period of 28 days between the authorisations being issued and their coming into effect.

Mr. Chris Smith (Islington, South and Finsbury)

It is clear from some of this morning's newspapers, most notably The Times, that detailed briefings were given to certain journalists about the content of this afternoon's statement. I remind the Secretary of State that the House should be told first about any decision of such importance and magnitude.

Is not that typical of the lack of proper public opennesss that has characterised all the Government's decision making on this matter? Before any of us can make a sensible judgment on whether THORP should be started up, the fullest range of information about all aspects of the plant should be available to the public. That has not been the case, and it is still not the case. It is almost as if the Government had been deliberately concealing information from the public.

May I, therefore, ask the Secretary of State about a number of vital considerations on which we remain in the dark? First, why has there been no publication of the Touche Ross report on the plant's economic prospects? Why has the report not even been shown to the Comptroller and Auditor General, or some other independent authority? Why, indeed—if some reports are to be believed—have Ministers at the Department of the Environment and the Treasury not seen it?

The Secretary of State may say that this is all to do with the economics of the plant, and not with its environmental implications, but we cannot and should not divorce the two, and the Secretary of State must recognise that fact. It is especially important in the light of the justification requirements of the Euratom treaty. In that connection, can the Secretary of State explain the rather strange claims that are made in paragraphs 129 and 130 of the decision document? The document states: even doubling the figure used by BNFL for decommissioning costs would not significantly affect the conclusion that the operation of the plant would be likely to bring BNFL significant commercial benefit. As BNFL's public estimate of profit from the plant overall is £500 million, and as its estimate of decommissioning costs is £900 million, how on earth can the Government reach the conclusions that they have reached in those two paragraphs?

Secondly, why has no information been placed in the public domain about the exact terms of the contracts for foreign fuel? In particular, what will be the impact of the requirement that apparently exists for surplus Japanese plutonium to be stored at Sellafield until it is needed in Japan? Should we not be told about that until it is needed in Japan? Should we not be told about that before the generation of the plutonium is put in hand?

Thirdly, why has there been no clear resolution yet of the issue of waste substitution, whereby smaller amounts of high-level waste could be returned in exchange for the retention of larger amounts of low and intermediate-level waste here in Britain? The Government have told us that a decision will be made at some unspecified time in the future—they confirm that point in paragraph 108 of the decision document issued today—but how can it possibly be sensible to make a decision now that commits us to generating large quantities of waste when the Government have not yet decided what precisely should be done with it?

Fourthly, why has the request for the Radioactive Waste Management Advisory Committee to publish information on waste substitution, and the health and safety implications of returning foreign intermediate waste, been refused—in contravention, surely, of the environmental information regulations passed by the House just a year ago? It has been claimed, I understand, that freedom of information does not apply, because RWMAC is not a public body and is not under the control of Ministers. I put it to the Secretary of State, however, that he appoints its members, funds its work, sets its terms of reference, requires it to undertake specific tasks and has the power to wind it up. How can he possibly claim that it is not under his control?

Fifthly, why is today's decision being announced without any clear information being available to the House or the public about the future of a long-term deep disposal facility for the intermediate-level waste that will be created? In its current annual report, RWMAC says that, even if Sellafield is chosen as the site, it will be 16 years before it can operate. What will happen in the meantime, and what will happen if Sellafield turns out to be an unsuitable site?

Sixthly, why has the report of the public inquiry into the building of a dry storage facility at Torness not yet been published? According to some reports, it concludes that dry storage may be a preferable option to reprocessing. Is that so? If it is, is it not a material consideration in reaching a decision on THORP? Why, then, has there been such a long delay in the report's publication?

In all those respects, the way in which the Government have gone about making their decision has been wholly unacceptable. In sharp contrast to the open way in which my right hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney (Mr. Shore) announced his decision on 22 March 1978, the present Government have kept crucial items of information under wraps, well away from public scrutiny. They are still at it, denying us the full information that we need if we are to make a proper judgment on the merits of their decision.

As the Government seem determined to proceed, may I ask them to make absolutely certain that the same furtiveness does not characterise the control and monitoring of emissions from the plant? It is surely vital —especially now, with a very tight tolerance between actual discharges and overall authorisation limits—that the strictest monitoring procedures are in place, and are seen by the public to be implemented properly.

I welcome the Secretary of State's announcement that he expects progressive reductions in discharge levels and that progress will be reported to the inspectorates. Can he guarantee that progress will also be reported to the public? Freedom of information may have been consistently denied by the Government in reaching the decision that they have announced today. I warn them that any denial of access to information during the course of implementation of that decision will not be forgiven.

Mr. Gummer

The House might be forgiven for concluding, following what has been said by the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith), that the only matter under wraps is the official Opposition's view on the issue. The Government have acted with complete openness, as anyone who reads the decision document will see. Only recently, the House debated THORP and declared its own view. Matters relating to the economic base on which the plant proceeds are, of course, partly to do with the decision; to that extent, they are stated very clearly in the decision letter.

The contracts ensure that all waste is to be sent back; matters of substitution, therefore, are not connected with the authorisations, which are made on the basis of the situation as it obtains. That, too, is made clear in the decision letter. We have consulted RWMAC very fully, and the consultation document from RWMAC is also in the Vote Office for hon. Members to read.

We have discussed in great detail the comparison between dry storage and reprocessing, and have reached certain very clear conclusions, which would in no way be altered by whatever statement results from the inspector's inquiry into Torness.

My right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture and I have spent a long time on the investigations, not knowing how we would reach a conclusion—for this was a matter of considerable detail. We are entirely satisfied, however, that our conclusion is based on the facts, and that those facts would not be changed by any further discussion of the matter.

Several hon. Members


Madam Speaker

Order. With the remainder of today's business in mind, I require hon. Members to put their questions briskly, and to be given brisk answers. [Interruption.] Order. I time the statements and the responses from the Opposition Front Bench and take it up with them at an appropriate time.

Mr. Michael Jopling (Westmorland and Lonsdale)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that, having delayed the opening and made himself doubly sure in recent months about safety matters, no one can fairly say that the matter has been entered into lightly or hastily? Can he think of any major project in this country over the years that has been more thoroughly crawled over, debated and inquired into since this project was introduced by the right hon. Members for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) and for Bethnal Green and Stepney (Mr. Shore) in the 1970s, when the House has endorsed the project three times, when we had the 100-day inquiry, which was the longest that there had ever been, and over the past two years there has been a whole series of other consultations and approval by the—[Interruption.]

Madam Speaker

Order. The House must now come to order. [Interruption.] Order—all hon. Members. I require questions to the Secretary of State, not long statements. The House tends to forget that we are not in the middle of a debate. We have yet to start the debate. I want questions to the Secretary of State.

Mr. Gummer

We have given the subject the very serious consideration that is necessary. My right hon. Friend the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and I were not willing to reach a conclusion until we had properly considered the matter. We believe that we have done so and that any fair-minded person would agree with us.

Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark and Bermondsey)

As millions of people around the world think that the Secretary of State and the Minister have made not just a wrong decision but a dangerously wrong decision, will he tell us where in the report—it does not appear anywhere —he justifies increasing the risk of nuclear proliferation around the world, and the creation of more plutonium, of which the world has an abundant excess already, and, on the very day that we talk about peace on the other side of the Irish sea, committing Britain to the reprocessing of nuclear waste, while all informed academic and political opinion suggests that the best way of dealing with it is by deep disposal or dry storage, not reprocessing, which nobody now thinks is a sensible way to proceed?

Mr. Gummer

I believe that the hon. Gentleman has not studied, and could not study with the adequacy that I would expect from him, the decision letter that we have written.

Mr. Hughes

Of course I have.

Mr. Gummer

Well, the hon. Gentleman should not say what is clearly not true about the document.

In addition, I want to say something directly to the hon. Gentleman. He has a responsibility not to trot out the views that he has held for some time without looking at the evidence and the statement we have made. We have carefully sought to face every issue, and if I had been convinced of his case, I would have refused the authorisations. It is because I am entirely unconvinced of his case that I have authorised those matters.

Mr. Tim Devlin (Stockton, South)

On behalf of the company in my constituency, Davy Nuclear, which built the plant, I thank the Secretary of State for the comprehensive way in which he has dealt with all the representations and objections and made what will be seen in future years as a sensible and far-sighted decision.

Mr. Gummer

We tried to take all matters into account, and I am glad that my hon. Friend is pleased with the result.

Mr. Tony Benn (Chesterfield)

Is the Secretary of State aware that, since I and my right hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney (Mr. Shore) presented these proposals in May 1978, there has been a fundamental change? Uranium is in massive supply, the fast breeder reactor has been cancelled, nuclear power has been revealed to be three and a half times as expensive as coal, and there have been accidents at Chernobyl and Three Mile Island.

The production by the plant of plutonium sufficient to produce 5,000 bombs of the size of those used at Hiroshima and Nagasaki merits a proper inquiry and a debate and decision by the House. Just as the House reached a decision in 1978, so in this case the House should be asked to make its own decision on the matter.

Mr. Gummer

I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will read carefully the document that I have put before him. If he were to do so, he would recognise that all those matters have been taken into account.

Mr. Benn

indicated dissent.

Mr. Gummer

It is no good the right hon. Gentleman shaking his head. They were taken into account. When he reads the document, he will so recognise, unless he is determined before reading it to maintain his present view, which is very different from the view that he once had. The thing that has changed most during that period is the right hon. Gentleman's own views.

Dr. Michael Clark (Rochford)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that many Conservative Members would like to congratulate him on the thoroughness with which he has looked into this whole business, and the decisiveness with which he has today given authorisation for THORP? Does he agree that his statement this afternoon will guarantee the maintenance of jobs in Cumbria, ensure that export orders already taken are fulfilled, justify the expenditure put into THORP, and, above all, maintain the credibility of our nuclear industry?

Mr. Gummer

My hon. Friend is right. But had the science and the facts pointed otherwise, my right hon. Friend and I would not have authorised the go-ahead for THORP.

Mr. Llew Smith (Blaenau Gwent)

The present Leader of the House and the Secretary of State for Employment quite rightly voted against THORP in 1978. Is the Minister aware of any statement of theirs changing that position? If not, can we expect their resignations this afternoon?

Secondly, on 6 December, I was informed by the Energy Minister that civil nuclear materials had been taken out of safeguards on 46 occasions since 1990. What evidence can the Secretary of State give the House that plutonium from THORP will not be removed from safeguards in the same way? Finally, can we have a copy of the Touche Ross report?

Mr. Gummer

The authorisations are given by the Secretary of State for the Environment and the Minister of Agriculture, acting together in a judicial capacity. Decisions taken by members of the Government at any future or past time are their responsibility. Just as I would be extremely angry were any of my colleagues to try to interfere in the responsibilities that I have, so I have no intention of interfering with their responsibilities.

As to the hon. Gentleman's question about plutonium, that is clearly covered in the document, which I am sure he has not had time to peruse. When he reads it, he will see how we have dealt with the Touche Ross report—

Mr. Smith

And Touche Ross?

Mr. Gummer

When the hon. Gentleman reads that report, he will see how we have dealt with all the economic case.

Mr. Geoffrey Dickens (Littleborough and Saddlesworth)

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that, as surely as night follows day, there will be a worldwide depletion of oil, gas and coal, and that future generations will have to rely on people such as British Nuclear Fuels, who reprocess spent fuel and store it so that future generations can have the energy that we enjoy today? Why should we let the French take the lead in the nuclear field? We should be long-term players, and go for it.

Mr. Gummer

I am sure that my hon. Friend's views will be echoed by many, but in these circumstances, my right hon. Friend and I were ruled by the facts of science, not by any commercial consideration.

Mr. Paul Flynn (Newport, West)

Now that the prime issue in world politics is for counter-proliferation policies to deal with the present turmoil and the turmoil that will come—not now, but in the next centuries, because plutonium and radioactivity are for ever—will not history judge today as the day that the Government went mad and decided hugely to increase the amount of radioactive waste and plutonium that will be sent to the four corners of the earth? Today's scientifically illiterate decision will be regarded by history as a giant error taken by pigmy politicians.

Mr. Gummer

I think that the hon. Gentleman is talking about politics, not about science.

Mr. Flynn

I am a scientist.

Mr. Gummer

The hon. Gentleman may be a scientist, but he has obviously not yet read what I have written in the decision document. I do not blame him for that, but I hope that at least he will not bring his prejudices to bear until he has read the document. If he really thinks that my right hon. Friend and I would have given these authorisations if what he said were true, he has an estimate of his fellow Members of which he should be ashamed.

Mr. Richard Page (Hertfordshire, South-West)

As a member of the Public Accounts Committee, which looked at the cost of construction of THORP, I know that it became fairly obvious at that time that, with expert marketing and cost control, there was considerable opportunity for exports for this country. Therefore, with the safety amendments that my right hon. Friend has announced, I welcome the decision that at long last it is to go ahead. Will United Kingdom nuclear power station operators be compelled to use THORP for reprocessing or will they be allowed to continue their existing storage methods on site?

Mr. Gummer

I can assure my hon. Friend that there will be no compulsion.

Mr. Cynog Dafis (Ceredigion and Pembroke, North)

I will be very specific and brief. How many Welsh local authorities made representations to the Minister on THORP? What percentage of them expressed quite clearly their opposition to the commissioning of THORP? I emphasise that there will be dismay in Wales and across the sea in the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland, whose shores are washed, and will be washed, by waters polluted by the emissions from Sellafield.

Mr. Gummer

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would want to reassure any of those who fall within the categories that he mentioned that I would not have given the authorisations were I not sure that they properly protected public health and the environment. If I had thought that they did not do so, I would not have given the authorisations. I am happy to send the hon. Gentleman a list of the local authorities that wrote to us.

Mr. Keith Mans (Wyre)

My right hon. Friend will be aware that his decision will be widely welcomed in the north-west, especially in Cumbria and in my county of Lancashire. Will he now back the efforts of the nuclear industry's trade union movement, especially the THORP nuclear workers support organisation, which is supported by the GMB and the Amalgamated Engineering and Electricial Union and which is seeking to persuade Labour-controlled Lancashire county council not to back any effort that might be made by Greenpeace to seek a judicial review of my right hon. Friend's decision?

Mr. Gummer

I thank my hon. Friend for his support. I hope that he will now accept that it was reasonable to have longer to consider the matter so that people could be absolutely sure that everything had been taken into account. Given the role of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture and myself, the other matters to which my hon. Friend referred are matters for others.

Mrs. Anne Campbell (Cambridge)

The point has been well made that when the decision was first made about THORP in 1978, the world situation with regard to plutonium production was very different from what it is today. What risk assessment has the Secretary of State made of what seems to us to be a highly irresponsible decision to pour surplus plutonium on to the world market in today's increasingly unstable world?

Mr. Gummer

If the hon. Lady reads the decision letter, she will see that we have dealt with that matter very clearly. With regard to these very serious matters, she should not use those phrases, which are very far from the truth.

Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury)

As my right hon. Friend has obviously taken the proliferation issue extremely seriously, may I urge him to continue, through his inspectorate, to monitor very carefully the physical security of plutonium in storage, in transit and, above all, in terms of with whom we trade in it?

Mr. Gummer

I shall ensure that my right hon. Friends who are responsible for that know exactly what my hon. Friend has said. I am sure that they will give an exact and detailed response.

Mr. Frank Cook (Stockton, North)

To what peaceful purpose will the Secretary of State's customers put the liberated plutonium? What consultations took place with the Irish Government?

Mr. Gummer

On the first part of the hon. Gentleman's question, plutonium is already used in MOX fuel to provide fuel for nuclear power stations. Customers have said that they intend to use it for that. The Irish Government made their opinions very clear to us in part of the consultations.

Dr. Robert Spink (Castle Point)

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that nuclear waste is an international problem and that there will be a problem in decommissioning British nuclear power stations in future? Does he agree that, in terms of the environment and safety, the best way to deal with the problem is to use THORP plant? That is a much better way than dry storage.

Mr. Gummer

I do not think that the two are directly comparable. Dry storage might well lead to the need to reprocess at the end of the dry storage period. There is no direct comparison. We must remember, however, that there is risk in the production of energy in any circumstances. It is our job to try to look at that risk sensibly and carefully and to reach a proper conclusion. One of the sadnesses is that some people concern themselves with frightening people without recognising that other methods may be riskier than those that are chosen. The Liberal party, above all, is doing that.

Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle)

I am sure that the decision will be welcomed on the west coast of Cumbria, and especially by those who work at Sellafield and by those who will be taken on. Is it not cynical, however, that the Government should hold back the decision on RAF Carlisle until today? On the day when they have made an announcement on THORP which will increase jobs, they have cut 800 jobs in Carlisle. We need a mixed economy in Cumbria, not one based simply on the nuclear industry.

Mr. Gummer

I think that I will answer the first part of the hon. Gentleman's question. Decisions were not made on the basis of providing jobs. If it had been clear to us that the authorisations should not be given for scientific reasons, we would not have given them. However, I am happy that, as the authorisations are clearly the right course, they will provide further jobs in Cumbria.

Mr. Ian Bruce (South Dorset)

Will my right hon. Friend deal with the very damaging report produced by Greenpeace, which stated that there would be 600 deaths if the plant were to be opened? Will he reassure my constituents that that report was rubbish?

Mr. Gummer

I do not have to deal with that myself, I can quote RWMAC, the official body that deals with such matters. It said that that report was misleading and should not be used in that way. I am sure that no hon. Member would want to associate himself with that kind of report.

Mr. Neil Gerrard (Walthamstow)

Will the Minister think again about some of his earlier replies and accept that the commercial demand for plutonium is far lower than it was when THORP was first suggested, that fast-breeder reactors are not going to be built now and that the only significant use for plutonium is in the construction of nuclear weapons? Does he understand that the stockpiling of plutonium produced by THORP, whether or not it is stored securely, will be an incentive for other countries to acquire a nuclear capability at a time when we should be doing our utmost to stop nuclear proliferation?

Mr. Gummer

My right hon. Friend and I covered that point in the document before the House. I do not accept the hon. Gentleman's arguments and that is why on this ground, as on others, I have allowed the authorisations to go forward.

Mr. Harry Cohen (Leyton)

Who in the Government considered the issue of nuclear proliferation and nuclear terrorism, which arise from giving THORP the go-ahead? Why have the Government given those matters such a low weighting in their considerations? Is not the decision immensely dangerous and against national and international interests?

Mr. Gummer

This is a matter not for the Government but for my right hon. Friend and me. We reached our conclusions in a very long series of meetings, in which we sought to find the best answer and to carry out our responsibilities under the Act. We took very considerable care to consider proliferation. We have said what we thought about that in the decision letter. I take a different view from the hon. Gentleman. I have spent a great deal of time examining the matter and reaching my judgment. I hope that he will take as much time.

Mr. George Howarth (Knowsley, North)

Throughout his statement, the Secretary of State has repeatedly dodged answering questions and requests to publish the Touche Ross report by referring hon. Members to the decision itself. The decision only covers the economic case in three short pages. In the light of that, it is impossible to assess what it means. Will the Secretary of State now take a decision and tell the House that he will, in due course, publish the Touche Ross report so that people can make an informed judgment about the case and not be, as we are at the moment, left in the dark?

Mr. Gummer

It must surely be the best proof of the commercial sense of such a matter that a body wishes to proceed and that contracts are in place that make the procedure profitable. The matters that relate to the authorisation are fully covered. It is not my purpose to cover matters that do not relate to the authorisations, even though I have taken into account with my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food wider matters that are not held to be legally our responsibility.