HC Deb 30 November 1994 vol 250 cc1200-2
15. Mr. Gunnell

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment how many responses his Department has received to the consultation paper he issued in August on the disposal of nuclear waste.

Mr. Atkins

We have received 251 responses to the consultation paper. A list of those has been placed in the Library of the House. In addition, we have received about 5,000 letters.

Mr. Gunnell

I am sure that many of those responses were from local authorities. Learning that the Secretary of State very much opposes central planning, when applications for the deposit of low-grade nuclear waste are received, will the Government's intention be that they should be determined by local authorities, so that they can respond to the opinions of local communities on the issue?

Mr. Atkins

I make two points in response to that. First, Her Majesty's inspectorate of pollution consults the local waste regulation authorities and the local authorities before any authorisations of any type are made, and that has been the case for some time. Secondly—I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is not party to this—there is a suspicion sometimes that the talking up of low-level nuclear waste, as though it were more dangerous than it is, gets the issue out of proportion. Low-level nuclear waste is the type of waste that comes from hospitals—rubber gloves, old exit signs and other similar bits and pieces, which, although they are obviously radioactive, are radioactive to such a small extent that they do not cause any damage or threat to the environment.

Mr. Michael Brown

Would it be helpful to remind my hon. Friend of the commitment that I gave to the electors of Brigg and Cleethorpes in the House in 1986? Would it be helpful for him to leave that constituency on one side when it comes to considering this matter? Would it also be helpful to him to be reminded of the constituency represented by my right hon. Friend the Patronage Secretary?

Mr. Atkins

I am, indeed, well aware of my hon. Friend's earlier pledge about those matters. I know him well enough to know that he would never have to implement it in so far as I am involved in any policy that is of concern to him, but I emphasise again that, as he well knows, if we have mentioned any specific sites—which we have not—we are talking about very low-level nuclear waste, which is the sort of stuff that has been going on for years and does not cause a problem.

Mr. Dobson

Will the Minister confirm that bringing the waste regulation authorities into the new environmental agency will mean that, rather than their decisions reflecting the opinions and anxieties of local people, as my hon. Friend the Member for Morley and Leeds, South (Mr. Gunnell) suggested, in future they will have to respond to directives from the Secretary of State, and the Secretary of State could intervene and direct them to accept low-level nuclear waste, whether they liked it or not?

Mr. Atkins


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