HC Deb 09 February 1999 vol 325 cc111-2
7. Dr. Desmond Turner (Brighton, Kemptown)

If he will make a statement on the current progress towards the elimination of radioactive discharges from nuclear fuel reprocessing plants in (a) Britain and (b) France. [68270]

The Minister for the Environment (Mr. Michael Meacher)

The Government are fully committed to the agreement reached at the OSPAR ministerial meeting in Sintra, Portugal last year on the reduction of radioactive discharges from all sources, including reprocessing plants. The French Government have made a similar commitment.

Dr. Turner

I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. Will he comment on the independent monitoring data on the French plant at Cap le Hague and inform us about the current level of discharge from Sellafield? Does he agree that the only truly safe level for radioactive discharge is zero, and is he satisfied that 2020 is a safe target, in public health terms, for achieving that?

Mr. Meacher

At the OSPAR meeting, it was agreed that there should be progressive and substantial reductions in radioactive discharges to the sea to a point that would add close to zero to historic concentrations of radioactive substances in the marine environment. We have asked the nuclear operators, including British Nuclear Fuels Ltd., to produce 20–year discharge strategies to meet the OSPAR objectives. That will certainly require that the level of discharges be close to zero by 2020. We have been assured by BNFL that it can fully meet that objective, and we certainly intend to hold it to that.

Mr. Ian Bruce (South Dorset)

The right hon. Gentleman will surely know that the money that will have to go to BNFL to reduce already very safe levels could be put to much better use in promoting health. Radiation is given off when one burns coal and comes from granite and other sources in our natural environment. It is very foolish of the Government to sign up to such agreements, when, in fact, Sellafield and Cap le Hague are already extremely safe.

Mr. Meacher

The hon. Gentleman is being extraordinarily complacent about the effect of radioactive discharges. Of course we are also concerned about the consequences of burning coal and emissions from granite, which are regulated by the Environment Agency and the other authorities, but it is perfectly clear that the level of radioactive discharge—which the previous Government agreed should continue to be reduced—is too high. A reduction is necessary for health reasons and a regular schedule for that continuing reduction is certainly justified. That is our policy; we are right to have it; and we certainly intend to fulfil it.