§ 2.43 p.m.
§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
§ THE LORD PRIVY SEAL AND MINISTER FOR SCIENCE (VISCOUNT HAILSHAM)
My Lords, this is a somewhat complicated measure about a highly technical subject. This clearly imposes a challenge on the Minister seeking to move its Second Reading to be informative without being too diffuse, and to be sufficiently interesting without being inaccurate. My Lords, I shall do my best. If there should be any failure on my part, I hope that I may be given the indulgence of the House and may also have an opportunity of repairing my mistakes in any reply which may be called for.
The clue to the understanding of this Bill lies in the fact that it is a Bill to govern the disposal of radioactive waste. As such, it takes its place in a whole family of legislation about radioactive substances which has been passed by 874 Parliament since 1945. Some of these Acts deal with the promotion of atomic studies, or with the production of atomic energy, or with the importation and use of radioactive materials. Some of your Lordships know from the last Session of the last Parliament that one in particular deals with the licensing of nuclear power stations, and yet another, passed just before the beginning of the last Parliament, constituted the Atomic Energy Authority. This Bill deals separately with the subject of the disposal of radioactive waste. It partly fills a gap in our armoury of legislation, and partly it makes permanent the temporary provisions of the Atomic Energy Authority Act and of the Nuclear Installations (Licensing and Insurance) Act, of 1954 and 1959 respectively.
The genesis of the Bill is described in a White Paper which has been published and is to be found accompanying the Bill. The Advisory Committee set up under the earlier legislation appointed a panel of experts to inquire into this particular topic. The Report of that panel of experts, which I shall not attempt to summarise in its technical aspects, is contained as an appendix to the White Paper, and, broadly speaking, the Bill follows the recommendations of that Report. I hope the Bill may be non-controversial—it certainly is, I believe, non-controversial in any Party sense. It is rendered necessary partly by the large growth in the number of users of radioactive substances of one sort and another—the White Paper makes it clear that there are already more than 1,000 users, including hospitals, in the country at the present time—and partly by the fact that the temporary provisions for the authorisation of disposal by the Atomic Energy Authority and by the licensed installations under the Act of 1959 shortly come to an end, and therefore demand a permanent arrangement on our Statute Book. The Bill has been prepared after consultation with, I think, all the local authority associations, the London County Council, the River Boards Association, the British Waterworks Association, the National Farmers' Union, the Association of Sea Fisheries Committees, and corresponding Scottish associations and other bodies, and it is as good as we can make it before consulting Parliament itself, which we are now doing.
875 I think I might summarise the matter by saying that the Bill proceeds on three principles. It has decided in favour of a national control for the discharge of radioactive waste substances as distinct from a local control, and therefore the consequent exclusion of local responsibility—although, as your Lordships will find, there is provision for local consultation in appropriate cases. That is the first principle underlying both the Report of the experts and of the Bill as it has been drafted. Secondly, it is proposed to make this control, as it were, a control in two tiers or storeys: first of all, a control of users by registration, and secondly, a control of accumulation or disposal by authorisation. The essential relationship between those two stages of control can be understood by grasping that the first is used only as a means to the second. For instance, under the Act of 1948 which still continues in force, control of the use of radioactive substances exists for the purpose, among other things, of protecting workers in their employment or protecting patients when subjected to radiotherapy of one kind and another. This Bill authorises the registration of user only in order effectively to control the disposal of waste, and, therefore, the control is limited both in extent and in area for that purpose, as your Lordships will see. That, then, is the second of the principles—a two-stage control.
The third principle underlying the Bill would seem to me to be the provision in one of its clauses for a national disposal service. Although most of the provisions of the Bill—and by far its most complicated provisions—deal with local disposal, they will be complemented by the far more important, but far simpler, provision in Clause 10 for a national disposal service, as recommended by the Committee. These principles derive their justification from the nature of the subject matter and of the hazards to which the subject matter gives rise. I believe that it is worth while bearing in mind the nature of the particular hazards and the characteristics of the particular material, danger from which it is the object of the Bill to prevent.
First, I would draw your Lordships' attention to the difficulty of detecting at all, by any of the senses or by measuring 876 without highly specialised equipment, what substances are radioactive and what are not. This fact, in itself, renders the task of safeguarding the public against the consequences of injudicious disposal of radioactive waste somewhat different in character from that of dealing with the kind of nuisance or danger to health which the local authority Acts of one kind or another require local authorities to prevent. Secondly, I would draw attention to the long lapse of time which inevitably is likely to occur before any damage caused by exposure to radioactive substances is actually detected, and the consequent difficulty—and perhaps impossibility—in most, if not all, cases, of being able to attach the damage to any particular exposure which has taken place, to relate the cause to the effect, when the effect is seen.
Thirdly, however small the risk of damage—and I shall endeavour to show your Lordships that the risk is, in fact, small—the damage may be of a very serious kind. Lastly, I would draw your Lordships' attention, as did the members of the expert panel, to the very limited number of persons suitable either to detect or to enforce control, or to establish the right criteria for control, and to the need for using such limited personnel as are available to the best possible advantage. All these characteristics really justify the principles underlying the Bill, which I am seeking to explain. In particular, they establish the need and justify the provision for national as distinct from local control, which is the first of the principles of the Bill. Your Lordships will see the justification of that set out at great length, and I think persuasively, in paragraph 134 of the Report. Perhaps sub-paragraph (b) of that paragraph, which is only part of the reason given, will bear quotation:Authority to effect disposal of radioactive waste must, in some cases, be followed by careful monitoring of the waste and the environment. Permissible levels of activity are so low that special and delicate techniques are necessary. … Reagents used for chemical separations must conform to very stringent specifications to avoid the introduction of extraneous radioactivity. We think it very doubtful whether many local authorities, water authorities, river authorities and sewerage authorities will be able to obtain in the foreseeable future staff competent to carry out the work and to discuss the subject on equal terms with the staffs of hospitals, factories and 877 research establishments which produce wastes. They would have to compete in a market already inadequately supplied, for it is quite plain that there is an acute shortage of the type of person required. Furthermore, at present and for some years to come, few local authorities are likely to have sufficient problems to justify the whole-time employment of an expert in these matters. Yet within the areas of any of these authorities a problem requiring an expert could at any time arise. In these circumstances we consider that a more economical use of available manpower would be involved if such matters were dealt with nationally rather than locally.Furthermore, I believe that we could add to those cogent reasons the fact that the wastes will naturally cross the boundaries of local authorities, whose geographic and functional limits were not designed with this particular problem in mind. It is for this reason that the authority made responsible under this Bill is my right honourable friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government in England and Wales and, in Scotland, the Secretary of State; my right honourable friend in England and Wales being associated with the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food in the case of the authorisation required by the nuclear power stations and the Atomic Energy Authority.
The principle of registration for use is justified in paragraph 140 of the Report, and even if there were not cogent reasons (as I think there are) for establishing registration as a preliminary to authorisation for disposal, I should think that it was probably sufficiently obvious to your Lordships that, by reason of the special characteristics of the subject matter to which I have drawn your Lordships' attention, if we are going to control disposal, we must know in advance where the material is likely to be; and for that reason alone registration is required. Here again I quote the Report, particularly for the purpose of removing any uneasiness that there may be on this subject. The Report said:There is a general desire amongst users of radionuclides to adopt satisfactory working methods and methods of disposal, but there are sufficient exceptions to make it necessary to obtain powers to prohibit use of radioactive materials where conditions are not satisfactory. It is not right that persistently careless or deliberately cheeseparing users should contaminate land, buildings or houses or produce radioactive waste unnecessarily for ultimately members of the public will be irradiated without adequate cause. If we are to reduce irradiation of the public from this source to the lowest practicable, power to prohibit use 878 is essential. If the registration of all users … were decided upon, prohibition could be achieved by withdrawing the user's registration.The actual provisions for registration are contained in the first clauses of the Bill and the registration is classed in two groups: the registration of premises in Clause 1 and the registration of mobile apparatus in Clause 3, both expressions being defined widely and more fully in the definitions clause at the end of the Bill. Clause 2 provides, as does clause 4, for exemptions; and the exemptions from registration are governed by two principal considerations. First, bodies like the nuclear power stations and the premises owned by the Atomic Energy Authority and, under another clause, the hospitals, are excluded from registration because there is already equivalent control and equivalent knowledge to that which registration would give. But, since this is a Bill for the disposal of radioactive waste, they are not exempted from the other stage and the control by way of authorisation for accumulation or disposal. Secondly, the Minister has power to exempt in cases where the danger is considered to be of nugatory size; thus there is an exclusion of ordinary use of watches and clocks, which, I suppose, if it were not excluded, would cover most premises in the United Kingdom; although, of course, where watches and clocks are made or repaired the general provisions of the Bill must be held to apply.
My Lords, that brings me down to the second stage of the control. Disposal under Clause 6 and accumulation under Clause 7 can take place only with the authorisation of my right honourable friend; or in the case of the Atomic Energy Authority's disposal, or that of the nuclear power stations licensed under the Act of 1959, only with the authorisation of my right honourable friend and my right honourable friend the Minister of Agriculture working together. I cannot think that at this stage there is anything more I need to say on the subject of authorisation, although it is the kernel of this part of the Bill.
Clause 9 excludes the existing local authority legislation and insists on consultation with the appropriate local authorities where necessary. Where the local authority is rendered liable to accept radioactive waste under the direction of my right honourable friend, and 879 also where it is bound to take special precautions of one kind or another, it is entitled to recover its expenses. I am not sure that, in practice, the matter of Common Law rights of individuals who might be damaged is likely to prove an extremely thorny subject. But your Lordships may like to know that those rights are preserved by the Bill; although, of course, rights for breach of statutory duty against local authorities would not be kept. Under the Bill, the rights of Common Law action for damages for nuisance or for equitable remedy by way of injunction or under the rule—I am afraid we are apt to call it, by way of legal shorthand, the rule in Rylands v. Fletcher—are retained, for what they are worth. And, of course, the absolute statutory liabilities imposed by the Atomic Energy Act, 1946, and the Acts of 1954 and 1959 are still retained under the provisions of the Bill.
Clause 10 contains the provision for the disposal service. This simply carries out an arrangement which has already been going on informally, by which the Atomic Energy Authority acts as the agent for my right honourable friend in disposing of wastes which are particularly difficult or sufficiently large in quantity to require large-scale rather than local methods of disposal. Clause 11 provides various rights of representation to the Minister where the Minister refuses an application for registration, varies it or subjects it to conditions, although not where registration is cancelled, where the correct procedure for an aggrieved subject would be to make a new application and to insist upon his rights of representation there.
Clause 12 provides for rights of entry and inspection. This is based on a model of 1954 and is slightly more generous to the subject and more stringent upon the inspector than the corresponding section in the Act of 1948, the difference being that notice must be given by the inspector who desires to inspect except where there is an emergency. Clause 13 provides for various offences, for breach of the different controls, and for failure to post a notice upon registered premises. Clause 14 deals with the application of the Bill to the Crown. Apart from the hospitals, of which I have already spoken, I think that the only two points which your Lordships would desire to know here are 880 that the Bill applies to the Crown in its private capacity as landowner or in right of the Duchy of Lancaster and of Cornwall, but it does not apply to Government Departments, where the same control will be applied by administrative rather than by legislative methods. The regulatory power, which I do not think requires special notice at this stage, is in Clause 15.
Clauses 16 and 17 are purely administration. I should draw your Lordships' attention to a slightly inconvenient provision in the interpretation clause, which still is the best we so far have devised, whereby the expression "radioactive materials" does not receive the same definition as the expression "radioactive substances" in the Act of 1948. This is due to the fact that if we applied the definition contained in the Act of 1948 in this Bill, the effect would be to make every single object in the world liable to registration under the Bill. When I say that, I am exaggerating; but all objects containing wood, for instance, contain also carbon 14, which would be registerable as a radioactive substance if we were to apply the definition contained in the Act of 1948 in this Bill. The present definition is that which has been arrived at as the best possible by the experts and by the Parliamentary Counsel.
Clause 19 deals with the application to Scotland. Your Lordships will notice from Clause 20 that by the will of the Northern Ireland Government, the Act does apply to Northern Ireland. The Schedule, apart from the Table of Statutes at the end, deals with the procedure on entry. My Lords, I think that covers so much of the Bill as it is proper for me to mention on Second Reading Accordingly, I beg to move that the Bill be read a second time.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a—(Viscount Hailsham.
§ 3.12 p.m.
§ LORD TAYLOR
My Lords, the noble Viscount the Lord Privy Seal promised to be informative without being diffusive, and interesting without being inaccurate; and, so far as I am concerned, he has succeeded in both objectives. I could not fault him at all; and he certainly enlightened me on several points which were by no means clear when I had read the Bill. It is a particular 881 pleasure to hear him introducing this valuable Bill, which is a sound piece of gas and water Socialism to delight the hearts of all old Fabians. It embodies the encouragement of safety in public and private enterprise with the necessary minimum of State control and action in the public interest; and to-day I think we can surely all agree that the use of science for the benefit of mankind means that public and private enterprise have got to march together.
In the control of the harmful effects of toxic wastes, the price of health is constant vigilance. Owing to our crowded urban population, Britain in the nineteenth century probably suffered as much from water-borne disease as I suppose any country in the world. I do not think it is a coincidence that, in the applied sciences of water supply, civil engineering and sewage disposal, we have been the pioneers; and this pioneering in these very important health sciences is carried on in the present Bill. But, as the Lord Privy Seal has said, the great difference is this: whereas pollution of water supplies by grossly noxious sewage is painfully obvious to the eye and to the nose, and quickly obvious to the inside of a human being, pollution by radioactivity is subtle, invisible, and slow acting.
In the old days, Parliament was not too willing to embark on expensive public health engineering enterprises just because the scientists told them to; but there were rather more obvious arguments. This morning I looked up my own father's Report on Greater London Drainage. It had this to say:During the discussion and disputes that were taking place on the main drainage system in 1858, the state of the Thames was becoming daily much worse, and was exciting great alarm and indignation. The subject was repeatedly noticed in Parliament, and strong language was used in both Houses. In the House of Commons, on June 11 (1858) Mr. Brady said ' it was a notorious fact that honourable gentlemen sitting in the committee rooms and the library were utterly unable to remain there in consequence of the stench which arose from the river'. … Similar complaints were made in the House of Lords. On June 25 the Earl of Hardwicke said the Thames had been 'made the main sewer for the whole of London and had been converted into a most abominable ditch'. 'The gaseous matter flowed along with the river, and at high water the state of the atmosphere was worse than at any other time of the tide'. Earl Grey said it was impossible that such a stench should not be exceedingly dangerous.882 My Lords, this time we are not waiting until the Thames begins to glow luminously at night, like Madame Curie's crucible, but are taking time by the forelock and are adopting adequate preventive measures.
In the study of the hazards of radiation, I think Britain is again occupying the place of pioneer. The Medical Research Council, for which the noble Viscount is responsible, produced not many years ago in fact, very recently—its great report on the Hazards to Man of Nuclear and Allied Radiation; and if one reads the World Health Organisation reports one finds them very largely copying what Britain recommends. I think it will be the same in the case of this Bill. It is founded, as we have been reminded, on the Report of the Panel on the Disposal of Radioactive Wastes. The chairman of that panel is Dr. Key, and all the members of it are outstanding in their own technical fields. They include Mr. Binks, who is head of the Radiological Protection Service which the Government runs—a really excellent organisation; and Mr. Kenny, who is a radiochemical inspector of the Ministry of Housing and Local Government. They are all outstanding technical people, and I think it will be a classic Report. It is full of good science and good common sense, and it has some important criticisms of current industrial practice. For example, it says this:We know, for example, of luminising rooms "—that is, rooms where watches and other instruments are luminised—badly and comprehensively contaminated because of inadequate precautions and the decontamination of which, involving extensive removal of furniture, fittings and fixtures, produced an unnecessary radioactive waste. We believe that there should be powers to stop this.My Lords, the Bill cannot be read intelligently without reading this White Paper as well, as a guide.
Now I think that we have to keep the whole matter of radioactive contamination in proper proportion. We are all of us radioactive, and we always have been. And because a thing is dangerous if wrongly used, that is not a reason for not using it. Indeed, had mankind followed this principle of safety first all through history, we should never have had fire or the wheel or steam or petrol 883 or electricity; we should have had no chemical industry, no X-rays in our hospitals, and no gas in our homes. On this, again, the Key Report, if one may so call it, has, I think, some good and sensible remarks to make. It says:Radionuclides provide a valuable new tool assisting in the development of our civilised activities and in the raising of our living standards. As such, and provided there is adequate justification, their use should be encouraged, subject only to such restrictions as are really necessary. The population is, of course, subjected to a certain amount of irradiation from natural sources. It could be reduced by living underground or in homes constructed of thick non-radioactive materials but the cost and inconvenience would not be considered justified. A similar situation exists with radioactive waste disposal. It is not possible to achieve it without any irradiation of the public. The irradiation can be reduced to a very low level by suitable precautions … but further reduction would often require a disproportionate expenditure of effort and money. It would be disproportionate in the sense that if spent in other fields, for example, transport, factories and homes, more serious risks might be averted".The truth is that we have been doing pretty well up to the present in this matter of the disposal of radioactive waste. In March of this year there came out from the Atomic Energy Research Establishment at Harwell a Report on the Radioactive Contamination of Drinking Water in the United Kingdom. It is well to remember that Harwell discharges its water-borne waste into the Thames at Sutton Courtney; Aldermaston discharges it at Pangborne and the radio chemical laboratory at Amersham discharges it into the Maple Cross Sewage Works, then into the River Colne and so again into the Thames. And all these are above London's main water sources. The Report showed that the strontium 90 content of the river water supplying London was 10 per cent. of that of ordinary rain. It is, in fact, virtually non-radioactive; there is no appreciable radioactive contamination of London's water intake, except during periods of heavy fall-out from nuclear weapons.
The concern of the Bill is primarily with industrial and power sources of radioactive waste. The principle of the Bill, as the Lord Privy Seal has said, is to catch the radioactivity at its source. Factories, docks, buildings and engineering sites are, in fact, already open to Ministry of Labour factory inspectors who are concerned with radioactive 884 hazards, but that does not apply to laboratories. A strange situation exists with regard to laboratories. They have never been covered by the factory inspectorate. So that things can go on in research laboratories attached to industry which are more dangerous than the things that go on on the productive floor. The Key Report says that factory inspectors' powersdo not extend to workers in universities or other research laboratories.But then there is a small footnote, and I should like to ask the Lord Privy Seal about this. It says:It has since been decided that the safety and health of workers in research establishments (other than hospital research establishments) using ionising radiations should be the concern of the Ministry of Labour and a Panel of the Radioactive Substances Advisory Committee has been set up to consider the problem.We should like to know what is the situation about laboratories. When it says, "It has since been decided", is that a legal decision? Is there a statutory regulation which now makes laboratories subject to control? And will they be subject to control with regard to this new Bill?
I was glad to hear, as I am sure the whole House was, that the provisions will apply to Crown premises, though one wonders if the arrangements for administrative control are adequate. One has in mind, particularly, the research associations coming under the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research and their laboratories, which produce a substantial amount of radioactive waste. It so happens that in the new town of Harlow we have built a large sewage disposal works for the middle Lea catchment area at Rye Meads, and this drains Stevenage, Hatfield and Welwyn, besides our town. There is an effluent coming from Stevenage which is radioactive contaminated, and it comes from the Lord Privy Seal's laboratory, the Water Pollution Research Laboratory of the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research. It is no criticism of the laboratory that that should be so; I do not suppose that they can avoid it, and it is not a bad contamination. But we have inquired, and we find that this is not a trade premise within the meaning of the Public Health Act, 1947. We want to feel sure that there is a really strong co-operation 885 between any Government laboratory using these radioactive substances and the new radio-chemical inspectorate established under this Act. Soon the Lord Privy Seal's fuel research station, also under the D.S.I.R., at Stevenage will be pumping out some more radioactive waste as well.
With regard to the nature of the waste that has got to be disposed of, it is of three types: gaseous, fume or dust—that is to say, particulate or gassy material put into the air; liquid waste, and solid waste. The gas and fume are really fairly easy to deal with, although there is always the risk of technical faults, for example, as when the chimney at Windscale blew its top and the surrounding area was contaminated. The gas comes mainly from uranium ore crushing plants or from water-cooled reactors. In these big establishments control is likely to be very good. But there is another risk, which is a more important risk, and that is from the small places where they are incinerating or burning up radioactive waste—contaminated paper, contaminated clothing and, in the case of laboratories, contaminated animal carcases. One has learned in industry how important it is for many processes to have proper waste ventilation, proper exhaust extraction machinery; and in small industrial establishments where hazards occur and damage to health arises from other causes than radioactivity very often this is the trouble. It looks as it the same risks can occur in handling these radioactive materials. But there is the additional point that where an extractor is fitted, it has to have a filter if radioactive material is being dealt with.
Secondly, there is the question of liquid waste. This is of two types: first of all, low-activity high-volume waste; and secondly, high-activity concentrated low-volume waste. The low-activity high-volume waste is mainly water used for cooling reactors. As one understands it, this may get into it a certain amount of short-lived isotopes; but if it is stored, these isotopes, as it were, blow off their radioactivity, and it is then quite all right to release this effluent, provided it flows either into a reasonably swiftly-flowing river of good dimensions or well out into the sea. It is quickly dispersed and there appears 886 to be no danger whatsoever. My feeling, at any rate, would be very much with the British scientists, as opposed to the Continental scientists who were discussing the matter last week, as reported in last Sunday's Observer: that the amount of radioactivity from these low-activity wastes liberated into the sea is infinitesimal in comparison, for example, with the natural radioactivity of potassium in the sea.
On the other hand, there is one problem that appears to present itself, and that is the adsorption—this is not like absorption: it is the sticking of this material on to particles of mud in the sea bed or river bed. It appears that there is more research needed here to make sure that more harm is not being done by this process of adsorption. Adsorption may also occur in the pipes of sewers where radioactive material can be stuck on to the sludge on the sides of these pipes. It can also contaminate the sludge at sewage works, and it may be important if that is dried and used for fertiliser for agricultural purposes.
One would have thought that monitoring of the discharges in a sewage works coming from radioactive sources was a reasonable thing for a water authority to be doing, but when one looks at Clause 9 of the Bill one finds that they are virtually prohibited from taking any notice of the radioactivity of the wastes they are now bound to receive. I do not think it can mean this, but that is what it looks like on first reading. It is only fair to say that there are different kinds of monitoring—the simple monitoring to estimate the quantity of radioactivity, and the qualitative monitoring to find out the nature of the substance producing the radioactivity. The first is an easy job, well within the capacity of any sewage authority. The latter is an extremely difficult job, which must be performed nationally.
Turning to the high-activity liquid waste, I would say that this is much more of a problem. It just cannot be discharged into the sea. It may be permanently stored in well-shielded tanks. The amount stored in the United States already is quite staggering, and I have no doubt that we have large stocks of this kind of waste. Alternatively it may be concentrated, or actually converted, into solid waste. This is the 887 safest thing to do, if it can possibly be done, particularly if it can be made completely insoluble so that it "stays put" for ever. I understand that there have been experiments with Montmorillonite clay, which, when heated with radioactive material to about 1,000 degrees Centigrade, results in the production of a hard, rocky sort of substance, which absorbs almost all the radioactivity and causes it to be perfectly safe, whether exposed to ordinary fresh water or to sea water. There is one exception to this, and that is ruthenium, which has to be dealt with by fusion with glass or ceramic material. I understand that these new processes are already in use on a semi-industrial scale. I should like to know how far it has gone, and whether this is going to be used generally as a good way—perhaps the best way—of getting rid of this high-activity low-volume liquid waste.
The alternatives are to dump the waste in a geologically safe quarry—that means, a quarry which does not communicate with any known water supply, where it will not contaminate water, such as the one at Whittle Hill near Preston; or else to dump it below depths greater than 1,500 fathoms into the Hurd Deep in the Atlantic. As I understand it, two types of container are used for dumping. The first, used for quick decaying material, is made of thin gauge metal, which will break down after a while, but not before the radioactive material inside it has become inactive by quick decay. The other is a heavily constructed permanent box, into which severely contaminated material, like filters, can be put and shielded for ever, and dumped at these great depths.
This applies to very large quantities of radioactive solids, but the small quantities are much more of a problem. The small users are much more likely to be careless about it than are the large users. The disposal of these wastes from factories present a real difficulty to the factory employer. The sort of thing he has to get rid of are valves, the cathodes of which have been treated with radium, and the solid waste from making and using luminous paints, particularly, for example, where large quantities of dials are being scrapped from obsolete aircraft. These dials individually present no hazard, but if a great many are concen- 888 trated together they become an appreciable hazard. The same applies to scraps of radium silver foil. The bulk destruction of instruments needs careful control. They can be buried or incinerated, but that is a fairly unsatisfactory way of doing it, particularly if, later on, the premises are sold to somebody else. The new owners may start building operations and come across the canister or a mass of this radioactive material without knowing what it is. It is to avoid that sort of difficulty that it is essential to have the registration provisions in this Bill.
I do not think anyone will quarrel with the main arrangements of the Bill, but I was interested to hear what the Lord Privy Seal had to say about the national disposal service. One would agree that the full control of radioactive disposal is beyond the capacity of local authorities. There is shortage of skilled staff, and many of the officials would be so rarely needed that it would be uneconomical to attempt to do the job on a local basis. The Liverpool City Council, it is true, has pioneered in measuring the radioactivity in its own water supply. They can do the routine monitoring, but they cannot do the qualitative analyses or interpretation of results. This is really a national job.
The Inspectorate is provided for in this Bill. One wonders who is to do the analyses. Is this work to be done by the Atomic Energy Authority, or is it to be done on a regional basis, perhaps as has been suggested, through the extension of the Public Health Laboratory Service, which is part of the Medical Research Council and has excellent links with the medical officers of health? Also, who is to do the physical disposal? The Key Committee said:The authority responsible for control should, however, have in reserve means of disposing of wastes which are too active to permit of safe local disposal.The Lord Privy Seal said that we are going to contract this out to the Atomic Energy Authority. But, as a matter of fact, the Minister is given power in the Bill to do it himself, and one is surprised that there is not any financial provision in the Bill for him to do it. He may provide, or arrange to provide, such a service. That is what it says in Clause 10. Also, he may make reasonable charges for doing it, not necessarily the full cost. I cannot find in the Bill 889 power to spend money on running the service, but in Clause 12 there is provision for spending money on providing the Inspectorate. I should like to know how many radio-chemical inspectors there are likely to be.
Clause 14 deals with Government laboratories and departments, and we want to feel certain that the control here will not be less stringent than it is elsewhere. It also deals with hospitals, which are mainly concerned with short-lived radioactive isotopes. Here the problem is simply storing the waste from the patients—the sewage from patients—for a little while until it can work itself out, as it were, and be safely released into the general sewers.
One of the effects of the Bill is to compel local authorities to take solids and liquids not seriously contaminated. One thinks that is quite right, because local authorities sometimes get a little rattled and emotional and refuse to take them, even though they are quite safe. One hopes, at the same time, that they will not be prevented from doing their own monitoring. I would sound one note of warning, and that is on the matter of individual susceptibility. The assumption on which all this radioactivity work is based is that average safety levels have universal application. In industry, we find time and again that this is not so and that there are specific sensitivities to substances. The great majority of people can handle something with perfect safety, yet somebody may come along and get ill from microscopic traces. There is the possibility that this may occur with radioactivity in a way we have not yet met.
I think that the future of radioactivity in industry is very bright indeed. There is the use of radiation for food preservation, using cobalt 60; the use of tracers in studying defects in circulating systems, and it is now commonplace to use radio cobalt to make X-rays or castings. There are many thousands of new uses ahead. The great source is likely to remain the nuclear power industry. Even assuming the greatest extension of this, one thinks that the total output of fission material will be well capable of being dealt with by the methods which are being worked out by our scientists and applied under this Bill. The Bill, properly and fully implemented, will set 890 a world pattern for radioactive waste disposal, and we believe it will set it on the right lines.