HL Deb 29 January 1976 vol 367 cc1174-216

6.50 p.m.

The Earl of LAUDERDALE rose to move, That this House takes note of the Thirty-second Report of the European Communities Committee (Session 1974–75) on the Technological Problems of Nuclear Safety (R/681/75). The noble Earl said: My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper. Before anything else is said, I should like to make it quite clear that nothing I have to say is intended in any way whatever to reflect upon or diminish our Committee's gratitude to the staff of the Department of Energy who always help us most readily and, very often, I know, at great cost in time and trouble to themselves. We on the Committee are very grateful indeed for the constant help that we receive from that quarter. I want therefore to stress that nothing I am going to say is intended in the slightest degree to be a reflection on their kindness and willingness always to help us.

My Lords, there are three reasons for asking for this debate. The first is the Government's treatment of our Committee and, through our Committee, of this House. I am reminded of a writer of the 18th century who said that what Bishops most like in their clergy is a drooping and submissive aspect. Our second reason is the Government's now familiar practice with regard to apparently harmless resolutions and the Government's readiness to assent to these in the Council of Ministers. I can only think that ignorance is the mother of admiration. The third reason is the actual content of the Commission's document which the resolution carried—and if I were to coin a phrase to illustrate our thinking on that, I would call it "transcendental moonshine ".

I shall not say much on the last point; others will deal with it more effectively; but let me take the question of the Government's behaviour. Before our Committee was able to take evidence—that was on 3rd July last year—the Government had agreed in principle to the resolution that we were examining at the Council of Ministers a little while before, on 26th June. The Council had referred the resolution back to the Committee of Permanent Representatives who, in turn, refer such a resolution and such subject matter to the Atomic Energy Group. That was done so that the resolution could be revised in the light of points made by the several Governments. We on our Committee were not—and I repeat "not "—given to understand that, once the revision was done, the amended version would be taken through the Council as we would say in Parliament "on the nod" and, as they say, "as an ' A' item ". We did not understand that. Had we done so, our treatment of the situation no doubt might have been somewhat different. But because we did not understand that it was now going to go forward, once revised, "on the nod", we asked for a sight of the re-draft believing, of course, that if we saw the re-draft we could scrutinise it before anything final took place.

We were indeedassured—and this appears at Question 7 in our evidence taken on 3rd July—that we could see the revised draft. Two weeks went by and the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State to the Department of Energy, Mr. Eadie, was good enough to respond to our invitation and come to our Com mittee. The first thing he did was to contradict that assurance. After a bit of to-ing and fro-ing, I, as the Chairman, made this remark, which appears at Question 137: We are in the dark, having the pleasure of your company and discussing a document the text of which we cannot see and which we were led to believe from previous evidence that we could see? The answer Mr. Eadie gave us was: … the point is that it is a working document, and this is the difficulty. This is a very practical difficulty since this is a working, on-going document. It is, indeed, true that the following day we got the revised text. But if Mr. Eadie carried anything away from his exposure to questioning by our Committee it must have been that we were very concerned indeed about the content of this document; and I think that a careful reading of the evidence will show that he must have got that impression. If he did get that impression, did it have the smallest effect on the Government's behaviour? Only four days afterwards, the Government assented to this resolution without further discussion. The Government, their heart crammed with arrogancy, as might have been said in a different connection, just let it go and ignored our manifest anxieties, anxieties expressed on behalf of this House. Thereafter, the matter was taken up by the Chairman of our Select Committee, my noble friend Lady Tweedsmuir, in correspondence with Mr. Hattersley at the Foreign Office. I have to say that his reply to my noble friend was not strictly correct, if not actually misleading.

He said two things. He said that our Committee was already aware that the revised resolution would go through on the nod. We were not so aware. Mr. Hattersley was misinformed when he signed that letter. He added that as the primary responsibility of the Scrutiny Committee was, in any case, relating to legislation and this was a mere resolution, it did not really matter very much anyway; and, in any case, it did not call into action the Government's assurance of 11th June 1974 that when Parliament wanted to look at something they would put a reserve on the subject in question in the Council.

In fact—and this is worth stressing through the medium of this House to Ministers in another place—our remit is critically different from that of the other place in that our instruction by Parliament is to look at all proposals; not just proposals for legislation, but all proposals. That means really any document that the Commission produces. Whether they are legislative or otherwise, we are expected to look at these things and we are expected in the course of it to look at the relative resolutions being submitted to the Council. So we have an obligation to scrutinise these things, and although the Government commitment to put a reserve on certain matters if Parliament is anxious about them pending a debate relates, it is true, only to legislation, it is well that the Government should understand that we are not altogether happy with that situation and that we would ask for, and would expect, some similar consideration to be given when resolutions coming before the Council excite our anxiety.

My Lords, the difficulty about the resolutions that come before the Council is that they are usually phrased in very general terms. Often they invite the countries involved to take note, or ask the countries to do something without requiring them to do these things. It may readily be inferred from the gentleness of the language of these resolutions that they have no cutting edge; but, by a process of accretion the passage of successive resolutions, even in those general terms, builds up a negative consensus which accumulates, which establishes a legacy of precedent and is in danger, finally, of being established as an all-embracing policy.

On that ground we are cautious about these resolutions; we believe that the Government should be much more cautious than they have been, and we took particular exception to this resolution for a number of reasons, of which I shall cite only one. In this particular case the Government assented to the proposition, That it is encumbent on the Commission to act as a catalyst for initiatives in the field of nuclear safety to be taken on a broad international plain. In other words, the Government accept the view pushed steadily by the Commission that although an immense amount of work is being done in this field by competent people, the European Commission should add another layer of examination, protection, activity or verbiage to it all. This concept that the Commission must be a catalyst—and that is their phrase—in this highly technical field, which is already being handled by other agencies, reminds me of Samuel Butler's words: Learned nonsense has a deeper sound than easy sense, and goes for more profound. Our Committee found that the European Commission is not only trying to do what others were doing already, but trying, as in the energy field, to widen and therefore disperse the focus of Community action. In this case it would add to the workload of the very few experts available. We found the Commission's own detailed technical information is limited to that provided by the experts of the Member-States themselves, and its own staff are mainly administrative and therefore not competent in these matters. So we said in our Report that consequently the Commission is not technically equipped for this action. We reached the conclusion that the creation of a new Community focus for nuclear safety questions would only proliferate the number of international organisations already active and, as a result of that, it could only overtax—as we put it—the resources of the comparatively small number of experts available which could well be at the expense of those experts' pressing obligations in research, design, operation and inspection ". Our Report has an annex to which I commend the attention of your Lordships. That gives an indicative or illustrative list of some of the international activities in the field of nuclear safety which are claiming the constant, the peripatetic, attention of the limited number of real experts available. To give one or two examples, the International Energy Agency, in its first year's work, set up no fewer than three working groups with all the inevitable derivatives from them. The International Atomic Energy Agency held no fewer than 40 meetings in 1975 —that is almost one a week—and somebody has had to travel from the Member countries to Vienna, or wherever the meetings have been held, has had to be briefed and has had to take time off from urgent work to support that. I am not saying that should not be done; but one should have some pity on the experts in their opportunities to get a decent rest and refreshment. The OECD has an energy steering committee with no fewer than five sub-committees; and one of those sub-committees held no fewer than eight conferences last year; that is, every six weeks.

These are the pressures to which the limited number of experts are exposed, and the EEC Commission proposes that it should act as a catalyst in addition, and the Government here have assented to this. The European Communities Advisory Committee on the Safety Research Programme for the Euratom joint research operation is served by no fewer than ten separate bodies, all of whom need to be serviced with information, and all of whom are taking up the time and draining the energy and nerves of the very few—only a few thousand—number of experts available.

When we saw Mr. Eadie he could also have noted from our questioning that we were worried on one or two other aspects. I refer to the Commission's proposal on standardisation of design, manufacturing procedures, safety standards and quality control in power stations. From our evidence we concluded—and he must have taken this away from what he heard—that even the Commission's general statements about safety could never be of universal application, simply because there are different types of reactor in use, and design is continually developing. Then we were worried because we found the Commission was urging approval procedures for nuclear power stations to be speeded up, and the word we used in our Report was "centralised ".

Commissioner Spinelli, who was good enough to see us in Brussels on our visit there, was kind enough a few days back to write me a letter commenting on our Report. I have taken care to circularise this letter to those Back-Benchers who had put their names down to speak in this debate. I wanted them to have the information about what Commissioner Spinelli wrote to me, and I should like the Commissioner to know we appreciated the trouble he took. He said. among other things, the words "centrally" and "centralise" do not appear in the resolution and, by implication, we had got it wrong. He was good enough to quote the relevant passage from the resolution which calls for appropriate action at Community level ". That is the phrase which we took to amount to a centralising proposal. We as a Committee viewed with concern this suggestion, and we felt that the ability to make direct representations on this sensitive subject to accessible elected representatives, or at a public inquiry, would be a valuable safety valve which would be lost if approvals were in effect centralised in Brussels ". That is how we interpreted the phrase "at Community level ". We may have misunderstood what the Commission had in mind.

Others will enlarge on what I have said. I would only conclude that the Government are inclined from time to time to be high-handed. The Government knew we were concerned; the Government had led us to believe that we could see the text before it was too late. The Government denied that to us, and never told us they would agree to the revised text going through "on the nod". The Motion I move before this House is mildly to take note of our Report, but there are other and stronger types of Motion which are possible. Indeed, it is perfectly possible to move a Motion in this House and press it to a Division. Perhaps it may be well that the Government should realise that this could happen one day. Threatened folk live long. This Committee and this House have not been set up to be browbeaten or ignored, and any repetition of the treatment we have had will elicit a very different reaction. My Lords I beg to move.

Moved, That this House takes note of the Thirty-second Report of the European Communities Committee (Session 1974–75) on the Technological Problems of Nuclear Safety (R/681/75).—(The Earl of Lauderdale.)

7.11 p.m.


My Lords, my intervention in this debate should have occurred after a characteristically charming speech by the noble Baroness. Lady Elles; but unhappily I find myself in the rather invidious position now of having to speak after the distinguished Chairman of Sub-Committee F, who has just sat down, and immediately before the world's greatest technical expert on nuclear matters, the noble Lord. Lord Hinton of Bank side. My technical experience of nuclear matters is limited to an immediate post-graduate stage and to some military research during the last War, but I am not proposing to talk about technical matters. I wish to raise what I feel is a serious political issue arising out of the Government's attitude in relation to this Directive on nuclear safety.

It is inevitable, when we are discussing anything concerned with nuclear safety, that the element of fear must always be present. Therefore it seems to me politically important in this area of fast-moving technology, as a matter of vital public policy, that the aspect of fear should be entirely removed from the public domain. Indeed, the public must be encouraged, particularly by Government action of all kinds, to have the highest confidence in nuclear activities, particularly in the commercial field in the United Kingdom. Many of your Lordships will remember the anxiety which arose a number of years ago in agricultural areas in the North of England around Wind scale. Happily, those fears were rapidly dissipated.

When this EEC Directive on nuclear safety first came to the notice of the Sub-Committee of which I have the honour to be a member, many of us were very much afraid that the Commission, with every good intention, was, to put it quite crudely, perhaps "messing about" in an area in which it had insufficient expertise. Therefore, its persistent attempt to produce a so-called "harmonisation" in this field could be dangerous and cause public unrest. Indeed, some of us, after reading the draft Directive, felt that representations should be made immediately in Brussels. As the Report of the Sub-Committee indicates and as has been referred to by the noble Earl, Lord Lauderdale, we have pointed out on page vi that we feel the Commission was not technically equipped for action in this field. Indeed, in the fifth paragraph on the same page it is recorded that the view of the Committee was that Uniformity might be only achieved by levelling down ". That would produce a certain political anxiety. As the noble Earl, Lord Lauderdale, pointed out, there were times when members of the Committee could not understand the attitude of the Government. The Committee had the opportunity, as your Lordships have heard, to get evidence from the Under-Secretary of State for Energy. I was particularly anxious about the political aspect of public anxiety which this kind of Directive might have produced, so I asked the Under-Secretary of State for Energy specific questions on these vital matters. I must say that his replies were, to some extent, helpful and reassuring in regard to the technical attitudes of the Government in these matters. I should like to refer to page 29 of the Report, where the replies are recorded. The Under-Secretary of State said (line 4, left-hand column): On the other hand, harmonisation Will be difficult and the time estimates could be in error. Lower down in the same reply to my question about anxiety which might be caused by the attitude of the Commission, as expressed in the Directive, in the nuclear field, he said: We are anxious to ensure that our excellent record in nuclear safety is maintained and that our nuclear programme may be advanced in a controlled manner. It is perfectly clear, therefore, that the Government there recognise the desirability of relieving public anxiety over any matters dealing with nuclear safety. At the end of his reply to my question, the Under-Secretary of State said this: … I did say that we are perhaps fortunate in this country in that the concern felt about the safety of nuclear installations is less intense, largely because of the record and because of the contribution made by a member of this Committee. Those remarks are, of course, to some extent reassuring from the technical point of view. But, like the noble Earl, I feel anxiety over the attitudes of the Government about this Directive as regards their official actions within the Community. However, it is essential for this House to be ever watchful in the interests of the public of the United Kingdom as regards the progress of EEC activities in this field, and I join with the noble Earl in asking for the assurances of the Minister in this connection.

7.18 p.m.


My Lords, the noble Earl, Lord Lauderdale, made it clear when introducing the Motion that Sub-Committee F was not happy about some of the procedural incidents which took place during our consideration of the Report; but I do not think I need underline or enlarge on what he said. The Report of the Select Committee makes it clear that we found objection to the draft resolution, but I do not think we would wish to give the impression that we disagreed with the Preamble to the Report, many parts of which were quite wise. For instance, the Preamble said: It is essential to take note of the increasing criticism which is being directed against the growth in the peaceful uses of nuclear energy and which in some countries takes the form of a struggle between the environmental protection movements and the promoters of nuclear development. The noble Lord, Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran, was making this point.

With that statement I fully agree. It was where the Commission went on in its resolution to call for the harmonisation of standards, and where it apparently envisaged setting up its own organisation, that Sub-Committee F felt extremely ununhappy. It considered that the proposals of the Commission were not merely un-unrealistic but might, indeed, be obstructive rather than useful, because, as the noble Earl said, the additional organisation would take up the time of a very limited number of experts. But those points are made in the Committee's Report, and I am sure that they will be emphasised by other speakers in this debate, so there is no need for me to enlarge on them or to emphasise them.

But I feel that this occasion gives us an opportunity of looking at the broader problem of nuclear safety, and of trying to get it into perspective with other manmade hazards which we constantly and happily face, either because we have become acclimatised to them or because we are unconscious of them. In his evidence to the Sub-Committee, Mr. Farmer said: When one examines, in the detail that is currently given to reactors, the possible hazards from other industries, one gets the feeling that one should be discussing all major hazards in a country and not concentrating on one source of hazard such as nuclear. I believe that we have been isolated in the nuclear community far too long. With that statement of Mr. Farmer's I find myself in very full agreement, and I believe that the public evaluation of the relative importance of hazards is based far too much on emotion and far too little on logic.

Last year, the Health and Safety Executive of the Ministry of Labour set up an Advisory Committee on Major Hazards. How much that Committee intends to publish, I do not know. But I gather from conversations with people who are interested in it that it is likely to recommend the use of the statistical approach to the evaluation of hazards, which has been advocated and developed by Mr. Farmer at the Atomic Energy Establishment at Risley over the last 25 years. In the simplest possible terms, the philosophy which underlies that system of evaluation accepts the fact that absolute safety is absolutely unachieveable; that accidents involving only minor hazards can be accepted quite frequently, but that accidents involving major hazards and probable loss of life ought not to be accepted unless they are extremely infrequent.

I have already said that the Advisory Committee on Major Hazards has not yet published any figures, but there is an article by Mr. Farmer in a recent number of the Atomic Energy Authority's information bulletin, which discusses the hazards that can be expected from nuclear plants and compares those hazards with risks arising from other causes. In that article, Mr. Farmer reproduces graphs which were prepared by Rasmussen in the United States for the Regulatory Commission there. Of course, Rasmussen's calculations apply to American conditions, but when allowance is made for that his figures are very closely in line with those prepared by Mr. Farmer for British conditions. The curves which are reproduced in that article by Farmer show the relationship between the extent of the hazard which can arise from a given accident, and the frequency with which that accident can be expected.

I am quite sure that neither Rasmussen nor Farmer would claim absolute accuracy for any of their figures, but the graphs which were prepared certainly show an order of magnitude. They suggest, for instance, that air crashes causing 100 or more deaths can be expected on average once every three years; that fires causing 100 or more deaths can be expected every eight years; that failures of large dams causing 100 or more deaths can be expected every 12 years, and that releases of chlorine gas causing 100 or more deaths can be expected every 80 years. By comparison, the figure which Rasmussen gave for the probability of a nuclear incident causing more than 100 fatalities shows that for every 100 reactors in use such an incident could be expected less frequently than once every 10,000 years. Extensions of Rasmussen's curves show that for accidents causing 1.000 or more fatalities the probability is that failures of large dams will occur 10,000 times more often, and that chlorine releases causing 1,000 fatalities are likely to occur 1.000 times more often, than similar failures of nuclear power plants.

If I may put those figures into more human terms, the man in the street ought, if he thinks logically about it, to be worried far more about the risk that he runs from the transport of substantial quantities of toxic or dangerous materials, such as chlorine, ammonia, high test hydrogen peroxide or even propane and butane, than by the proximity of a nuclear power plant. However, if his sense of logic is really fully developed, he will inevitably realise that by far the greatest hazard that he faces throughout his life is that of dying from natural causes.

There is, of course, an inevitable degree of uncertainty in both Rasmussen's and Farmer's estimates of the probability of a district hazard which arises from a nuclear power plant. Engineers have learned most of what they know by making mistakes; the bridges, cooling towers and buildings that collapsed, the aircraft that have crashed, the boilers and turbo-alternators that have broken down or have proved to be unreliable have taught them far more than they have learned from the corresponding buildings or plants that have been successful. But that easy progress from one disaster to the next has been denied to nuclear engineers. The implications, both physical and psychological, of failure of atomic energy plants have been so serious that from 1946 the tendency was to make cost and convenience secondary to safety. Whether the extrapolation of unit rating and of design parameters has destroyed that philosophy, I do not at the moment know, because I am not sufficiently closely in touch with the industry. But the policy of the early years was such that there was no bracket between success and failure within which one could determine with reasonable statistical accuracy what was the chance of accident.

However, by using the data available both from laboratory experiments and operating experience it is possible—although one has to make some arbitrary assumptions—to predict the amount of radioactivity which might be released in accidents of varying degree of severity. The aim in reactor design is to ensure that there is a safeguard against every foreseeable accident. After all, design is done by human beings who are neither infallible nor omniscient. Even if design is perfect, safety still depends on quality assurance in manufacturers' works, on the construction sites and on the quality of operation and of maintenance. In the debate in your Lordships' House on 2nd December I suggested that the very large nuclear programme which was planned by the EEC might have made quality assurance difficult; but with a reasonable programme of construction and cautious extrapolation of design, experience does give a guide to the possible incidence of engineering failures in nuclear plants and shows that the hazard which arises from them is, as I say, far less than the hazards which we happily face day by day.

In the assessment of those risks, Mr. Farmer has 25 years of experience of risk assessment in the atomic energy industry. I know that in arriving at the figures which he has used he has made allowance for all of the hazards which have to be taken into account and that he has also carefully analysed the hazards from the more conventional types of accident. I accept his assessment of risk; but the fact that I, as an individual, accept that assessment of risk is of comparatively little importance. What really matters is what the man in the street thinks about it; whether that risk worries people at large.

I believe that in the public assessment of atomic energy hazards, ground has been lost over the last few years. Both before and after the first nuclear power programme was announced in 1955, facts and hazards were made clearly and frankly available to the public. Looking back, it is interesting to remember that at the inception of the nuclear power programme there was no public inquiry into the construction of the nuclear power plant at Berkeley because no material objections to the construction of that plant had been raised. It seems to me that over the last 10 years the public image of the nuclear industry has deteriorated. To some extent I think that this has resulted from over-ambitious extrapolation of designs and I doubt whether the authorities have done all that they could to reassure the public. I think, too, that in some cases they have played their cards very much too close to their chests.

In the debate on 2nd December last year I spoke of the shortage of energy which it seems will face both this country and the EEC at about the end of this century. In the light of that threatened shortage, it is, I suggest, important that nuclear power, including the fast reactor, should be developed as quickly as is technically wise. It is important that the public should be shown the need for nuclear power and that it should be explained to them in such a way that they understand that, with wise and careful development, the benefits of nuclear power far outweigh the disadvantages. As is said in the Select Committee's Report: Standardisation generally, as proposed by the Commission, must imply that decisions would be taken centrally and therefore by an agency remote from the public affected. The British Organisation for Safety Assurance may be imperfect in detail, but I believe that in principle it is right and that it has the advantage of being near to the man in the street. I support Dr. Franklin's written evidence in which he says of a proposal to set up any central safety organisation in Brussels: The best line of action for the Commission would be the encouragement of others … rather than anything that could be represented as direct participation and therefore an increasing remoteness of those who set the safety standards ". I do not believe that safety and confidence can best be secured by remote control from Brussels, nor do I believe that standardisation is possible in this rapidly growing branch of technology.

7.38 p.m.


My Lords, the House will be grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Lauderdale, for introducing this subject and to the noble Lord, Lord Hinton of Bank side, for his informed comments. It is fortunate that the House has the benefit of Lord Hinton's great experience of nuclear engineering, and one follows on after him at one's peril! I am not a member of the Sub-Committee and I intervene in this debate only to make a couple of general points which have struck me and which are, perhaps, worth bearing in mind. Both of them have already been made, in substance, and I shall only try to underline them from a rather different angle.

As the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran, suggested, the circumstances in which nuclear power originated created apprehension and fear in the public mind. This has led to the application of criteria and regulations to the nuclear industry quite different from those applicable to other industries: for example, the chemical industry or the steel industry. As the Committee's Report points out the result has been that there are a great many organisations and authorities, national and international, which concern themselves with various aspects of nuclear power and which, in their turn, have spawned a perfect jungle of committees. Since nuclear safety is a highly specialised and technical subject, there are, as the noble Earl observed, only a limited number of experts qualified to sit on or advise these committees.

There is, therefore, an ever-present danger that progress in the construction and operation of nuclear reactors may become completely bogged down in a morass of regulations, inquiries and requirements for authorisations. Even on our own national ground it is apparently taking two years to evaluate the steam generating heavy water reactor, although the prototype has been running for nearly 10 years. I suggest that it is in this light that the EEC Commission's proposals to the Council for harmonisation need to be viewed. I do not suppose that anyone would question the right of the EEC to become involved in the question of nuclear safety or other aspects of the civil applications of nuclear energy.

The question is what action can usefully and helpfully be taken in this field in the present evolving state of nuclear plant design, without placing a yet heavier burden on the available experts, in the first place, and on the hard-pressed nuclear industry, in the second place. The answer seems to be very little, beyond the assembling of information. It is surely much too soon to attempt to standardise design or to centralise control, but it is not too soon to put the issues of nuclear safety into better proportion. The nuclear industry has suffered by being singled out for special and exceptional treatment. The safety record of the industry up to the present time is second to none. Uniquely, and due to its characteristics, safety was a first priority from the very outset.

It is always rash to make statements of the kind that I shall make, but they are based on the record up to date. So far as I know—I may be out of date—in the whole history of nuclear power development only one death has occurred through a nuclear accident, and that was 20 years ago in a small experimental American reactor where the accident was due to human folly. In the same period, very serious and lethal accidents in the chemical industry, the steel industry, the transport industry—indeed in almost every branch of industry—have taken place. Of course, I am not talking about people falling off ladders—ordinary accidents which happen everywhere—but accidents due to plant failure and the like. Recent statistics available from the Atomic Energy Authority are relevant in this connection. I read in the recent report on their operations last year: Since 1962, when accident statistics were first compiled on a central basis we have had a total of four fatal accidents inside our establishments"; that is, accidents in the "failing off the ladder "category. More generally—and I quote again: … for virtually every medical group, the death rate for atomic energy employees, properly corrected for age distribution, is lower than the comparable figures for the population at large as published in the Registrar General's statistics. This applies to our employees of today and to our pensioners. The nuclear industry and Governments have not yet been successful in securing public acceptance of the fact that the hazards of nuclear installations are, on the record, far less than those of older industries. It is quite time that questions of nuclear safety were handled on the same level and together with questions of safety in industry. This brings me to a suggestion which I fear may be unpopular and may in any event come too late.

The EEC are just beginning, as the papers before us show, to feel their way into questions of nuclear safety. Would it not be much more productive. instead of trying to duplicate what other agencies, national and international, are doing in this field, for them to approach the matter from a fresh angle, to relate nuclear safety specifically to the safety of industrial plant in general, and start the process of harmonisation on a broader front? This might be the more practicable, as we are, I think, dealing in present context only with plant safety and not with radiological protection, though there again the realities are wildly different from what the public apprehends.

Let me quote once more from the report of the Atomic Energy Authority for 1974–75: The radiation injuries "— that is, among the Authority's employees— have been no more "— that is since 1962— than four cases of skin burns on the hands and only one required significant medical attention. This should be compared with the 66 off-duty employees who have been killed outside our establishments in traffic accidents during the same period. It is I believe of urgent importance that Governments should make a real effort to educate public opinion in these matters, and not pander to environmental lobbies. In the United States of America, these lobbies have already been responsible for holding up, under the flimsiest of pretexts, the development of the nuclear power programme. In the process, they have brought much aid and comfort to the members of the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries. Let the EEC Commission address their minds to this problem rather than complicate still further the arduous but necessary progress of the nuclear industry. Some of the problems, especially in the reprocessing field, are admittedly more complicated and difficult than they were when the spent fuel was dealt with at a relatively low level of irradiation. But these problems are, I feel sure, perfectly soluble with time, especially if the industry is allowed to develop in relative freedom from strangling by red tape, national or international, or from choking in clouds of misplaced popular emotion.

7.48 p.m.


My Lords, I do not think one can start a speech on this subject without also entering into the field of the risks. From the environmentalist's point of view there are really three difficulties with nuclear reactors. The first is the safety of the reactor itself, and the noble Lord, Lord Hinton of Bank side, has dealt with this very adequately. All I would add, from my little knowledge, is that I support everything which he said on the subject. Here I think it should be said that one must realise that life is not completely safe and that perhaps one is, or ought to be, almost as much concerned with the quality of life as with life itself. We have to face it: whatever people may say about new methods of energy production, there is not at the moment, and there is unlikely to be for the next 20 years, any viable alternative to the nuclear reactor unless we are going to forgo our present type of society and completely change the industrial society we have. I think few people faced with that alternative—though they may talk about windmills because they do not know any better, but this does not solve our problem—would really assume, with the minimal risks we have, that we should not continue with this programme.

On the other hand, a balanced view might well be that we do not regard it as an ideal. It has disadvantages and it may be that in the long run there are other, cleaner methods of obtaining power and we ought to press on with research into all the other possible methods, such as energy from the sun, by photo-electric and other means. But this will not come about until our present generation of nuclear reactors which we are likely to be building now have come to the end of their useful life.

The second trouble about nuclear reactors that is referred to by the environmentalists is the explosion of the fission products. Nobody is particularly keen on this. They do not like leaving this heritage to future generations; but I do not think any of us, looking at the problem, regard it as too serious, provided again that we do not continue to do this for perhaps 100 years. I think the sensible conclusion is to deal with this generation of nuclear reactors until something new comes on to the scene. I believe that this is a perfectly reasonable thing to do.

My Lords, the third objection is that a lot more plutonium will be moved about. There is a real danger that this might get into the wrong hands, and might be used for making some elementary atomic bomb. Having made that elementary atomic bomb, it might also be used for holding people to ransom. I regard this as a rather unpleasant possibility. But we must see this against the background that, whatever we may think and whatever we try to do in the world today, we shall not stop the developing nations having their own nuclear reactors. There was a time in history when we would have told them they could not have things like nuclear reactors, and that would have put a stop to that. But I do not think this can happen today. Nuclear reactors they will have, and these nations will be able to use them as weapons for blackmail if they wish. I therefore submit that the increase in plutonium which may be hijacked is only a question of degree; but it is by far the most unpleasant possibility, and far more important than either of the other two factors I have mentioned.

My Lords, in relation to putting these risks in perspective, I might have said, when talking about the quality of life, that we have to accept at least some road accidents. Nobody has yet gone so far as saying that they are prepared to take extreme measures to reduce road accidents. Let us not forget that we could reduce them to any degree we really wanted, if we were prepared to pay the price.Reductio ad absurdum, all one needs is a man with a red flag walking in front of every vehicle. Along the way from that extreme to what we have today, there are many passing points where we could reduce the accidents by almost any number we wished. It therefore follows that in nearly everything in life we have to take a certain risk. That was my earlier argument when I said that we could not do without the nuclear reactor if we were to keep our own quality of industrial life, and the quality of life in general.

Having said that, one comes to the point at which one asks: is anything the EEC is going to do in the way of legislation likely to be useful? First, nuclear physics is a relatively new science, and its implementation in reactors is relatively new. Improvements and variations are still being made at a considerable rate. When faced with a situation like that, it is utterly impossible to standardise one's requirements without inhibiting development. In this context, I am talking about development for safety as well.

Secondly, if one tries to achieve an agreed code of safety, inevitably it will be that of the lowest common denominator of the people sitting round the table. I have a good deal of experience of electrical safety standards on domestic equipment. Although I shall not go quite so far as saying it always lands up with the lowest common standard, it will nevertheless not be with the highest. We have also to remember that in the EEC we are dealing with a number of responsible, experienced and industrialised nations. To a greater or lesser extent, in all these nations there will be a strong environment lobby pushing for safety. I simply do not believe that EEC legislation in detail is likely to improve the safety which nations will produce on their own at this time. I go so far as to say that it will be quite the reverse. If the EEC say they are worried about tariff barriers being erected in this new area, it is certain that if they try to prevent them, their legislation will be both stultifying and on a low common denominator in terms of safety. So I should think that they were convicted by that very statement.

My Lords, is there anything that usefully could be done at this stage? The EEC could put down some general principles, but would this really help? Would it help safety at all? The general principles are accepted, and the details and further developments are being considered by the other Committees, so I rule that out. What else could they do? I think they could usefully look at the security of plutonium. That was the third thing I mentioned about which I am very worried. But not to put too fine a point on it, I regard the proposals as a monumental piece of bureaucracy, stimulated by the incentive of "jobs for the boys ".

7.58 p.m.


My Lords, I am not sure that everyone would agree with the noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth, that there is no alternative to nuclear power, because in other scenarios a continued growth in the use of nuclear power would require a fundamental alteration in the quality of our industrial life. If I may suggest it, there are many who would like to see a different outlook and philosophy applied to the future of this country, a scenario which would be based on alternatives to continued growth of the production of energy and of raw materials, which some of us, in any case, think are not sustainable very much beyond the end of this century. I would like to discuss that with the noble Viscount on some other occasion.

Meanwhile, may I say that apart from the speech of the noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth, and that of the noble Lord, Lord Hinton of Bank side, this debate seems to me to have been less concerned with the safety of nuclear processes than with the political niceties of our relationships with the EEC. That is what the Report is mainly concerned with. My noble friend mentioned this explicitly. He also said, and I agree with him on this, that the Government must produce in the public a sense of confidence in any nuclear plans that we follow. Draft EEC Directives are not the ordinary bedside reading of the average citizen, and I do not suppose the Reports of Select Committees are best sellers either. But even if the majority of people in this country did read the draft resolution which is before us, and the Report of the Select Committee, I am not at all sure that they would be much reassured.

My Lords, I am looking at the draft resolution which, as the noble Earl. Lord Lauderdale, pointed out, was before the Committee when it started its deliberations, but which he informed us was altered half-way through. The final text of the document, I have ascertained, is not available in the Printed Paper Office. I am using the one presented to the Select Committee, dated 9th March 1975. If I may say so this is a flaw in your Lordships' procedures which perhaps on some other occasion the usual channels might like to look into.

This draft resolution contained in its preamble the statement that: Nuclear power is required to play a privileged part in the supply of energy to the Community ". I would suggest that as long as there are so many fundamental problems in the field of nuclear safety which remain unresolved it would be foolish and dangerous for the Community to become heavily dependent on it, and some of the enormous budgets now being devoted to nuclear research in the Member nations of the Community might possibly yield a higher and more certain return if they were diverted into the conservation of energy. For instance, if we were to spend as much as the cost of even one single nuclear reactor on insulating domestic buildings it would be a far better return for the money invested.

The noble Lord, Lord Hinton, gave us some figures about engineering risks involved in nuclear reactors. He quoted the findings of Mr. Rasmussen and Dr. Farmer; the latter was writing in a recent issue of Atom. I must say that when one looks at figures such as these they offer a spurious air of scientific accuracy which is given to any statement by the insertion in it of numerical calculations. I do not think, quite honestly, we are in any position at all to make predictions of the risks on the lines that these experts purport to do. The noble Lord, Lord Hinton, mentioned some of the other engineering developments that we have seen in our lifetime, which he said proceeded by way of catastrophe: the large buildings, the box girder bridges, and so on.

Nobody actually predicted when we started to use very large crude carriers that there would be explosions in their tanks, caused by the cleaning methods used, that would involve the loss of life and the loss of very large vessels, to the consternation of the designers and no doubt of the insurance companies who had to bear the cost. Nobody said when we started manufacturing caprolactam that enormous explosions might take place in plants like Flixborough, again involving serious loss of life. When the DC.10 went into operation nobody predicted that because of the fault in the design of the rear door those aircraft might crash and the loss of many lives result.

I think we are in no better position to say what are the likely risks of the reactors which are coming into operation now, some of which have been tested only on a prototype scale: our own advanced gas cooled reactor, which was scaled up from a 30 Mw prototype to the 1200 Mw plants now under construction, some of which are approaching completion; the steam generating heavy water reactor, of which we have only a 100 Mw prototype, which we are now proposing to take straight up to 1200 or 1300 'Mw; and the fast breeder reactor, for which we have an intermediate stage of a 250 Mw plant, but which is then to be scaled up to commercial size. I do not think that many engineers would care to stick their necks out and make a guess as to the likelihood of technological failures resulting in these full-scale plants when experience has been gained only on prototypes of a very different character.

What I wanted to say principally—and this follows, to some extent, the remarks made by the noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth—is that if one looks at the Annex to the resolution, which is in very general terms, there is one passing reference in just over 32 pages to the need for consideration to be given to external events which might affect the safety of nuclear plants, events such as earthquakes, explosions, riots, wars or sabotage. These are not, of course, technological risks, though technology obviously must have a role to play in their prevention or the minimisation of their consequences. I believe that the risks involved in the huge expansion of nuclear power now being contemplated, up to 200,000 Mw of installed capacity, in the Community by 1985—and I was glad to hear the noble Lord, Lord Hinton, agree that it would be difficult to maintain standards of quality assurance with a programme of that scale—are not principally of a technological nature, and that to discuss safety solely in technical terms is to prevent the public from recognising the true implications of the political and external risks.

One must also note that if the United States and Western Europe greatly expand their nuclear programmes, because that turns out to be a cheaper way of satisfying what they see to be their energy requirements, then we can scarcely deny the same economic benefits to other nations, including those who may be less responsible in the degree of control they exercise over both the operation of plants and the use of the fissile material contained in them. We have already seen that India has used material derived from its peaceful nuclear programme to manufacture a bomb of sorts. We know that there are many other nations approaching that stage of development, among which one might mention, just as examples, Korea and Argentina. I am not suggesting that at the moment either Korea or Argentina have any intention of entering the military nuclear race, but I am just pointing out, as Herman Khan did some 10 or 15 years ago, that almost inevitably with the spread of peaceful nuclear technology more and more nations would be tempted into developing their own military capabilities. I think that is a very serious risk which is encouraged by the great expansion of nuclear plants in Western Europe.

Reverting to the external risks which I mentioned a few minutes ago, and which were merely listed in the Annex to the draft resolution of the EEC, obviously we do not need to cater for earthquakes in this country, and we have siting restrictions on the location of nuclear plants to keep them well away from potential fire or explosion hazards. But that leaves the very serious problem, to my mind, of deliberate interference with the operation of nuclear plants by either criminals or terrorists, or the theft of nuclear material by such groups mentioned by the noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth. I think one is in something of a dilemma even in raising this subject; because one may be accused of putting the idea into the heads of the criminals and terrorists simply by referring to the appalling consequences that theft or sabotage might imply. On the other hand, if one fails to mention this problem at all, how could the public be adequately reassured that Governments have properly considered the matter and taken steps to prevent these consequences from arising.

In fact there have been attacks on nuclear installations; already there have been thefts of nuclear materials. I think, unfortunately, those who would be likely to contemplate threatening or endangering the lives of their fellow human beings are not going to require any prompting. If I may give a couple of examples, in May last year the nuclear power plant at Fessenheim on the Rhine was damaged by two explosive charges. I understand that the responsibility for this outrage was claimed by a group associated with the Bader Meinhoff gang. The explosions are said to have damaged a steam generator pump and the system for lowering uranium rods into the core. On the 6th June two bombs exploded simultaneously at nuclear sites in France. One damaged Framatome's main computer at Courbevoir, and the other exploded in nuclear workshops at Argenteuil. The responsibility for those outrages was claimed by an urban guerrilla group. Finally, on the 15th August two explosions occurred damaging equipment at the Monts d'Aree (EL4) nuclear station. The responsibility for that outrage was claimed by Breton nationalists.

On the question of nuclear materials, I mention just two examples from Britain. In 1966, 20 uranium fuel rods were stolen from the Bradwell nuclear power plant in Essex. They were subsequently recovered, I believe, by the police, and the reasons for the theft were not reported at the time. In 1971, five uranium rods disappeared somewhere between the fabrication plant at Springfields in Lancashire and the nuclear plant at Wylfa, Anglesey. This loss was discovered only after an investigation of some 120,000 numbered elements. The reports do not go into any detail as to how these uranium rods were stolen or whether anyone was subsequently charged with the theft.

I hope that I have said enough to show that the risk of the great expansion of the nuclear programme is not principally technological and I agree with the noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth, here—but the theft, the purloining of nuclear material, and the possibility that terrorists, or other criminal elements, will cause damage to nuclear installations far worse than anything that might result from technological failures in equipment. I should like to be assured that either the EEC Commission or some other authority was properly taking this on board, and was not simply attempting to reassure the public by saying—and I am sure it is true, as the noble Lord, Lord Hinton of Bank side, has claimed—that some of the best engineering minds in the world are concentrated on this problem of nuclear safety, when the problem we are really trying to cure is not a technological one at all.

8.13 p.m.


My Lords, contrary to the last contribution, by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, who was addressing himself principally to security matters, when we have been talking about technological matters we have had a very typical House of Lords' authoritative debate which, on the whole, has been reassuring without, I hope, being complacent. When it comes to the Report from the Committee I should like to start by expressing agreement with the second paragraph on page vi, where the Committee said: The Commission's general case might have been more acceptable if it had included a survey of the considerable national and international activity in this field, had identified deficiencies. had explained why the Commission was thought to be the body best suited to remedy them, and had shown how its present resources, would need supplementing for the purpose. On balance, I would agree with the general view that these proposals should be viewed with British caution and reserve.

Let us start by applauding the objectives set out in the Document 681/75 which seek to avoid a number of things happening. They mention the proliferation of trade barriers, divergence on licensing procedures, lack of uniformity in presentation to the public, possible development of disparities in quality of public protection, and the duplication of applied research. The danger seen by the Committee is that in order to achieve these objectives we run the risk of making a further addition to the already formidable bureaucratic edifice which is exemplified by the 12 Agencies listed in the annex to the Report. The point has been made several times by a number of noble Lords this evening that we run the risk of wasting the time of valuable people. I suppose, in fairness to the Commission, they would claim they are seeking in fact to save these people time by not duplicating so many of the bodies they have to attend.

Then the Committee also points out that the United States is represented on the IAEA, the OECD, and the IEA. I am bound to say that I was not very impressed with the argument in the letter which the noble Earl, Lord Lauderdale, kindly sent us from Mr. Spinelli. The Commissioners advanced the argument that the exclusion of the United States does not matter because their interest is limited principally to the light water reactors (the pressure water reactor and the boiling water reactor) whereas Europe is interested in all types, including our own gas-cooled route and steam generating heavy water reactor. In passing may I say that I have been glad to hear recently that this particular route appears to be coming back into favour among a number of the experts whom I have heard talking.

We should also admit that the danger points must differ from reactor to reactor, and hence the safety standards must differ, and it is difficult to draw up all-embracing standards when you are dealing with so many different types of reactor. In the light water reactors you are principally concerned with these large pressure vessels but some of the other types of reactor have pressure tubes and some have sodium coolant;and anybody who is familiar even in a superficial way with the great variety of reactors which are being proposed, and indeed manufactured, will know very well that while many of the principles are common the danger points must differ markedly in each case.

This country is probably more experienced than anyone else. I think we still have more installed capacity than any country in Europe. This changes by about 1980. Our experience goes back over 20 years or more. As the noble Lord, Lord Sherfield, among others, pointed out, our record is extremely good. It is a perfectly fair comparison, which was made by a number of noble Lords, to distinguish the record of the nuclear industry from that of almost any other industry you like to mention—including, I suppose, the industry of walking about on the roads. or driving a motor car on the roads, which is probably the most dangerous one of all.

One of the reasons for this good safety record is the early appreciation of the inherent risks and the awareness of the danger. I think that that is one of the answers to the point of the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, about the very large crude carriers. Real care has been taken in the nuclear industry to look for causes of possible accidents, whereas people blundered into the dangers of the VLCCs totally unaware of what they were getting into. In the nuclear industry, great pains were taken to guard against every conceivable and, indeed, inconceivable accident.

I am reminded of the old adage which was the watchword of the Sappers when handling explosives. It was, "Explosives arc not dangerous until you forget that they are." In view of these stringent precautions, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Sherfield, that the dangers can readily be exaggerated. It was Professor Heisenberg in Germany (one of the fathers of fission) who said publicly that he would rather live next door to a nuclear reactor than to a conventional power station. This was also the import of some of the quotations and statistics of Dr. Farmer referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Hinton of Bank side.

In the report presented to the European Parliament by Mrs. Walz, this country is specifically commended, in particular for the way in which it has educated and carried the public along in an awareness of nuclear safety. The report mentioned that there had been less public worry about recent power stations than there had been over some of the earlier ones. There, I found myself at variance with the noble Lord, Lord Hinton, and, if one finds oneself at variance with the noble Lord, one is almost certainly wrong. I am distressed that he feels that we have fallen down, though I feel that we should listen to him if he tells us that that is the case.

Our approach to the standards of nuclear safety has been typically pragmatic and British. Rather than trying prematurely to lay down standards which might easily become unrealistic and might create a straitjacket leading to ossification and ultimately to delay, my understanding of our system is that anyone wanting to build a nuclear power station has to satisfy the nuclear inspec torate that what he is proposing to do is a safe method of procedure. That has the great merit that, in these early, experimental days, all the options are left open.

Here, I believe that we should be warned by the absurdities which we have been led into in our building regulations. We are all familiar with the nonsense about larders, ventilated lobbies and the ratio of window height to floor—for instance, in one county one can have a ceiling of 7 ft. 10 in. and in another it must be 8 ft. 1 in. Let us not get into the kind of situation which has happened there. I should like to go a stage further and suggest that it is reasonable for this country to have a somewhat isolationist view of the matter. I believe that a measured and leisurely approach may be appropriate for us, because our modest nuclear programme means that we shall only be ordering two more stations between now and 1985. So, for once, we may benefit from the experience of the mistakes of others rather than being in the position of blazing the trail and spending all the money from which others will derive the benefit.

I also think it fair to point out that the impact of some of these dangers has slightly receded since the early EEC document suggesting the installation of 200 gigawatts by 1985. This has been curtailed to 150 gigawatts and I understand that it is likely to be further reduced since it looks very much as if the Commission has overestimated the demand for electricity in Europe up to that time. We are probably still talking about something of the order of 190 reactors by 1985, however, and that is quite a lot. I have not done the mathematics of the risks of the noble Lord, Lord Hinton, but I believe that we still come out on the basis of 200 reactors with about one accident in 5,000 years, so I do not feel that that will be of very great interest to me.

There is one rather curious point which the noble Lord may perhaps be able to elucidate for me, though it is not a Government attitude. Do the different pressures which exist according to where a station is to be sited justify different criteria for safety? If the place is sufficiently remote, it is clear that a higher degree of potential risk may be tolerable, but are we suggesting that we want different standards or that we are ready to accept different degrees of risk?

I think we may have been a little harsh on the Commission this evening. It has a good track record on harmonisation and it has taken a great deal of care not to offend national susceptibilities. Perhaps we on our part should not be unduly defensive and should not tell them not to trespass on our own self determination where possibly no such trespass is intended. I believe that harmonisation is a proper and laudable objective and I believe that we shall get there in the end. On the other hand I feel it would be unwise to rush and push too hard, too early.

I should like briefly to turn to two parochial matters of procedure. The first is a truly trivial point which is addressed to the Printed Paper Office. We want to educate ourselves and the public, but we do not want to proliferate papers. However, when we have these pink demands for papers passed round it is singularly uninformative to be told that we are now offered the Sixth, Seventh Eighth and Tenth Reports of the Select Committee unless we have some indication as to what they are about. Would it be possible for that information to be put on this piece of paper, so that we shall not have to order the lot and then throw away nine-tenths?

The second and more important matter is that of congratulations to the benign chairman of this august Committee on the way in which the Committee has succeeded in condensing the large quantities of documentation which will undoubtedly have passed across its desks into a commendably brief Report which has enabled all of us to read it before appearing here this evening. I am also glad that we are now seeing a gradual trend towards the Committees of the two Houses working slightly more together than has been the case in the past. This must mean a saving of time and. in particular, I like to think that the other place will benefit by being the recipient of the great degree of expertise which this House deploys in this Committee.

But, my Lords, I feel bound to support the noble Earl, Lord Lauderdale, when he complains that co-operation between the two Houses has not been aided by the behaviour and the demeanour of the Under-Secretary of State for Energy. Indeed, when I read the Report I was astonished that the entire Committee had not walked out in a huff. I have some difficulty in understanding the language of the officials, but of course they are talking about an extremely difficult and complicated subject. But what was worrying was to find the Minister declining to supply a document on the grounds of what he called "practical difficulties". When he was pressed by the chairman, it turned out that what he really meant by "practical difficulties "was that he was unwilling to produce the paper because it was what he called a "working document". I do not know whether he was labouring under the conclusion that Sub-Committee F had come to this House to play games, but I suggest that the Committee was undertaking a very serious and painstaking task.

This struck me as being a highly provocative way to behave. I can only hope that the noble Lord who is to reply to the debate has some acceptable explanation of this extremely ungracious behaviour; or, conceivably, the Minister was covering up for the fact that he did not know what he was talking about. While we are on the subject of consultation, confidentiality and responsibility, can the noble Lord tell us whether it is the policy of his right honourable friend to leak documents on this kind of subject to the Press? Can he deny that it was a document leaked by the Department of Energy to the Daily Mirror which started the extremely unfortunate scare—and it was pure scaremongering—about the reprocessing contract with Japan?

This is an industry in which this country has established a great reputation—I see the noble Lord, Lord Hinton of Bank side, nodding, thank goodness !— and a great degree of knowledge. We even stand to make a profit out of it. To try to stir up a scare in this way is not calculated to enlist responsible support from a body such as this House.

I regret that I have had to introduce these two contentious notes into the debate, but I cannot honestly apologise for doing so. I sincerely hope that the noble Lord will be able to reassure the House, without, I hope, resort to the rather dubious stratagem of what was once euphemisticallly called the use of a "terminological inexactitude", and that both he and his colleagues will treat the matter with the proper degree of seriousness and respect in the future.

8.35 p.m.


My Lords, the Government attach the utmost importance to the subject of nuclear safety and protection of the population. I should, therefore, like to thank the members of Sub-Committee F of the Select Committee for their penetrating examination of the Document R /681/75 Technological Problems of Nuclear Safety. The Sub-Committee obtained views from all sectors with responsibilities in this field, for licensing, research, construction and operation. Its Report raises questions about the relative responsibilities of the Commission and Her Majesty's Government in the field of reactor safety. As has been pointed out during the debate, reactor safety is, of course, only one aspect of nuclear safety. Others, for example, are radiological protection, transport of nuclear materials and radioactive waste management. These subjects are being considered separately at Community level and are not our primary concern today.

The importance to the Community of reactor safety is highlighted by the ambitious Community targets for nuclear power capacity mentioned in the Report of the Select Committee. Although we do not regard the targets as realistic, there is no doubt that the Community is embarking upon a programme of rapid expansion of nuclear power. All are agreed that an essential prerequisite is the ability to ensure that nuclear reactors meet proper safety standards, and that these are arrived at in such a way that the public can be confident, as the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran, stressed, that its safety is protected. In answer to the noble Lord, I should point out that the subjects of harmonisation of safety standards and health protection are part of the Euratom Treaty, to which we are a party.

The stated purpose of the resolution is to ensure that the nuclear objectives of the Community can be achieved under economically viable conditions without prejudicing safety, by pursuing and intensifying action in two main areas. These are the gradual harmonisation of safety requirements and criteria, and the coordination of applied research programmes. Noble Lords will be aware that since the resolution was adopted in July, 1975, the Commission has made further proposals to implement the terms of the resolution. These proposals, which are being considered by the Government, may go some way towards meeting the doubts expressed by the European Parliament when it called upon the Commission to "submit practical proposals ", and by your Lordships' Select Committee in its concern for the potential overtaxing of the resources of the comparatively small number of national experts available. We shall study these proposals with care and with the advantage of the opinions of noble Lords as expressed in today's debate.

We have debated the place of nuclear power in the Community's Energy Policy Strategy. In that debate on 2nd December 1975. the urgency of making good the shortfall in fossil fuel supplies between now and the end of the century was emphasised. This deficiency will have to be met mainly from nuclear sources. We in the United Kingdom are more fortunately placed with reserves of fossil fuels than are our Community partners, and our own immediate nuclear programme is a relatively modest one, as the noble Lord, Lord Strathcona and Mount Royal, pointed out. But this does not allow us to be complacent about the subject of reactor safety, and as he said we are certainly not showing any complacency about the subject in this debate. Our safety organisations have our regulatory procedures under constant review and are always ready to discuss our arrangements with our European partners. Our regulatory experience dates from the first Nuclear Installations Act and the setting up of the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate in 1959. We, therefore, have a major contribution to make to Community thinking and activity in the nuclear safety field, and other matters to which the noble Lord referred.

As I have said, we are always ready to discuss our procedures and standards with our European partners. We have much to gain from such discussions. Even if the Community's programme is not fully realised, it will, by the 1980s, be very much larger than that of the United Kingdom on its own, and will provide a strong base for international co-operation on nuclear safety, from both the organisational and technical points of view. We welcome, and intend to continue, to participate in this co-operation.

I should at this stage, my Lords, make it absolutely clear that co-operation within the Community on the technological problems of nuclear safety is already well established. We play a leading part in the working groups of experts representing the Member-States. The expertise is drawn from these national representatives, and not from the Commission. The Commission can only reflect the consensus of the representation within the working groups. These groups are concerned with both water reactors and fast reactors. They cover, for example, the exchange of information on research and development programmes, comparison of computer codes, classification of national regulations, and investigation of information systems. The more recent proposals by the Commission, to which I have referred, make it clear that they accept this method of operation and seek to strengthen secretariat support for the work of these groups, and increase their efficiency.

My Lords, I should like to turn now to some of the specific points in the Select Committee's Report under the heading "Opinion of the Committee", and I must address myself first of all to the complaint made by the noble Earl, Lord Lauderdale. On reviewing the matter, I have come to the conclusion that he really has few grounds for complaint against the Government, and there is no question whatsoever in my mind of the Government treating the Sub-Committee in any arrogant or high-minded way. The fact is that copies of our 681/75, which was annexed to the draft resolution, were available to the House from the 7th April. Sub-Committee F knew that the resolution would be taken at the 26th June Council. However, they did not commence their consideration of it until then. They were also aware that the June Council, in remitting the draft text to Coreper for revision, had asked that the final text should be adopted without discussion by the Council before the end of July.


My Lords, would the noble Lord allow me to interrupt him for one moment? I am much obliged to him for giving way. I wonder whether he could indicate the point in our evidence which makes it clear that we knew that the final text would be adopted "on the nod".


Yes, my Lords. If the noble Earl would be so kind as to refer to his own words in the document on the 3rd July, for instance, he will see that he there makes a specific reference. It is paragraph 3 of the Minutes of Evidence of the 3rd July. That shows quite clearly that the noble Earl understood that the draft resolution had been referred back, and that, after Coreper had dealt with it, it would be treated as an A item.


My Lords, I am much obliged to the noble Lord for giving way again. What I said was, …it may well be treated as an A item ". There then followed much evidence to show that we were gravely anxious about it, and we naturally took it that our anxieties would be noted and understood by the Government.


My Lords, the noble Earl said: …it may well be treated as an A item. in other words, be adopted formally in the Council. Is that correct? The answer he received was, "Yes". I do not think it could have been much clearer than that, my Lords.


My Lords, I am very sorry to press this, but this is really the nub of the matter. Could we go on? We asked: Can you tell us what amendments have been made? ", and they could not tell us. Then they promised us a revised text, which we did not get.


My Lords, it was, of course, impossible for them to say what provisions were being made.


My Lords, I am very sorry to press this, but this is why we are having this debate. We wanted to know what were the amendments the Government were trying to get. They would not tell us.


My Lords, the fact was that my honourable friend Mr. Eadie made the point quite clearly that these were working documents which contained Member-States' reservations, and he felt that he could not go into detail about them. I am sorry, my Lords; I am confused. This is to some extent a debating point. The noble Earl has implied that the Government have paid no heed to his concern about the text of the revised resolution. This is not so. In his evidence to the Sub-Committee my honourable friend Mr. Eadie explained the type of amendments necessary for the draft resolution which the noble Earl wanted to see, and stated: The latest text we have seen includes all the changes considered essential to the United Kingdom.


My Lords, I am very sorry to interrupt the noble Lord again. I know he is very patient, and I shall keep my flashpoint as low as I can this evening. But on the first day that we took evidence we asked: Would the Department be able to let us have a re-draft before it goes back to the full Council? That was the question that we asked on the 3rd July, and the answer we got was that the Department thought that that would be possible: Would you be able to communicate this draft to us?—I should think that it would be possible. A fortnight later we are putting our questions to Mr. Eadie, and I have to say with the very greatest reluctance—I did not want to be drawn into saying this—that some of his answers were obscure, if I put it no stronger than that, and we did not get from him a picture of the amendments which the Government were trying to introduce; and, we having been promised, as we understood, a sight of this text, he said we could not have it. With all respect to him, I must get this on the record. I know that the noble Lord is seeking to be co-operative and wants to get through this thing as quickly as possible and I will not interrupt him again, I hope.


My Lords, the point is that we did not receive the text to which the noble Earl refers until the 18th. At the time the Committee pressed Mr. Eadie for the document, it was explained that the text was a working document. In fact, that was on the 17th July, before the working text had even been seen by Coreper. We had expected that the working text would have been ready for submission to them before then, but in the event it was not submitted to Coreper until the 18th July. On the 18th July we sent a copy to Sub-Committee F. That was on that same day. Immediately we had it, we sent a copy to Sub-Committee F. I think that the Government have taken great care to ensure that the Sub-Committee was kept fully informed about the progress of the resolution in all the Council stages. The type of amendments being made following the June Council, and the fact that the final text would include all the changes considered essential by the United Kingdom, were explained, as I have said, to the Sub-Committee by the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Energy on the 17th July. I do not think, my Lords, that we could have done any better than we did.

The noble Earl has referred to the correspondence he has had with my honourable friend Mr. Hattersley, and I stick by the point he made. This is not legislation. There is no commitment in the document, as he explained to the noble Earl. It may be that the noble Earl can extend this, but the fact is that the Government did not give specific assurances outside this matter. This is not legislation; there is no commitment being made in this document. Therefore, the Government are not bound by what they have said to give specific assurances on this matter.

Now, hoping that I have satisfied the noble Earl, I will try, if I may, to pick up where I left off. I am convinced that anybody who really looks at this and looks at this matter of the timetable carefully, will see that the Government have given the greatest attention to this matter. They could not have done more than they have in fact done. The Committee have suggested that a survey of national and international activities, with the identification of deficiencies and an explanation of how the Commission was equipped to deal with them, might have been a more acceptable basis for action.

The noble Lord, Lord Strathcona and Mount Royal, has repeated this suggestion. This type of work is implicit in the existing Community programme, but it is the Member-States rather than the Commission who carry the responsibility. National experts in the Community's Working Parties are able to identify gaps in the work being done and to coordinate action to fill them without unnecessary duplication of effort. They are greatly assisted in their work by the technical secretariat provided by the Commission. The close association and common interests of the Member-States, and the correspondingly free interchange of information, ease the problems of agreeing a common approach, and when the Community is able to reach a common view this assists the work of the larger organisations in which its Member-States participate.

There is no question of Community discussions replacing our independent participation in, for example, the IAEA, the NEA and the IEA. One of the objectives of the Euratom Treaty, in Article 2, is to, …establish with other countries and with international organisations any contact likely to promote progress in the peaceful uses of nuclear energy ". We are satisfied that the resolution provides a framework in which this activity can progress in the field of reactor safety. In answer to the point raised by the noble Earl, the Commission can be said to act as a catalyst, for instance, in the sense that members of the Secretariat of Community Committees also participate on behalf of the Commission in the meetings of Committees of the international organisations referred to by the noble Lord and covering a broader field than that of the Community.

I understand the Select Committee's concern—as expressed by the noble Earl and by the noble Lord, Lord Sherfield—that proliferation of organisations might make calls on our expert resources which could be met only at the expense of our domestic nuclear programme. There is, however, no proposal to increase the number of existing Community organisations following the adoption of the resolution. We shall look to existing working groups —if necessary with strengthened secre- tariat services—to provide the means to carry on this work.

I agree wholeheartedly with the Select Committee's view that the ability to make direct representations on this sensitive subject to accessible elected representatives or at a public inquiry is a valuable safety valve. In its report to the European Parliament, the Parliament's Committee on Energy, Science and Technology highlighted and commended United Kingdom procedures in this field. The resolution in R/681/75 requests Member-States and the Commission to continue and strengthen their efforts to ensure that the public is given the best possible information. This is entirely consistent with our own policy and supports the case made by the noble Lords, Lord Hinton and Lord Sherfield.

In answer to the noble Lord, Lord Hinton, on the question of safety standards for other industrial activities, the House has been informed that the Health and Safety Executive, which came into being last year and has set up a major hazards unit to look into these problems, has drawn together the various inspectorates in this country (including the nuclear installations inspectorate) and will no doubt take advantage of their experience in safety matters in their efforts to reduce the hazards in other industries to the low levels applicable to the nuclear industry. On the time taken to assess the safety of steam generating heavy water moderated reactors by the nuclear inspectorate, a point which was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Sherfield, the nuclear inspectorate take great care in the assessment of every reactor for which a licence is requested. This involves detailed examination of design which may differ significantly from the prototype. This approach has contributed greatly to the safety record of the nuclear industry.

The matter of transport of nuclear materials was raised. I can assure noble Lords that arrangements for the safe transport of radioactive material conforms to standards laid down by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Environment on the basis of the stringent requirements set by the International Atomic Energy Agency. The requirements include provision as to the leak tightness of the container (which is a massive steel flask) under both normal conditions and accident con- ditions of transport. Tests or ability to withstand these conditions include subjection to impact, fire, immersion in water including seawater.

On the subject of information raised by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, which as I say, is covered in the resolution and is entirely consistent with our own policy, I will not follow his argument through fully as to how best information might be transmitted to the public; but I agree that it is an aspect which merits consideration. I trust that note will be taken of the points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Strathcona and Mount Royal, about publications shown on the list issued by the Printed Paper Office. On the subject of individual papers, the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, said that he has not been able to see a copy of the final text of the resolution. A copy of this text appeared in the Official Journal of the European Communities for 14th August 1975 and copies of the Council-approved resolutions are also supplied to the Printed Paper Office in your Lordships' House.


My Lords, the point I was making was that no doubt these documents are available somewhere but that when it is known that a debate is to take place on the same afternoon, the documents ought to be mar-shalled together in the Printed Paper Office. So, when one goes in to ask. "May I have copies of the resolution and their annexes which are to be debated this afternoon? ", one is handed the actual text and not something which was published six months earlier.


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord. I hope that attention will be paid to the request that he has made.

Noble Lords have expressed concern during the debate (and perhaps none so well as the noble Lord, Lord Hinton of Bank side) that the safety approval of nuclear installations in the United Kingdom might be centralised in Brussels. But that is not proposed or foreseen in this resolution. Your Committee also suggested—and the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran, referred to it again, as did the noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth—that uniformity of standards might be achieved only by levelling down. International experience in the nuclear field suggests the opposite. Standards are consistently being improved. In any case, we will maintain the right to superimpose on Community standards or precedures any additional measures which our independent regulatory authorities consider necessary to protect the public.

The resolution itself does not deal, as some noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Sherfield, indicated it might, with standardisation of reactors, components or fuel. I agree with the Select Committee that this is a very long term matter. It is true that the Commission's Document R/681/75 suggested the possibility that the Commission might at some future date be able to present Directives to the Council on the basis of Article 100 of the EEC Treaty. Your Committee questioned the propriety of invoking this Article, which the Treaty provided for commercial purposes, in order to achieve objectives in the field of nuclear safety. If such Directives are eventually put before the Council we shall consider them carefully, but we could not accept the furtherance of trade at the expense of safety.

The harmonisation to which the resolution refers is concerned with "safety requirements and criteria "rather than hardware. Even this may be a long and difficult road, but the difficulties should not prevent the Community from continuing along it. The areas for harmonisation identified by the Select Committee as potentially more rewarding, relating to, for example, siting and radiological protection. are already the subject of Community activity in which we are participating.

The Committee considered that the proposals raise important matters of policy and principle to which the special attention of the House should be drawn. What are these matters? The rÔle of the Commission, the proliferation of international organisations, the potential centralising of approvals, a possible ultimate goal of standardisation, the responsibility of Her Majesty's Government to the United Kingdom public. None of these is changed by the resolution.

My Lords, before I come to the end I should like to refer to a matter raised at the end of his own contribution by the noble Lord, Lord Strathcona and Mount Royal. His criticism was that a leak had been made from the Department of Energy. I feel that I should scotch that straight away because it is an important matter. I can assure the noble Lord that, so far as I am concerned, I am aware of no leak whatsoever from the Department of Energy.

This debate has provided a valuable opportunity for noble Lords to explore the scope and intention of the Council's resolution and the Government's attitude to it; I am grateful, as we must all be, to the noble Earl for initiating it. Our objectives in this field are clear. They are to secure for all our people the benefits of nuclear power while ensuring that their health and safety are fully protected. The United Kingdom's record in this is good and the Government intend to see it maintained.

9.0 p.m.


My Lords, once again I must preface my remarks by saying that nothing I have to say is in the smallest degree intended to be a reflection on the staff of the Department who have always been so helpful to our Committee. Many points have been made by the noble Lord; too many to answer at this time of night. The critical question as to whether or not it was made clear to us that "willy-nilly" the revised text would go "on the nod"is one that I leave to others to judge on reading the evidence. I was in the chair, and we were clearly under the impression that there would be a chance to look at the text, and comment on it if we were not satisfied, before it went to the Council at the end of July. In fact it went to the Council on 18th or 19th July. I will not go into those details, and how it was we came to look at this document so late (frankly, due to the fact that we were swimming in a bog of paper on the Community's energy policy and were just bogged down) as those matters are not really of prime importance.

What is important is the Commission's tendency to meddle in matters that they really know nothing about. We have on our Committee eminent experts who are able to question our witnesses and to form a judgment; and, indeed, to go to Brussels and form an impression from people there. To say that these resolutions commit us to nothing is, in my submission, incorrect. There is little point in passing resolutions unless they commit you to something. I was struck by the fact that we were not given a list of the changes that the Government wanted in the resolution. We were given no sign of the text until it was too late to do anything about it. The noble Lord stands "pat"on the position of the Government as enunciated 18 months ago, that they would put a reserve on legislative proposals but not on anything else. We are pressing for proper consideration to be given to the idea of putting a reserve, if necessary, on resolutions. I shall come back to that in a moment.

We are told there is no extra burden on the experts, but the evidence is the opposite. I ask anyone who reads the report of this debate to judge for themselves, and I also ask them to take a good look at the evidence given by Mr. Eadie, on which it is kinder not to comment. I invite anybody who reads this debate to look at this Report and read Mr. Eadie's evidence and judge whether he even knew the documents on which he was giving evidence. I did not want to say that, but I have been somewhat provoked by the line of the noble Lord's answer. I consider the answer to be about the most unsatisfactory one I have ever received within the past eight years in this House, outside the field of sex education for the under-thirteens.

Somebody once said: Peril is the cheapest way to happiness. Somebody else said: Act if you like but do it at your peril. If the Government treat this Committee in this way another time, it will not be a mild "take note" Motion that we shall put down. There are various grades of Motion, there are Unstarred Questions and Motions for Papers. Some Motions for Papers have been pressed to a Division. I think I owe it to fellow members of my Committee to make it clear that we are not satisfied with the answer we have had; we are not satisfied with the way we were treated, and we look for better treatment next time. I have no doubt that the noble Lord, relying on a rather restricted brief, could not go further than he did just now, though my guess is he would have liked to have done so. My Lords, having said that, and wishing the noble Lord the best of British luck in the future, I come back to the original Motion, which is to take note.

On Question, Motion agreed to.