HL Deb 21 July 1977 vol 386 cc412-4

3.8 p.m.


My Lords, I beg leave to ask the first Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether under the UK/USSR Joint Environmental Protection Agreement they have discussed either the Soviet Union's Northern River Reversal Programme, including the use of nuclear explosives, or the recently reported accidental nuclear explosion which is understood to have taken place in the Soviet Union in 1957 or 1958, and, if so, with what result.

Baroness STEDMAN

My Lords, there have been no formal discussions under the UK/USSR Joint Agreement on Co-operation in the Field of Environmental Protection on either matter, though some of the environmental implications of the river reversal scheme have been discussed informally by a delegation of water experts visiting the USSR under the Agreement.


My Lords, are the Government aware that it is very good that at least there have been informal discussions? Should there not be discussions on the terrible nuclear accident which has been reported? Nobody should be ashamed of an accident. Could we not learn lessons from them that we could then build into our own planning for the future of our nuclear industry? As for the river reversal scheme, given that it is likely to increase the level and decrease the salinity of the water in the Arctic and is likely to change the rainfall pattern all over central Asia, is it really acceptable that at a time of new and intense climatic instability worldwide, such as we now have, such matters should go undiscussed formally and, if possible, multilaterally?

Baroness STEDMAN

My Lords, so far as the accident is concerned, we know no more than what has been reported in the Press. So far as discussions are concerned, I understand that the International Atomic Energy Authority, which is concerned with the peaceful uses of nuclear energy, has established an advisory group on the usefulness of peaceful nuclear explosions, and the Soviet Union are making a positive contribution to the group's work. So far as the river reversal programme is concerned, from the informal discussions which we have had we understand that the Soviet Union are very well aware of the potential risks to the Arctic icecap and that they are carrying out an extensive programme of research at all stages to ensure that the risks do not materialise.


My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware that, although the Soviet Union have denied that this accident ever took place, in scientific journals a number of papers have appeared by Russian authors on the contamination of fresh-water lakes by large volumes of radio nucleoli and that, because the current Windscale inquiry is examining the question of the possible contamination of the Irish Sea by the effluent from Windscale, it might be extremely relevant to have further data as a result of the Soviet experience? Would the noble Baroness make further inquiries into this incident with a view to ascertaining what actually took place and what measures the Soviet Union have for defending themselves in this area?

Baroness STEDMAN

My Lords, as I said earlier, we have no official reports of the nuclear incident other than what we have read in the Press. So far as any application to the Windscale inquiry is concerned, I am sure noble Lords will accept that I could not pronounce on anything to do with that while the inquiry is in progress.


My Lords, have Her Majesty's Government any evidence, either of their own or from the United States, that such an accident ever occurred?—because on the scale which is suggested it would almost certainly have been detected by both the United States and this country, and probably by other countries as well.

Baroness STEDMAN

No, my Lords; we have no information at all other than what we have read in the scientific Press.