HL Deb 30 April 1984 vol 451 cc331-3

2.45 p.m.

Lord Ezra

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

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what is their policy towards the development of the fast breeder reactor, particularly with regard to the commercial demonstration phase.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Energy (The Earl of Avon)

My Lords, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Energy made a statement in another place on 16th January concerning the United Kingdom's participation in collaboration on fast reactors on a European basis. A memorandum of understanding has been signed by five countries, as an expression of Government intent to establish long-term co-operation on fast reactor development. It is envisaged that one or more commercial demonstration reactors will be built as part of the collaboration, but no decisions have yet been taken on the timing or siting.

Lord Ezra

My Lords, in thanking the noble Earl for that reply, may I ask him whether he considers, in the light of the European agreement to which he has referred, that there will be a beneficial impact on the development of our energy strategy by collaborating in this way with our European partners, as this will diminish the cost that we would otherwise be involved in if we were to go on our own, and increase our technological capability?

The Earl of Avon

My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord. One of the key principles is the harmonisation of research and development efforts, the sharing of relevant information and know-how and the promotion of industrial co-operation.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, does the noble Earl recall the recommendation of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution, that there should be no commitment to a large programme of nuclear fission power until it has been demonstrated beyond reasonable doubt that a method exists to ensure the safe containment of long-lived, highly radioactive waste for the indefinite future? Since we still have not solved this problem, will the noble Earl make certain that no firm commitment is given to fast breeder reactors or to any other major programme on a European scale until this problem has been solved?

The Earl of Avon

My Lords, if the noble Lord is quoting from the report from which I think he is quoting, that report also suggested that some movement towards nuclear power was not a bad idea. As to the fast reactor we are looking to the years past the year 2000.

Viscount Hanworth

My Lords, would I be correct in thinking that there is less trouble with the disposal of fission products with a fast breeder reactor than there is with our normal reactors?

The Earl of Avon

My Lords, as I accompanied the noble Viscount to Dounreay, I have pleasure in agreeing with him.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

My Lords, could the noble Lord give me an assurance that as a result of our agreement with four other European countries there will be no delay in building a British commercial demonstration fast reactor?

The Earl of Avon

My Lords, the noble Lord will recall that in my original reply I said that no decisions have yet been taken on timing or siting, so his question is hypothetical. However, I certainly hope that there will be no delay.

The Earl of Winchilsea and Nottingham

My Lords, can the Minister say whether British Nuclear Fuels Limited are still using the leaky flasks which were identified as being the subject of a secret report 13 months ago, as detailed in the Sunday Times on 15th April 1984? Can the Minister also tell the House how much waste is stockpiled as a result of the National Union of Seamen's refusal to load it for sea dumping, an action which we on these Benches fully support? What do the Government plan to do with the waste?

The Earl of Avon

My Lords, the supplementary questions which the noble Earl has asked are very wide of the Question. However, I should be delighted to answer them, should the noble Earl care to put them down. The noble Earl mentioned the newspaper article about the flasks. My understanding is that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Transport announced last November that the regulatory approval certificates for all flasks of that particular design were cancelled at that time, and I am informed that none has been used since.