HL Deb 30 March 1995 vol 562 cc1710-2

3.27 p.m.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they will urgently investigate the Sunday Observer story of a suppressed scientific report that a second Chernobyl radiation explosion is imminent.

Lord Inglewood

My Lords, I am not aware that any report has been suppressed. The European Union is funding a feasibility study into options for stabilising the shelter over the destroyed Unit 4 reactor at Chernobyl. The findings of Phase 1 of the study were recently presented to a large audience of Ukrainian and western experts in Kiev, and press releases were issued. Nuclear safety at Chernobyl is a matter for the Ukrainian authorities. It is for them to decide what steps should be taken in the light of the report.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer. But is he aware that, although it may be a matter for the Ukrainian authorities, the consequences would spread far and wide beyond the Ukraine, including this country? Under those circumstances, will the Minister do as the Question suggests and investigate the article which appeared in the Observer that the report has been suppressed? Is it not worth at least looking into the matter, since a real danger exists if the report is even remotely true?

Lord Inglewood

My Lords, we have investigated the report in the Observer. As I described, a report was commissioned by the European Union into proposals for strengthening the existing sarcophagus at Chernobyl and building a new shelter around it. I understand that that report amounts to 2,000 pages and it has been presented, as I described, to the meeting in Kiev. It belongs to the European Commission and is confidential. Press releases were issued about it which led to the report to which the noble Lord referred.

Lord Peston

My Lords, it may be that I misunderstood the noble Lord's Answer. Is he aware that the one thing surely that Chernobyl taught us is that we all live on the same planet? If there is a further explosion and fall-out, we are one of the countries that will suffer. Will the noble Lord accept that we agree with him that the European Union has a central role to play? I am not concerned with the suppression of the report. But if there is a danger, does he accept that saying that it is a matter for the Ukrainian authorities in due course is a preposterous Answer? The Ukrainian authorities have nowhere near the money required to deal with the problem, if it exists. Surely this is at least a European Union matter; and it is almost certainly an international atomic energy matter. Should not the British Government be using all their good offices to see that something happens on an international scale, if for no other reason than we are ourselves at risk?

Lord Inglewood

My Lords, the noble Lord gets to the heart of the matter. That is why, at the G7 Naples summit, proposals for an action plan were taken forward which involve very considerable sums of western money, if the Ukrainians agree.

Lord Beloff

My Lords, will my noble friend join me in making an appeal to the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Putney, and certain other noble Lords opposite to stop reading the Sunday newspapers, which are full of reports, most of which are untrue?

Lord Inglewood

My Lords, I take only one Sunday newspaper—and that is normally one Sunday newspaper too many.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, bearing in mind what my noble friend Lord Jenkins said and what the Minister himself said, does the Minister not agree that at the very mention of Chernobyl millions of people in this country and throughout the British Commonwealth of Nations and the USA are of the opinion that, unless there is sensible and civilised collaboration among all countries, this terrible event could happen again on a much bigger scale? Are the Government prepared to hold talks with the United States, the British Commonwealth of Nations and other countries involved to see whether we can find some civilised way to make sure that such a dreadful event can never happen again?

Lord Inglewood

My Lords, as the noble Lord said, the name Chernobyl is inevitably associated with such disasters. It is the wish of all people in the world that such an event does not occur again. Action is being taken in all sorts of ways to try to achieve what the noble Lord refers to—for example, the action plan that I mentioned.

Lord Gisborough

My Lords, will my noble friend accept that there have been serious investigative reports indicating that a very large number of the ex-Soviet Union installations are thoroughly unsafe and that the prevailing risk is very severe and should not be taken lightly?

Lord Inglewood

My Lords, my noble friend is quite right. There are 13 other reactors similar to the type at Chernobyl that are currently operational in the former Soviet Union: 11 in Russia and two in Lithuania.