HL Deb 20 November 2000 vol 619 cc524-6

3.1 p.m.

Lord Winston asked Her Majesty's Government:

What is their policy on the management of nuclear waste.

Lord Whitty

My Lords, the Government's policy is that radioactive wastes should be managed in ways that protect, now and in the future, the safety of the public, the workforce and the environment. The UK Government and the devolved administrations are about to publish a consultation paper to set out detailed proposals. This will begin the process which will lead to the implementation of a radioactive waste management policy that is capable of commanding widespread support across the UK.

Lord Winston

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for that reply. Does the Minister accept that the need to research a suitable site, or sites, make option appraisals and commission and construct deep repositories, if that appears to be the most favourable solution, means that disposal will take at least 50 years? Does my noble friend agree that there is a need for urgency in decisions on this matter, given that we need to protect our children and our children's children?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, deep disposal was the preferred option in the report of the Select Committee, but other options will be covered in the consultation. As to timescale, the Select Committee indicated that it would take over 20 years to establish the policy and perhaps up to 50 years to implement. This is an extremely complex area with very long-term implications. It is important that all of those complexities are addressed, and the consultation paper will begin that process.

Baroness Platt of Writtle

My Lords, I am pleased to hear that a consultation paper is to be published, because the Select Committee made its recommendations a long time ago. As the Minister indicates, if we are to achieve the right solution for the future, the consultation period will be very long. Will the Government hasten to provide a Green Paper and a commission? Does the Minister agree that those building blocks need to be put in place as soon as possible if the consultation process is to succeed?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, this is a complex matter. The Government will shortly produce a consultation paper which will begin the process which the noble Baroness seeks.

Lord Ezra

My Lords, can the Minister confirm that the long delayed consultation paper will clearly indicate the various options, and their pros and cons, so that a decision after consultation can be reached once and for all and action taken?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, the consultation paper will be primarily about the way in which to reach conclusions and how to achieve the widest possible consensus on the options. Clearly, it will refer to the options but will not make recommendations. Considerable further work and input from all the parties will be required before we can be clear about the best options for what is a very long-term process.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

My Lords, bearing in mind the reported cost of £4 billion to decommission Dounreay, what is the estimated cost of decommissioning all nuclear establishments and managing the subsequent waste over a very long period of time?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, the cost of decommissioning and managing the waste thereafter depends on both the programme for decommissioning and the option adopted to manage the waste. I do not believe, therefore, that I can give my noble friend a clear answer, even if I sought further advice upon it. In any case, we are dealing with nuclear waste that already exists and is being produced by the current generation of nuclear power, irrespective of future decommissioning costs. We must find a solution for that as well as any additional costs caused by decommissioning.

Lord Burnham

My Lords, does the nuclear waste to which the noble Lord refers include the three nuclear submarines which Her Majesty's Government will make available to the rapid reaction force, otherwise known as the European army?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, I do not believe that the Question has much to do with a European army. I do not believe that we propose either a European army or navy. It is intended that the programme for managing nuclear waste should, as far as is compatible with national security, deal also with military nuclear waste.

Lord Berkeley

My Lords, can my noble friend tell the House how much nuclear waste is imported from other countries for reprocessing here? Does the Minister have any plans to reduce that nuclear waste, at least until we have a proper plan to dispose of our own?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, we do not import nuclear waste in the sense in which my noble friend puts it. We take fuel for reprocessing. In each of the contracts with other countries for reprocessing that fuel there is an option to return the waste so created to the country of origin. It is our policy that that option should be exercised.