HC Deb 24 February 1948 vol 447 cc327-9W
Major Beamish

asked the Minister of Supply what arrangements have been made for the disposal of the outflow from the cooling plant of the Atomic Energy Development Station at Didcot; and whether he is satisfied with these arrangements.

Mr. G. R. Strauss

Thorough precautions are being taken by the Ministry of Supply to ensure that the Thames water used at the Atomic Energy Research Establishment at Harwell is returned to the river free from risk of harmful radioactivity. These precautions are being adopted after close consultation between its own experts and experts of the Ministry of Health, the Metropolitan Water Board and the Thames Conservancy, and on the advice of the Medical Research Council's Research Committee on the Medical and Biological Applications of Nuclear Physics.

A certain amount of radioactivity in drinking water can be tolerated by human beings, and the tolerance laid down by the Medical Research Council for the Thames water are such that the medical and biological effects due to the consumption of water during the life span of human beings would be for all practical purposes negligible.

Roughly one million gallons of water a day will be involved. The greater part will be used for the cooling of plant and ordinary domestic requirements at the Establishment. The remainder of the water will be used for research processes, some of them radioactive, and a carefully controlled separate water system will be installed to deal with it. The most highly active portion will be segregated and will not be returned to the river. The rest of the process will be delivered to storage tanks where it will be tested by Medical Officers for compliance with the agreed tolerances, treated for chemical impurities and then mixed with the domestic waste water before being discharged into the pipe which takes it back to the Thames at Sutton Courtenay.

The system of treatment and examination has been designed so that several operations have to be carried out before the water actually passes into the six mile discharge pipe. Moreover, a new weir is being constructed at the point of discharge into the Thames, and the Harwell water will thus be turbulently mixed with much greater quantities of river water immediately it joins the main stream.

These safeguards have received the approval of the Ministry of Health. The Thames Conservancy have decided to raise no objection to the proposals, so far as their interests are concerned, in view of the safeguards agreed upon and having regard to the assurances they have received from the Ministries concerned. By arrangement with the Ministry of Supply, the Thames Conservancy will be able to have samples taken at regular intervals for test purposes. The Ministry of Supply is providing facilities for testing samples taken at a small riverside laboratory where Ministry of Supply scientists will themselves take sample tests and assist the Thames Conservancy in theirs.

The answer to the last part of the question is "Yes."