HC Deb 28 July 1983 vol 46 cc522-3W
Dr. Blackburn

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment whether it is the Government's policy that the United Kingdom should continue to dispose of low level radioactive waste at sea.

Mr. Waldegrave

Yes. Disposal at sea of low-level wastes from laboratories, medical uses and other sources is a part of the Government's comprehensive policies for waste management. In international law such disposal is permissible under the London dumping convention if a licence is issued by the national Government. A site in the Atlantic, and detailed procedures, have been recommended by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, and the OECD nuclear energy agency appoints an observer from another country to accompany such operations. The NEA also issues guidelines on packaging, which currently takes the form of concrete.

The United Kingdom's use of this method is supported by extensive scientific evidence collected over many years and summarised in the NEA review of the site published in 1980. As recently as May, a special group of experts from a number of countries convened by NEA at the request of the Spanish Government confirmed that the 1980 review remains valid. In waste management generally the government receives authoritative independent advice from the Radioactive Waste Management Advisory Committee under the chairmanship of Sir Denys Wilkinson FRS. The committee's fourth report, published in June, after considering the views expressed about this method of disposal in reports commissioned or circulated by the pressure group Greenpeace, concluded that there is in fact no evidence that present practices are harmful, and that it is proper for the United Kingdom to continue to use them.

Great care has therefore been taken to confirm the environmental acceptability of this method, and in February the United Kingdom took the initiative in obtaining a further scrutiny of the scientific evidence within the London dumping convention. Although a resolution was subsequently passed by the LDC consultative meeting calling for suspension of dumping pending the outcome of this scrutiny, that resolution does not have any legal force and was not based on scientific evidence.

The organisation of disposal operations is the responsibility of the nuclear industry radioactive waste executive, working where appropriate through the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority. However, there is also a clear national interest in ensuring that difficulties are overcome, waste management policies are carried out, and safe and appropriate disposal facilities remain available.

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