HC Deb 30 June 1987 vol 118 cc65-7W
Sir Trevor Skeet

asked the Prime Minister what stage has now been reached in preparing a contingency plan to deal with the effects of any future nuclear accident overseas.

The Prime Minister

The main framework of the new contingency plan, to cater specifically for the consequences for this country of nuclear accidents outside the United Kingdom, is complete. Departments and organisations involved in implementing the plan are now preparing their own, complementary, individual contingency plans. Discussion of certain aspects with elected member representatives of the local authority associations will take place in the near future.

The main features of the new plan are:—

Central Government Arrangements

1 These are designed to carry out the following tasks:

  1. (a) Establish the hazard likely to be faced by this country;
  2. (b) Determine the measures required to protect and/or reassure the public;
  3. (c) Issue whatever specific directions or general information may be required;
  4. (d) Keep Parliament properly informed.

2. These tasks will be carried out under the auspices of the Department of the Environment (the lead Department) where a co-ordination centre will be established. Officials of Departments and organisations directly concerned will work in the co-ordination centre where assessments, based on monitoring information, will be co-ordinated, recommendations will be made on action to be taken and briefing material will be prepared for Parliament, Ministers and the public. Those Departments (including territorial departments), with statutory responsibilities, for example for health, agriculture, control of contaminated cargoes and so on, will thus be enabled to discharge them in the context of a co-ordinated response to the effects of an accident.

3. The Secretary of State for the Environment will answer in Parliament on all aspects of Government arrangements except those which are the specific departmental responsibility of other Ministers. Should a need arise the lead Department would seek support from the appropriate Cabinet committee, under arrangements made by the Cabinet Office.

Monitoring and Data Assessment

4. The whole country is to be covered be a network of monitoring stations based on existing facilities. The necessary equipment is already in place in some of these stations and will be installed in the others. Arrangements will be made to supplement the information obtained from these stations by deploying portable detectors, mobile sampling equipment and possibly aerial monitoring devices, as well as using information available from those hospitals, universities, local authorities and other organisations with monitoring facilities.

5. Data from all monitoring sources will be stored on a central data base facility (CDF) and be available to Departments and organisations responsible for making assessments. Commercial electronic mail (for example, BT Gold) telephone, telex and facsimile systems will be used to transmit monitoring information to the CDF. Assessments and advice based on them will be disseminated on appropriate channels, which will include the media, Viewdata systems (for example, CEEFAX and ORACLE) and departmental channels (for example, MAFF, DHSS, FCO and territorial Departments) for specific purposes, for example to permit Ministers to carry out their statutory responsibilities. Assessments and the advice based on them will also be stored on the CDF and interested organisations will be given access to them.

Public Information

6. During the period immediately following the Chernobyl accident extensive use was made by the public of departmental hot lines in London, Edinburgh and Cardiff. These facilities will be continued. In addition, information and advice will be routed to the public via local authorities, health authorities and the regional structure of the relevant central Government Departments. Further discussions will be held with local authority associations and others about practical aspects of implementing this part of the plan.

Public Protection

7. The considered conclusions of the expert authorities concerned, after a careful analysis of the Chernobyl experience and other relevant factors, is that an accident overseas, even to an installation on the French or Belgian coasts, would be most unlikely to produce effects in this country that would justify making specific contingency arrangements for evacuation, shelter or distribution of potassium iodate tablets. Arrangements will, however, be made to cover the following:

  1. (a)Treatment of those returning from affected areas overseas for effects of exposure to radiation — by Health Departments;
  2. (b)Possible contamination of food and water — by DOE, MAFF, Scottish, Welsh and Northern Ireland Offices;
  3. (c)Advice to United Kingdom citizens abroad or intending to travel — by FCO, DTI, D.Transport, MOD, DHSS, (together with ABTA and the media) as appropriate;
  4. (d)The import/export of contaminated goods — by DTI, DHSS, MAFF and territorial departments closely coordinated with arrangements being made under EC auspices.

Action will be co-ordinated as necessary under lead Department auspices.

Relationship with Plans liar an Accident inside the United Kingdom

8. Existing plans to cope with a nuclear accident inside the United Kingdom, relating to individual nuclear installations, which will remain the responsibilty of the Secretaries of State for Energy, Scotland, Defence or Transport as appropriate, have mostly been publicised in some detail in the areas to which they apply and in more general terms in the Health and Safety Executive publication "Emergency Plans for Civil Nuclear Installations". Any accident in this country would almost certainly require implementation of parts of this plan for example, activation of the monitoring network. There will therefore he close correlation between this plan and existing plans, which are currently under review.

Review Arrangements

9. The new plan will be kept under regular review. Arrangements will be made for appropriate exercises to practise the plan and, where necessary, improve it.