I recognise that, because of the widespread concern caused by the disaster in Russia. it has been necessary to widen the debate beyond a consideration of the interim response by the Government to those parts of the report on radioactive waste by the Select Committee on the Environment that are relevant to the development of near-surface facilities for the disposal of radioactive waste.
Although the amendments that were tabled in my name to protect the position of the Committee have not been accepted, I am grateful to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment for his assurance that the motion does not pre-empt a considered reply and discussion of those parts of the report that remain unanswered, in particular the vital questions that we have raised concerning the reprocessing of spent nuclear fuels.
In view of the large number of right hon. and hon. Members who wish to take part in the debate, I shall seek to confine my remarks to the Committee's report and the Government response. However, I cannot let this moment pass without expressing a personal deep feeling of sympathy, which I am sure is shared by Members in all parts of the House, for those individual Russian men, women and children who are directly facing the horrifying consequence of the nuclear failure at Chernobyl. It is something that we do not wish to see happen again anywhere in the world, and above all not in our country.
When harnessing the forces of nature for its own benefit, mankind has always placed itself at risk. If there is carelessness, if accidents happen, human tragedy inevitably follows. In the handling of the energies of the atom, the significance lies in the magnitude of the possible catastrophe and the lasting effects, possibly for generations. It is this thought that underlines the report of the Committee. If the greatest possible care is not taken in handling the waste products of nuclear energy, these could pollute the human environment and place succeeding generations at risk for literally thousands of years.
Our recommendations underline the need for the strictest possible classification of waste in accordance with its radioactive and toxic qualities, and the actual disposal route of all radioactive waste must then follow according to its classification. Thus, a main recommendation is that near-surface disposal facilities should be used only for low-level waste, with a half-life of 30 years or less, containing no alpha-bearing particles, and particularly no toxic radionuclides. If this classification is followed and there is the strictest monitoring and sorting of waste before disposal, the Committee sees no risk in near-surface depositories that are properly engineered for maximum containment.
This is particularly relevant to the four sites chosen by NIREX for exploratory purposes. I am delighted that the Government have accepted the Committee's recommendation that near-surface facilities should not be used for intermediate-level waste, even though the industry itself and its scientists are of the view that short-lived intermediate-level waste is safe in properly engineered depositories.
However, as hon. Members will have heard, from the county councils of Bedfordshire, Humberside and Lincolnshire—