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Nuclear Energy

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 7:08 pm on 13th May 1986.

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Photo of Frank Cook Frank Cook , Stockton North 7:08 pm, 13th May 1986

We have heard several expressions of sympathy for the Soviet peoples tonight, and I associate myself with such comments. However, I remind the House that when we make reference to Chernobyl, we do not make reference to a Russian problem. In fact, we make reference to a global problem. We cannot afford to be parochial about these matters.

As we discuss these matters, the House should bear in mind that, when the Secretary of State for the Environment talks about trivial accidents within the British industry, he seems to be implying that, because these accidents are minor, they carry low risk. Nothing could be further from the truth. One is not synonymous with the other.

I could discuss many aspects of these issues, but in the short time available I must confine myself to information and regulation.

We have been told that the information given as a result of Chernobyl was full, frank, open and free. In fact, the full information that it is claimed was given came in a report based on a scant sampling in minuscule, almost illegible handwriting.

I would dispute that the information was frank. We were told that a similar design to the Chernobyl reactor was rejected in Britain on safety grounds. That, quite honestly, is less than honest. The design that was rejected in Britain was rejected on the grounds of lack of efficiency and economy. To suggest anything else would be untrue.

The comparison with jumbo jet accidents and the incidence of hazards from smoking is, once again, misleading. Those accidents and smoking hazards strike only at the existing generation. When we discuss radioactive elements we discuss issues that strike at subsequent generations. They strike at creation itself. They have the propensity to turn back the very clock of creation and evolution.

Let me give two quotations to show how open has been the information that we have been given. First: It would have been a precaution to have kept children inside on Saturday when it rained … But that is in retrospect. Try not to put that statement out because people could he frightened by it. That was a statement by the National Radiological Protection Board to a member of the media and can be substantiated.

Secondly: We don't have the policy of divulging area breakdowns of the radiation figures for milk … The tendency would be for members of the public to buy their milk from areas with a less radioactive level and that would be no good for the milk suppliers. That is a quote from the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to the same member of the media. In other words, what it is really saying is that profits matter, people do not.

At the time that the Government were criticising the Soviet Government for their inability to release information relating to the possible exposure of British subjects to radiation, they were refusing information about the possibility of British subjects consuming the same damned stuff in irradiated food.

When we talked about the kind of things that govern regulations, let us remember that it is already acknowledged that those regulations are based upon data which are already flawed, so much so that we have had to return to the database supplied by Hiroshima and Nagasaki in order to examine it with the more sophisticated and recent developments in data analysis.

We are told that our standards equate to international standards. That is another misleading piece of information. The legally enforceable limit in Britain for the ordinary member of the public is 5 mSv per year. The international standards of acceptability—not safety, note—is 1 mSv per year. In Western Germany it is 0·3 mSv per year. In the United States it is 0·25 mSv per year.

If one concentrates on those figures and develops them, they mean that the Americans are 20 times safer than we are, the West Germans are 17 times safer and anywhere else in the world which accepts international standards is five times safer.