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Nuclear Energy

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 7:51 pm on 13th May 1986.

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Photo of Mr Michael Forsyth Mr Michael Forsyth , Stirling 7:51 pm, 13th May 1986

The hon. Gentleman says that, but he is wrong. We are talking about the effects of electromagnetic radiation on people's health.

Apart from background radiation, the largest doses of radiation received by most people come in the form of medical applications, including X-rays. Workers in nuclear power receive larger doses than most of us. The right hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Stewart) said that we should concentrate on coal and that six deaths at Chernobyl are not the same as six deaths in the mines. He would do well to remember that, since 1975, there have been nine deaths in the nuclear industry—none of them because of radiation, and all of them conventional accidents—compared with 399 deaths in coal mining. If our worry is for workers' health, nuclear power wins hands down. If hon. Members are worried about exposure to radiation, they should turn their attention to British Airways, because aircraft crew are exposed to twice as much radiation as the rest of us on the ground.

If we consider the facts and statistics about the risk of premature death from accidents and cancer, we discover that, in deep-sea fishing, the figure is one in 400; in coal mining, it is one in 4,000; in construction, it is one in 5,000; the average for all employment is one in 20,000; and for radiation workers, the figure is one in 20,000. Nuclear workers are at less risk than workers in those other industries.

The Liberals wish to have it all ways. They tell us that they wish to decommission nuclear power stations. They should address their minds to the costs of doing that, because there are risks from other means of generation. We shall lose tremendous advantages if we give up nuclear power. Whatever the hon. Member for Gordon says, the French enjoy a 1 billion cost advantage over British industry because of their nuclear power, yet he continually tells the House that we should do more for our manufacturing base. We could hardly do more damage than by removing the opportunities to be competitive on energy.

Indeed, this Scottish Member had the cheek to come to the House and tell us that he wants to see the Magnox stations decommissioned, when in Scotland electricity is 25 per cent. less expensive that it would otherwise be, thanks to nuclear power. The Opposition made a great fuss about cold weather and heating allowances. The great benefit that Scotland enjoys is cheap electricity, and that is due to the investment that has been made in nuclear power. Pensioners in Scotland and the poor who are worried about their heating bills should know for certain that the Liberals and the Labour party will put up their fuel bills so that there would be more deaths from hypothermia and, indeed. in the coal mines and elsewhere.

If it is employment that hon. Members are worried about, they can explain to the people in the west of Scotland working for Babcock Power and Wear Pumps, who have 1,200 man-years of work riding on the other of a nuclear power station after Sizewell, why their jobs were lost because of the ideological opposition of those Members.

Those who seem to think it is possible to duck the question of disposal simply by saying that we will not have a nuclear power industry can also explain to the people in hospital and elsewhere who benefit from radiation treatment that there will be no place to dispose of the radionuclides in use. There is a tremendous gap between the public understanding of radioactive waste and the reality of the danger that it presents.

I commend to the House the excellent paper presented to us by the nuclear industry. It shows that the average surburban garden contains 4 lb of uranium and 13 lb of thorium and that the natural radioactivity that exists all round us presents a far greater threat than the low-level waste that we are discussing. Indeed, the idea that garden fertiliser containing radioactive potassium should have half the level of waste of what is exercising my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes (Mr. Brown) in itself shows the extent to which the debate has got out of hand.

The Select Committee states that it believes that no alpha-emitting low-level waste should be disposed of. I conclude by pointing out that in Scotland the granite chips to be found on everybody's drive emit alpha radiation containing long-life nuclides in the form of uranium. Opposition Members are saying here that in no way can we allow this sort of material to be buried in the soil, when in Scotland it is placed in drives to prevent motor cars from sinking into the soil. I believe that we need a debate in the country, but it must be a responsible one, based on rational choices and real information.