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Nuclear Energy

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 8:42 pm on 13th May 1986.

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Photo of Austin Mitchell Austin Mitchell Chair, Treasury & Civil Service Sub-Committee 8:42 pm, 13th May 1986

I shall concentrate on the central issue of the debate, which is nuclear waste disposal. The spine of the debate seems to be a commitment by the Government to get waste disposal dumps under way, preferably cheaply, and certainly as quickly as possible.

The Government seem committed to that because they see it as a prelude, first to the expansion of the reprocessing industry, as if it were Britain's destiny to act as the nuclear laundry for the rest of the world, and, secondly, to an expansion of the nuclear programme. The Government see the problem of nuclear waste as a bottleneck delaying both expansions. There is no need for that impetuous commitment. The waste can be stored and Drigg is not full and has many years of service to come. The CEGB will do whatever it is told regarding storage. There is no need for this rush, but the Government are committed to it.

The Environment Select Committee has shown clearly what is wrong. Theirs is the first considered strategy with an intellectual base of research which has been presented to us. It is the first basic rethink on dumping and reprocessing. In Committeespeak, which is always fairly guarded, a strong case has been made out against both. The two are closely interconnected, whatever Ministers may say, because reprocessing produces 70 per cent. or more of the low-level waste involved. I have received confused answers from the Department of the Environment. One states that waste and reprocessed material will be placed in the dumps, and another states that they will not be, yet the answers were only six weeks apart. The two problems are interconnected.

The Select Committee's report is so good that it certainly should have been considered before any special development order on nuclear dumping sites is laid. It would be unforgivable to put the SDO first. Yet the Government are, in effect, doing just that. This is an inadequate half-baked reply to the report. We should be dealing with the report as a whole today, not merely with the little bits to which the Government have chosen to reply. The report hangs together as a whole and presents a considered new approach to the Government's strategy.

The Government, by replying to the report in bits, are changing their justifications for their nuclear waste programme, which is to continue. They are more apologetic about it, but it must continue. They make sympathetic noises about Chernobyl, but they are to soldier on with their commitment as if nothing had happened.

The Government's reply deals with only 13 of the 43 recommendations, and three of those recommendations are dealt with by half-baked responses, such as that "serious consideration should he given" to the matter. Only one recommendation has been accepted: to exclude intermediate-level waste from trench dumpings. The Government have ignored the recommendations on deep geological disposal, on dose limitations for the public, which I would have thought was central to the location and nature of the dumps, on reprocessing, on institutional responsibility, on co-ordination, on transport, on research and development and on the public.

To ignore all that is to produce a silly, shabby strategy which does not interfere with the Government's onward rush to nuclear dumping. It has led to an inadequate reply, and a messy debate tonight, because we have been mixing Chernobyl and Killingholme, CND and questions about the Select Committee's report, as if they were all one great glorious mess. The Government, backed by a three-line Whip, will refuse to change and smuggle through their rejection of what the Select Committee recommends them to do. The Government have treated the Select Committee with contempt. Their real concern is to get on with the special development order.