Rolls-Royce Nuclear Energy Services Ltd

– in the House of Lords at 11:00 am on 16th December 1999.

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Photo of Lord Methuen Lord Methuen Liberal Democrat 11:00 am, 16th December 1999

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. In doing so I declare an interest as a sometime member of Rolls-Royce and a pensioner of that company, though never in the nuclear division.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they are satisfied with the contingency plan to protect the public from the effects of radiation in the event of a major nuclear incident at the factory of Rolls-Royce Nuclear Energy Services Ltd at Raynesway, Derby.

Photo of Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Minister of State (Defence Procurement), Ministry of Defence

My Lords, Raynesway is a civil site operated by Rolls-Royce to produce fuel for nuclear submarines. It is subject to UK civil nuclear regulations which are among the most stringent in the world. It is inspected regularly by the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate, which is part of the Health and Safety Executive. The Government are satisfied that the NII would not allow operations at the Raynesway site to continue unless it was fully satisfied that there was no unacceptable risk to the workers on the site or the public.

Photo of Lord Methuen Lord Methuen Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I thank the Minister for her reply. However, is she aware of the extreme disquiet of local inhabitants about the siting of this plant in a largely residential area? Is she aware also that her colleague in the other place, Mr John Speller, said in a recent communication to Nick Clegg, MEP for East Midlands:

"Because there are no foreseeable off site circumstances of an accident at Raynesway, it has not been necessary to establish a public emergency plan".

In the light of the Tokaimura incident, which I know was a totally different process, does not the Minister feel that there should be such an emergency plan, because accidents can happen in spite of best endeavours?

Photo of Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Minister of State (Defence Procurement), Ministry of Defence

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Methuen, is referring to a good deal of press coverage which was generated after the Tokaimura incident. That occurred in October this year. The main thrust of the arguments put forward in the press at that time was that Rolls-Royce were keeping their activities secret and that local residents were at risk because they did not know what was going on. There are two points here. First, regular visits--around every six weeks or so--take place when the NII seeks to ensure that the establishment is safe. Secondly, there is nothing secretive about what is happening at the site. A local liaison committee is hosted by Rolls-Royce. It was established at the site to provide a means of liaising with the community in order to provide the sort of reassurance that the noble Lord feels is necessary. I agree that it is necessary, but the disquiet is not based on any real problem at the site itself.

Photo of Lord Jenkins of Putney Lord Jenkins of Putney Labour

My Lords, my noble friend told us that there are no "unacceptable" risks on this site. Can she now tell us what are the acceptable risks?

Photo of Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Minister of State (Defence Procurement), Ministry of Defence

My Lords, I regret to say that risk is part of our everyday experience. I dare say that all of us on our way to your Lordships' House today ran some risk or other just in relation to traffic. When we are dealing with enriched uranium, which is a dangerous material, there must of course be stringent controls. The controls that the United Kingdom has in place are among the most stringent in the world. There are regular inspections and I can assure your Lordships that there is no reason to believe that there is any undue risk either to the workers or to the residents around the site.