Project ISOLUS

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:30 pm on 6th January 2004.

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Photo of Alan Reid Alan Reid Opposition Whip (Commons) 3:30 pm, 6th January 2004

The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. I want to stress that I am not arguing against the presence of the existing nuclear base at Faslane or the royal naval armaments depot at Coulport. I was planning, as I developed my argument, to point out that Coulport does not act as a store for radioactive waste.

The 2002 inventory of radioactive waste published by Nirex lists only 1 cu m of radioactive waste having been produced at Coulport, whereas the proposal from Babcock would involve thousands of cubic metres of radioactive waste being stored in large sheds. Although nuclear submarines visit Coulport, and rearmament takes place there, there are not large stores of radioactive waste. This is a different proposal altogether. The building of such large sheds on the hillside and the storage of radioactive waste for long periods are cause for concern.

I do not see the argument for taking radioactive waste to a site that is not used as a store for radioactive waste. Managing radioactive waste and storing it safely involve problems. If the waste is to be moved, I would suggest that it should be moved to a site that has experience of managing large quantities of radioactive waste. It should not be taken to a new site. Coulport is on the edge of the new Loch Lomond and the Trossachs national park, where tourism is being encouraged. I do not think that constructing large sheds to store radioactive waste will encourage tourism in the area.

There was a very rowdy public meeting in the village of Strone as part of the consultation exercise. Babcock's representative was asked why the radioactive waste could not be stored safely at Rosyth, where the submarines would be broken up. One of the principles of the civil nuclear power programme is that the waste from civil nuclear power stations is stored on site. Storing at Rosyth would avoid the hazards of transporting the waste to Coulport. Babcock's answer was that the radioactive waste could not be stored at Rosyth. However, after further questioning, it appeared that "would not" was more accurate than "could not".

It certainly was my impression, and that of those at the meeting, that Babcock's view that the waste could not be stored at Rosyth was not based on any belief that storage there would be unsafe, or on a lack of storage capacity, but on the ground that the Government had already agreed with Babcock that the submarines and all the waste would be moved from Rosyth. I ask the Minister to let the House know whether an agreement between the Government and Babcock exists to the effect that the submarines and all the waste will be removed from Rosyth.

There are several possible solutions. One, in the intermediate term, is to continue with afloat storage. The No. 4 basin at Devonport would provide enough storage space until 2037. That would give more time to research a solution. Another option is to break up the submarines and store the reactor components intact at the sites where they are currently berthed. Another possibility is to break up the reactor components and either store the packaged waste at the sites where the submarines are berthed or transport the packaged waste to another site where radioactive waste is stored and managed. There could be other options. One that should be firmly ruled out is using sites where radioactive waste is not currently stored. That simply adds to the job of managing and guarding the radioactive waste.

By restricting the consultations to private sector schemes, the MOD will not necessarily find the best solution. The private sector is either wary of getting involved, as the experiences of the owners of the yards at Nigg and Ardyne Point demonstrated, or has its own agenda, such as in respect of Babcock and DML, which simply want the submarines and the waste away from their own yards. The Government should investigate and identify the safest and most environmentally friendly solution. The private sector could then be asked to implement the selected scheme.

Another important point is that the MOD should not act in isolation from the rest of the Government. The radioactive waste generated by the MOD is only a tiny fraction of the radioactive waste in the country, most of which comes from civil nuclear power stations. The ISOLUS exercise should not stand for isolation. The project should not be isolated from the civil decommissioning programme, but integrated in it. The recently published Energy Bill provides for the establishment of a national decommissioning authority. That authority will be the correct body to oversee the decommissioning of all nuclear waste in the country.

In conclusion, the way forward is for Project ISOLUS to be taken over by the new NDA. MOD waste should be disposed of as part of a national strategy, not dealt with by the MOD in isolation.