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Nuclear Waste

Volume 986: debated on Wednesday 18 June 1980

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asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will give details of research into the disposal of nuclear waste on or under the seabed being carried out by the United Kingdom either nationally or jointly with other countries.

As part of the programme for investigating the feasibility of disposal of high level radioactive waste on or under the ocean bed, my Department has commissioned research into identifying possible areas of the ocean that might be suitable for such disposal; studying the benthic boundary layer and the physical and chemical properties of ocean sediments; and assessing possible biological transfer mechanisms of radioactive materials between the ocean bed and the water surface. Estimated expenditure during 1980–81 is over £½ million.The Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has a continuing programme of oceanographie research concerned with developing a more detailed model of the North Atlantic for the purposes of assessing the effects of the current practice of dumping low level radioactive waste at sea; and with gaining further understanding of deep ocean processes and the behaviour of transuranic elements in the deep ocean.Regular meetings are held under the auspices of the Nuclear Energy Agency of the OECD to co-ordinate the national research programmes of the United Kingdom, the United States of America, Canada, France and Japan.

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what discussions have taken place between officers of his Department and the Atomic Energy Authority regarding the disposal of nuclear waste on or under the seabed.

My officials and those of my right hon. Friend the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food discuss with officials of the UKAEA—who are responsible for arranging the operations for the ocean dumping of low-level radioactive waste—matters associated with the granting of authorisations under the Radioactive Substances Act 1960 in accordance with international conventions and procedures. UKAEA officials also attend meetings concerned with the programme of research into the feasibility of disposing of higher level radioactive waste on or under the ocean bed.

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what action he plans to take as a result of the discussions at the first European conference on radioactive waste management and disposal : and if he will make a statement.

The conference was attended by representatives of several United Kingdom organisations, including the Department of the Environment, the Scottish Office, the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority and British Nuclear Fuels Limited. There was a useful exchange of views, primarily at the technical level.The purpose of the conference was to review the results of research which the Commission of the European Communities is financing; no action follows solely and directly as a result of the conference.