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Foreign Nuclear Power Reactors

Volume 116: debated on Monday 11 May 1987

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3.

asked the Secretary of State for Energy what information he has as to how many foreign nuclear power reactors are at approximately the same distance as or nearer to the United Kingdom than, Chernobyl.

The publicly available figures on the siting of power reactors show that there are some 185 civil power reactors in operation or under construction at approximately the same or a nearer distance to the United Kingdom than Chernobyl.

Even if we did not have the highest standards of design, construction and safety in our British nuclear power stations, does not my hon. Friend's reply underline the absurdity of Britain having any policy either of standstill in nuclear power development or, even more absurd, of getting rid of such power stations? Is not the real lesson from Chernobyl that there must be the highest enforceable international standards of safety, inspection and exchange of information in all matters nuclear?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. This country has welcomed and signed the two new conventions on early notification and mutual assistance. The International Atomic Energy Agency is considering a number of proposals for international co-operation, some of them put forward by my right hon. Friend. We are fully committed to that work.

Is the Secretary of State aware that the chief inspector for nuclear installations told the Energy Select Committee last week that he did not have sufficient staff to enable him to liaise with his European counterparts? He also informed the Committee that, because of that shortage, various serious situations have been created at Sellafield which could have led to serious accidents. What are the Minister's views on that?

With the greatest possible respect, the hon. Gentleman has not quite accurately recounted what the chief inspector of nuclear installations said. The NII has always been able to carry its essential statutory function. The Government are determined that the NII should be adequately staffed by suitably qualified people. The inspectors were awarded a special pay increase of £3,500 last September. Salaries have been increased further to achieve the Government's determination to have 120 inspectors by April next year.

Is my hon. Friend aware that I support the remarks of the hon. Member for Pontefract and Castleford (Mr. Lofthouse)? I support nuclear power, but we can have it only if we are certain that there is adequate safety monitoring? Will my hon. Friend think again about his reply to the hon. Member for Pontefract and Castleford, because at the Energy Select Committee last week it was said that there was difficulty in recruiting people of the right calibre for the NII?

With respect, the remarks of the chief nuclear installations inspector to which my hon. Friend refers may have been made in ignorance of the further increases of pay that I have just announced.

Does the Minister agree that Mr. Ryder's comments to the Select Committee are important and that the Government should make a public response to Mr. Ryder's allegations?

I have no doubt that when the Select Committee's report appears a response will be forthcoming in the usual way.