Skip to main content

Radioactive Waste Disposal

Volume 124: debated on Tuesday 8 December 1987

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

11.8 pm

We are very grateful, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for this opportunity to air a matter of considerable concern to the residents of Gwynedd and elsewhere. I am referring to the proposals by Nirex for the disposal of low — and intermediate-level radioactive waste. It is a matter of particular relevance to my two colleagues and me who, as Gwynedd Members, must live with a continuing nuclear dimension. We must face several questions that arise: the safety of existing nucler power stations, of which we have two in our own county; the implications of eventual decommissioning, should that occur, or, alternatively, the implications of new reactors; the dangers of pollution in the Irish sea, a sea that is, they say, the most radioactive in the world; and the effect of raidoactivity on agriculture, and we are the county that still lives under the cloud of Chernobyl, with so many farmers still suffering from its effects on their sheep flocks.

The question of the disposal of nuclear waste has recently come to the fore. It is a matter of concern to my hon. Friends in the Scottish National party and to Scottish Labour members. The possible disposal of nuclear waste in north-east Scotland in particular, and in the islands, was highlighted in the most recent Nirex report. That is why all six Plaid Cymru and SNP Members put in for this debate.

I have a constituency interest in this issue, although from the original Nirex map the position could easily have been misunderstood. The only area in Wales that is identified on the map—it is on page 25 of its document, "The Way Forward" — as a possible area for the disposal of nuclear waste is Ynys Môn, the Isle of Anglesey. It was not until my hon. Friend the Member for Ynys Môn (Mr. Jones) received a letter dated 25 November from Mr. P. T. McInerney, the managing director of United Kingdom Nirex Ltd., that it became apparent that the map should have contained a part of the Gwynedd mainland on the Lleyn peninsula. As my constituents have become aware of this threat they have understandably demonstrated their strong feelings about it, as have those in Ynys Môn. At a meeting in Llangefni several hundred people voiced their opposition to the possibility of nuclear waste being dumped on the island. It is a matter on which people understandably feel very strongly.

On the first page of its consultation document Nirex says:
"The Government is responsible for the national strategy for the management of all readioactive waste. The task of UK Nirex Ltd. is to implement Government strategy."
I am glad that we have been able to raise this matter and ask the Government to respond to it.

This is a matter of concern to me, not only from a constituency point of view, but as someone who, before entering the House, was fortunate to take a physics degree at Manchester university when Professor Flowers was the professor of physics there. In the 1960s I worked for a short period on the construction of Trawsfynydd power station. At that time people felt that although we may not have known all the answers, the march of science and technology would resolve the problems in due course; that even if at that time we did not know what to do with nuclear waste, something would be worked out in due course; and that even if we did not know at that time how to decommission a nuclear power station, something would be worked out in due course.

The reality is that that has not happened. Some 25 years later we still do not know the answers to those problems. That is what causes me, as a one-time scientist, to start doubting whether we should be marching on with nuclear technology before we have worked out the answers to those questions. Perhaps we should stop proliferating the environmental threats and stop diversifying the types of nuclear installations. At the least, until there are answers to these questions, we should stand still on these matters. If satisfactory answers are not forthcoming, the nuclear programme must inevitably be reconsidered.

Responsibility for nuclear waste rests with the Government, as they dictate nuclear strategy to Nirex. We must ask, in the context of Wales, who is responsible for policy on the disposal of nuclear waste in Wales? Environmental decisions have been devolved to the Welsh Office. Therefore, one would expect it to have responsibility for their issues. We know that the Department of the Environment is taking the lead in London, but does the Scottish Office have responsibility for Scotland? Does the Department of Energy have a major say in these decisions? In this short debate we ought to have some answers to that question from whichever Minister replies. It looks as if it will be the Minister with responsibility for sport, which casts an intriguing light on the question of ministerial responsibility for this important matter.

We also want to know the role of local authorities in such questions. District councils have a responsibility for environmental health and for refuse disposal. Are they to be totally ignored when it comes to decisions on the disposal of nuclear waste? County councils have a broad planning responsibility. To a large extent they are responsible for road transport, which is significantly involved in the disposal of nuclear waste. They are also responsible for emergencies within their areas, but are they to be overruled? Is public opinion to be overruled? Will decisions to be taken centrally in the interest of the Government, Nirex and the nuclear industry, even though that may cut across the interests of the people and the communities that the councils serve?

In the introductory chapter of its document "The Way Forward" Nirex says:
"Nirex, in considering its design and location must take into account many factors; the most important of these are safety, technical feasibility and public acceptability."
Public acceptability must be fundamental to any decisions that are taken, otherwise we will go down an unacceptable road. Any proposals for disposing of nuclear waste must take that on board.

No convincing reasons have so far been given by the Government and Nirex as to why they abandoned plans for a near-surface disposal site for low-level waste at Bradwell, Elstow, Fulbeck and South Killingholme. The decision was described by "Plaintalk", Nirex's newsletter, as a "shock decision" and a "surprise decision." The same issue of "Plaintalk" gave two reasons for the change in "economic costings", which allegedly led to the decision: first, a technical reason, that more money was needed for research on such sites; and, secondly, that there had been a "change in public perception", which had
"dramatically increased the projected unit cost for disposing of low-level waste in such a facility."
Surely, if research needs to be undertaken on the options open to us, funds must be made available. Surely they should have been made available before now. When making his statement on 1 May the Secretary of State reiterated his belief that shallow disposal sites are safe. If that is his true belief and the change of course outlined in the statement was not merely an electoral ploy, it is scandalous that a lack of funds for research caused that option to be put on one side. It is the lack of research that leads to the greatest apprehension over the plans of the Government and Nirex for waste disposal, especially deep-site disposal.

As recently as 1985–86 the Select Committee on the Environment stated:
"There is no proper research programme in the United Kingdom for deep geological disposal."
As long ago as 1976 the Flowers report said:
"The United Kingdom now seems conspicuously backward among nations with significant nuclear programmes in its consideration and funding of studies relating to geological disposal of radioactive waste."
In 1986 the Select Committee on the Environment reiterated the story, adding:
"All that we have seen confirms that impression, save that we are now nearly 10 years further behind."

I was a member of that Select Committee. The hon. Gentleman's quotations refer to the fact that in 1979 the Government cancelled site specific research into deep geological disposal of high-level nuclear waste. No research is being done on that. However, the Nirex proposals are nothing to do with high-level nuclear waste. They are to do with low-level and intermediate-level nuclear waste.

Indeed. There is, nevertheless, a need for research to give us surety of what is scientifically right. If we have confidence in research work, the public are more likely to accept programmes that are put forward. Uncertainty leads to apprehension.

We have heard nothing that suggests that the Government have done anything during the past year to put more emphasis on research—certainly not enough to allow Nirex to go ahead with commissioning a deep disposal site.

A change in public perception was the second ground given by Nirex for abandoning the Bradwell, Fulbeck, South Killingholme and Elstow sites. The Government admitted in their discussion document that public acceptance of their plans was a major factor. Coming from the Minister just before a general election, that was hard for even the least cynical to swallow. Nirex and the Government will find the people of Wales and Ynys Môn no less resolute in their opposition to such plans than the people of Essex. I am sure that the same is true for Scotland.

Ours is not a hysterical response to anything concerned with the nuclear industry. The people of Gwynedd have lived with Wales' two nuclear reactors for many years. With regard to the Elstow site, the Environment Select Committee conceded to Bedfordshire county council:
"feelings run high and such feeling is based on reasonable scientific doubt."
The Committee's report should be given due weight. The state of Britain's research is basic, and that alone is enough to justify people's fears. We are talking about a problem that we shall bequeath to generations for thousands of years. As is suggested in the Nirex report, radioactive waste will be a hazard for centuries.

As the hon. Gentleman is a physicist, would he like to give a percentage risk factor for low-level waste so that his constituents and others in the rest of the Celtic fringe may be aware of the risk?

I shall come to that later. The hon. Gentleman's constituency is in one of the areas highlighted by Nirex. Many of us will be relieved if he is telling his constituents that he welcomes the possibility of low-level nuclear waste being deposited there.

People's perception of risk was minimised before the Chernobyl disaster, which led to a traumatic time for farmers in Gwynedd. They do not want their nuclear problem to be aggravated by the dumping of nuclear waste. They know about the effects of radiation on the life cycle, and that they can be serious. They know that if nuclear waste is dumped underground there is always a danger of water seeping into the dump and waste getting into the food chain. The rocks in Gwynedd are said to be stable, but only three years ago we had a major earthquake. There were several tremors and some public buildings, such as chapels, had to be demolished because of the damage sustained. Water mains were broken. How can we be confident that such things will not occur in the 10,000 years of which the Nirex document speaks? It is difficult to quantify risk. All we know is that nuclear accidents are much more serious than any others. That is why we must be so careful when dealing with this matter. Nirex is now involved in a series of desk studies. On page 11, headed "Site Selection", it says:
"Drawing upon the experience of previous field investigations and hydrogeological surveys, a desk study was carried out … the five geological environments were ranked in order of preference. The first three, with simple and consequently more predictable hydrogeological structures, were grouped together as the preferred group as follows; Hard rocks in low relief terrain; Small islands; and Seaward dipping and offshore sediments".
It goes on:
"Areas identified in the first of the above environments are on the Scottish mainland, some of the islands off the west coast of Scotland, and small parts of Wales, including Anglesey. The small islands comprise over one hundred islands around Britain, most of them off the west coast of Scotland and in the Shetlands and Orkney Islands."
I should be grateful if the Minister would clarify exactly what areas of Wales are included. Apart from the Isle of Anglesey, is Ynys Enlli—Bardsey Island—still in? It was named last year, but it appears not to be in there now, unless it is in the generic group of those islands around the coasts of Britain. Which communities are being affected? The definition in the letter to which I referred from Nirex does not, by a long chalk, spell out which areas are being affected.

There is a need to warn that if any further geological exploration takes place the farmers in these areas, as in the Dyfed valley when it was threatened a short while ago, will physically try to restrain any attempts to undertake geological exploration. That is sad, because much bona fide geological work will be hampered, and that will be the result of Nirex's work in the disposal of nuclear waste.

There are other implications. For example, road transport in many parts of north Wales, and, I believe, in parts of Scotland, is appalling. In areas such as Gwynedd in summer the roads are chock-a-block with tourists. Only a couple of years ago there was a sign on the Menai bridge, which affected many of the constituents of the hon. Member for Wirral. South (Mr. Porter), saying that Anglesey was full and had no room for any more cars. That is a measure of the road problems of that area. To think that we might have armoured convoys with lethal radioactive rubbish on such roads—[Interruption.] Well, if the waste is not to be in armoured convoys, but in any lorry or van, that raises serious questions for the public. Equally, if carried by air, rail or sea there will be problems. Most of the areas do not have a rail service that lends itself to such matters.

I want to deal now with the points highlighted by Nirex under the heading "Public Discussion of the Issues". It says:
"There is little doubt that any development of this magnitude will have a substantial impact on the local community".
It can say that again. It goes on:
"Because of this, there is a need for open discussion and feedback from a wide audience."
I hope that tonight we shall be part of that.

Let me pick up some of the points that Nirex highlights in its questions. It asks:
"which factors should be taken into account in selecting a site? Nirex is studying safety, waste transport, population density, environmental issues, constructability and costs."
Why is population density an important consideration? If the material is as safe as some hon. Members tonight would have us believe, that question does not enter into it. If it is not safe, why should the sparser areas have to face the consequences of the dangers that may exist? We and Nirex must face that question.

Is my hon. Friend aware that in Nirex's document "The Way Forward" a map recording population density in Scotland missed out Glasgow, the central belt area and Aberdeen, showing only the Edinburgh and Lothian area as having a high population? Does that not give cause for serious concern when one considers other analyses?

Because of some of the things that have been left off maps by Nirex, it clearly has some geographical, if not geological problems.

If the issue of density of population is a valid consideration, that must be faced, and if it is — my goodness—it is telling us that the more remote parts of north-west Wales, north-east Scotland and the islands are remote enough to live with that problem, whereas Finchley, Birmingham, Manchester or wherever are not.

Indeed, or Dulwich, as my hon. Friend has said.

The next question asked by Nirex is:
"what weight should be given to the view of neighbouring countries when considering sub-seabed disposal?"
I draw the attention of the House to the strong feelings that have been expressed by the Government of the Irish Republic on radioactivity in the Irish sea. The present Irish Government, like their predecessors, have made direct representations to the British Government about that.

Nirex also asked:
"should particular areas of high amenity value, such as National Parks, be eliminated from the start?"
That is a fair question, as the Lleyn peninsula, which has just been added to the Nirex list, has been designated in the past few weeks by the Secretary of State for the Environment as an area of outstanding natural beauty and one that is environmentally sensitive. It would appear that one hand is not working with the other on this matter.

Perhaps the most important question to be asked by Nirex is:
"should an adequate site which enjoys local support be preffered to a superior site which does not?"
That is a most important question, to which it is worth giving a little attention. If the need is to identify a basic number of sites that are acceptable, I suspect that if any one site is acceptable probably a few dozen other sites are also acceptable, and if within those few dozen sites there are some at which the local community is willing to have the facilities, such as the Wirral, as the hon. Member for Wirral, South suggested, or even more so in the Sellafield area, why on earth put other areas through trauma, uncertainty and campaigning? When one considers the Sellafield area, with all its expertise, and where, according to the apparently sound maps, there is the appropriate geology and the people are said to want the waste to be deposited there, why are we going through this exercise? Could it not be sorted out in that locality?

This issue is causing concern in an area where the nuclear question has been a problem for a long time. The Central Electricity Generating Board is considering building nuclear power stations in Gwynedd. Without any doubt, what is causing the CEGB the greatest difficulty is the additional uncertainty that is being created by Nirex. Such matters need to be sorted out quickly. If the Government could come to a rapid conclusion because a general election was imminent, they could come to an equally rapid conclusion now and save the worry that faces communities such as my own and let the facility go to those areas which are, clearly, keen to have it.

11.32 pm

I rise to speak on this matter because, as you will be aware, Mr. Deputy Speaker, areas of Scotland have been judged by UK Nirex Ltd. to be suitable for the depositing of low-level nuclear waste. There is no doubt that, as long as we have nuclear power and nuclear power stations and enjoy the benefits of cheap nuclear fuel, we must accept the downside, which is that there will be waste of some kind from the processing in those units and that that must be disposed of.

I suggest to my hon. Friend the Minister that the best way to find answers is with openness, frankness and a degree of sensitivity. I draw his attention to the fact that there is much scaremongering about the problem. Indeed, during the last week of the general election campaign in my constituency, the Scottish National party distributed leaflets stating that the Sunday Post, a well-known Sunday newspaper in Scotland, was the authority that had stated that nuclear waste would be dumped in Sheihalliom, which is in an environmentally sensitive area in Breadalbane. Naturally, if there had been any substance or truth in the matter, it would have been a cause of considerable concern.

In May, the information regarding the possible location of nuclear waste in Sheihalliom was released to the Sunday Post by the Scottish National party candidate for Western Isles. The Sunday Post printed the story. The leaflet was then taken from the story in the Sunday Post, and innocently, or possibly deliberately, it mistook the date on which the Sunday Post had printed the story. The wrong date was put on the leaflet. Therefore, at the time it was not possible to check accurately. However, the Western Isles SNP candidate released the story in May.

I am trying hard to follow the hon. Gentleman's argument. Am I right in thinking that he is leading up to saying that he will welcome nuclear waste in Tayside, North? The Nirex map that has been referred to shows Tayside, North and regions near it painted in colours that show that they are first preferences for nuclear waste disposal. Would the hon. Gentleman welcome a nuclear waste depository in his constituency?

If the hon. Gentleman had been patient, he would have heard what I was about to say. I am drawing attention to the unnecessary scaremongering that has gone on and the deliberate attempts to use Goebbels-type tactics. Stories have been invented, and a newspaper has picked them up from a source at the Scottish National party. The newspaper was shown to be the authority for such stories. That is the type of thing that we expect from nationalists of some kind or another, but, I had hoped, not from the Scottish nationalists. It seems that my hopes have been destroyed. The Scottish nationalists were pursuing the type of nationalist policies that Goebbels practised before the war. In other words, they invented stories and then told the public that they were true.

One is dealing with a sensitive matter relating to nuclear waste and areas such as Sheihalliom and Breadalbane, which the Government have declared to be environmentally sensitive. Opposition Members do not realise that the highland fault lies close to the areas that we are discussing. Anyone who assumes that one may dump anything close to the highland fault has made little attempt to study the geographical history of Scotland.

I ask my hon. Friend the Minister to beware of news invention. It gets people upset and terribly worried. It means also that large areas of the country are faced with scaremongering that has no relevance to the truth. The truth is that, as long as we have nuclear power stations, satisfactory measures for the disposal of nuclear waste will have to be found.

When Opposition Members bob up and down, I can only say to them how delighted I was to note that, when the truth emerged, it did not show that Breadalbane and Sheihalliom were areas in which nuclear waste might be dumped. The areas that were considered to be suitable were in constituencies for which Scottish National party Members are now the sitting Members. That is a satisfactory way in which to resolve the problem of the Goebbels-type stories that came out during the general election. Indeed, Scottish National party Members have been hoist on their own petards. There is no question about that.

I shall give way to the hon. Lady in a minute.

I hope that, when he replies to the debate, my hon. Friend the Minister will bear in mind that the SNP put out such stories. Now that the chickens have come home to roost, Scottish National party Members do not like it.

I am glad that, having made his comments, the hon. Gentleman has finally decided to give way. Having for posterity now inevitably dubbed himself as the "Dot Bill" of the Sunday Post, will he answer the question that was asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond)? Would he welcome nuclear waste within his constituency? Am I right in interpreting his latter remarks to mean that he would regard it as a suitable punishment for people who vote SNP to have nuclear waste in their constituencies?

The hon. Lady made that statement, not me. I hope that those who read Hansard will realise that I did not say that, but that the Scottish National party had been hoist on their own petard. They raised the issue of nuclear dumping, and raised it in my constituency with a leaflet that came out in the last week of the election. I called it the Scottish National party fairy tale leaflet and I warned the people of Scotland to beware of Scottish National party fairy tales.

There is no question but that at the next general election all their other fairy tales will be exposed equally. If the hon. Lady thinks that I am ashamed that the Sunday Post or anyone else might think that I am linked to them in some way, I remind the hon. Lady that D. C. Thomson and Co. Ltd. prints the Sunday Post, and I was born in Dundee and I am very proud that the Sunday Post and the Dundee Courier originated from Dundee, as I did. I shall not be in the least ashamed to be linked to the Sunday Post.

11.41 pm

I wish to join the hon. Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley) and support the many excellent points that he made, especially in relation to the irrelevance of population density. He was right to say that if a deep disposal site is safe, then density of population should not come into the issue.

I also join the hon. Gentleman in his more general observations, as I understand them, and his opposition in principle to the deep disposal of radioactive waste. 1 do not believe that technical knowledge is adequate yet for this solution to the problem. We cannot safely and with peace of mind abandon radioactive waste in deep disposal facilities, where it would be difficult to monitor, treat and retrieve if something should go wrong.

I disagree profoundly with the entire premise of the Nirex proposals in its discussion document "The Way Forward". The document says on page 5 that the impetus behind the proposals is the
"recognised need, reflected in Government policy, to establish permanent safe disposal facilities which will remove from future generations any burden of management of current accumulations and future arisings of such waste."
The key phrase there is the aspiration to
"remove from future generations any b"-den of management"
of nuclear waste. That is thinking so wishful as to be grossly irresponsible. We must accept that the "burden of management" of nuclear waste will be with us for generations and generations to come. That is why I believe that we must store these wastes at or near the major production sites, where we can monitor and manage, treat and retrieve such wastes as and when necessary.

Having made that general point, I wish to say a word or two about my own constituency, which features largely, as has been mentioned this evening, in the Nirex document. Last weekend I attended a crowded public meeting in my constituency. That meeting rejected utterly the suggestion that the Hebrides should be considered a suitable site for radioactive waste disposal. Indeed, I have to tell the House that the entire Hebridean community is united in repudiating such a suggestion, and any attempt to put it into practice will be most bitterly opposed.

The entire community is opposed, for the general reasons that I have outlined and for particular reasons. The disposal of radioactive waste in the Hebrides would have a disastrous effect on the economy of the islands, dependent as they are upon a deserved reputation for a clean, natural and unspoilt environment.

Does not the hon. Gentleman understand that the sort of speech he is making, like that made by the hon. Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley), is precisely the reason why people in these remote areas think that this is all very dangerous? I happen to live in and represent an area that has a fairly dense population— [Laughter]—and we have the problem, if it is one, of the disposal of low-level nuclear waste.

The more Opposition Members go on about how dangerous this all is, the more likely areas with remoter populations are to be given the waste, because of public sensitivity about the matter. If SNP, Plaid Cymru and Liberal Members had the courage to say that the risk is not worth bothering about—it is not—we might be able to get somewhere.

If there was no risk worth bothering about, the low-density population would not be one of the factors in Nirex's proposals. The Hebridean community is opposed to the disposal of radioactive waste because of the disastrous effect that that would have on the economy of the Hebrides, which have a reputation for a clean, natural and unspoilt environment. That is obviously true for the primary industries —crofting, fishing, fish farming and shellfish farming. Indeed, the prosperity of shellfish farming is founded on the reputation of the seas around the Hebrides for being uniquely clear and pollution-free.

Nuclear dumping would also have an impact on non-primary industries in my constituency such as the tourist industry, and even, by extension, on industries such as the manufacturing of Harris tweed.

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that, when the Nirex document gives as one of the advantages of under-sea disposal the fact that it is in no one's backyard, that shows a limited perspective? For those of us whose local economies depend heavily on the fishing industry, under the sea bed is very much in the backyard—although it may be out of sight, it is a relevant factor.

I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's point. The seas around our coasts are our backyard. The precious reputation of the Hebrides will vanish overnight if the Nirex proposals are put into effect. That is why they will be resolutely opposed by my constituents.

There is another argument against disposal in the Hebrides, which applies to areas other than the production sites. It relates to technical grounds; the Nirex document notes on page 21 the added danger caused by double handling of waste and by transport by sea. On those grounds, transport across the Minches to the Hebrides would be unsuitable. The waters around the Hebrides are difficult and dangerous, especially, but not only, in the winter months.

Given what Nirex has said about the dangers of transport at sea, it is extremely disturbing that highly radioactive plutonium dissolved in nitric acid is even now being transported from Dounreay through the Minches down to England. Should there be an accident at sea, and should that plutonium nitrate solution escape into the sea, it would be impossible to recapture because of its soluble form. That is extremely disturbing and of great concern to my constituents.

The Nirex discussion document on the disposal of low and intermediate-level radioactive waste is not comprehensive. It fails to rank at least one type of rock that is often said to be suitable for a dump site, if any rock is —and I do not agree that that is so. Some maintain that thick, onshore deposits of mudstone strata in a particular sort of clay have the property of being able to absorb leaking radioactive waste, much as a sponge soaks up water. I shall not go into the merits of mudstone clay strata, but it is strange that it is hardly at all debated in the Nirex document, especially when it is remembered that the area where this kind of mudstone is to be found is also one of the few parts of Britain that escaped the last ice age. According to the Nirex document, the coming of the next ice age in about 20,000 years is supposed to be a major worry, in relation to deep disposal.

Is it only coincidence that the area to which I refer is, of course, the south-east of England? My constituents must be forgiven for their cynicism in thinking that this is not a coincidence and for feeling even more justified in their opposition to these proposals.

11.50 pm

Like my hon. Friend the Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley). I am grateful for the opportunity to discuss this matter. All six Members of the Scottish National party and the Welsh National party submitted applications, for this debate. In submitting those applications, we reflected the longstanding concern in both our nations about the disposal of nuclear waste. If we needed anything to confirm that concern, we had the publication in October of the document "The Way Forward". It came as no surprise to us that there was almost an immediate response to it from the people of Scotland and Wales.

On page 21 of the document the three options looked at by Nirex are outlined. It is clear which option is the most acceptable to Nirex — underland disposal. The only disadvantage outlined in the document is that it would be under someone's back yard. Given the comments of some Conservative Members, it appears that as long as that back yard is so-called "sparsely populated" it is acceptable. That is why there has been such a strong reaction by people in Scotland and Wales to the proposal.

When we look at sections 5.2.5 and 5.2.6, we see that it was inevitable that Nirex should take the decision almost in advance of the consultation period to opt for disposal under land. When we look at the map, we see that the areas that are particularly singled out are in Scotland and Wales, especially in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Ynys Môn (Mr. Jones). Therefore, we are deeply concerned that there seems to be an inevitability within the document.

Some Conservative Members say that we are being selfish because we are following the "Nimby" principle —"Not in my back yard". The Scottish National party has taken an unequivocal stance on the issues of nuclear power and nuclear weapons. We have consistently opposed the use of both. If one looks at our record, one sees that we had a suspicion about the siting of Dounreay. Why was it sited in that area of Scotland? It was because it was a sparsely populated area. We also opposed the siting of Torness nuclear power station in Scotland. It was commissioned by the Labour Government, but has been carried through since then. We have a consistent record of opposition to nuclear power.

Is the hon. Lady also implacably opposed to the use of radiation in medical treatment, X-rays and similar treatments? Where does she think that the waste from those uses will be stored?

The hon. Gentleman is trying to take himself to an illogical conclusion. We all accept the importance of nuclear power in medicine. Indeed, I have benefited from it over the years. However, if the hon. Gentleman had allowed me to conclude this part of my speech, he would have heard me say that we accept that we have a responsibility for the disposal of waste that we create.

Scotland has been landed with three nuclear power stations. We have argued that the nuclear waste should be disposed of on site and above land where it can be monitored. That conclusion has been reached by many organisations, but it has not been considered by Nirex in its document. Those of us in Scotland and Wales are concerned to ensure that our geological strata do not become the nuclear dustbin of Europe, if not of the world. The British Government seem prepared to take nuclear waste from outwith our borders and dispose of it within our borders. We find that totally unacceptable.

Consider the environmental implications. At the public inquiry at Dounreay, much of the evidence against the development came from those with a direct interest in the maintenance of their local environment. We think, as did the hon. Member for the Western Isles (Mr. Macdonald), of the fishermen, the farmers those involved in tourism and of those in my constituency who work in the whisky industry. They all depend on a clean environment, including clean water and fresh air.

Consider the psychological implications of nuclear waste being nearby. How many tourists will visit an area if they think that there is a dancer of contamination? Who will buy fish, agricultural produce or whisky if they think such items have been contaminated by local water being in contact with nuclear waste? We are concerned about this from the environmental and industrial point of view because the livelihoods of our constituents are dependent on industries which would be affected by the storage of nuclear waste. Previous decisions about the disposal of nuclear waste have been political. We have been told what happened at Bradwell, Elstow, Fulbeck and South Killingholme. On 1 May last the Secretary of State for the Environment announced the abandonment of those four sites —all of which were in Tory strongholds—on the eve of a general election. He said that Nirex would look for a deep multi-purpose facility for low and intermediate level waste.

But the Radioactive Waste Management Advisory Committee was not consulted on such a major change of policy, despite the fact that it was set up to advise on major issues relating to the development and implementation of an overall policy for the management of civil nuclear waste. As I say, the Minister's announcement came 10 days before the general election.

If political decisions are to be taken about the disposal of low and intermediate level nuclear waste, the Government will find strong resistance throughout Scotland and Wales to such decisions. Do not let Tory Members think that, just because we are talking about sparsely populated areas, that resistance will be weak. People throughout Scotland will resist the dumping of nuclear waste wherever it is proposed, even in Tayside.

Does the hon. Lady disown the leaflet that was distributed and the scaremongering that took place in my constituency during the last election and the tactics that lay behind it?

The decision of the people of Tayside, North was illustrated by the fact that the hon. Gentleman's majority decreased substantially at the election. He should look ahead to the next election when he may well lose his seat. He has not answered the question. As the hon. Member for Tayside, North, is he willing to accept the dumping of nuclear waste within his constituency? He is unwilling to answer and his constituents will note that.

We are looking for three basic promises. I am surprised that the Minister for Sport is to reply to the debate, although that is no reflection on him. However, given the interest of hon. Members from Scotland and Wales on the Opposition Benches and the fact that the overall responsibility lies with the Department of the Environment, I would at least have expected someone from one of those Departments to be on the Government Front Bench to give a direct reply on this issue.

The tragedy is that, since the hon. Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Waldegrave) was given a different responsibility in the Department, the Minister of State responsible for this crucial issue, Lord Belstead, is in another place. The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment is in the Chamber, but the Minister responsible for these matters is in another place. I would not argue that the Under-Secretary of State should not be the Minister responsible. However, the responsible Minister should be in the House to answer these questions and not in another place.

Indeed, half the Scottish Office Ministers are in another place, and the Secretary of State for Wales does not even represent a Welsh constituency.

We are looking for accountability. Nirex was established by the Government to consider how we should dispose of nuclear waste. That does not mean that the Government have a right to abrogate responsibility for taking the decision. We want to ensure that the Government will take full responsibility for any decisions. That is vital.

We want to see full consultation on all the options that are open. By "full consultation" we do not mean the appointment of individuals representative of local authorities. All members of local authorities should be represented, not Government nominees or those who would favour the nuclear industry. We also want clear definitions of the procedures that will be followed in seeking planning permission. I expect the Government to tell me the minute that anyone sets foot in my constituency looking for the possible selection of a site, even if that person has only a pencil and a piece of paper. I expect to be notified immediately if my area is coming under scrutiny from Nirex.

We want to see a clear definition of the planning procedures and a clear assurance that all of us with an interest in these matters will be given the information. It is only right that there should be a full debate on this matter—not a debate called by six Back Benchers, but a debate offered by the Government to enable us to consider the matter clearly, thoroughly and fully. We should have full official statements from the Government on where they stand on this issue.

12.3 am

Even a glance at the recent history of the nuclear industry will show the difficulty that the Government and Nirex have had on this issue. Since 1979 the Government have had to withdraw from every site selected for test drilling in the face of local opposition. Most recently and dramatically, just before the election, the Government called off tests at Elstow, Killingholme, Bradwell and Fulbeck.

For the Government, the withdrawal from each test drilling represents another failed attempt to get the problem out of sight and out of mind. For those of us who oppose such quick-fix methods, that represents another reprieve and a chance to urge more broadly based research into safe storage. We are all paying now for years of neglect of the waste problem. At present we simply do not have the knowhow to deal with the waste effectively. The Select Committee on the Environment reported on radioactive waste last year and admitted:
"The poor state of research in the United Kingdom means it is impossible at this stage for us to recommend any disposal option with total confidence."
It also stated:
"The United Kingdom is well behind other nations in its research and development programmes."
The need to embark on that research will become increasingly urgent as we approach the end of the century.

As the Magnox nuclear power stations reach the end of their lives, and if the Government go ahead with the decommissioning of Polaris nuclear submarines, the volume of waste to be dealt with will further increase. It means that we have to work within a tight, fixed timetable. The site at Drigg in Cumbria will, according to the Government's response to the Select Committee's report last year, be full by the year 2010. It goes without saying that we cannot begin too soon our efforts to find a lasting and safe solution to the problem of waste storage. In this respect, we welcome the attempts of Nirex to get the debate rolling.

Nirex described its document "The Way Forward" as the beginning of a great debate, consulting as widely as possible on future disposal options. We welcome such a debate, especially the efforts to take account of community views, otherwise Nirex has no real democratic accountability. It is constituted essentially of vested interests, with little or no participation by the community.

The debate must be genuine. In one respect, the consultative process promised by Nirex is a sham. As my hon. Friend the Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace) said, Nirex has claimed in its discussion document that no decisions have been taken on the repository site for low and intermediate level nuclear waste. However, one important decision has been made —that there must be a disposal option.

It is clear from remarks in the forum and from the document that Nirex will not entertain any debate on the possibility of storing radioactive waste on site at the nuclear installations at which it is generated. The hon. Member for Moray (Mrs. Ewing), speaking for the SNP, said that it is clear that Nirex has already determined that it wants deep-level storage, and on-land storage at that. It shines through the document. Some consultative process!

The truth is that there can never be disposal of nuclear waste in any real sense, only burial or safe storage, with continuous monitoring. If we could dispose of waste we would not find ourselves in the present predicament, yet the Nirex report deals only with low and intermediate-level waste. High-level waste is not discussed. Can we really expect an open debate? Sadly, I fear that Nirex gives away the game in its document when it says:
"Nirex wishes to receive advice and comments about how it should proceed within the framework of Government policy."
If we can debate only on the Government's agenda, we must assume a commitment to an expanding reprocessing programme and total nuclear power, all of which produces ever-increasing quantities of waste. Surely part of the debate must be about how we can decrease, and ultimately stop, the production of radioactive waste.

Does that mean that the hon. Gentleman and his party do not support replacing Polaris with another breed of nuclear weapons? If Polaris is replaced with another breed of nuclear weapons, where will the plutonium come from?

The hon. Gentleman knows well that my party believes and has always believed, that we should pursue the abolition of nuclear weapons. I hope that all parties agree with that belief. There may be different views on how we should go about it, but even the Government have said that they would rather see a nuclear-free world.

The hon. Member has not answered the question. If there is to be a replacement for Polaris —as I understand it, it is alliance policy—the plutonium will have to be provided for the replacement, so that will require reprocessing and a nuclear power station of some kind to produce the plutonium. Is that the position of the hon. Gentleman's party?

The hon. Gentleman's party set up the Chapel Cross tritium plant to produce the materials. I hope that he will join us in working towards the abolition of plants for civil and military nuclear power, and therefore the need to dispose of waste. Clearly the problem is with us already, so it makes little odds whether we go ahead with the programme, because the waste still has to be disposed of.

It is no wonder that the environmental groups remain sceptical about the Nirex document. Greenpeace has said:
"If consultation is to have any credence, there must be a clear commitment towards taking account of the views of those consulted, even if these run contrary to Government and nuclear industry policy. The exercise must not artificially limit the choices available, otherwise the public are simply given the choice of variations on the same theme. The facts presented to the public must also be just that, omitting nothing even where the truth is embarrassing.
On the evidence presented so far, we are far from hopeful that the above criteria will be met by Nirex and its consultation document."
The hon. Member for Bootle (Mr. Roberts) should consider Labour's behaviour last year in the Select Committee on the Environment when the Committee reported on this matter. Labour opposed the Liberal call for research to be co-ordinated with our American and European counterparts. It also opposed our plea that no new deep geological sites should be opened in the United Kingdom. Labour also opposed the Liberal and Friends of the Earth view that storage should continue to be on site for the immediate future. The Labour spokesman voted with the Tories when the Committee considered chapter seven of its report on radioactive discharges. Labour voted against Liberal demands for the Government to establish an inquiry to investigate the incidence of cancers among people near nuclear establishments. Such is the Labour record on this matter.

It is hard to accept that Nirex is the appropriate body for the task. After all, it is a
"creature of the nuclear industry."
That apt description was given by the Royal Commission for Environmental Protection. If the consultation process were to reveal overwhelming public preference for longterm on-site storage, Nirex would be unable to approve that because it is not within its terms of reference.

On-site storage has important advantages, and that is why the Liberal party advocates such storage until suitable alternative methods, proved to be safe, are available. Any decision taken now, based on poor knowledge, could have catastrophic consequences for the future. We should not enter into any storage method that might preclude retrieving the waste in the future so that it might be stored more safely. On-site storage would enable constant monitoring, and it recognises the limits of our present knowledge.

On-site storage removes the need for the transport of waste, with all the attendant problems of safety and security that have been mentioned. Such storage represents no more of a security risk than is presently represented by nuclear power stations. Such land surface storage has been employed for high-level waste for the past 40 years, and there is the prospect of such storage continuing in the foreseeable future.

Conservative Members have said that the Nirex proposals are aimed only at low and intermediate-waste. If we measure such waste in terms of radioactivity rather than bulk, we find that it accounts for only about 5 per cent. of waste. The other 95 per cent. of high-level waste must, in any case, be stored above ground. As yet such waste is undisposable, and the other 5 per cent. should be kept with that waste.

In a debate on waste dumping it is impossible to cover all the arguments relating to nuclear power. It must he acknowledged — it is undeniable — that the problem would be eased if we were not producing more and more waste without knowing how to dispose of it safely. Present worries are bound to increase as the nuclear industry is privatised. In a competitive environment we already know that private business will not invest in nuclear power, partly because of the high cost involved in keeping those stations safe. That problem has confronted the Secretary of State for Energy as he squirms around to try to find a formula that will maintain a nuclear industry within a privatised industry that does not want it.

If the privatised industry is forced by the Secretary of State to act, how do we know that the safety of the nuclear industry will not be compromised? Overseas, there have been some unpleasant experiences. Of six commercial low-level radioactive waste dumps in the United States, three have been closed because of off-site radioactive contamination.

Some method of safe storage is needed even if we do not continue with the nuclear power programme. We must deal with the existing waste and also de-commission existing power stations. The means of storage for which we opt must be built on a sense of responsibility for the future. We are dealing with a matter that is more important than crude party politics. The safety of future generations is at stake.

The Government should not underestimate the weight of responsibility on their shoulders. We may disagree vehemently about the poll tax and the restructuring of education, but those are changes that we can reverse. The disposal of nuclear waste is final and potentially deadly. I hope that Ministers will start a debate around the country about the genuine wishes of people. I hope that the Government will respond to what I believe will be the clear demand to protect future generations.

12.14 am

When the Secretary of State for the Environment was answering questions in the House on 2 December about the disposal of nuclear waste, he said:

"I sometimes think that it would be best if we had 650 supplementary questions on this matter, and then we would all be back where we started." —[Official Report, 2 December 1987; Vol. 123, c. 927.]
That, I think, shows the controversy that surrounds the subject that we are debating. The Secretary of State was no stranger to such controversy, for on 1 May 1987—as we have been reminded by my hon. Friend the Member for Moray (Mrs. Ewing)—he announced to the House that Nirex had decided not to proceed with investigations into four sites.

Whatever reasons the Secretary of State gave the House, technical or otherwise, for not proceeding with investigations into a shallow site, it is clear that his decision on that occasion was a political one. Quite simply, he knew that an election was in the offing, and that there was a danger that the Government would lose marginal seats in England because of the massive opposition to their plans in those constituencies.

They were marginal seats. The hon. Gentleman knows that. Otherwise, the decision would not have been made.

When Nirex published its consultative document, it invited Members of Parliament to a briefing session, during which Nirex officials said that, apart from technical and geological criteria, they were prepared to look at three specific matters: first, public acceptability of the plan; secondly, social considerations; and thirdly, economic considerations. When I called a public meeting to consider the implications of the consultative document in my constituency, 600 people turned up to voice their opposition. That was the biggest public meeting that I have attended in my constituency, and the breadth of opposition was quite revealing, involving the trade unions, industry, various organisations and associations, the churches and others. Clearly, there is widespread concern in our communities.

I am very conscious of the time factor, Mr. Deputy Speaker. However, I should like to say in conclusion that the main problem in relation to land disposal is the inability to predict with any great confidence future geological or ground water activity. Furthermore, the consequences of a mistake would be catastrophic. My constituency is well known as an area where there is a great deal of ground water activity. When I described that as a potential problem, I was informed that an island was a suitable site, because if there was an accident it could be contained.

What confidence can that inspire in Nirex's plans among the people of Ynys Môn?

There have been accusations of scaremongering from the Conservative Benches. However, the hon. Member for Ynys Môn (Mr. Jones) has pointed out that the criteria chosen by Nirex point clearly to Wales and Scotland as the most favoured sites. Far from being scaremongering, this is straightforward opposition to Scotland being used as a nuclear dumping ground. The arguments are valid, for the very reason that they were rejected in England.

We are saying to the House that Nirex should withdraw the consultative documents, so that further research can he carried out on this important matter.

12.18 am

I once had a general studies tutor who used to say that what surprised him was not how little people knew, but how much they knew that was not true. That is especially true of the nuclear industry. I do not suggest for a moment that it applies to any of the speeches that we have heard today; a good deal of knowledge has been displayed on both sides of the House. I particularly compliment my hon. Friend the Member for Western Isles (Mr. Macdonald) on an excellent speech in defence of his communities and his area. He displayed considerable knowledge about the problems that we are discussing.

However, many people mix up the levels of nuclear waste, the nature of nuclear waste, and what we are talking about. There is low-level nuclear waste, intermediate-level nuclear waste, and high-level nuclear waste, and there are low-level discharges to the environment. I want to deal with each one in turn.

The Labour party believes that there should be no discharges to the environment from any nuclear installation, and that is possible. The Select Committee on the Environment, on which I served — the Liberal spokesman produced a parody of what happened in that Committee, but one would expect that from the Liberals — argued that discharges should be be as low as technically achievable.

The answer is no.

That was rejected by the Government at that time, and by the industry. But the ministerial declaration after the second international conference on the protection of the North sea—this is a document to which the Secretary of State for the Environment has subscribed—declares the Ministers' intention to respect the relevant recommendations of the competent international organisations and to this end to apply
"the best available technology to minimise pollution".
This is in the section about radioactive wastes and discharges.

I ask the Minister if this is a change of policy. Are we to have nil discharges from Sellafield and from all other nuclear installations? That is the view of the Labour party. There is no need for the discharge of either gases or water.

Low-level nuclear waste — the Select Committee on the Environment agreed with this — can be safely disposed of. That is what the shallow burial sites were about. At the moment, it is disposed of in Drigg. If it is not safe in Drigg, where at the moment the people are fed up because it is all coming there, with lorries rumbling through the village, because the Government, quite wrongly, abandoned the other possible disposal sites, where is it safe? But there would always be some production of low-level waste, even though nuclear power were to be phased out, as is Labour party policy, because to stop it we would have to close every cancer hospital in the country. So let us not get mixed up about that.

Then there is intermediate-level nuclear waste. I hold no brief for Nirex; I think that it is an incompetent body, for the reasons already mentioned in the debate; it represents the industry but no one else not the trade unions in the industry, not the community, not the environmentalist lobby. It is not a cross-section in any way, but only an incompetent pawn of a Government who have no policy for the disposal of nuclear waste. But Nirex is now considering putting low-level and intermediate-level waste together in deep disposal sites. Is it disposal —I want the Minister to answer this—or is it retrievable storage that is capable of being monitored? I do not support disposal. The Guardian of 13 November reports Mr. John Baker, the Nirex chairman, as saying that
"disposal did not mean that it would be impossible to monitor or retrieve the waste".
But that is not what the document says. The document talks about disposal. We say that disposal of intermediate-level, not low-level nuclear waste, is an option that we would not support. We prefer retrievable, monitorable storage in a safe place.

One of the problems about Nirex is that disposal of high-level nuclear waste is not in its brief. The Labour party does not believe that one organisation can deal adequately with the problem if it has a brief only to look at certain categories of radioactive waste, without taking account of the whole picture, including high-level nuclear waste. There is no proposal in the Nirex document, nor am I aware of any proposal by the Government, for the disposal anywhere of high-level nuclear waste. High-level waste is to be stored. At the moment, it is mostly in liquefied form, stirred at Sellafield, then vitrified, and then it will go, in its vitrified form, to be stored above ground for 50 years.

I support that as the only possible, technically feasible way of dealing — whether any more high-level nuclear waste is created or not—with what is already there. But what will happen to it after 50 years? There is no disposal route, no long-term plan, no costings, as regards what happens to that high-level waste in 50 or 100 years' time —the waste that for the time being will be vitrified and stored above ground. Do the Government have a policy for future high-level nuclear waste?

The Labour party believes that low-level discharges into the environment should be stopped. Policies for the compaction, incineration and safe storage of low-level waste should be developed. We believe not that intermediate-level waste should be disposed of but that it should be stored in a monitorable and retrievable form. There is no proof, research or evidence that high-level waste can ever be disposed of, and we do not know whether the Government have a policy for its long-term storage and monitoring.

Having said that research needs to be done, I accept that when a Labour Government come to power, we shall have to deal with this problem. Decommissioning Polaris and phasing out nuclear power stations will create more waste, which will have to be monitored and dealt with.

The Labour party does not pretend that it is opposed to everything and that it is not prepared to seek a solution. Unlike the Liberal party and the Scottish National party, we shall be in government and we shall have to deal with this problem, which is why we are opposed to a Government who have no policy and to the hypocrisy of the alliance, which pretends that it is greener than the Labour party and that it will phase out nuclear power, close down Sellafield and stop reprocessing, but will replace Polaris with another breed of nuclear weapons and produce the plutonium to test them. The greatest source of radioactive pollution in the world is the testing of nuclear weapons. More radioactivity in Britain's environment has come from the testing of nuclear weapons, which the alliance supports, than has ever come from the civil nuclear power industry.

The hon. Gentleman has given a complete parody of alliance policy. I understand from an interview that the hon. Gentleman gave to The Guardian that he is in favour of deep-sea tunnelling from the coast at Sellafield. Presumably he is also opposed to the transportation of nuclear waste arourtd the country. Is the Labour party in favour of deep-sea tunnelling outward from the coast into the Pentland firth for the disposal of the nuclear waste that is created at Dounreay?

The hon. Gentleman should not believe everything he reads in The Guardian, particularly as it is a Liberal paper, and he should not presume that we are against the transportation of nuclear waste. That is not a matter on which I have made a statement in the past, and I shall not do so now.

When the Labour party comes to power at the next election, it will stop the production of military grade plutonium at Sellafield or anywhere else, which is a policy to which the alliance is not committed. We shall immediately stop the Official Secrets Act being applied by executive action to the civil nuclear industry and will end the secrecy that surrounds Sellafield. We shall immediately set up a proper research programme on how to decommission power stations and deal with nuclear waste in a manner that takes account of the protection of the environment.

We shall not, as the Government have tried to do, use special development orders to find sites for the disposal of nuclear waste against the wishes of affected communities. If the BNFL or any other proposal progresses, it must be within the limits of planning legislation, without special development order status; communities will have to be considered, and a full public inquiry held. That is the policy of the Labour party on any disposal route—we are not in favour of disposal — for retrievable, monitorable storage of intermediate high or low-level nuclear waste.

12.29 am

Time is short and I want to press the Minister on one specific point. I am concerned at moves afoot to short-circuit the site selection procedures.

Like any earnest seeker after the truth, I have been tabling parliamentary questions that have been answered by the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland. On 10 November he told me that the procedures remain to be determined. On 18 November he told me that there was to be no change in the planning procedures for site selection. When I probed the apparent conflict between those two answers, I was told on 27 November that he would reply as soon as possible. After a long thought-provoking pause over the weekend, on 30 November he said that he had nothing to add to his answer of 10 November. On 25 November I wrote probing the Under-Secretary of State on the same subject and have yet to receive a reply.

Will the Minister confirm or deny that there are moves afoot to short-circuit the site selection procedures, or will he, like his hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State, continue to evade the question?

12.30 am

I have very little time but I will try to answer as many of the points as possible. There will be no short-circuiting of the site selection procedure. I must stress that at this stage neither Nirex nor the Government have any firm proposals for the siting of a radioactive waste repository. No decisions have yet been made and no part of the country can be ruled out.

I can assure hon. Members that the developers will have to have the appropriate permissions at all stages for the preliminary investigations. That might take the form of planning permission or—I say this to the hon. Member for Bootle (Mr. Roberts)—a special development order approved by Parliament. Any proposal to build a repository will be the subject of a public inquiry. The developers will also have to comply with all relevant safety standards as laid down and enforced by the authorising Departments.

The important issue of risk was raised in an exchange across the Chamber. It is important to place it on record that the radiological safety target currently set is a risk of one in a million per year. That is a small risk compared with those we run every day from other hazards and I hope that that will assist hon. Members if they are in any doubt about how the Government define the risk involved and the level of risk.

The position on co-ordination between Departments is that, when Nirex comes forward with a specific proposal, the Department or Departments dealing with it will depend on the country in which it is located. Normal liaison arrangements with other Departments will apply. However, the current Nirex document and the work going on in regard to the desk studies are the responsibility of the Secretary of State for the Environment. That is why I am responding to the debate. The Department of the Environment is in regular discussion with other Departments, including the Scottish Office and the Welsh Office, about progress with the Nirex proposals.

On public acceptability, Nirex will be making use of the comments received during the consultation exercise, together with the results of its studies of technology and geology, to come forward with a proposal for a facility. It will be for the Government to make the final decision, after full public debate.

There was an important and understandable exchange on population density. Containment deep under ground eliminates significant risks to the public, so population density is not crucial. However, Nirex specifically asked in its consultation document whether that was one of the factors to be taken into account in selecting a site. It would be most unwise not to pay due attention to the strength of public opinion that exists, which has led many hon. Members to spend hours late into the night debating this important issue.

The role of local authorities is another important specific point. Any proposal to build a repository will be the subject of a public inquiry. The views of the local authority will be taken on board at that point, as they will during the consultation exercise. Briefing seminars are already being held for local authorities.

We have made it clear in the Government's response to the report of the Select Committee, Cmnd. 952, that it is Government policy that waste should be disposed of under strict supervision to high standards of safety and that the periods of storage should be the minimum compatible with safe disposal. It is desirable to dispose of low-level and intermediate-level waste as soon as possible and to avoid the creation of additional accumulations and the provision of costly and extensive storage capacity.

I was asked why the plans for a new near-surface disposal facility were abandoned. I know that that subject has led to a lively and intense debate and to reaction from hon. Members on both sides of the House. They will be aware of the answer that I am about to give but, for the record, I shall give it again. Reassessment of the costs by Nirex shows that the cost differential between near-surface and deep disposal has been eroded. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State accepted therefore that Nirex should focus efforts on development of a single deep repository.

Research has also been drawn to our attention. The Department of the Environment and Nirex have substantial research programmes on radioactive waste management. The development of a disposal facility is not inhibited by lack of research, but the research leads us increasingly to focus on specific potential disposal sites. It is for Nirex to identify technically suitable sites.

The hon. Member for Truro (Mr. Taylor) mentioned monitoring and retrievability. Those are issues on which Nirex would welcome views. Its proposal in "The Way Forward" involve monitoring during the operational life of an underground disposal facility. It is not expected that waste should be retrieved from a repository, but the ability to do so will remain during the operational phase. I hope that that answers the question asked by the hon. Member for Bootle, although without giving him satisfaction, which I regret.

The hon. Member for Truro also mentioned decommissioning wastes. The decision not to proceed with a new shallow disposal site has little bearing on decommissioning Magnox and AGR stations, although it is accepted that the delay in providing disposal facilities might require certain wastes to be stored for a time before disposal.

My hon. Friend the Member for Wirral, South (Mr. Porter) expressed surprise during an exchange about whether the transport of radioactive waste might require armoured convoys. There is no reason why transport of low and intermediate level nuclear waste should require armoured convoys. International guidance on procedures for such transport are well established and we follow them.

The hon. Member for Bootle referred to the North sea conference. The declaration on discharges and disposal of radioactive wastes provides a framework within which the United Kingdom can continue its improvements to, for example, the Sellafield complex. The agreement to apply the best available technology to minimise pollution is a welcome clarification. The wording on solid waste repositories institutionalises the need to aim to preclude pollution from that source. Disposal remains accepted policy, but that does not mean that no provision might be made to facilitate monitoring and to ensure retrievability.

I have not yet arrived at my speech, despite the fact that I have about 30 seconds left. Rather than become involved in it, I should like to say that I hope that my addressing some of the matters that hon. Members have raised has been helpful. Although I have not been able to say what I wanted to say, I welcome the fact that others have been prepared to stay so late to take part in this important debate.