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Nuclear Waste

Volume 124: debated on Wednesday 9 December 1987

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To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland when officials of his Department will next meet Nirex to discuss plans for nuclear waste disposal in Scotland.

Scottish Office officials have no specific plans to meet Nirex, but they will attend the Nirex seminar for local authorities to be held in Edinburgh on 14 December.

Is the Under-Secretary aware, even if the Secretary of State is not, that the Nirex document "The Way Forward" makes it clear that Scotland is a No. 1 target for nuclear waste disposal? Furthermore, will the hon. Gentleman give us a guarantee that any such proposal for waste disposal will face the rigour of a full public inquiry, and that such an inquiry will not be limited in scope in the way that the Dounreay inquiry was rigged?

I certainly can give that assurance. A planning application will be required before any site investigations on land. Subsequent procedures have yet to be determined. My right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State has made it clear that if there were a proposal to build a repository in Scotland a public inquiry should be held. The purpose behind the document is to look at geologically suitable areas in Britain.

Does my hon. Friend recognise that many of us welcome the publication of that document and the opportunity that it gives for informed debate? Has he noticed that the Scottish National party shies away from any form of informed debate? Will he point out to the SNP that much of the low-level and medium-level waste comes from medical sources? Why does it not support the use of nuclear materials for those good purposes?

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for setting the matter in perspective. We are concerned about the safe storage of intermediate and low-level nuclear waste. We believe that the Nirex document is a useful step forward in that process.

Does the Minister agree with the decision taken by Nirex in advance of the consultation process to opt for a single national disposal facility? Is it credible to have one such facility, given the present level of radioactive waste, and the future level because of the Government's commitment to a massively accelerated nuclear programme? Scottish Labour Members will not tolerate Scotland being used as a dumping ground for the nuclear waste of England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

I should like to set the facts straight. Sellafield is to be investigated by British Nuclear Fuels plc as part of the Nirex programme. It has been made clear that no decision has been taken on sites for investigation other than Sellafield. That is the present position.

I echo the plea of the right hon. Member for Kincardine and Deeside (Mr. Buchanan-Smith) for informed public debate. Will the Minister instruct his officials, when they attend the 14 December seminar, to echo to Nirex the plea for informed debate? That would involve making maps available to hon. Members representing constituencies such as mine. We believe that drilling has taken place on the isles of Raasay and Rona. Like the Isle of Skye, neither island appears on the map of Britain that Nirex published in the report.

Does my hon. Friend agree that those of us who were in the House in the early hours of the morning and who listened to a debate on this subject, prompted by the Welsh nationalists, now realise the sheer hypocrisy of the nationalist parties in Wales and Scotland? Today the Scottish nationalists say that Scotland is the prime target for a nuclear dump, whereas last night the Welsh nationalists said that Anglesey was the prime target for a nuclear dump. We completely reject this scaremongering by the nationalist parties in Scotland and Wales.

I thank my hon. Friend for making that point. I am sure that there is potential opposition to any proposed investigation of a site. Nirex seeks public comment on its approach to site selection and will publish a report on comments received.

I wish to reinforce the plea for an assurance that there will be no question of slipping through vital decisions about sites without full consultation and discussion in the localities concerned. Does the Minister accept that there is a strong case against dumping intermediate waste in the way suggested in the Nirex report? Does he agree that the identification of possible sites can lead only to uncertainty and understandable fears? Is not a more sensible management strategy on-site storage in stable conditions, which can allow constant monitoring?

Our experts and international experts strongly believe that on safety grounds it is much wiser to store intermediate and low-level waste in this way. I can give the hon. Gentleman an assurance about there being the fullest possible public information and consultation on this subject.