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Volume 300: debated on Friday 7 November 1997

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To ask the President of the Board of Trade what representations Her Majesty's Government made to the United States Government over the use of plutonium fuel on the recently launched NASA spaceship and the concern for environmental safety. [13663]

[holding answer 3 November 1997]: The recent launch by NASA was the start of the Cassini/Huygens mission to Saturn. The UK has contributed to ESA's Huygens probe which will land and make measurements on one of Saturn's moons. It is a fundamental priority for the UK that space activities are undertaken in a safe and responsible way. Neither NASA nor ESA underestimate the care required in handling plutonium and have gone to great lengths to ensure the safety of the power sources. I understand these safety measures include: the form of the plutonium—a type of ceramic, the way it is stored—divided into 18 independent units, and the multiple layers of materials preventing accidental release. Her Majesty's Government was satisfied the risk of environmental impact was reduced to an absolute minimum and sufficiently balanced by the valuable scientific data that will be gathered by the mission about the evolution of planets in the solar system and ultimately the Earth itself.