Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Heppell.]
I welcome the opportunity to debate a matter of absolute importance. It is fortuitous for someone who has such a large speech that we have managed to acquire extra time for the debate. I have warned the Minister that that will give me the opportunity to clear the air on a variety of subjects. I know that he will answer my questions, so perhaps I will give him a little bit of extra time to allow him to do so. As you know, Madam Deputy Speaker, I am known for my consideration of others, and tonight will be no exception.
Our future energy policy is of paramount importance to this country. However, I wish to further the debate in the context of responding to many arguments against nuclear build. I emphasise that waste and nuclear build must be treated as two separate issues. That has not been made clear to the general public, but it is a vital point that must be addressed.
I will be, as I always am to fellow Robertsons. The hon. Gentleman says that build and waste disposal are two separate issues. However, the First Minister of Scotland, Jack McConnell, says that that is not the case. He thinks that it is absolutely essential to know what will happen regarding waste disposal before one talks about build. Is the hon. Gentleman disagreeing with the First Minister?
Once again, if the hon. Gentleman had waited until I had got into my speech, his questions would have been answered, although I am not saying whether that would have happened on the first or 31st page. If he is willing to wait, I guarantee that he will get his answer—perhaps somewhat sooner than later.
Misinformation and scaremongering seem to be regarded as legitimate and acceptable by environmental groups in their attempts to frighten and mislead the public and thus encourage the population to reject nuclear energy. The propaganda is continuous and unrelenting, and, unfortunately, it creates the best headlines in the media. The best example of the media trying to exploit division on nuclear energy was seen in a BBC news article that was published on 12 May 2005. The First Minister was quoted as saying:
“The Scottish Executive has the power to stop nuclear power stations being built whatever the Westminster Government decides.”
The waste in question seems to appear out of thin air, instead of being the result of nuclear plants that are operating in Scotland and the UK for the benefit of the Scottish and British economies. Nuclear energy has provided more than 50 per cent. of Scotland’s electricity needs since the first plant at Chapel Cross was opened. Hunterston, Torness and, of course, the experimental fast breeder reactor at Dounreay all contribute not only to power generation, but, substantially, to the economic well-being of thousands of workers involved in the nuclear industry and their families.
If the communities in those areas were asked, I am sure that they would give their approval to new nuclear build on existing sites. The highly skilled workers should be applauded for their contribution to electricity production and the benefits that their endeavours have brought in terms of strengthening the local and national economy. The workers and their families know that any incident, however small, will be reported in the most sensationalist way by the press and media. If those reports were correct, working in a nuclear power station would be the most dangerous job on the planet, but workers, families and communities know the industry and they know that, without proper safety procedures, any industry can be dangerous: ask those who live alongside and who work in the nuclear industry—they are the real test. The workers are sick of hearing about the dangers and the threat of Armageddon. We should applaud them for the contribution they make to our nation—and by that I mean the United Kingdom.
On 12 July, the nuclear workers campaign will lobby Parliament. I support the campaign and have arranged a meeting with the Prime Minister so that the workers can relay their concerns about meeting the UK’s future energy needs. The workers will then head to No. 10 Downing street with a petition signed by more than 10,000 people who live around the nuclear sites. We must applaud the workers for their efforts. Nuclear is their livelihood and that of their communities and we must help to protect it.
However, headlines such as “Nuclear plans could generate rift” seek to present tensions not only between the Scottish Parliament and Westminster, but within the Scottish Executive. The media have latched on to a statement by the First Minister that the Scottish Executive will not agree to planning consent for new nuclear build until a solution to our nuclear waste legacy is in place. According to reports emanating from the Committee on Radioactive Waste Management, geological disposal could be some way off. I ask both the First Minister and the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland to clarify their positions, acknowledging the situation in respect of planning permission and accepting that the Scottish Executive could prevent the building of any new nuclear power plant. It will also be important to know their views on the recommendation when it is published by CoRWM.
I realise that the Scottish Parliament may not have a majority in favour of nuclear build at present, but we need a public debate on our energy choices. In my opinion, confidence in the public when faced with the facts would win the day. It is clear that the Scottish Parliament wants the rest of the country to look after the waste. My view is clear: regardless of the time span, if there is agreement to a long-term solution, that should be sufficient to resolve the problem.
I am aware that there are those in other political parties who, regardless of CoRWM’s report and the adoption of a solution to the disposal of nuclear waste, will oppose new nuclear power stations. I am also aware that our coalition partners in Scotland have indicated that nuclear energy will be an issue in the 2007 Scottish Parliament elections. I say to them: let battle commence—I look forward to it. But let us have less rhetoric and more truth.
Of the 33 potential high-level waste dump sites in the United Kingdom, 22, or 67 per cent., are in Scotland and, interestingly, 15 of those 22 are in Liberal Democrat-held constituencies. Is the hon. Gentleman surprised that not a single Scottish Liberal Democrat MP is here to hear this important debate between the Labour party, which is now in favour of nuclear waste dumps in Scotland, and the Scottish National party, which is opposed?
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing this important debate, to which I am listening with huge interest. He rightly states that half of Scotland’s electricity comes from nuclear plant. We are all aware of the increasing importance of carbon-neutral generation. If nuclear plants were phased out, and without new nuclear build, how would Scotland replace that carbon-neutral generation with alternative carbon- neutral generation?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his contribution. I understand where his error comes from. Scotland contributes to the national grid and is a supplier, not a receiver. In effect, we could close two power stations in Scotland and still meet today’s output. But as with other nuclear power stations—Torness and Hunterston—that were decommissioned, their output would have to be replaced. The figures that we have at present do not take into consideration the 1 per cent. increase that is expected in electricity needs for the country in each successive year. We would have a problem in Scotland if no nuclear build went ahead, as will probably happen.
If, God help us all, we ended up with a completely independent country, the Government would have to decide whether they should build nuclear power stations. Thankfully, I know that people in Scotland are not that stupid. It is likely that we will continue on our current path.
Nuclear waste management has been an issue since the first reactor was commissioned in England in 1956. At the end of 2005 there were 443 nuclear power plants in operation throughout the world. There were 103 in the United States alone, with another 25 under construction in Japan, India, South Korea, China and Finland. Environmental groups, whose views are often reflected in media reports, state that the majority of the public are against the idea of new build. I believe that the jury is still out on public opinion and that once the issues are in the public domain the vast majority will recognise the benefits in security of supply and a reduction of carbon dioxide emissions. That is essential if we are to meet our environmental obligations.
The fact still remains that even if those who are entirely against nuclear power were successful in preventing new nuclear build, the disposal of nuclear waste will remain an issue facing not only the United Kingdom, including Scotland, but each of the 32 countries currently using nuclear energy to enhance their energy portfolio. The establishment of CoRWM by this Government was a necessary decision, even if it was a difficult one. It has created an opportunity for the most comprehensive and wide-ranging public debate on possible solutions for the disposal of our existing nuclear waste legacy.
The Government acted, and should be congratulated on acting where successive Governments failed, to seek a solution to the nuclear energy legacy. From as far back as 1976 the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution advised against the expansion of nuclear power until a safe method was found to contain radioactive waste, but nothing was done. With the establishment of Nirex in the 1980s, it was hoped that a solution could be found for radioactive waste disposal. To its credit, it began examining the best method for disposal and was involved in substantial research into various options, including shallow disposal methods. Unfortunately, it did not manage to involve the public in an open and transparent debate. This failure led to widespread opposition and a change of course in 1987 led to Nirex investigating the solution of a deep repository for all types of low level and intermediate level waste. Its investigation was extremely comprehensive, with more than 500 potential sites being considered for their suitability for the disposal of low level and intermediate level waste. Those are the sites to which the hon. Member for Moray (Angus Robertson) referred.
In June 2005, Friends of the Earth issued a press release, “Secret N-Waste Dump Sites Revealed”, which said that 537 locations throughout Britain had been identified as potential sites for disposing of the UK’s radioactive waste, but it failed to mention that those sites were considered for the disposal of low level and intermediate level waste. It failed to mention, too, that the investigation was completed in 1991, and that the only area selected by Nirex to develop an underground rock laboratory to ascertain site suitability was near Sellafield. After planning permission was refused, that application was the subject of a public inquiry, after which the application was rejected.
That is typical of the way in which the debate has been handled in the past. It is time to tackle the scare stories, myths and misinformation head-on. I urge the Government to ensure that the debate on nuclear energy and the disposal of waste is conducted in an open, transparent and factual manner. I am confident that, if the facts on climate change, security of supply and the reduction of CO2 emissions are made clear to the public, they will support our policies on nuclear energy and nuclear waste disposal. It is of fundamental importance that we inform the general public of why the UK may support the replacement of existing nuclear power plants, but that information should be based on fact, not the misinformation in two recent Friends of the Earth press releases.
Friends of the Earth tried to make a story out of nothing in another press release to further its opposition to nuclear power, just as the hon. Member for Moray did earlier. The fact that 537 sites had been investigated did not mean they were suitable for the disposal of nuclear waste, but Friends of the Earth did not let the truth get in the way of a good scare story. It warned that many sites could be considered in future. It arrived at that conclusion because, when Nirex was asked whether the geology had changed, the answer was “no”. Friends of the Earth made the logical deduction that, as geological change had not occurred, those sites could be considered in future. It had forgotten that the issue was first considered in 1991, when all the sites were rejected, and only one was the subject of an application. Ministers denied the argument advanced by Friends of the Earth, but that was irrelevant to the organisation. It had decided that it would make a good story in support of its opposition to nuclear power. The media swallowed that story hook, line and sinker.
In that press release, Friends of the Earth claimed to support action to achieve the safe, long-term management of existing radioactive waste but, amazingly, it did not indicate what method it supported. I doubt whether it would support anything. Instead, it offers rhetoric, with little regard to the energy needs of the people of this country. What can we do with existing nuclear waste, and when will Friends of the Earth provide the solution that it allegedly supports? Doing nothing is not an option, so how does Friends of the Earth suggest we deal with our nuclear legacy? What solutions does it support and what is its policy on a long-term solution to nuclear waste? Can my hon. Friend the Minister assure the House that Friends of the Earth and its cohorts will not delay the planning permission required to meet the needs of the nation?
In another press release, dated 27 April 2006, Friends of the Earth calls for urgent action to safeguard Britain’s highly dangerous nuclear waste. It suggests that, in the short term, that must mean secure interim storage, but it fails to indicate where and what type of storage facility that would be. Without a proper constructive proposal, it claims that this is a better long-term solution than dumping the waste deep underground, where it claims experts have warned that the waste will leak from the containers. Is the Minister aware of experts claiming that nuclear waste will leak from containers if we adopt deep geological disposal? If so, how could any responsible Government take such a decision? Or is this another attempt to mislead and misinform? I look forward to my hon. Friend’s response.
Let me give the Minister another gem. In the same press release, Friends of the Earth claims that nuclear power is inherently dirty and dangerous, and that the solution to Britain’s nuclear waste problems must involve rejecting calls for new nuclear power stations. There we have it—let us reject nuclear power, and the waste disappears. How on earth can any responsible body come to such a conclusion?
As we have some extra time tonight, there are some other myths that I draw to the Minister’s attention. Myth No. 1: nuclear energy is expensive. It is, in fact, one of the least expensive energy sources. In 2004, the average cost of producing nuclear energy in the United States was less than 2 cents per kilowatt-hour, comparable with coal and hydroelectric power. Advances in technology will bring the cost down further.
Myth No. 2: nuclear waste will be dangerous for thousands of years. Within 40 years, used fuel has less than one thousandth of the radioactivity that it had when it was removed from the reactor. It is incorrect to call it waste, because 96 per cent. of the potential energy is still contained in the used fuel after the first cycle. Now that the United States has removed the ban on recycling used fuel, it will be possible to use that energy and to reduce greatly the amount of waste that needs treatment and disposal. Last month, Japan joined France, Britain and Russia in the nuclear fuel recycling business. The United States, I believe, will not be far behind.
Myth No. 3: nuclear reactors are vulnerable to terrorist attack. The 6 ft-thick reinforced concrete containment vessel protects the contents from the outside, as well as from the inside. Even if a jumbo jet crashed into a reactor and breached containment, the reactor would not explode. There are many types of facilities that are far more vulnerable, including liquefied natural gas plants, chemical plants and, dare I say it, numerous political targets.
British Nuclear Fuels Ltd took the unprecedented decision to issue a full statement regarding a report that predicted very serious consequences for the public if the high level waste tanks at Sellafield were to be targeted by hijacked aircraft. None of the authors of the report has access to the current engineering and construction information that is necessary to undertake a credible study of the likely consequences. For that reason, BNFL considers that the conclusions are unsubstantiated, entirely speculative and significantly exaggerate the consequences—nothing new there.
It is accepted that nuclear fuel can be diverted to make nuclear weapons. This is the most serious issue associated with nuclear energy and the most difficult to address, as the example of Iran shows, but just because nuclear technology can be put to evil purposes, that is not an argument for banning its use. Over the past 20 years, one of the simplest tools, the machete, has been used to kill more than a million people in Africa, far more than were killed in the Hiroshima and Nagasaki nuclear bombings combined. What are car bombs made of? Diesel oil, fertiliser and cars. If we banned everything that can be used to kill people, we would never have harnessed fire.
Imagine if the ratio of coal to nuclear were reversed, so that only 20 per cent. of our electricity was generated from coal and 60 per cent. from nuclear. That would go a long way towards cleaning the air and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Every responsible environmentalist should support a move in that direction.
A public debate about radioactive waste is important. Public confidence will not be restored unless there is confidence in the institution that manages the consultation and debate and develops policy. New institutions are required that have independence, authority, transparency and accountability. They should be formed as soon as possible, and there is no need to wait until the consultation process is completed in 2007.
Such institutions would be required to manage a three-step process. First, they would need to run a public consultation to elicit the values, priorities and wishes of the electorate. Secondly, they would need to conduct detailed analysis and obtain technical advice to formulate waste disposal policy. Thirdly, they would need to implement that policy. A waste management commission should be created to undertake the first two roles. A separate waste management executive will be required to undertake the third role, and its relationship with the liabilities management authority and the waste management commission will need to be clearly defined.
International involvement, especially through the European Union, is an essential element of future research on the problems of radioactive waste. Although this debate concerns Scotland and the UK, I recommend that relations with European and other international collaborators, including the USA, should be explored in parallel with the present consultations.
With the events of 11 September in mind, we must advocate an urgent safety review, which should take into account the possibility of extreme terrorist intervention. Nuclear energy is the only large-scale, cost-effective energy source that can reduce emissions while continuing to satisfy the growing demand for power, and these days it can do it safely.
The issue of nuclear waste should be subject to significant discussion and consultation independent from any new build that may occur. Nuclear waste exists today, and it will exist in the future. Even if no new nuclear power stations were commissioned, and even if the existing nuclear power stations closed tomorrow, we would still have to deal with nuclear waste in the years ahead. In my view, nuclear power is the safest and most regulated energy source in the UK, and it produces no CO2 emissions.
We have the highest safety standards in the UK, and we should ensure that every country shares them—Chernobyl would not have happened if our standards had been applied. Let us tell the world how safe our industry is and dispel the myths constantly perpetrated by those who wear blinkers and who refuse to acknowledge the way forward.
I shall now discuss a nuclear success story, Three Mile Island. The concrete structure did exactly what it was designed to do—it prevented radiation from escaping into the environment. Although the reactor itself was crippled, there was neither injury nor death among the nuclear workers or nearby residents. Three Mile Island was the only serious accident in the history of nuclear energy generation in the United States.
In a press release, Friends of the Earth states that security specialists have warned the Committee on Radioactive Waste Management that
“it is our unanimous opinion that greater attention should be given to the current management of radioactive waste held within the UK, in the context of its vulnerability to potential terrorist attack. We are not aware of any UK Government programme that is addressing this issue with adequate detail or priority, and consider it unacceptable for some vulnerable waste forms, such as spent fuel, to remain in their current condition and mode of storage.”
I would be grateful if the Minister were to respond to these points.
In previous contributions, I have often referred to Professor James Lovelock. This evening, I want to introduce a new name into this important debate, because an article by Patrick Moore in the energy review May 2006 Holyrood supplement has caught my attention. Many, especially the environmentalists among us, will have heard of Patrick Moore, the co-founder of Greenpeace. In a very forthright article, he makes many points with which I agree. Many people in the past, himself and myself included, felt that nuclear energy was synonymous with nuclear holocaust. While he does not want to underestimate the very real dangers of nuclear technology in the hands of rogue states, he feels that we cannot simply ban every technology that is dangerous. That was the all-or-nothing mentality at the height of the cold war, when anything nuclear seemed to spell doom for humanity and the environment. After 30 years, his view has changed, and the rest of the environmental movement needs to update its views too.
It is refreshing to see that many distinguished individuals with such impeccable green credentials recognise the need for honesty and are urging their compatriots to recognise the realities that this planet now faces. Being an eternal optimist, as everyone knows, I live in hope that environmentalists such as James Lovelock, Stewart Brand, Bishop Hugh Montefiore and Patrick Moore, who have all faced the realities of climate change and come to the same conclusion, may convince those who think that being green means that they must oppose nuclear energy to see the error of their ways or to open their eyes and accept that nuclear energy can and should play a major role in protecting the earth’s climate.
The danger that the planet faces not only in Scotland and the UK, but internationally, is highlighted when we examine the damage that burning fossil fuel creates. For example, 600 coal-fired electric plants in the United States produce 36 per cent. of US emissions and nearly 10 per cent. of global emissions of CO2—the gas primarily responsible for climate change. Today, 103 nuclear reactors are quietly delivering 20 per cent. of America’s electricity. Eighty per cent. of people living within 10 miles of these plants approve of them, and that does not include the nuclear workers. I believe that the community support is similar within areas of the UK.
Of course, wind and solar power, which are intermittent and unpredictable, have a role to play, but they cannot replace big base-load plants such as coal, nuclear and hydroelectric. Natural gas, a fossil fuel, is too expensive already, and its price is too volatile to risk building big base-load plants. Given that hydroelectric resources are built pretty much to capacity, nuclear is, by elimination, the only viable substitute for coal. It is that simple.
The 600-plus coal-fired plants in the US emit nearly 2 billion tonnes of CO2 annually—equivalent to the exhaust from about 300 million automobiles. In addition, the Clean Air Council reports that coal plants are responsible for 64 per cent. of sulphur dioxide emissions, 26 per cent. of nitrous oxides, and 33 per cent. of mercury emissions. Those pollutants are eroding the health of our environment by producing acid rain, smog, respiratory illness and mercury contamination. That is not to say that we should not invest in research and development into clean coal technology. In fact, I believe that that is a must for the Government, and I would encourage more in-depth R and D into all energy supplies.
Let me conclude by urging the Minister to implement the proposals from CoRWM, taking in to account all the caveats. Urgency in implementing a solution to the nuclear waste legacy is vital. Reprocessing may need to be reconsidered, along with identification of deep geological disposal sites. I have explained why I believe that waste should be taken separately from new build, which, if it happens, will add only about 10 per cent. to the waste that we already have over the next 60 years. However, we have that waste and we must do something about it.
I reiterate a few of my questions. What can be done with existing nuclear waste? Are the Government aware of the views of experts who claim that nuclear waste will leak from containers if we adopt deep geological disposal? If so, what will they do about it? I ask my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary to answer those questions and the others that I asked. I hope that I have been positive in suggesting some solutions.
My name is John David Cairns—how clever of you to know that, Mr. Speaker. It is obviously how one gets to become Speaker. That is enough crawling for now—I shall press on with my speech. [Interruption.] I am sure I can get more in, including a reference to an excellent visit that I made to your constituency on Friday, Mr. Speaker.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, North-West (John Robertson) on securing an important debate. Given the energy review next month and the final recommendation and report by the Committee on Radioactive Waste Management, we shall hear much more about it in the approaching weeks and months.
My hon. Friend has a reputation as an expert on the issue and a considerable background in the subject. He seldom misses an opportunity to discuss issues around the civil use of nuclear technology. Indeed, I recently turned on my television, bleary eyed on Sunday morning, only to see him on the “Heaven & Earth” show, which I had hitherto assumed was reserved for bishops. However, my hon. Friend was on the programme, showing his expertise on the subject of our debate. I understand that it received more e-mails on the topic that he introduced than on the travails of the Church of England, which was the other topic that day. He is an acknowledged expert and he speaks with great authority.
I want to try to tackle directly the questions that my hon. Friend asked in the context of where we are now on managing radioactive waste safely, the CoRWM report and the forthcoming energy review. It is important to deal with the title of the debate, which is about the effect of UK Government policy on nuclear waste management in Scotland.
Policy responsibility is clearly devolved to the Scottish Parliament and Executive, but it is also characterised by widespread joint working between Whitehall Departments and their counterparts in the various devolved Administrations as well as bodies such as the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority. Technical expertise in Government on handling nuclear waste is shared across several Administrations but joint involvement and the Administrations working together go much further than that.
Joint working is currently focused on the managing radioactive waste safely programme, which updates policy on radioactive waste in the United Kingdom. The title of the programme goes some way towards addressing the first of my hon. Friend’s questions. Managing radioactive waste safely is the No. 1 priority and when Ministers make decisions on such matters, safety will be the paramount consideration. Those who question the safety of some methods of disposal such as those that my hon. Friend mentioned have every right to make their case, but Ministers will be guided by the science and putting safety first.
The central focus of the managing radioactive waste safely programme has been the long-term management of the long-lived wastes, which display higher levels of radioactivity. That led to the joint decision by UK and devolved Administration Ministers in 2002 to establish CoRWM. There is also joint oversight of the activities of the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority and joint participation in the current review of handling low level waste.
The long-term management policy for higher activity wastes will be decided by the UK Government and the devolved Administrations in the light CoRWM’s final recommendations. As we have not yet received them and have only the interim report, it is difficult for me to comment on the specific recommendations that might emerge from that. The Government will respond once CoRWM has produced its final report, which is expected in July.
As I have said, responsibility for nuclear waste in Scotland is devolved. However, the picture is of considerable joint working with the Scottish Executive on the part of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Department of Trade and Industry as the main Whitehall policy Departments involved. My hon. Friend has recognised the significance of such co-operation in selecting his topic for debate and in his speech this evening.
A joint approach involves concerns and priorities from all sides being considered together in the search for a common approach that meets the needs of all parts of the country. This is not a question of the Government imposing a view on how the Scottish Executive should use their devolved powers; it is about working with each other to address the shared problem of what to do about nuclear waste.
It being Ten o’clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.
Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn. —[Mr. Heppell.]
Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I assume that I should now carry on as normal. That is the first time that that has ever happened to me. It provided a bit of excitement to jazz up my speech.
As I was saying before I was so pleasantly interrupted, this is not about one part of the Administration foisting a view on another part. It is about the acknowledgment that we face a common challenge, and that we need to work together. To those of us who believe in devolution, this sort of joint working demonstrates how we can benefit from the diversity within the United Kingdom by making the effort needed to reach common understanding.
The Minister has talked about joined-up working, but what about joined-up thinking? The hon. Member for Glasgow, North-West (John Robertson) said that he believed that new build and waste disposal were separate issues. The First Minister of Scotland, Jack McConnell, has said that they are not. What is the Government’s position on this? Is it the same as that of the Scottish Executive and of the First Minister, or as that put forward by the hon. Gentleman?
The hon. Gentleman slightly caricatures the position that my hon. Friend has taken. Of course those issues are separate to the extent that we have nuclear waste today, and, irrespective of whether we make any decision about new nuclear build, we have to deal with that nuclear waste. That issue would be on the table irrespective of whether there were a possibility of new build. However, because there is the possibility—and it is only a possibility—of new build nuclear power stations, or of extending the life of the existing ones, there will clearly be a link between what we do with the waste that comes from those and whatever decisions are taken about the legacy waste. However, the positions are different to the degree that, irrespective of any decision that we take on new build nuclear power stations, we have to deal with the legacy waste. The First Minister fully accepts that.
Does my hon. Friend accept that the existing waste will not be stored in two separate places, one north of the border and one south of the border? The solution will be a British solution, rather than a Scottish, English or Welsh one. Is it not therefore important that, while we should talk to our colleagues north of the border, we should realise that CoRWM is putting forward a British solution rather than a Scottish one?
My hon. Friend is tempting me to comment on the final recommendations of the CoRWM report, which we simply do not have. However, it is up to the Scottish Executive to decide how they wish to progress their own response to CoRWM. In my view, which I have reiterated throughout my speech, this is clearly an area in which there has been a considerable degree of joint working. I am also clear that CoRWM is reporting to the Government as well as to the Ministers in the Scottish Executive.
I want to tell the House why that is the case, and to set out why the Scottish Executive have responsibility for this matter. Part II of schedule 5 to the Scotland Act 1998 reserves the topic of nuclear energy and makes it clear that this reservation includes nuclear safety, security and safeguards. All these are the responsibility of UK Ministers throughout the whole country. Exception (b) to this provision in head D4 of schedule 5 provides that, notwithstanding this general reservation of nuclear energy, the subject matter of the Radioactive Substances Act 1993 is devolved. Section 2 of this 1993 Act defines radioactive waste, and provisions from section 13 onwards provide for the regulation and disposal of radioactive waste. It follows, therefore, that all aspects of dealing with radioactive waste in Scotland are matter for the Scottish Parliament.
The disposal of radioactive waste is a devolved matter. Any future decisions on the disposal of radioactive waste in Scotland are for Scottish Executive Ministers. I should add for completeness that the detailed definition of radioactive waste in the 1993 Act includes nuclear waste, in the sense of substances that have been irradiated by exposure to a nuclear reaction in a reactor or as part of the construction of a reactor. That is significant because the dismantling of decommissioned nuclear reactors is consequently one of the major sources of nuclear waste by volume, and produces a good deal of the higher activity wastes, which are the concern of CoRWM.
Turning to the particular types of waste in Scotland, we have waste from our power stations and from other uses. As the Executive recognises, Scotland has to be engaged as part of the solution, not just part of the problem. The provisions for managing existing waste in Scotland are a matter for the Executive. There is no high-level waste in Scotland. Spent power station fuel is taken to Sellafield and the activity of previous high-level wastes at Dounreay has decayed.
Pending a long-term management option for intermediate-level wastes, interim arrangements are in place for them to be stored at the sites where they are created. Such interim storage facilities are built at sites as and when required in line with decommissioning plans.
That goes to some of the points that my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, North-West raised, such as the confusion that exists, whether it is deliberate as he believes or otherwise, over handling different levels of radioactive waste and those who perhaps seek to portray the low levels of radioactive waste as being on a par with the very high levels of waste, which obviously involve different sorts of management. That confuses the issue. I think that he is quite right, and during his speech he teased out the different grades of waste that are involved.
Going back to the point that my hon. Friend has made and which I clumsily made about the fact that the high-level waste goes down to Sellafield, which is south of the border, does that mean that if the Scottish Parliament and Executive decided that they wanted to control all their waste, we would have to ship high level waste back from Sellafield to Scotland for them to deal with?
My hon. Friend is encouraging me to speculate not only on what the outcome of the CoRWM report will be and the Scottish Executive’s response to that, but on what the implications will be for us of the Scottish Executive’s response to a report that has not yet been published. He will forgive me if I do not go down that road, although there is clear recognition—I want to come on to this in a moment—by the First Minister that there is a problem in Scotland of dealing with this waste.
The First Minister is showing leadership in tackling the issue and not running away from it, like those who would simply wish the waste away. Let us get ourselves a magic wand and wish it all away. Let us wish away the waste that will come from decommissioning Hunterston B and Torness. Let us wish away the waste from Dounreay and Chapel Cross. That luxury is affordable to those who are in opposition and never have to take such decisions, but those in government, whether in the Scottish Executive or here, have to take such decisions. We recognise that we cannot simply wish away the radioactive waste.
We all have to deal with the radioactive waste issue. Waste from various sources already exists and we need to ensure that we manage it appropriately. Considerable quantities of existing waste in Scotland come from the decommissioning of nuclear power plants, which have been an important part of Scottish industry and served Scottish electricity users well over several decades. There will be substantially larger volumes of such waste in Scotland as decommissioning proceeds and in time takes in the stations at Hunterston B and Torness, which are still operating.
A recent study estimated that the volume of intermediate and low level radioactive waste in Scotland will grow from about 14,000 cu m in 2004 to 54,000 cu m by 2014, and continue to grow thereafter as Hunterston B and Torness move into decommissioning.
There is this legacy of waste in Scotland, but it is a devolved responsibility as to how it should be handled in the long-term. It will have to be addressed by the Administration in Edinburgh, but there have been important considerations in the Scottish Executive in agreeing, first, with UK Ministers to set up CoRWM and continuing co-operation, ongoing, through the managing radioactive waste safely programme.
We are at the stage where CoRWM is about to finalise its recommendations, and all involved will need to consider how they wish to respond. Some critics appear to consider devolved responsibility in this area is simply the power to keep saying no. That is not how responsible government works. There is a problem about what to do about legacy waste in Scotland—it is a devolved problem—and the devolved Administration will have to address it. However, the First Minister is well aware of the position. He said in the Scottish Parliament on 18 May:
“I believe strongly that nuclear waste has an impact not just on people today but on future generations. It is an issue that we in Scotland need to address because we have to be part of the solution, not just part of the problem… we have to acknowledge that we in Scotland have a duty to deal with that issue in order to protect future generations”.
That is a sensible approach which we would expect from the First Minister. It is for everyone in the United Kingdom Government and the Scottish Executive to continue to work jointly in responding to CoRWM, and to work in other ways towards agreement on a shared approach to the handling of all types of radioactive waste from all parts of Britain.
My hon. Friend asked a couple of other questions. He spoke about the planning regime, which is also devolved in Scotland. The energy review, however, will consider the planning regime not in the context of nuclear new build, but as it applies to all forms of electricity generation. We are aware that, not just in Scotland but particularly in Scotland, some of the most controversial aspects of the planning regime revolve around onshore wind generation. Every application for onshore wind generation itself generates, in the first instance, enormous public concern and many objections. Incidentally, the Opposition parties here that demand more and more forms of renewables are often the same parties that object to every planning application and permission in the country.
My hon. Friend asked about the vulnerability of nuclear installations in an age of global terrorism. That is an important and serious question, and one that needs to be addressed now rather than in the context of nuclear new build. Any prospect of nuclear new build is still some years away, and we are dealing with the threat of global terrorism today. My hon. Friend would not expect me to go into detail about the security arrangements to ensure that our nuclear installations are protected, but they are in place. They have been thoroughly reviewed since 11 September, and are the subject of continuing reviews. There have been no terrorist incidents at our nuclear installations so far, but my hon. Friend is right to keep us abreast of the need to ensure their safety when there is an ongoing terrorist threat.
As I said at the outset, we are in a holding position. We await the final outcome of the energy review, which is expected some time next month, and we await what will be said about how we are to provide the energy that our country needs without wrecking the planet in the process. “How do we do that?” is a simple question; answering it is more complex, but that is the task with which the energy review must grapple. We also await the final report from CoRWM, which is dealing with the legacy of waste from which we simply cannot run away. We have to deal with it, because it is here and no amount of wishful thinking will dispose of it. We can deal with it only by making decisions based on the science and the recommendations of CoRWM. It is for CoRWM to make the recommendations and, ultimately, it will be for Ministers to make the decisions.
Unfortunately, we have already heard a recitation of an old list of sites from a survey carried out many years ago. We need a public debate on the siting of any deep geological disposition, if that is the recommendation of CoRWM and if it is what Ministers decide. There is no secret list of sites, and there is no plan to dump nuclear waste in Scotland or anywhere else. The whole CoRWM process has been about a grown-up consideration of this issue, based on the science and moving forward from CoRWM into the months— and, indeed, years—ahead, because many of these decisions will not be implemented for many years to come. So we have the time to take forward this issue in a considered manner that is rooted in the science and free from the hysteria that often marks this debate, but on the very clear understanding that it is not an issue that we can duck. We need to deal with it, irrespective of the outcome of the energy review and of the future of nuclear power in this country.
I finish by once again congratulating my hon. Friend on continuing to raise these important issues. His speech this evening is weighty and important contribution to a very significant debate, to which we will doubtless return in the months ahead.
Question put and agreed to.
Adjourned accordingly at fifteen minutes past Ten o’clock.