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Nuclear Power

Volume 502: debated on Thursday 10 December 2009

To ask the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change what assessment he has made of the merits of including in his Department’s report, Appraisal of sustainability of the draft national nuclear policy statement: main report, published on 9 November 2009, an appraisal relating to the uranium mined for the nuclear fuel used in new reactors. (305241)

The Appraisal of Sustainability is intended to assess the environmental and sustainability impacts of the draft Nuclear National Policy Statement and therefore focuses on those impacts which arise from the draft Nuclear National Policy Statement itself. The draft Nuclear National Policy Statement provides guidance to the Infrastructure Planning Commission on the construction and operation of new nuclear power stations. It does not cover mining or milling of uranium.

The Government have previously considered the environmental impacts of uranium mining and milling as part of the 2007 consultation on nuclear power. The Government published their response in the Nuclear White Paper in January 2008. In the Nuclear White Paper, the Government set out that conventional uranium mining do not differ significantly from mining of other metalliferous ores or coal for other types of power stations. Furthermore, an increasing proportion of the world’s uranium now comes from in-situ leaching. This is a process that does not require the ore to be mined and generates much less waste, though it can have a negative impact on the water table and is not suitable for all types of uranium deposits. There are established environmental constraints, such as the regulations governing uranium mining in Australia which cover, among other things, environmental protection and the requirement to meet environmental approvals before mining proceeds. Additionally, most uranium mining companies in Australia and Canada, which supply much of the world’s uranium, have achieved certification from the International Organisation for Standardisation. This body sets the standard for, and undertakes audits of, environmental management systems. These environmental constraints minimise the environmental impacts of mining operations.

The consultation on my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State’s proposed decisions on the regulatory justification of new nuclear power station designs, copies of which have been placed in the Library of the House and are available at:

www.decc.gov.uk/en/content/cms/consultations/reg_just_cons/reg_just_cons.aspx

also covers this issue. In the consultation, my right hon. Friend explains that he considers that he is not bound to take practices outside the UK into account in making a regulatory justification decision but he has none the less considered the issue in view of fact that various respondents to the previous consultation on the regulatory justification process had raised concerns about the issue.