rose to move, That this House takes note of the report of the European Union Committee on Managing Nuclear Safety and Waste: The Role of the EU (37th Report, HL Paper 211, Session 2005-06).
The noble Lord said: My Lords, I can hope only that the trains from Victoria station later are not in the same condition as trains elsewhere. I start by stressing to your Lordships that the report that we are considering is not per se about going into detail about what we think in technical terms about managing nuclear safety and waste. It is about the role of the EU in this area and, particularly, whether we think that it is right that the European Council should have a stake in the subject.
I am opening the debate because I had the honour and good luck to be chairman of EU Sub-Committee D for four years when we undertook this study; and I am very pleased that my successor, the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, is also here to take part—as is the noble Lord, Lord Lewis, who is a wise, and was very much the best, scientist on our committee during the years that he and I served on it. I welcome both noble Lords to this debate.
This study of the EU and nuclear issues was one of the most interesting that we undertook. I thank Suzanne Todd, our Clerk throughout this inquiry. She was competent, perceptive and had an extraordinary ability to divine what we wanted to say even when we were not quite certain what that was. She really was a remarkable Clerk and one wishes her great success in her career in the House of Lords. I would also like to thank Professor Richard Clegg, our specialist adviser.
It was so interesting because many of us on the committee were, at the start, really quite uncertain about whether the EU should have a role in nuclear safety and waste disposal. I was certainly in that position. On the one hand, there is the argument that if something goes seriously wrong with a nuclear installation, or in the safe management or transport of high-level radioactive waste, it affects not only one country but the Continent: the Continent of Europe. The enlargement of the EU brought in new members, some of which have older, Russian-designed reactors. There were doubts about the safety of those reactors. The example of Chernobyl from 20 years ago is not forgotten, either in nearby Finland, or in Ireland, which is far more remote. On the other hand, the United Kingdom—and others who generate energy by nuclear means—argue very strongly that they have the ultimate responsibility for both the design and the safe operation of their plants. Therefore, in effect, the EU should not have any role.
It was, therefore, from the basis of contrary arguments that we approached this report. The draft directives that we looked at and are discussing this evening were brought in by the Commission in January 2003, as we say in paragraph 7 of our report. They were limited to nuclear safety and the safe management of high-level radioactive waste. This came to be known as the “nuclear package”. I was never quite certain why. “Package” is a friendly word; people tend to think that something nice will happen when they get a package. That is not a feeling that most people associate with “nuclear”. It has, however, always been called the nuclear package and that is the phrase we used.
A qualified majority was needed for the two draft directives to get through and become law. The first package was rejected by eight of the countries involved. It was then modified and in September 2004 the EU Commission presented new, modified directives. They were still rejected by seven countries and a qualified majority was not obtained. One of the most interesting things was that France was the country that changed its position between the first and second votes. Although we visited Paris and talked to the French, we never really got a clear view of the reason why they changed their mind. Without wishing to be too cynical, my own view was that, quite simply, the French now lead Europe in the knowledge of how to build new nuclear power plants, and they concluded that worldwide acceptance of their practice, with a European stamp on it, would help them to get orders throughout the world. Therefore, in a very practical manner, they decided that they would be able to increase their nuclear business if there was an EU stamp on it, and that is why they changed their mind.
We travelled to Finland, France and Belgium. In the end, we concluded—in paragraph 118 of our report—that the adoption of the safety directive would not improve nuclear safety standards within the EU. No case had been made for the need to improve safety standards. We were impressed by the International Atomic Energy Agency guidelines and the standards that they set on nuclear energy. These are enforced by peer review and we concluded that this was very effective. The IAEA is now reinforced by a new body, the Western European Nuclear Regulators Association, which is discussed in paragraph 131. It examines, at a technical level, the ability of the European Union to form common approaches to nuclear safety. Again, we were convinced that that was the right approach. We therefore recommended that the Commission and the Council should take full account of the West European Nuclear Regulators Association and that future EU action on nuclear safety should be based on the study work being carried out by WENRA.
We found reaching a decision on the long-term management of high-level radioactive waste a good deal more difficult. The fact is that there are now operations in place for dealing with low-level and intermediate waste, and France, Finland and Sweden are advancing plans on how to deal with their high-level waste. But a good many countries that are producers of nuclear energy in Europe have not yet managed to do that, including the United Kingdom. There is a legacy of 50 years of accumulated waste and, frankly, we in this country have not yet decided how to tackle the problem.
We felt that the Commission certainly deserved praise for putting forward its ideas and for saying that it was proposing to have a role in the matter, but some witnesses told us that they thought that its approach was too forceful, heavy-handed and prescriptive. That was the attitude of the witnesses from our Government, in particular. Perhaps at this point I may quote, from paragraph 53 of our report, the remarks of Elliot Morley MP, who was then a Minister of State at Defra. He described the Commission’s attitude as,
“a top-down approach which is basically stipulating solutions without taking into account the different circumstances in different Member States”.
It has to be said that that is not a wholly convincing argument, but, by and large, we were swayed by it. We concluded at paragraph 59:
“Although we do not advocate adoption of the waste Directive as drafted, we do see a role for the Community in providing the impetus for Member States to take action towards the management of high-level waste. This would begin to address the serious issues that affect public opinion”.
Those last two words—“public opinion”—are at the heart of the matter. We were increasingly impressed by the lack of knowledge in general terms throughout the European Union about the pros and cons of nuclear electric generation. I was struck by a Eurobarometer poll held last week, which said that 80 per cent of EU citizens who were questioned were in favour of renewable energy but only 20 per cent were in favour of nuclear power. That stresses the need for better and more information. There simply needs to be greater public acceptance if nuclear is to grow for power generation purposes.
In what I am about to say next, I may differ from the views of other members of the committee that I chaired, and I did not warn them that I was going to say this. Six months have passed since we produced our report and I suspect that it is now out of date. The Council of Ministers, faced with a shortage of oil and gas, worried about Russia and its use of gas supplies for political measures, and greatly concerned about climate change, has now agreed to the EU producing an energy policy. It is surprising that it has not been noticed more, but it will embrace a nuclear generation policy.
Just a week ago, the EU Commission issued as a press release 75 pages dedicated to a nuclear illustrative programme and memorandum. It all came under the general heading, “Energy for a Changing World”. The memorandum is headed “Brussels, 10 January” and I shall quote two sentences from it:
“It is for each member to decide whether to use nuclear power. That is the careful agnostic approach of the EU”.
It goes on:
“The European Commission has proposed the establishment of an EU high level group of national nuclear regulators in order to further develop a common understanding and European rules in the field of nuclear safety and security”.
I have not heard of that before. It was in none of the newspapers. But there it is. The EU Commission, whatever we said in our report, will not give up its interest in nuclear energy. It is surprising that little attention was paid to this aspect in the papers last week. When an integrated energy and climate change package to cut emissions was proposed, there was little talk of the fact that the EU was again banging the nuclear drum. It will continue to put on an agnostic face, but underneath there is a profound belief in both the economics of nuclear energy generation and its necessity to cut greenhouse gas emissions to reach the EU target of 20 per cent reduction in the next 13 years.
That is supported by the Commissioner for Energy Policy, Andris Piebalgs whom we met, and I would be surprised if it is not also supported by the Commissioner for the Environment, Stavros Dimas. I do not blame the EU Commission for being determined to remain this involved. After all it is a continental as well as a national issue. There are possibly great shortages of oil and gas ahead of us, and one can understand why the Commission is moving in the direction that it is doing.
I would be surprised if the EU Commission does not present us with a new version of a nuclear package within the next few years. Then, of course, it will be up to the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, and the EU Committee to decide whether to have yet another investigation into the subject. Perhaps if the Committee so decides, it will draw different conclusions to those reached in the report we are debating this afternoon. There is no doubt that we need open, understandable dialogue in which the European Union should promote transparency, best practice and more knowledge on nuclear energy issues. I beg to move.
Moved, That this House takes note of the report of the European Union Committee on Managing Nuclear Safety and Waste: The Role of the EU (37th Report, HL Paper 211, Session 2005-06).—(Lord Renton of Mount Harry.)
The last speech I made in your Lordships’ House was earlier this week on the conventions of the House. I gladly follow perhaps one of the lesser conventions and thank and congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Renton of Mount Harry, not just for chairing our inquiry on nuclear waste and nuclear energy, but for the way in which he presided for four years over Sub-Committee D and left a distinctive and proper mark on the way in which that committee conducted its affairs. I also join the noble Lord in thanking Suzanne Todd, our Clerk, for the work she did. It is no reflection or criticism on the qualities or capabilities of her successor, Mr Preston, to say that I very much regret that she is no longer with us. I shall not go into the reasons.
Any inquiry into nuclear waste or nuclear energy would have been difficult. An inquiry which links both nuclear waste and nuclear energy—and if you then throw the role of the EU into the mix—is likely not just to double the difficulty but to square it. During our inquiry the noble Lord, Lord Renton, made sure that the whole drift on the inquiry was evidence-led. As a result, many of us—in fact, just about all of us—modified our views as the inquiry proceeded. We ought to say that we learnt something about the issues. We were able to produce a unanimous report due to the way in which the noble Lord led us. I hope it is not as out of date as the noble Lord indicates.
Any debate about nuclear safety and waste will inevitably be placed in the wider context of energy security. That is now, quite properly, a policy issue of the highest priority among the member states of the EU, some of which are facing real difficulties in guaranteeing their citizens security of energy supply as a result of earlier decisions on the sourcing mix. I had better put my cards on the table: individual member states have the responsibility and duty for coming up with policy solutions necessary for energy security for their citizens. That cannot be brushed off on the EU in any way. For the United Kingdom, I suspect that this means more of everything: more emphasis on energy saving, greater levels of recovery from our existing oil and gas fields, more clean coal, more renewables and more nuclear. We shall inevitably face, and are facing, the issues of nuclear waste and safety. I hope that some of those decisions will be made with greater speed in the future.
Nuclear is a contested area; contested within the member states and—more importantly for our inquiry, the terms of our report and this debate—between them. The Governments of the members take radically different views on the future of nuclear, from those who are likely to continue to be heavily dependent on nuclear well into the foreseeable future, to those who have effectively written nuclear out of their plans. Indeed, some find it difficult to make up their minds on a reasonable timescale. Opposing views are held passionately, and political careers have been built on the issue. That is worrying. The very strength and passion of those views makes me hesitant to see a significant interventionist role for EU legislation in either area. I cannot help but worry that opening the door to EU legislation over waste and safety would run the risk that the content of that legislation would be influenced as much by the attitudes of member states to the substantive issue of nuclear power itself as by the more limited considerations of nuclear waste and safety. That is potentially extremely dangerous.
Given my reservations on the role of EU legislation, I am happy with our conclusions on safety at paragraph 118:
“We do not believe adoption of the safety Directive would improve nuclear safety standards within the EU. Witnesses did not provide any evidence of a need to improve safety standards within the EU which currently operate satisfactorily within the IAEA reporting system. Hence the case for the safety Directive is not made”.
On waste, I am equally happy with our conclusion that:
“Although we do not advocate adoption of the waste Directive as drafted, we do see a role for the Community in providing the impetus for Member States to take action towards the management of high level waste. This would begin to address the serious issues that affect public opinion”.
As we look forward, I emphasise our major conclusion at paragraph 126:
“Furthermore, energy policy choices are a matter of national responsibility and it would not be appropriate for Community legislation to be used to influence this choice”—
in relation to what the noble Lord, Lord Renton of Mount Harry, said about the emerging view of the EU, particularly the Commission, towards nuclear energy and the possibility of a European energy policy with a nuclear component. That is vital. It is a risk that we could not and should not take.
My Lords, I was not and am not a member of the sub-committee, but I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Renton, on a most interesting and informative document. As has been mentioned by both noble Lords who have spoken, if you bring together the subjects of the European Union, European competence and the nuclear issue you have a toxic conversation and debate on your hands.
Although it was not the case for members of the sub-committee, if I were reading the report as a member of the public, I would come away with the feeling that it was the Commission making its first big push, its land grab, on nuclear and atomic issues. As the House is well aware, one of the original areas of the European communities was the EURATOM treaty, which was signed 50 years ago this year. Perhaps for good or perhaps for worse, it is unlike the treaty of Rome in that it has not been modified on numerous occasions and stands very much as it is. The Commission is its secretariat. Even under the proposals for a European constitution that was supposed to rationalise the European Union in many ways, the EURATOM Treaty would intriguingly have still remained separate and remained there.
Under the treaty, the Commission, as secretariat, already has a number of powers. One of the major areas for the signing and creation of that treaty was atomic and nuclear safety. That is a legitimate area, and one that Britain signed up for in 1973. Under Articles 40 to 44 of the EURATOM Treaty, the Commission gets involved in a number of specific procedures. Under Article 41, as many members of the committee will be aware, there are areas of strict notification about nuclear facilities, not just about their establishment but about changes and decommissioning. For better or for worse, the Commission already has some 150 inspectors who are able to inspect nuclear facilities throughout the European Union and who do so within the United Kingdom.
As the report relates, the European Union and the Commission were very involved in negotiations with accession countries in eastern Europe, and we can probably say quite rightly so because the 15 member states of the European Union at that time had leverage over applicant nations during the negotiation and accession process. During that time, some six nuclear power stations in Lithuania, Bulgaria and Slovakia were closed down under that agreement because their safety standards were not felt to be sufficient. The track record of the European Union goes beyond that. In the Tacis programme, which came to a close at the end of 2006, the European Union spent some €1.3 billion on ensuring nuclear and atomic safety in the Russian Federation and the Russian near-abroad. In all those areas, the European Union is already heavily involved in atomic and nuclear issues by treaty.
As the noble Lord, Lord Renton, said, we had a major move forward on energy policy—which will, no doubt, be debated strongly at the Council of Ministers and in national parliaments—with the announcement last week of the strategy for energy. Few European citizens, or their member states and national parliaments, would say that the European Union should not be involved in the area of energy security and sustainability, or that of emissions and climate change. Those are two of the pillars; the third, of energy efficiency and competition, is one that some of us might argue is a member state issue, being one of those included in the single market. So, we already have a high level of European involvement in all those areas.
Now, is that valid? My own view is that it certainly is, in certain areas. As an individual and a private citizen, I would say, “Yes, I am very concerned to ensure that nuclear incidents do not happen on the European continent”, as clearly, that would affect trans-national boundaries, as nuclear pollution knows no such boundaries. I would say that it is right during the accession of states, when it is also the right time to ensure that security at nuclear plants is all right. The leverage is less once those negotiations have taken place. I also feel strongly that there should be a European energy policy.
What does that mean for this report and these two directives? Certainly, it does not mean that the European Union—or the European Commission in particular—should be able to delve down and get over-involved in nuclear safety or nuclear waste disposal. What do we look for in the criteria to see whether involvement is valid? A number of them have been mentioned in the report.
First, there is a clear issue of added value. If the European Union is to get involved here, there has to be some added value—but where? It could be in finding solutions in some areas. The waste disposal area could be one, since the report showed well that, Finland apart, no member states—the 26 others in the European Union—have found a way forward in practice or policy decisions to solve the issues of long-term nuclear waste disposal. It could be in enforceability; if we felt that we should be able to enforce standards more than at present, then directives or regulations from the European Commission could give us a legal base to do so.
Otherwise, value could be added in the areas of safety or trust. The noble Lord, Lord Renton of Mount Harry, mentioned in his opening speech the widespread distrust of the nuclear industry and nuclear power, which particularly struck me in the report. It is possible that if the European Union had more enforceable powers, or a controlling purview of that area, then that public trust might increase. That is debatable, but added value could perhaps happen there.
The second principle needed, apart from added value, is one of member-state choice. It is very important that although an energy policy across the Union would be correct to have carbon emissions targets—and, perhaps, certain renewables targets—it should in no way be able to specify the individual mix within member states. The decisions, particularly on nuclear power, must be made only by individual member states. I cannot think of anything that would destroy any harmony within the Union more quickly than trying to impose nuclear energy on countries such as Ireland or Austria.
A third principle stressed in the report relates to bureaucracy. When a system is functioning reasonably, as at the moment, we certainly do not want an additional and completely parallel one of inspections and checking security. Those are three of the principles, but I think that there is also a fourth. We should not underestimate the distrust there is of the nuclear industry, nor should we belittle the fear of its secrecy or of major incidents that can affect us all. We all know about Three-Mile Island and Chernobyl. I remember that in the mid-1990s one of the main reasons for Ireland electing its first Green MEPs to the European Parliament was the fear of toxicity in the Irish Sea and the performance of the Sellafield plant. This has had a major effect and caused distrust among citizens of other member states, and we might have the same problem with other countries as well.
So how do we move forward from this situation? I believe strongly that the European Union should have an energy policy, particularly in the areas of sustainability and energy security, although we are in a slightly different position in the UK in relation to security because of our reliance on gas from eastern Europe.
There is a plus to be said for enforceability, although I might stand uniquely in the House in this regard. Let me explain why I think enforceability can be important. First, we have huge leverage in eastern Europe while we are negotiating with potential new accession states. That leverage disappears once they become members.
One of the outcomes of the strong emphasis on lower carbon emissions is that all member states are now looking for ways to generate non-fossil fuel power. As we know, the take-up of renewables is slow and takes some time, and so there is an emphasis, if not on new nuclear build, on extending the life of existing nuclear plants. Indeed, Sweden has already extended the life of its plants by some 10 years and is looking to see whether that could be extended further to 20 years. So, from that point of view, there will be an increasing question mark from the community and individuals over whether the decisions that member states have taken to get round other problems and other targets are safe. As the European Union moves further eastwards, as it is likely to do over the next 10 or 20 years, there will still be an issue around the nuclear power stations of the former Soviet Union. So, for all those reasons, we should consider enforceability; it could be important.
Where do we go from here? My view is that we should have an energy policy, which could be at a European level, and that enforceability is desirable, but only very much as a last stage.
There may be a particular issue over the potentially increased bureaucracy of an inspection regime but, again, parts of the EURATOM Treaty already ensure that civil nuclear material is not transferred to the military. There is a regime under which the International Atomic Energy Authority works with member states and the European Commission to ensure that standards are fulfilled. It is exactly the kind of model that we can apply to this situation.
I would be very concerned if the European Commission made a major move into this area but it does have a contribution to make. In the area of waste disposal, we are so far away from finding and implementing the right solution that the EU will have little influence over it. The security issues are important. Measures which give the public confidence in the industry are also important, and the European Union and the European Commission can play a role in that area. The irony is that I remain quite sceptical about European nuclear power, certainly until disposable mechanisms and security issues can be resolved. If the European Union had a role in increasing public confidence and providing some level of enforceability, then, ironically, nuclear power would probably become more acceptable to the citizens of Europe.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Renton of Mount Harry, for the excellent way in which he chaired Sub-Committee D. It was a real joy to be present and to see the way in which he was able to guide us through what was often rather deep water. He did so with great efficiency. I also pay tribute to the Clerk, Suzanne Todd, who made a very effective summary and report of the very complex deliberations that were involved in the inquiry. Initially, we were fortunate to have the expert advice of Professor Richard Clegg of the Dalton Nuclear Institute, whose experience in nuclear energy matters was very extensive and significant to the study.
As the noble Lord, Lord Renton, said, this is a changing area. To me it is remarkable just how much has happened within the past six months and how much will happen in the next six months. To get the matter into reality, we are dealing with a problem that has been around for decades and the solutions will not be clear for decades to come.
The report is concerned with two aspects of nuclear policy: the safety and inspection of nuclear sites and the effective disposal of nuclear waste. Under the present system, nuclear safety and the management of nuclear waste is the responsibility of national Governments. The guidelines, the peer review of nuclear sites and the disposal procedures are organised through the United Nations International Atomic Energy Agency. It was apparent that there has been very strong support from all the witnesses with whom we discussed the role and function of that organisation. It has a very high standing indeed.
Some of the underlying interests in the nuclear programme are, very naturally, the worries over the security of future energy supplies, particularly in light of the situation with Russia at the moment. The problems with greenhouse gases and climate change are related to the production of energy from fossil fuels, whereas nuclear is seen as a source of energy that does not involve the production of greenhouse gases. However, it is important to realise that there are significant environmental problems associated with the emissions produced in the initial construction of nuclear plants. That is very heavy indeed in carbon dioxide emissions, which may correspond to years of emissions from alternative sources. Any future programme of nuclear construction should include an assessment of the emissions involved in the construction of the plant and the timescale of operation of the plant to neutralise those emissions. I think one may come up with some rather surprising figures when one looks at that problem.
Most of the European reactors are considered to be old, the average lifetime being about 22 years. That is leading to a serious debate on the replacement of these reactors, as has been mentioned. That was a major contributory factor in the EU timing and formulation of the present directives. After the Chernobyl disaster there was a general recognition that nuclear safety was a trans-boundary problem and it is understandable that the EU has pressed for involvement with nuclear safety. The main users of nuclear power—eight of the 25 member states—rejected the first proposals from the EU and even a second proposal was rejected by seven of them. Those were the states primarily concerned with the production of nuclear energy. It would be very interesting to know how the other 17 states viewed the directive. Perhaps the Minister could inform us. As far as I know, we were not able to decide on that point. The states that opposed the directive made it clear that they did not wish their national responsibility for safety to be compromised; they felt that the directive was merely placing another layer of bureaucracy in the system. They expressed complete confidence with the present IAEA arrangements for safety inspection. I shall return to that point in a moment.
As the noble Lord, Lord Renton said, the Council of Europe has set up a working party on nuclear safety (WPNS) which seeks a solution to this problem. I believe it was scheduled to report by the end of 2006. Perhaps the Minister could inform us how this proposal is progressing. My feeling is that all indicators are against there being any change in the attitude of the dissenting members towards EU interaction.
The second aspect of the EU proposals is the position over the disposal of nuclear waste. Quite honestly this problem has been tasking the industry for many years. The initial suggestion by NIREX of deep burial in suitable geological sites was rejected a number of years ago, mainly from public reaction. A relook at this question by the House of Lords Committee on Science and Technology came to a similar solution but made an added proviso that the sites would be available for constant monitoring and inspection.
Perhaps it is important to recognise the amount of nuclear waste for disposal, which is the accumulated waste over the past 50 years. This is a relatively small amount of material. The high-energy waste, for instance, could be confined within a room of about 11 cubic metres; in other words something about the size of the Moses Room would contain 50 years of very high-energy nuclear waste.
The committee found in its visit to Finland that the deep disposal method was the accepted procedure and in fact this is the projected method of disposal by the majority of the nuclear nations. In the EU Belgium, France, Germany and Sweden, and outside it Switzerland, Japan and the USA, have chosen this as their method of disposal.
Quite recently an excellent report by the government Committee on Radioactive Waste Management favoured an interim storage of the waste followed by deep geological disposal with the added possibility of future recovery of the waste if a more appropriate procedure for disposal or recovery became available.
Thus all three UK studies have favoured the deep geological burial of waste as the best solution for the problem. The government body CoRWM conducted extensive consultation with the public and emphasised in its recommendations—it made a number of recommendations, but turn to Recommendation 14—very strong interaction and involvement of the community in any decisions on the site of long-term waste facilities. The Government have welcomed the CoRWM report and accept,
“that geological disposal coupled with safe and secure interim storage is the way forward for the long-term management of the UK's higher activity wastes".
So there seems to be a general acceptance of this deep geological burial solution, but it is important to recognise that there is going to be a problem over storage before burial. This may be for many years for the most active waste. The more active wastes are mainly in the form of liquids. These cannot be vitrified, which seems to be the method that is being suggested for use in burial. This is because of the energy produced by the radiation, which can lead to the heating or boiling of the liquids. This waste, as we have said, constitutes a relatively small amount of the total, but it does provide a problem which involves storage rather than burial for quite a number of years.
It will be decades before the waste is buried and perhaps it is important to recognise with the amount of research being carried out in material science concerning the possible ways of containing these materials that present procedures will probably not be the ones that are used in the burial method.
One of the most important points is going to be selling the sites to the public. In addition to the geological limitations, there will be a sensitivity on the part of many if not all in the local community to the siting of such a deposit, and it is significant that the Government appear to be very sensitive to the suggestions by CoRWM for public involvement. In fact, the Government have agreed that they will take the,
“lead in identifying the process and criteria to be used”,
in deciding the storage facilities. However, the responsibility for the implementation of the geological disposal has been given to the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, with a relatively short timescale, to my mind, in which to produce an outline proposal. Perhaps the Minister could comment on this programme.
I have sympathy with the suggestions of Friends of the Earth on the long-term management and packaging of wastes. Indeed, one of the recommendations in our report is that the EU should have some concern in the matter.
We should put this in perspective. The increasing demand for energy is not unique to Europe; it is a global problem. There will be impacts in countries such as China and India, as well as Brazil, South Africa and other Asian countries. Nuclear energy is at least a partial solution to these problems. This emphasises the point that both the disposal and safety of nuclear waste are an international, not just a European, problem.
The present inspection and control system is operated by the IAEA on a global scale and, as I said, appears to be satisfactory as far as the industry is concerned. However, as has been pointed out, the nuclear reactors in Lithuania, which were relatively new, have been rejected as a condition of accession to the Union. This decision was taken on the advice of the EU committee WENRA, to which I think the noble Lord, Lord Renton, referred. WENRA declined to give evidence to our committee.
WENRA’s decision appears to impact on the effectiveness of the use of the IAEA as an inspection procedure. Here we have something that was agreed but then rejected on a second look by the European Union. This has severe implications for the reliability of future building programmes throughout the world, if they are to be viewed by the IAEA. I would appreciate the Minister’s comments on the reasons for WENRA’s rejection of the Lithuanian reactors and on the long-term implications for the standing of the IAEA as the arbiter of nuclear construction and safety.
My Lords, as a speaker in this debate who is neither on the Front Bench nor a member of Sub-Committee D, I should start by explaining that the debate caught my eye because I had the good fortune to have been elected to represent the county of Cumbria, where I live, in the European Parliament for 10 years. As a result, I had perforce to take an interest in nuclear issues in that context and so became slightly more familiar than most with the EURATOM aspect of the European Union’s activities. I, too, join in the accolades that are being paid to my noble friend Lord Renton. Not having been a member of the committee, I can hardly claim first-hand experience of his great virtues, but I know that that is his reputation on these Benches.
The report has resonance with current proposals in this country to resolve the issues that relate to the long-term disposal of nuclear waste and to pick up where the ill-fated initiatives of the 1990s came to grief. Before making some more general points, I should like to make two specific points that relate to waste disposal in this country.
As the report points out, it is clearly a good idea to establish any possible repository for the long-term storage of nuclear waste in an area where it is accepted from choice. But in taking that approach we need to be clear that, whatever is done, the views of any host community today should not be the overriding consideration, even if the geological conditions are acceptable. Future generations cannot express a view now and it will be they who will experience the consequences of what we decide in our generation.
I think it important that the state should take an objective view about these matters before making a final decision. I do not believe it is good governance for the state to maintain, in coming to a conclusion, that certain volunteers have come forward and, despite knowing in their heart of hearts that what is proposed may not be the right thing, to simply stand by and watch people sell their heritage for a mess of potage.
Secondly, there is a slight asymmetry in this debate between England and Scotland. As I understand it, the disposal of nuclear waste is a devolved responsibility. It follows that Scotland can refuse to store what I might call English material, while it is not possible to do the same the other way around. It is important that we know what the UK Government feel about that and, in the event of it becoming an issue in the deliberations about the possible long-term storage of nuclear waste in repositories, what they are proposing to do about it. The Minister may say that this is a hypothetical question, and until it becomes a reality there is no need to deal with it directly. However, because it is a possibility, it seems by definition to be part of the rules of the game within which the decisions that will be taken are set. As such, it is no longer a hypothetical consideration but a real issue, in terms of the process for determining what is going to happen next. I would be interested, now or later, to hear from the Minister how the Government view that matter.
Having read parts of the report, I found it became apparent, as I think my noble friend Lord Renton said in his opening remarks, that while it is nominally about nuclear waste, it is at least as much about identifying circumstances in which European Union legislation is appropriate. It is that aspect on which I will concentrate the rest of my remarks, even though I regret that the report itself—no doubt this is because it was Sub-Committee D—did not drill down deeply into that aspect.
In the time when I was in the European Parliament, as well as representing Cumbria, I also sat for 10 years on the legal committee, which looked into the questions of legal base and the legality of European Union legislation. The facts this report discusses are an almost textbook example of where such an examination should be carried out.
In analysing it, there are three crucial questions—rather than two, as intimated in the report. The first is: is there a legal base in the treaty for possible European involvement? Secondly, would any legislation be compatible with the principles of subsidiarity? Thirdly, would any legislation be consistent with the principles of proportionality, which is different? The last point is not touched upon as such in the report. That is a pity. I shall explain: my own views on these matters are in line with those of a distinguished Spanish socialist former colleague in the Parliament, Manuel Medina Ortega, who consistently argues that proportionality is a primary principle in consideration of these things. It is far too frequently overlooked in analysis.
In the case of the nuclear package as a whole, therefore, are the three criteria met? With regard to the first question—is there a legal base?—I think there probably is. I suggest that the second question we need to consider is: would legislation meet the test of subsidiarity? I think the answer to that, again, is yes. After all, given the nature of the way we humans use land, the law of tort since the early days has always recognised the interests of neighbours in adjoining development. That underlying approach has been expanded over the years into the area of public law, with what I might describe as laws of land use or planning. In the case of nuclear projects, the extent of that interest goes quite wide, for perfectly obvious reasons. It follows that it is legitimate and proper in principle for the European Union to take an interest, with a view to legislating if appropriate.
Let me explain: I will use the example of Sellafield, although we could equally well use that of the French reprocessing establishment at Cap de la Hague and the United Kingdom. I think it is legitimate for the Irish to maintain that they have some kind of interest in what goes on at Sellafield. But via the EURATOM provisions and other international arrangements to which they are party, they have an input into the rules which form the regulatory framework which surrounds the operation of what goes on there.
While the Irish have no direct involvement in the operation of the plant or of the enforcement of the rules under which it functions, they have a legal and political status in ensuring that the rules that are in place are enforced. It seems to me that in the world as it now is, this strikes a balance between the demands of national sovereignty and the implications of interdependence.
In this case, proportionality—the criterion which I suggest is too frequently overlooked—is crucial. In layman’s terms, what actual value added will be introduced in this area by EU involvement? In short, I cannot see that there is all that much. After all, there seems to be no dispute that the International Atomic Energy Authority plays a significant and positive role in these matters. While its procedures are very different from those of the European Union, as far as I—an atomic layman—can tell, it performs an effective and responsible function in dealing with the regulatory framework surrounding the disposal of nuclear waste. That being so, it seems to render the kind of detailed activity that some bits of the EU nuclear package anticipate unnecessary. It would be highly possible that it might be legitimate for it to get involved if the IAEA did not exist, but it does.
Let me put it slightly differently. We all know that national Governments are frequently criticised for the so-called gold-plating of European Union regulations, but if the European Union introduces the nuclear package in the form debated, it is gold-plating the work of the IAEA, with equally undesirable results. That seems to be a mistake.
As I have already explained, I think it is a shame that the report shied away from a strict analysis of the political, legal and constitutional basis of the proposed legislation. However, I am extremely reassured that its conclusions and the argument it used to reach them are ones with which I concur.
In his opening remarks, my noble friend Lord Renton commented on the recent political change in the European Union’s approach to energy policy. That is undoubtedly an interesting development, but I am not all that convinced that it necessarily makes a great deal of difference to the position I would take on the possible disposal of long-term nuclear waste. That is because, as was touched on by the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, whether or not any particular member state goes down the nuclear route will depend upon the decisions of the Government in that country. It occurred to me while I was listening to the noble Lord that we are in a slightly similar position to the countries of Europe at the end of the Thirty Years War, when they had to decide whether they were Catholic or Protestant. The doctrine of the Treaty of Westphalia was cujus regio, ejus religio. In the case of the nuclear industry, the decision that will be taken by each member state will determine whether this particular form of generation is part of that country’s response to whatever policy is introduced.
The background to this seems to be that as the world becomes ever more interdependent, and traditional ideas of sovereignty, circumscribed by concepts of jurisdiction, become ever less helpful in dealing with the real problems of the contemporary world, we parliamentarians have to be increasingly rigorous about understanding and scrutinising the systems that are put in place and the criteria that are used to determine legislation and regulation on a multinational basis. If we do not do that, we will all end up in a frightful bureaucratic muddle of bad, wrong, excessive and misconceived laws. Whatever else we may disagree about in this House, I am sure that we can all agree that we are against that.
My Lords, I join in the congratulations that have come from all sides of the House to the noble Lord, Lord Renton, and his committee on an excellent report. One issue that should be raised is that the report talks about the need to educate everyone about the issues surrounding nuclear safety and nuclear waste. It is a very readable report. It can be read quickly and simply without reference to a dictionary. That is quite a feat to undertake. I read it from cover to cover without getting lost at any point and it is one of the first reports that I can say that about.
I found something troubling me when I was most of the way through the report. Although the report is about safety and waste, it signifies the fundamental problem about nuclear safety and waste—it is a political as well as a scientific issue. It highlights the divergence between many member states’ views of what is a national and what is the European issue. Of course, as the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, just said, the Irish submission that Sellafield could affect Ireland cannot be denied. Although we think of nuclear power supplying our national energy needs as a national issue, the safety aspects, especially the waste aspects, are transnational issues.
I trained originally at university as an archaeologist. I can finally say that European prehistoric archaeology has come to my aid. It has some use. There is finally a nugget of information that I can use. High-level waste is safe only after a minimum of 150,000 years. That is an interesting figure because it was about then that the first homo sapiens came to the British Isles. They had to leave the British Isles—there was a long period when no one was living here—because we had a number of ice ages. The British Isles would then have been called the north west highland region of Europe—not an island at all. The land bridge broke only 16,000 years ago. If you are looking at nuclear storage, 16,000 years is a very short time indeed. It shows how the face of Europe has fundamentally changed.
We can also look at the change being highlighted over the next 100 years. It is of great concern that many nuclear power stations are based on the coast. With rising sea levels that will be a problem. There could be real implications for decommissioning coastal power stations that then turn out to be underwater. Climate change is another problem. There might be desertification of certain parts of Europe, and it would be difficult to run a nuclear power station, with a large need for water as a coolant, inland.
We on these Benches are opposed to any new build nuclear power because of the safety and waste problems and because of the cost. One issue highlighted in the report and talked about at a great level is that, because of the inherent risk associated with nuclear power, it has a heavy regulatory burden for safety. Although I agree with the proposition in the report that peer review has been successful in keeping a high standard of safety, we should not underestimate the future cost of safety. It will not decrease. Because of the concerns of many member states about nuclear power, the cost of regulation of safety will increase. I read that modern nuclear power stations are incredibly low risk and that it is likely that only one would blow up every 1,000 years. I am not sure if this is correct, but does that mean that if there were 1,000 nuclear power stations one would blow up every year? Perhaps that is playing with statistics.
The importance of the issue cannot be underestimated. As the noble Lord, Lord Lewis, pointed out, the Moses Room could be used as a repository for high-level nuclear waste, although I believe that he would have issues with English Heritage if he suggested that again. The problem should be outlined that it takes only a trace element of that nuclear waste to be free in the environment and you have a major issue over human health and safety. A dirty bomb would be seen as the ultimate bad case scenario for homeland security because of the decontamination that would have to be undertaken.
The waste aspect of the report is handled very well. I find it quite depressing that it remains a problem, although it has been discussed for so many years. I think it was the Flowers report in the 1970s that stated that no nuclear power station should be built until a solution to the waste issue was achieved, which shows that it is a long-term problem. It was believed a few years ago that we were close to a solution, but I read an interesting article about the problems of vitrification of nuclear waste that shows that the energy being put out by nuclear waste breaks down the glass in a quite short period of time—in a few thousand years rather than the 150,000 years that would be needed. That is a real issue. The heat that would be generated by nuclear waste means that, if low-level waste was put into concrete, which as we have seen in many buildings breaks down over a relatively short period of time, we might be creating our own hazardous waste issues for the future. So we need to think about our policies towards deep-level geological storage. If it turns out that there is a major problem, should we build storage capacity that is retrievable or that is sealed? The Minister could give us some indication how the Government viewed last year’s report on waste management, whether they have reached final conclusions and when we are finally going to see the start of any excavations for deep-level storage and where it should take place.
Although I am opposed to nuclear power, I believe that the report is very balanced. Counting the light bulbs in the Chamber, we can see that of the 60 light bulbs shining down on us 12 of them are powered by nuclear power. Even if we got rid of nuclear power in this country, some of them would still be powered by French nuclear power, so to say that we are going to live without nuclear power would be irresponsible. The very fact that quite a lot of the French nuclear power is based on just the other side of the Channel means that, even if we took out nuclear power, the safety implications of nuclear power would still have to be carefully weighed up.
I thank whoever wrote the report for an absolute gem, which made me laugh quite heartily while I read it on the Tube yesterday. I refer to recommendation 126 in chapter five on page 44, which says:
“We are extremely concerned that the Commission's underlying intent in introducing the nuclear package was to improve public perception of nuclear energy within the EU. Legislation should not be used as a tool to affect public opinion”.
I would very much hope that the Minister can deliver that to the Home Office with any recommendations that he sees fit.
My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Renton of Mount Harry on securing this debate. As he outlined, the report considers the ongoing controversy surrounding two directives known as the “nuclear package”, which has divided the opinions of the European Union member states.
I join other Members of this House in thanking him as chairman of the committee, other Members of your Lordships’ House who participated in the Committee, Suzanne Todd, who was the committee’s clerk, and Richard Clegg, who was its specialist adviser, for the hard work that they put into producing this report, which has had the tricky role of analysing the tension between pro-nuclear and anti-nuclear views and its impact on the development of thinking in the EU and internationally. I join the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, in remarking that the report was written in plain English, so we can commend it if for no other reason than that we could all read it.
There is no doubt that managing nuclear waste and safety is a very important ongoing issue. Indeed, this debate is timely in the light of Her Majesty's Government’s recent commitment to a new generation of nuclear power stations. That commitment sparked much commentary in media and political circles, which in some cases sadly supported the committee's concerns about the public’s perception and knowledge of nuclear power. I agree with many of your Lordships that we need to address this gap; we need to make certain that we educate our own citizens, press and politicians, as well as encourage other member states to do the same. Of course, people are sceptical if they are not fully aware of the safety measures in place in nuclear installations and the handling of waste. I hope that the Minister will outline what steps Her Majesty's Government plan to take in this regard.
Before I comment on the individual recommendations made by the committee, I refer to the memo produced by the EU at the start of the month, to which my noble friend Lord Renton of Mount Harry has already referred. We all recognise that nuclear power generation could represent one option in reducing CO2 emissions and play a role in addressing climate change. This will be an important consideration when future emissions trading schemes are discussed. However, Her Majesty's Government must give green energy a chance, and I hope that they will undertake to do so.
It is interesting to note that the European Commission has proposed the establishment of a European Union High Level Group of national nuclear regulators to,
“further develop a common understanding and European Rules in the field of nuclear safety and security”.
I will be most interested to hear the Minister’s view on this new proposal. Indeed, I think that it moves the debate on from some of the committee's original conclusions. We can surely all agree that, as a general rule, energy provision should try to go hand in hand with programmes to reduce carbon emissions.
I am pleased to say that I support many of the committee's conclusions and recommendations. The report and, indeed, today's debate have highlighted some interesting questions to which I hope the Minister will be able to respond.
I welcome the committee's conclusions regarding the safety directive in chapter 3: we do not need it. As the noble Lord explained, the directive in its current form would require the implementation of extra rules on top of stringent national plans. It would be an extra burden, without increased resources being made available, and it would most likely have an adverse effect on safety rather than the effect that was originally intended.
The International Atomic Energy Agency, which has been referred to, is already a respected player in the field of nuclear safety, and there are already clear rules and guidelines to ensure nuclear standards. I have seen no evidence that the International Atomic Energy Agency’s Convention on Nuclear Safety is not working to improve and uphold safety standards for nuclear installations globally. It is my view—and I would like to hear the views of the Minister on the issue—that we should not regulate for the sake of regulation. Indeed, I thought Her Majesty's Government were all for cutting regulation. An effective international regime is far better then a European regime.
We on these Benches are not blind to the concerns which the committee encountered about the motives behind the Commission’s introduction of this nuclear package. I await with interest the Minister’s thoughts on the three issues raised in paragraphs 126 to 128 of the report.
These concerns feed into the committee’s strong arguments regarding the harmonising of nuclear safety; the report stated that member states should retain the ultimate responsibility for its delivery. However, we must not forget that nuclear safety cannot be contained by borders and geographical boundaries. The European Union and the UK should continue to press for continual improvement in the safety of nuclear operations in a global sense, as well as taking responsibility for their own.
I turn now to the issue of nuclear waste. I agree fully with paragraph 123 of the report that efforts must be made to ensure that suitable waste solutions are derived and implemented. Your Lordships’ House has already debated and welcomed the interim recommendations from the Committee on Radioactive Waste Management earlier this year, and we look forward to its final report. Addressing the issue of nuclear waste is essential for public confidence.
I share, as do many Members of the House, the European Union Committee’s concerns that the adoption of the waste directive,
“may run the risk of undermining national confidence in national waste programmes rather than facilitating it”.
We on these Benches do not want to rule out cross-border co-operation on nuclear waste; we have a lot to learn about nuclear waste management from some of our European friends. The committee was impressed, as I am, by the success of Finland and Sweden, which have incorporated local consultation into every step of their decision-making processes regarding the disposal of high-level radioactive waste. That is clearly the right way to address public concerns. Will the Minister comment on whether this Government will take account of the Western European Nuclear Regulators’ Association’s recommendations on the issue?
The issue of nuclear waste is very sensitive, and we should consider public opinion before adopting the waste directive. Legacy waste is primarily an issue for the citizens of the United Kingdom, and we need to ensure that the public are confident with our waste management strategy. What evaluation of public opinion about nuclear waste have the Government made, not only with regard to the directive, but with regard to long-term management? I share the committee’s view that serious consideration needs to be given to ruling out any future waste legislation that could allow the possibility of member states being required to receive foreign radioactive waste. Any such proposal would be deeply unpopular in every European country.
This report and debate clearly demonstrate the important role that the European Union has to play in this sector; the issues of nuclear waste and safety will benefit from international co-operation and the sharing of best practice. However, the proposed directive is an over-blunt instrument, adding unnecessary legislation and muddying the waters with regard to accountability and transparency in the unhoped-for event of an accident.
Finally, although we welcome high-level discussions, we do not find the idea of a European Union regulator appealing in any way. I look forward to the Minister’s response to the questions asked by noble Lords on this vital subject.
My Lords, it gives me great pleasure to close the debate, and I thank all noble Lords who have contributed—none more than the noble Lord, Lord Renton of Mount Harry, for his sterling work in chairing the sub-committee.
No one disputes the importance of nuclear safety. Her Majesty’s Government and the UK civil nuclear industry take their responsibilities for the safe management of nuclear installations and nuclear waste extremely seriously. In an early response to the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, I categorically affirm that this country has in place a strict regulatory regime. It ensures the highest standards of safety in minimising radiation exposure from normal operations and in preventing accidental releases of radioactivity from nuclear installations. The legislative framework not only requires the highest standards of safety but keeps the safety of nuclear sites under constant review. Nuclear operators must demonstrate to the Health and Safety Executive’s Nuclear Installations Inspectorate that activities at nuclear sites are safe. They must also show that they are complying with the strict conditions of their nuclear site licence and other relevant safety legislation.
In addition to the UK’s own safety framework, the Government are a signatory to international conventions and treaties that put the nuclear industry under regular and intense scrutiny against internationally recognised good practice. That was mentioned by a number of noble Lords in the debate. The commitment of the industry and the Government, coupled with the strength of the UK’s independent regulators, ensures that our obligations under those arrangements are fully met. The result has been an excellent safety record.
It is because of that safety record that the Government welcomed the inquiry conducted by the noble Lord, Lord Renton of Mount Harry, and the EU Select Committee’s Environment and Agriculture Sub-Committee. This looked at the European Commission’s proposal to introduce new binding legislation on the safety of nuclear installations and the safe management of radioactive waste—the so-called nuclear package. Noble Lords can be assured that the Government remain grateful to the committee for the enthusiasm and dedication with which it approached this inquiry. The committee rigorously examined evidence from a vast range of national and international experts in nuclear safety and waste.
The report clearly validates the Government’s approach to the adoption of the nuclear package. We agree with the opinion expressed by my noble friend Lord Sewel and, I believe, the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, that the report stated that no case was made for the safety directive because there was no evidence that it would add value to current arrangements. Indeed, the report underlined Her Majesty’s Government’s concern that it could have an adverse effect on safety because of the additional burden that it would place on the regulator. The Government hold the independence of the regulator to be of the utmost importance in ensuring the integrity of the safety regime.
The committee’s comments on the long-term management of higher-level radioactive waste are particularly pertinent in light of the recent publication of the Committee on Radioactive Waste Management’s final recommendations and the Government’s acceptance of those recommendations. That point was mentioned by the noble Lords, Lord Renton, Lord Lewis of Newnham, and Lord Inglewood, among others. I can inform noble Lords that the independent Committee on Radioactive Waste concluded in July 2006 that deep geological disposal in a repository was the best available approach to the long-term management of waste and that a programme of interim storage—already planned by the NDA—was also required. The position with regard to CoRWM was mentioned by the noble Lords, Lord Renton, Lord Lewis, Lord Inglewood and Lord Redesdale, and by the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox. As I said, the Government accepted these recommendations and are taking them forward in line with the principle of volunteerism of host communities. We will say more on this when the White Paper is published in March.
The noble Lord, Lord Lewis, mentioned the storage of waste prior to deep disposal. Waste from new or existing power stations will be packaged and stored for as long as necessary before placement in a final repository. Regulatory requirements will ensure short- and long-term safety, and environmental protection from both legacy and any new waste. It will, however, take several decades before a repository is operational. It will take time to identify a suitable location and gain approval.
The noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, mentioned Scotland. The devolved Scottish Parliament continues to be involved in policy on the implementation of the CoRWM recommendations. I have probably said enough on those matters.
My Lords, my understanding is that it is not but, as noble Lords know, certain matters—for example, planning issues—are devolved to Scotland. However, the energy policy laid out in the White Paper is a policy for the UK, and obviously we are working closely with the devolved Administrations in Scotland and Wales.
My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Sewel. He is right: this is a very complicated and sensitive area, and I undertake to write to clarify the position further. I move on.
What does the future hold? Noble Lords will know that in Her Majesty’s Government’s energy review, published last year, we suggested that nuclear had a role to play in the future UK generating mix, alongside other low-carbon-generating options. We published that view as the basis for consultation. However, given the comprehensive analysis that we undertook before reaching that view, we expect to confirm it as agreed policy in the energy White Paper to be published this year. I can assure the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, that renewables and a commitment to a low-carbon economy will be central to it.
The prospect of putting new nuclear on the agenda makes public perceptions of safety even more important. In addition, we will continue to decommission the power plants that have reached the end of their useful lives and will deal with the nuclear legacy that remains from past UK involvement in nuclear generation.
Referring to the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, Her Majesty’s Government have also given the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority responsibility for taking forward the development of a geological repository for higher-level wastes, coupled with its continuing programme of safe and secure interim storage. The Government will consult on an implementation framework as soon as practicable this year.
Under the German presidency, EU member states will be working to implement the outcomes of the report of the Working Party on Nuclear Safety. This work arose from the Council conclusions on nuclear safety and the safe management of spent fuel and radioactive waste, a point mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Lewis of Newnham. The final report makes a number of recommendations that will enable member states to make greater use of the existing framework to ensure the highest level of safety across the European Union, a matter referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Teverson.
The noble Lord, Lord Lewis, mentioned the WPNS, which is made up of representatives of member states. It did indeed report to the Council’s Atomic Questions Group. The report was accepted by AQG and work is now under way in that group to implement its recommendations.
I now move on to some of the other points raised by noble Lords. With regard to the point made by my noble friend Lord Sewel, the Prime Minister has said:
“A clean, secure and sufficient supply of energy is simply essential for the future of our country”.
There is no simple single solution to the challenges of climate change and energy security: we need action on all fronts.
The noble Lord, Lord Renton of Mount Harry, raised a question on the new version of the nuclear package and the likelihood of it being presented in the near future. The UK Government are working closely with like-minded countries to improve transparency and the exchange of best practice on nuclear safety without having to introduce statutory instruments to improve the level of safety across all member states.
Several noble Lords raised the issue of public perception. It was referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Renton, and the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, who mentioned it in the context of European legislation. The basic question was whether the Government thought that European legislation with the involvement of Brussels would improve public confidence in the nuclear industry. Our feeling is that it would not. There is no evidence to suggest that the British public have concerns about issues relating to the regulator’s ability to discharge its responsibilities.
The noble Lord, Lord Teverson, also raised the issue of decisions on waste. Individual member states need to decide on the issue of waste disposal for themselves. Our view is that a one-size-fits-all approach will not work. He mentioned the IAEA’s work. The agency has a joint convention which covers radioactive waste and spent fuel and to which the UK is a contracting party. That requires parties to submit reports for peer review. An EU waste directive is unlikely to add value to that process. The noble Lord also raised the issue of public distrust in nuclear power. The Government’s view is that it is possible to gain public trust only by ensuring high standards of safety. That issue was raised also by the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox. The regulator is working hard to ensure that standards of safety are pushed even higher both in the UK and across the EU through WENRA and the IAEA convention on nuclear safety.
The noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, raised a number of points, and on some of them I shall have to write to her. The Government’s view is that safety is a matter for individual member states. National procedures are complemented by the international framework peer review process, which was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, and several other noble Lords.
The noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, also mentioned renewables. I have already referred to those once. The Government intend to strengthen the framework on the development and deployment of renewable technologies. We believe that we can achieve the 20 per cent target of our electricity coming from renewable sources by 2020.
That more or less sums up the debate from my point of view. I will, as I said, write to noble Lords on any issues that have not been covered. My summary has been brief on the excellent work which has been done nationally, in the European Union and internationally on nuclear safety and to which the Government assign a high priority. I commend the noble Lord, Lord Renton of Mount Harry, and EU Sub-Committee D on Environment and Agriculture on its excellent report.
My Lords, it is a platitude to say that this has been an interesting debate; one always says that in this House. However, I have found the past two hours extremely interesting. There have been some very good speeches and, as always in the committee I was lucky enough to chair, a marvellously varied degree of knowledge coming out at moments when one does not, perhaps, wholly expect it. We saw a lot of that today.
The noble Lord, Lord Sewel, was right to remind us of the different attitudes of European countries towards nuclear energy, and thus whether these draft directives were suitable or not. I was interested to hear the noble Lord, Lord Teverson; I do not think that I have heard him speak before and was interested by some of his comments. He was right to remind us that the European Commission’s interest in nuclear matters stems from the EURATOM Treaty; indeed, the papers I quoted from, issued a week ago, are presented under Article 40 of that treaty. Both the noble Lord and, in particular, my noble friend Lord Inglewood raised the question of the legality of the EU Commission’s position on this. I say to the noble Lord that we looked into the issue and came to the conclusion, as he did, that the draft directives were legal; whether they were necessary or not is another matter. We concluded, however, that it was such a complex issue that we decided not to talk about it in our report. That could be said to be rather cowardly of us.
The noble Lord, Lord Lewis, gave us a glimpse of the scientific knowledge with which he sometimes used to astound us in our committee meetings. I have come to the conclusion that nothing would give the noble Lord greater pleasure than to build a nuclear reactor himself, but with hydrogen rather than uranium.
My noble friend Lord Inglewood talked about the three key questions of proportionality, subsidiarity and legality. It was good to be reminded of them, and his answers were absolutely right.
The Minister was a bit careful in his reply, with a little hedging and dodging. That is not surprising. After all, the Government’s attitude to the nuclear issue is not yet well enough known. We look forward to hearing more about it. The present position of the United Kingdom on the treatment of high-level radioactive waste is not one of which we can be at all proud, and needs changing. That said, I warmly thank all noble Lords who took part in the debate.
On Question, Motion agreed to.
House adjourned at 6.33 pm.