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Angela Eagle: To reinforce the message given by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister at the Dispatch Box, the material unaccounted for is thought to have come about because of technical measurement errors in reprocessing. We have absolutely no evidence of material going missing. The matter is simply one of technical measurement concerning 30-year-old data.

Ms Cunningham: I appreciate the Minister's stance, which has been stated before. Unfortunately, subsequent reports have said that there were no accounting errors and that, in fact, there were losses--just as one knows when one loses one's keys in the living room that they are there somewhere, but one just does not know where. There is a mystery surrounding the issue.

Ministers have been cautious about making any commitments; even the ministerial briefing is ambiguous. It says:

I am encouraged by the sentiment of that comment, but concerned that Ministers have not seen fit to make an explicitly positive statement in advance of the Ospar meeting. I heard an interview with the Deputy Prime this morning on Radio 4, after which, I must confess, I was none the wiser about the exact UK Government approach to the discussions.

There is a backlog of liquid waste at Sellafield. I do not deny that that is a problem, but let us be clear: reprocessing creates solid, liquid and gaseous waste. The longer we continue to reprocess, the bigger the problem we will have. It is as simple as that.

Mr. Cynog Dafis (Ceredigion): Will the hon. Lady give way?

Mr. Dalyell: Will the hon. Lady give way?

Ms Cunningham: I shall give way to the hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mr. Dafis).

Mr. Dafis: My specific concern is, of course, with the possible effects of the discharge of radioactive material from Sellafield into the Irish sea, along the western coast of Wales. Dr. Chris Busby, who has done a great deal of work on low-level radiation, has recently suggested that the incidence of leukaemia among children along the western coast of Wales is about five times higher than that in inland

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Wales, along the border with England. Surely that is prima facie evidence of a link between radioactive contamination and health.

Ms Cunningham: There has long been discussion about what, for want of a better phrase, I shall call cancer hot spots, near areas of contamination.

Mr. Dalyell rose--

Ms Cunningham: I can see that the hon. Gentleman wants to intervene, but this will be the last intervention. I must press on.

Mr. Dalyell: When the hon. Lady was talking about the Deputy Prime Minister, she said that she was "none the wiser". May I gently ask her whether she has been to Dounreay or Sellafield? When I was a new Member of Parliament, I would not have dreamed of opening my mouth unless I had been to such places and heard what the people there had to say. In those days, we were frequently invited by Sir William Penney to go to such places. Has the hon. Lady been to them?

Ms Cunningham: No, I have not. It is an interesting concept to suggest that one is never expected to say anything in this place without having physical hands-on experience of the issue. If that were the case, very little would be debated in the House. Two or three members of the Scottish National party parliamentary group have been to Dounreay, as have SNP Members of the European Parliament. I am perfectly capable of reading the same information that every other Member of the House reads.

I find the hon. Gentleman's suggestion intriguing, and will watch with great interest the next debate in the House on foreign affairs or defence; no doubt it will be confined to those who have been to the countries in question, flown the aeroplanes, or been in the ships. I am afraid that I do not take what the hon. Gentleman said as a valid criticism.

If we stopped reprocessing, there would be a smaller quantity of waste to deal with in the longer term. That includes the liquid waste currently being discharged into the sea. With Dounreay we are already halfway there; commercial reprocessing contracts will no longer be taken on, although we have not been told how many still exist.

Decommissioning is under way, but the Government have been led to believe that

In my view, and in that of many environmentalists, that is not true. The existing stockpiles of spent fuel at Dounreay should be stored above ground where they can be monitored, and retrieved if necessary. If we cease the reprocessing cycle straight away, the production of further unnecessary waste and discharges will be avoided.

The same should apply to THORP, which is apparently shut at the moment, as the result of a leak. As I understand it, no United Kingdom reprocessing plant is in working order at this stage. I am happy in the knowledge that no

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reprocessing is taking place in Britain today, but I am concerned that the plants that are unfit today will be open again to carry on polluting and leaking tomorrow.

I have said many times, and I say again, that reprocessing should stop. It is a short-sighted practice which has become its own self-perpetuating problem. In exchanges over Dounreay I have argued that the false prospect of financial gain has led to an excessively casual attitude towards nuclear materials, and in a separate debate on plutonium earlier this year I argued that reprocessing leads unavoidably to global proliferation of weapons-grade material.

Today, I am arguing that reprocessing causes unnecessary and irreparable environmental pollution. All that points to a moratorium on reprocessing in the United Kingdom. The other options are, if not ideal, infinitely more sensible and easier for future generations to put right. On-site, above-ground storage, as close as possible to the point of origin, is by far the most environmentally friendly way to deal with the unwanted side products of nuclear power generation.

Mr. John Home Robertson (East Lothian) rose--

Ms Cunningham: I see the hon. Gentleman leaping to his feet, but I said that I would not take any more interventions. Perhaps I can guess what he wants to say. The SNP has long opposed the idea of Scottish exports of nuclear waste to other countries. [Interruption.] If hon. Members care to look at the record, they will discover, to use just one example, that, when the suggestion to store on site at Torness was made, the SNP supported the proposal, although it was refused in the end.

I concede that the decommissioning process necessarily involves by-products, and it is a matter for the experts whether such quantities should be discharged; that would be a subject for serious further discussion. Tough guidelines should be employed, even then, to ensure that no easy option is provided, whatever the context.

The development of abatement technology is another option, which the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions, the hon. Member for Wallasey (Angela Eagle), has already raised. That would involve further developing methods for separating out dangerous substances from liquid waste. The technology to remove technetium-99 does not currently exist, and, to give the Department of Trade and Industry its due, it has asked BNFL to get to work immediately on developing such a process.

However, the United Kingdom relies on the maxim of BATNEEC--a rather clumsy acronym for "best available technology not entailing excessive cost"--so my concern is whether BNFL will develop abatement technology, or claim that it is too expensive.

Mr. Alasdair Morgan (Galloway and Upper Nithsdale): Will my hon. Friend give way?

Ms Cunningham indicated assent.

Hon. Members: Oh.

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Mr. Morgan: I thank my hon. Friend for her courtesy. Would she be interested to know that the Environment Agency, in its draft authorisation for Sellafield, says:

Does that not increase my hon. Friend's worries?

Ms Cunningham: That goes back to the issues already raised in the debate about the fluctuating authorisation levels, which do not appear to relate to the real environmental concerns.

Ospar begins today, and various options are under consideration, each proposing a different degree of commitment. There is talk of gradually reducing discharges, with the ultimate aim of reaching background exposures. Alternative 2, drafted by the Governments of Denmark, Iceland, Norway and Ireland, requires Governments to

Norway has also proposed text for the Sintra ministerial statement to make that even more explicit. It wants Ospar to say:

    "we recognise that reprocessing is the major source of radionuclide discharges to the maritime area . . . we will make every endeavour to reach the target of cessation of such discharges as quickly as possible".

The key phrase to bear in mind is:

    "close to zero for artificial radioactive substances".

The Minister for the Environment has hinted that he is prepared to consider that option, and I hope that he does. I understand that France, the other nation in Ospar with reprocessing facilities, has decided to support it, albeit with a caveat of its own. However, our Minister has been quoted as saying:

    "I don't accept that there is a distinction or contradiction between what we are trying to achieve at Ospar and the current discharge application being made in regard to Sellafield."

That goes against everything that I have said. Sellafield authorisations, even if they are decreased to the level proposed by the Environment Agency--if, indeed, at the end of the day the agency proposes a decrease--will still be nine times higher than they were six years ago when Ospar originally formed its objectives.

Does the Minister really want us to be seen yet again as the dinosaur at Ospar, the dirty man of Europe? I hope not. It is the United Kingdom's responsibility to behave like a good neighbour, and to recognise when irresponsible actions taken on its own shores have an impact on shores overseas.

I remind hon. Members of some of the serious words of protest that the Government have received from overseas. In February, the Nordic Council of Ministers wrote that its members were

The Irish Government wrote of

    "the health and environmental threat associated with the UK nuclear installations",

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    and said that they were

    "vehemently opposed to the continuation of nuclear operations at Sellafield and to any expansion of the nuclear industry in Britain",

and found discharges into the Irish sea

    "objectionable and unacceptable".

Reprocessing entails the discharge of what many people and Governments regard as repugnant radioactive substances into our seas and on to our shores and those of our neighbours. It is a growing environmental problem which should be stopped now. It is creating increasing international friction. Radioactive discharges into the marine environment need to be tackled with immediate action and an immediate reduction to a figure as close to zero as the decommissioning process will allow.

The Deputy Prime Minister and the Minister for the Environment, who have a history of sympathy for that cause, now have the ideal opportunity to solve the problem. Ospar provides an international forum at which a binding commitment can be made which will ease domestic concern and reduce international pressure. The future can be made safer and we can employ our workers not in polluting the environment but in cleaning it up. I look forward to hearing the Minister's views.

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