Examination of Witnesses (Questions 100
WEDNESDAY 24 OCTOBER 2001
100. About five or six. (Mr Meacher)
And within the first commitment period, 2008-12, I would be surprised
if it is expected that more than one or two of those might close
down. Again, if that is the recognised life expectancy of that
particular reactor that also will have been factored in.
101. Minister, why did you authorise the mixed
oxide reprocessing plant at Sellafield? (Mr Meacher)
There has been enormous discussion about this over a period of
four or five years. There have been four, if not five, consultations.
The two latest onesthe first one was done by PA Consulting,
the second by AD Littleboth came to the conclusion that
there was a net present value which was positive to the level
of around £200 million over the lifetime of the plant. It
is of course recognised, and the opponents of this have made very
clear, that it is dependent on the premise most notably about
the likelihood of Japanese markets reviving and the MOX being
sold at a price which would make the plant viable. These two consultations
came to a clear figure. The Government, of course, took the advice
also of the Environment Agency. We also listened to the consultees
to those consultancy processes. Having taken account of all that
evidence the Secretary of State for DEFRA and the Secretary of
State for Health came to the judgment that on balance it was justified.
102. That is a controversial decision. The economists
do seem very dubious, do they not? I take what you said about
the consultants' reports but there is a credibility factor here,
whatever the consultants' reports say, at this point in time.
There have been the dubious management practices we had reports
of a couple of years ago with regard to the falsification of data.
We have got the international situation now, the risk of terrorist
activity which would not have been taken into account in the consultants'
reports and also is not the economic viability of MOX reprocessing
fundamentally flawed by its dependency on taxpayer subsidy to
write off the capital costs? Could I ask you to comment on that
write off of capital costs? It is a big question but could you
also comment on the terrorist risk assessment? You took the decision
very shortly after 11 September. Why, in the light of all of those
factors, do you still believe that on balance there is a strong
business case? (Mr Meacher) Chairman, I always try
to be helpful to the Committee but, as Members will know, this
is now subject to judicial review by two of the NGOs, by Greenpeace
and Friends of the Earth. This matter is going to come to court
I presume. I fear I am inhibited in going into detail about the
case. We have set out the ministerial decision which is over 70
or 80 paragraphs, if I remember. It is in detail there. I am tempted
to answer more directly the questions that Patrick Hall has raised
but I think it would be unwise for me to do that when this is
now sub judice.
Patrick Hall: I thought you might comment, Chairman.
Chairman: When the Minister says there is a
sub judice issue, there is a sub judice issue.
103. Indeed, there is, but that does not mean
we cannot explore the issues at all and I am trying to explore
what you are able to respond on. There are significant areas that
you are not able to comment on at this point but perhaps, Chairman,
we will be able to have that opportunity in the future. Could
I probe a bit more and see whether you are able to assist at this
point in time. Leaving aside the economics then, which is rather
an important area, and the terrorist target issue, which I am
surprised to hear is part of the judicial review. (Mr Meacher)
It is not.
104. It is not. (Mr Meacher) The
two items in the judicial review are, firstly, the fact that the
capital cost is regarded as a sunk cost and, secondly, the question
of economics, to which you did refer.
105. Okay. Perhaps you would comment a little
on the new very worrying situation which has to be borne in mind
with regard to the possibility of adding to terrorist targets
as a result of that decision. Could you comment on that? I do
want to raise a couple of other points as well if the Minister
is able to answer that. (Mr Meacher) All I can say
is, of course, that the plant was built, it was built under the
previous administration in 1995. It is there, it is not a question
of whether it should now be built, and it is one of the very many
nuclear installations at Sellafield and of course the potential
terrorist threat applies to all of those buildings. It is being
looked at very, very thoroughly and urgently by the Office of
Civil Nuclear Security. Obviously in the light of their reports
to Government we will hold open the possibility of taking whatever
necessary action needs to be taken.
106. On the Environmental Impact Assessment,
that is doubtless part of your decision to authorise reprocessing.
I think I did not word my question accurately right at the beginning,
I think I implied you authorised the plant to be built, it is
the reprocessing. What are the principal environmental risks associated
with reprocessing there? (Mr Meacher) This question
is going a lot wider. The reprocessing plant, THORP, the Thermal
Oxide Reprocessing Plant, of course predates the SMP, the Sellafield
MOX plant, because the MOX plant is simply a consequential of
having a process in reprocessing of separating plutonium and uranium
from waste. What the MOX plant does is to bring together the separated
plutonium and uranium in the form of a mixed oxide fuel which
might be used for a further round of fuelling reactors either
in the UK or around the world. That is the purpose of it.
107. I accept that. I understood that before.
Are you saying there are not environmental issues attached to
the bringing together of those products of the THORP plant in
the MOX process? (Mr Meacher) The liquid discharges
from the MOX plant are very tiny indeed. With regard to the generation
of further intermediate level waste, the best calculation that
is over the projected operational lifetime of the SMP, it might
generate about one per cent of total intermediate level waste
generated at Sellafield.
108. Has there been any assessment of the potential
effects of that on the local marine environment? (Mr Meacher)
That is a question about the liquid discharges?
109. Yes. (Mr Meacher) What is discharged
to the Irish Sea. As I am saying, the level of those discharges
is very tiny indeed. Reprocessing is another matter. The SMP plant
is a consequential of reprocessing and as such it contributes
very little indeed to liquid discharges. It contributes a small
but not insignificant amount in terms of waste.
110. Finally, Minister, do you see your position
with regard to MOX reprocessing as part of a renewed commitment,
or long term commitment, by this Government to civil nuclear power?
I know that the question was raised earlier by Michael Jack about
the future of magnox and gas cooled, but is your decision, looking
at it in the bigger and wider picture, looking ahead, an indication
of perhaps some renewal of longer term interest? (Mr Meacher)
First of all, we have not made a decision about reprocessing.
This is a decision about the MOX plant, not about reprocessing.
As regards the wider question of a further future for the nuclear
industry in terms of new nuclear build, which I notice has been
mentioned in the press recently, the whole issue is being examined
by the PIU Report on energy which of course includes nuclear and
which is designed to look not just at energy policy, based as
it has been for a couple of decades, on pricing and on markets,
but also to look at environmental impact and security of supply.
That report I would expect to be published by the end of the year.
111. Less controversial matters perhaps. I want
to return to an issue I raised earlier about departmental responsibilities.
I think many of us felt back in 1997 when the Department for the
Environment, Transport and the Regions was set up that it was
sending out an important signal about an attitude to the environment
and the integration of policy making, particularly in relation
to transport and the environment. As recently as last year the
Green Ministers' Annual Report made exactly the same kind of comment
about that department. Do you feel that the split now between
environment with DEFRA and transport with the Department of Transport,
Local Government and Regions is hindering that integration of
policy making? (Mr Meacher) I hope it is not. I am
well aware that there are two views on this question and we must,
in practice, justify our view. Of course I am aware that the relationships
which had built up between the environment and transport divisions
within DETR are very important. There is also the relationship,
again within that same department, between environment and planning
and urban regeneration, which is also very important. Therefore,
it could be argued that separating environment from that overall
department and putting it in a separate department is a detriment.
I would argue against that on the grounds that probably the area
where sustainability has so far had least impact is farming and
the agricultural system, partly driven by the need for reform
of CAP, partly driven by the exceedingly tragic succession of
BSE, classical Swine Fever and now Foot and Mouth, and the public
perceptions arising out of that, there is clearly very strong
demand for change. There is also within the CAP the need for a
much bigger shift to the Second Pillar to the rural development
regulation, agri-environment, land management, development of
tourism, etc. Possibly also with the arrival of Renate Kunast,
she has been there some time now in Germany, the beginnings of
a change in the centre of gravity in agricultural politics in
the EU perhaps. This is an opportunity for major change in this
area. This is a fulcrum swing time. It is right, I think, that
we have a department that is wholly targeted on making those changes.
That is the rationale for the new department. We do not want to
lose the benefits of what was there before. I have tried to retain
those by establishing a detailed concordat with DTLR, with the
transport division within DTLR, which is based on early exchange
of information and proposals at an early stage of decision making,
discussions between officials and raising the matter at ministerial
level for discussion before matters are put into the public domain.
So we are trying to retain close liaison between us and Transport
and the same goes, as I said, for planning, the planning division
within DTLR. Now it is easy for me to say, the question is how
it works and we are going to be held to account on that and we
should be but that is the intention. Can I make one further point?
If, of course, every Department that Environment should be mainstreamed
into was part of the Environment Department we would have half
of Whitehall. No-one suggests that the DTI should be with us or
we should be with DTI but it is very important that we integrate
and mainstream environmental concepts in DTI policy making. It
has never been a suggestion that we should be in the same Department.
Well, we are now in that same relationship with DTLR and we have
got to make it work.
112. I was not trying to encourage departmental
imperialism on your part, Michael, at all. I take the point you
make, it remains to be seen if it works, as you seem to be suggesting.
The annual report of the Green Ministers, which I think has appeared
since 1997-98, that will continue to appear annually? (Mr
113. Therefore we will have some basis for assessing
the success of the new arrangement? (Mr Meacher) We
will indeed. Green Ministers, which I chair, and which has now
been upgraded to a sub-committee of the Cabinet ENV Committee
looks at three things. Firstly, is what is sometimes rather rudely
called housekeeping in Whitehall, which is how well the departmental
estate in each case does in terms of greenhouse gas emissions,
consumption of water, energy efficiency, management of waste,
etc. Secondly, whether environmental concerns are properly taken
into account in policy making, and that is obviously a potentially
far bigger issue. It is more intangible but much more important.
Thirdly, to expand awareness of sustainable development throughout
Whitehall. We will continue to provide annual reports. I will
have the most detailed table setting out in quantified form the
progress we are making on the first of those, I cannot do that
on the second or third because there are not the measures. I am
very keen to be as transparent and open as possible about the
progress we are making in Whitehall and that will certainly include
how far environmental concerns are reflected in DTLR.
114. The British Civil Service does not have
a good reputation for working together across departments and
this reshuffle has certainly perhaps slightly extended the need
to do that. You mentioned the use of concordats. Are there specific
projects, as were announced I remember in the various spending
reviews, specific cross-departmental projects, which will be initiatives
led by your Ministry and which will seek to build co-working? (Mr
Meacher) Rapidly trying to think. There probably are. Nothing
is coming to my mind. It is not so much cross-departmental projects
as what I call environmental mainstreaming, namely that in the
preparation of the MoD estate strategy, in the DTI sustainable
development strategy, the environmental component is very clear
and strong. That is really what I am trying to achieve. There
probably are, as I say, cross-departmental projects. I suppose
you could say road building is a cross-departmental project.
115. The mainstream you talk about often produces
in my view a tokenism of just putting in a quick paragraph saying
"Yes, we have examined the environmental implications of
this and they are this" and move on to the core subject we
are interested in. The evidence of this Government to date has
certainly been that only when people are forced together to achieve
certain clear goals does joined up Government actually happen. (Mr
Meacher) That is probably right.
116. That is why I am encouraging you to consider
the possibility of some joint projects which are there to achieve
particular goals. (Mr Meacher) Well, if they are joint
projects which are organic to the development of policy, fine.
I do not think we want joint projects for the sake of it, just
to show we are joined up. I very much agree with you that tokensim
is very easy and there is a measure of it and that it is useless.
It has to be internally felt, it has to be internally developed,
there has to be a real commitment. My problem as Chair of Green
Ministers is how do you get colleagues actually to take this on
board. I think many of them have. I think we have made some quite
considerable progress since 1997 but I absolutely agree that it
is very far from ideal and there are clear gaps and deficiencies.
Indeed, if I may say, your role is very important here. I do not
want to drop my colleagues in it but I do think that it would
be helpful, not only if you interviewed meit is such a
pleasurable experiencebut if you also interviewed some
of my colleagues to talk about these matters. I try and put pressure
on them and I think you have probably an even better opportunity
to make sure they agree and actually carry through the commitments
that we all share.
117. We have happy memories, Minister, of when
you shared the podium with a Treasury Minister on the levy to
deal with intensive agriculture, I think. There was a figure you
were going to give us at some stage before you leave, Minister,
that you sent out for. (Mr Meacher) This is not the
question that was asked. The question that was asked
118. What was the UK contribution? (Mr
Meacher) Sorry. I think the note that was handed to me makes
a general comment but I have already used it. What it is saying
is that the burden sharing aid to developing countries is in the
form of a political declaration. The details of that and how it
would work will be discussed, including the formula, in Washington
in December, so there is not at this stage a
119. Developing countries cannot spend political
declaration. (Mr Meacher) No, they spend the money
which a political declaration is about. What this meeting is about
is deciding what the formula is, how it will be allocated and
on what it will be spent.