Select Committee on Trade and Industry Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 96-99)




  96. Good afternoon, Dr McKeown. Perhaps you could introduce your colleagues and we will begin.
  (Dr McKeown) I am John McKeown. I am the Chief Executive of the UKAEA. On my right is Denis Tunnicliffe, Chairman, and on my far right is Stephen White, who is in our Strategy Department.

  97. We are very grateful to you for making yourselves available at such short notice but I think you appreciate that we have a fairly tight timescale in which to operate in the sense that we would like to get our report out before the House rises. To that end, if there is any written evidence that you might want to supplement your remarks with, we would be grateful if you could provide it for us by next Wednesday at the end of the day because we want to get things written, approved and sorted out before too long. Having said that, this is not quite like a bolt from the blue in so far as it was announced in November. As leading players and contributors to the nuclear legacy—I am not quite sure how we would want to put it—and certainly as people who are concerned with this issue, we would like to try and assess initially at least what your reactions were to the proposals in the White Paper and how far you think they go towards tackling the issue of the nuclear legacy for which you have, at least in part, responsibility.
  (Mr Tunnicliffe) Obviously, Chairman, the White Paper is lengthy and you will have detailed questions, but if I can give a general reaction, the key proposal in the White Paper is the creation of the LMA. We strongly welcome that. We think that the creation of the LMA gives the whole liability clean-up programme a profile it has not had before. It has been somewhat the Cinderella of nuclear activity. We believe that the giving of statutory backing to the clean-up programme is a very clear statement from the Government in its commitment to shoulder this responsibility and to do the clean-up. The key element will be the security of medium and long term funding. Whilst in recent years funding has not been a significant problem for us, the security of medium and long term funding will allow the LMA to develop a coherent strategy, to use the resources available in an integrated way, to transfer knowledge between sections of the industry. Because of the confidence in funding and the confidence in the programme, the supplier base will be able to develop. Particularly there will be enough work and programmes to ensure that a competitive supplier base is credible, and we believe from our own experience that a credible supplier base is essential to good value. Finally, we do welcome the fact that the White Paper envisages the direct support by the LMA for research and training.

  98. One of the problems that the UKAEA has had to confront over the years, and certainly in the context of meeting us, Dr McKeown, you have had to deal with it, is the question of public confidence in dealing with the problem. I know that in the case of Dounreay you have had quite considerable success, it is fair to say, in restoring confidence, speaking as someone who lives in Scotland and who knows the issues which have been looked at very carefully by the Scottish media and by various interest groups that are involved. From the background of your experience of restoring public confidence do you think that the LMA could do something similar for the wider nuclear legacy or do you think it is too early to say? Could you give your view of that?
  (Dr McKeown) I think that the public confidence which we generated at Dounreay was as the result of actions, not words. We got ourselves into a difficulty; we faced up to it and we put in hand a programme which restored public confidence in us. I think the issue that we are looking at now is if you like the follow-on from what will come out of the Dounreay exercise that we did. We are now talking of the fact that all the de-commissioning work we are talking about doing at Dounreay will produce waste and what we are going to have to look at there very carefully is to make sure that that material is stored safely and ultimately put into a repository. The key to all of that is public confidence. If we say what we will do and we do what we say and operate safely then we will get public confidence and all the issues facing the nuclear industry will be resolved much more readily if we have the public with us.

  99. Mr Tunnicliffe, you referred to the significance of a credible supplier base. One of the problems that your organisation confronted in Dounreay was a somewhat incoherent supplier base in so far as there were a number of contractors and nobody, at one stage at least, knew very much about what was going on. There was almost anarchy, you might say, prevailing within the subcontracting system. Do you not think there could be a danger of that happening here? I am loath to use the word Railtrack, but LMA could assume a proportion like that. I do not mean necessarily in relation to safety but in relation to the fact that it has not necessarily got sufficient control over the subcontracting companies that are undertaking some of the work, that we could see a return to what were the dark days of Dounreay, if I can put it like that.
  (Mr Tunnicliffe) Surely the essence of the White Paper is that it will be seeking to build on experience. It certainly has the example of our own experience at Dounreay and you mentioned other industries. They are looking across borders to the US experience. If you look at the hierarchy of the system, of the LMA at a strategic level, if you have the site licensees holding that responsibility for the coherence you have talked about, the site coherence for managing contractors to making sure there is a good result, you then will have competition in the supply of primary services. I think it is fair to say that UKAEA has led the way in competition in that supply side and has learned from its experiences at Dounreay that they can be integrated in a sensible way. I have every confidence that, given its listening start, the LMA will emerge with the right balance.

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