|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
We have made it clear that we are not seeking to impose radioactive waste on any community. In this context, we are strongly supportive of exploring the concept of voluntarism and partnership.
Finally, I agree very much with the hon. Member for East Surrey (Mr. Ainsworth) about the merger of Nirex with the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority. Clearly, the build-up of skills in Nirex, to which the Secretary of State referred in his statement, is at risk of being lost in an organisation that has a financial incentive to deliver decommissioning at the lowest possible cost, rather than on the basis of safety or environmental concerns. That seems bad for safety and the environment, and it represents a considerable setback for the Secretary of State in dealing with the interests of the nuclear industry and the Treasury with regard to environmental protection.
David Miliband: In contrast to the official Oppositions spokesman, the Liberal Democrat spokesman has distinguished himself by his failure, first, to read the CoRWM report and, secondly, to remember that my statement today is made jointly with the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly. In the Scottish Parliament, the relevant Minister, who is a Liberal Democrat, has taken a responsible attitude. That tells me, first, that the Liberal Democrats say different things to different people and, secondly, that the hon. Member for Eastleigh (Chris Huhne) will never miss an opportunity to be a complete opportunist. Let me run through his wholly tendentious points.
The hon. Gentleman suggested that we were sacking CoRWM. CoRWM itself recommended that a successor body should be appointed. That is what we are doing. We are also keeping in place the current
membership of CoRWM until the new body is established. That seems a completely common-sense decision, and the total opposite of his insinuation.
On new waste, the hon. Gentleman again seems to have failed to read the CoRWM report, which says clearly that the technical arguments applied to dealing with existing waste apply just as well to future waste. Deliberately, CoRWM does not take a position on the desirability or otherwise of any future nuclear capacity. It does, however, address the technical arguments. I can say clearly that the principles underpinning the CoRWM report and my statementthose in respect of geological disposal and governancenot only could but should be the basis of future decision making about new waste.
On voluntarism, given that I made it clear that the former Nirex list is truly dead and buried, and that there is every commitment to make voluntarismor partnership, as it is sometimes calledwork in practice, I cannot understand how the hon. Gentleman thought that my statement was mealy-mouthed.
Finally, the hon. Gentleman complained that the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority is subject to independent regulation but, within that, should seek to maximise value for money for the taxpayer. That seems to me to be a completely reasonable position for any authority. The opposite is to say that, within the safety constraints, which are paramount, it should not seek to maximise value for money. That seems a completely ridiculous position. It has been made absolutely clear that the regulators will be able to regulate that model in a strong, effective manner. Anyone who wants to suggest an alternative will have to show me that the regulators will be as happy with such a model as they are with this one.
Mr. Tom Watson (West Bromwich, East) (Lab): I admire my right hon. Friends courage in finally getting to grips with the legacy of our radioactive waste. The question dates back to the Flowers report of 1976, in which Professor Flowers said that an independent body tasked with storing Britains nuclear waste was needed. Many environmentalists are concerned that the body responsible for the ownership of our legacy waste is institutionally linked to the body responsible for storing that waste. That was clearly the view of my right hon. Friends predecessor when she made Nirex independent. Does he share my concern that the public might feel that in merging Nirex with the NDA there might be on occasion an attempt to store waste on the cheap? Does he agree that it is vital to retain public confidence as we go forward in disposing of Britains radioactive waste?
I completely agree with my hon. Friend that we must retain public confidence. The conflict of interest to which he refers could arise only were there no independent regulation by the Environment Agency and the Health and Safety Executive, and no independent ongoing scrutiny by a body such as CoRWM, which is being reconstituted on the basis announced today. On that basis, we can proceed with confidence, because the regulators, working in a totally independent way, will ensure that
the public interest is met. Similarly, a new independent committee will provide confidence to Parliament and others that the process has integrity, above all, for the protection of our environment, not just for this generation but for future ones.
Mr. Michael Jack (Fylde) (Con): I welcome the Secretary of States statement because it addresses not only the issue of legacy waste but some of the underpinning matters affecting the future of our nuclear industry. In his statement, he mentioned the phrase, geologically suitable area. He acknowledged that the Nirex list of locations may be dead, but can he say more about the process to be undertaken to determine which areas will be geologically suitable for disposal, bearing in mind Nirexs work and that the answer to that question will be profound for those who wish to volunteer?
David Miliband: Obviously, it is in no ones interest that a community with completely unsuitable geological foundations should go through a long and laborious process without being informed of the scientific basis. In my statement, I talked about the need to mesh the voluntarist principle with the best scientific advice about where is appropriate. The sort of discussions that I have described, which I want to start with potential communities, can bring together the best scientific advice with expressions of interest in a way that ensures that we have not a sequence of impositions, but a dialogue and conversation that uses the science instead of imposing it.
Mr. Jamie Reed (Copeland) (Lab): As the Member of Parliament whose constituency currently houses all the nations low-level waste, 70 per cent. of its intermediate-level waste and all its high-level waste, I comprehensively welcome todays recommendations and the work done by the Secretary of State. For the best part of 10 years, one of the principal obstacles to the effective implementation of radioactive waste policy in this country has been the existence of Nirex, which, as an organisation, is without credibility or trustworthiness [Interruption.] I say that as a former employee, and I know what I am talking about. How long will it be before the incomparable intellectual property and skills of the Nirex work force are transferred to the NDA?
David Miliband: As I hope I made clear in my statement, the jewel in the Nirex crown is its staff and their skill, commitment and intellect. After the short consultation period on the legal transfer that needs to be undertaken, I want to ensure that the NDA and Nirex work closely together so that Nirex staff are brought into the NDA fold in the most appropriate manner. My hon. Friend may raise this question later, but there is no reason, in our view, for any discussion of compulsory redundancies or anything like that. There is a full commitment to a full transfer of Nirex staff on a TUPE basis.
I hope that not just Members on both sides of the House but all players in the arena, whether they represent regulators, Nirex or any other body, will send Nirex staff the message that we want to do right by them, because they are critical to the future success on which this process depends.
Mr. Iain Duncan Smith (Chingford and Woodford Green) (Con): I join my colleagues in thanking the Secretary of State for his statement. May I return him to the comment of the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Watson) about the independence of those charged with overseeing the burial and refer him to what has been going on in Caithness, at Dounreay, where a geological burial site exploded in the mid-1990s, sending huge amounts of radioactive material into the bay? The United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority then spent all its time lying and denying that any such thing had happened. Since then the problem has worsenedthere has been contamination on the beach.
The public need to be confident that what happens will happen with transparency, openness and full accountability. Will the Secretary of State now say that any mistakes that occurred in the past will be cleared up by future Governments and that there will be independence in the oversight?
David Miliband: I want to respond positively to that question. Of course, any Government must make up for errors, dreadful or otherwise, that have been perpetrated in the past. It is precisely because of experiences such as those in the mid-1990s that we need the reforms that we are announcing today. It is precisely because of that lack of transparency that we want to ensure not just independent regulation, but independent oversight. Although there have not been many questions about the independent oversight body, I think that our experience of CoRWM is of a body that, without fear or favour, has asked tough questions of all parts of the industry and all parts of Government. I welcome that, and I think that it must continue.
Alan Simpson (Nottingham, South) (Lab): I am somewhat surprised that there has been no mention of the controversy in CoRWM itself. An all-party group of Members met two of the scientists who walked out of CoRWM because they felt that the scientific evidence was not being taken seriously. They could not understand how a view could be taken on risk management without geological, hydrological and climate-change expertise. Will the Secretary of State guarantee that whatever reconstituted body replaces CoRWM, the areas of scientific expertise that are essential to the risk assessment process will be incorporated before we reach the risk management stage?
David Miliband: I think that I am right in saying that one of the two resignations from the committee occurred not because there was too little discussion of the science, but because there was too much and it was taking too long. However, I shall be happy to write to my hon. Friend if that would be helpful. As for his second question about the future composition of CoRWM, I want it to have as broad a base and as deep a knowledge base as possible. I think it essential for all views and expertise to be represented there, and that is what we shall try to achieve.
Mr. Mike Weir (Angus) (SNP):
The Secretary of State has said that the new process will be completely divorced from the old Nirex process, but given the type of disposal that is being discussed, is it not inevitable
that the new body will opt for the same or similar sites as Nirex? Can the Secretary of State tell me whether Scotland has been ruled out as a site for a long-term repository?
David Miliband: The ball is not in the scientists court; it is in the communitys court, and the first move must come from communities that are interested in participating in the programme. That seems to me to be the right order. As for the devolved Administrations, they are, as I have said, publishing similar statements todayin fact, exactly the same statementand they will be proceeding with the process.
Mr. David Drew (Stroud) (Lab/Co-op): As the Secretary of State knows, his statement was made against the background of the sale of British Nuclear Group, announced yesterday by the Department of Trade and Industry. Will he confirm that two key principles will always be foremost in his mind and those of his colleagues? First, the national interest should be of paramount importance; secondly, there should be a key role for the public sector rather than for a series of privatised organisations, particularly those whose ownership is abroad.
David Miliband: I consider it essential for the process to be driven by the national interest and by a public body. That is precisely why the NDA will play the role that I have described. As I have said, it was created by Parliament with express purposes. When it comes to the appointment of contractors, its best-practice model is the running of open competitions. I think that I am right in saying that that procedure is now proceeding satisfactorily and appropriately in respect of lower-level waste at Drigg.
Robert Key (Salisbury) (Con): Following the excellent CoRWM report and his welcome statement, will the Secretary of State be sure to take on board the experience of Finland and France in particular? They made it very clear that consultation and the building of public confidence do not come free but are expensive educational options, and that public funds provided for the purpose are not a bribe when there is accountability and transparency. That should apply both to this long-overdue disposal of nuclear waste and to the position when we proceed, as we undoubtedly will, to the next generation of nuclear power production.
David Miliband: The hon. Gentleman has made an important point, and he is absolutely right. Anyone who reads the CoRWM report will see how much time and effort CoRWM devoted to engaging not just with scientific experts, but with members of the public with no expertise, and will recognise that time and money were well spent.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned France and Finland in one breath. While I would like to learn from the experience of both countries, I would not wish to give the impression that they are the same. The Finns are adopting what might be described as a consensual or voluntarist approach, while the French have a Napoleonic tradition that is rather more dictatorial, or at least centralist.
Dr. Alan Whitehead (Southampton, Test) (Lab): Does my right hon. Friend intend the reconstituted CoRWM to undertake a separate assessment of the disposal of nuclear waste from new nuclear build? If so, does he also intend to develop a paradigm of what that separate assessment might consist of? I am thinking not just of the technical aspects, but of the costs that will be involved, including the opportunity costs of new nuclear waste riding on the back, as it were, of the disposal of existing nuclear waste in new sites.
David Miliband: The CoRWM report deals with that question. It says that on technical grounds there is no requirement for another assessment. However, if there were a decision in favour of new nuclear build, the inventory of waste would depend on the type of build. That inventory would be critical to the method of waste disposal, but according to the report no new technical assessment is needed. What we must ensure is that discussions with potential partner communities are open and transparent about what they would receive.
Mr. Alan Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed) (LD): The Secretary of State mentioned societal considerations. Does that include recognition that the purposes for which national parks such as Northumberland national park were created are inconsistent with their use for nuclear disposal? What options and procedures would be open to any section of the community that believed that a site was being imposed on it?
David Miliband: Someone referred earlier to a veto powera power for a community to refuse to accept a disposal facility. We have made it clear that in the event of such broadly based opposition, it will not be possible for the procedure to go ahead.
David Miliband: I shall have to write to the right hon. Gentleman about the national parks, but I can say that I am not starting by dividing up the country. I am inviting host communities to come forward if they wish, which seems to me to be the right way to proceed.
Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston) (Lab): Surely Nirexs work in identifying suitable geological areas is still valid today, unless my right hon. Friend is saying that the commissioners of the original report placed political constraints on it. If the geological analysis remains valid, can we not today identify the geography that would encompass potential sites? Would they not be predominantly in areas identified by Nirex in the first place?
I shall not cast aspersions on work that has been done by Nirex, because that would not be right. Over the past 10 years, the board and staff have made serious efforts, on which we want to build. Indeed, we want to build on all relevant information. The Nirex list turned out to be quite long and we want to learn from that. The scientific evidence is there for anyone to work from, but the important founding
principle that I have tried to enunciate today is that the starting point is the interests of the host community, rather than the science.
Mr. David Heathcoat-Amory (Wells) (Con): Governments of all kinds have moved with geological speed on this issue over many decades, so I welcome the statement insofar as it goes. Given the need to restart the nuclear programme, which the Government have signalled elsewhere, will the Secretary of State widen his invitation to local authorities to include not only long-term storage, but other aspects of the programme such as decommissioning, short-term storage and even the search for new sites? Is he aware that Sedgemoor district council in Somerset has already had informal discussions with the NDA with a view to bringing tangible benefits for local people from other aspects of the nuclear fuel cycle?
David Miliband: I am not aware of Sedgemoor district councils approach to the NDA, but it is welcome in the context that I have set out today. It is important to emphasise that the statement is about high-level waste, which raises particular issues of interim and long-term storage. In respect of other procedures, the process that the right hon. Gentleman describes is welcome, but I would like to believe that we are ensuring that the first principle at every stage is public safety, enforced by independent regulators. That is key to the whole process.
Paddy Tipping (Sherwood) (Lab): Will my right hon. Friend make it clear that, despite claims by one environmental non-governmental organisation, there are no plans to dispose of high-level nuclear waste in Nottinghamshires collieries or former collieries? Given the notion of voluntarism that he has espoused and the real geological difficulties in the area, the issue should be as dead as a dodo.
David Miliband: I am not sure whether that is a reference to me or to the mineshafts but in any case my hon. Friends point is right and is wholly consistent with the statement that I have made today.
Patrick Mercer (Newark) (Con): I welcome the Secretary of States emphasis on both safety and security in his statement, but I was a little surprised not to hear any mention of the civil nuclear constabulary, of which I am a great admirer. The geological disposal scheme will add considerably to the headaches that that organisation will have to face. What plans does the Secretary of State have either to expand it or reform it, and where will the money come from?
|Next Section||Index||Home Page|