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The third question relates to the spiralling cost of clean-up of legacy waste. As has been said, the figures keep escalating. First, it was £56 billion and then it was £73 billion; another £10 billion here or there and soon we will be talking serious money. When will we get to the end? When will we know definitively how much the
clean-up of the legacy waste will cost? We cannot keep having a few more billion added all the time. Does it worry the Secretary of State that the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, which is responsible for this matter, keeps losing its senior staff? What is going on at the NDA?
My final question is about the contribution of new nuclear to the costs of the repository. The White Paper says that the repository would have to be bigger if new nuclear goes ahead, especially if big new nuclear goes ahead. Will the Secretary of State confirm unreservedly that the whole incremental costs of a larger than intended store will be fully met by the new nuclear providers?
Hilary Benn: I thank the hon. Gentleman for those important and constructive questions. On safety, it is fair to acknowledge that the whole country has had the benefit of electricity produced by nuclear power for a long time. Nothing in this business is absolutely definitive, but our understanding has moved on.
The approach of deep geological disposal is supported by the Royal Society, as the hon. Gentleman will be aware, the Geological Society and the Royal Society of Chemistry. CoRWM looked long and hard at the matter, as he will also be aware, over two and a half years and it came back with the view that that is the approach to take. As I have already said to the House, it is the approach that, I think, 25 other countries are taking, including those that I listed. The right thing to do is to pursue it, because it is the way in which we are going to seek to deal with the waste. The straight answer to his question about what we will do if that approach does not work is that we will have to think about it then. However, the whole world is taking the approach of deep geological disposal to safe storage, which is why we intend to pursue it in the way that I have set out.
Waste from new nuclear build will initially be stored on siteit depends on the nature of the waste and the design of the reactors. On the cost of the clear-up, the honest answer is that until one knows the size of the facility and the nature of the surrounding geology, we cannot definitively say that it will cost a considerable amount of money.
I thought that the hon. Gentleman was slightly unfair to the NDA. I pay tribute to Ian Roxburgh, the outgoing chief executive, for his work since 2004, and I welcome the appointment of Richard Waite, who is taking over as interim chief executive. The NDA will play an important part in taking the work forward in the months and years ahead.
Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston) (Lab): I remind the House that, 32 years ago, Lord Flowers published the report that resulted in the original work undertaken by Nirex. Owing to an act of cowardice by the Conservative Administration, that programme was frozen and the development of an underground research laboratory was stopped. At that time, we were the world leader, but we have now slipped behind. It is vital that we push forward with a long-term solution based on the best available science, which indicates that we should create a deep repository.
I commend to my right hon. Friend the work done in Finland, where a decision was reached among competing towns. Will he ensure that all authorities where the geology is suitable are not only properly informed at local authority level, but subject to proper community engagement, because there is a huge benefit in the creation of scientific jobs?
The way in which the process is taken forward at local level will be extremely important, which is why the White Paper proposes that community siting partnerships should be established to bring together all local interestslocal authority representatives, the local Members of Parliament, representatives of public services, residents groups, NGOs and wider local interests and the NDA. We will support that process, because it is important that there is a local body to take the process forward step by step through receiving information and consulting the community to ensure that local agreement is expressed through the decision-making body, the local authority.
Mr. Michael Jack (Fylde) (Con): In welcoming the Secretary of States statement, it is important that potential volunteers understand what is meant by a safe deep geological repository. Given the problems that the last so-called safe repository had in gaining the inspectors approval, will he tell the House what the definition of safe will be? In a letter to me, the Minister for the Environment has stated that
there will be an accompanying process of progressive assessment of potential sites,
which is different from the screening process that the Secretary of State mentioned in his statement. When will information on the progressive assessment of potential sites emerge to guide communities on whether they should volunteer?
Hilary Benn: A clear system has been implemented to regulate the process. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, it involves the nuclear installations inspectorate, the office for civil nuclear security, the Environment Agency and, when it comes to the transport of waste, the Department for Transport. All that will be overseen by CoRWM as an independent body offering scrutiny and advice, and nothing will happen unless the regulators are satisfied that a site is safe.
When a local community expresses interest, the first stage will be to decide whether the subsurface is suitable. Following an initial assessment, if the site is not deemed suitable, the expression of interest will clearly be unable to continue. If the site is deemed suitable, the community can decide to participate in the next stage of the process, which involves more detailed examination of the geology, consultation and surface investigations. There will be a final stage before serious money is spent and serious underground operations begin, which will allow the community to say, Thanks very much, but we dont want to participate, or, Yes, we want to move on to
the next stage. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman feels that the steps set out in the White Paper offer the reassurance that he is looking for.
Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham) (Con): I remind the right hon. Gentleman that I was here in 1982 and 1983, when Nirex introduced proposals for the disposal of low-level nuclear waste in shallow sites, one of which was in my constituency. On the back of that experience, I want to say three things. First, I am sure that deep-site disposal is the best way forward, subject to geology. Secondly, it is important that there are actual, tangible benefits to the local communities where the sites are located. Finally, sites should be identified in places that are already familiar with the generation of nuclear power. For example, I am not trying to identify Sellafield as a site, but the communities around Sellafield are familiar with the generation of nuclear power, which is an important consideration.
Hilary Benn: The right hon. and learned Gentleman has a lot of experience, and I am grateful for his support for the principle and practice of deep geological disposal. I completely agree with him about tangible benefits, which are only fair and reasonable to consider. We should not be surprised if those communities that already have the familiarity that he has described choose to come forward, but it is important that that choice is made by those communities rather than by our saying that we think that those communities should host the site.
We are taking a different approach to a long-standing problem. The right hon. and learned Gentleman is right that the problem has dogged Governments of all colours for a long time. It seems to the Government, and I hope to the House, that the right way to make progress after such a long time is by being open and direct, by giving information and by taking such matters stage by stage.
Mr. Ian Liddell-Grainger (Bridgwater) (Con): The Secretary of State is aware that I look after Hinkley Point nuclear power station, which is in my constituency. He is also aware that EDF Energy has bought 86 acres next to the power station and that there is a low-level waste storage plan, which has not been enacted yet, for the Hinkley Point site. He knows that the provision of deep storage will take some time, and I suspect that in his heart he would like the site to be at one of the existing nuclear facilities, as has been suggested by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg). Does he see low-level waste storage facilities being bumped up to take high-level waste? Will he insist that companies such as EDF Energy build a local storage facility on site for high-level, medium-level and low-level waste? Will he set out how he envisages places such as Bridgwater in west Somerset will negotiate and who will do the negotiation on behalf of the Government?
As the hon. Gentleman knows, arrangements are already in place to deal with low-level waste. Those arrangements are working well, and the new facility that I have discussed today is not designed
to take low-level waste, apart from a small amount that cannot be disposed of, principally due to the concentration of specific radionuclides. All the issues that the hon. Gentleman has raised in respect of new build would have to be considered, if a proposal were to come forward. However, the proposal is principally about storing intermediate and high-level waste in a way that allows us safely to dispose of it in the future. It is also important that we reassure people in the interim that we can, as we have been doing for 50 years, find ways of safely storing waste.
Mark Pritchard (The Wrekin) (Con): On the storage of nuclear waste, will the Secretary of State confirm whether that will require planning permission? If so, will the matter be decided by the local authority involved, or will it be given to the new infrastructure commission that the Government are seeking to introduce through the Planning Bill?
Hilary Benn: Any proposal to establish a facility would indeed require planning permission. The straight answer to the question is that the Government have not yet taken a final decision on how that would be done, but we are currently inclined to apply the new planning system to that decision.
Martin Horwood (Cheltenham) (LD): The Secretary of State has been accused of mixed messages on this nuclear repository, but that is a bit unfair. He has been quite clear that he does not know how much it will cost, when it will be built or where. Two questions remain unanswered, however. To pick up on the point made earlier, while we wait for the new repository, are current nuclear power station sites that do not store high-level waste going to be asked to do so? Secondly, when the repository is built, how much foreign nuclear waste are we expecting to accept? Are the Government going to make Britain the nuclear dustbin for the rest of the world?
Hilary Benn: We do not intend to do that. Until the facility is built, high-level nuclear waste will be stored as it currently is. It is not our intention to take waste from elsewhere. This proposal is about dealing with our own legacy waste and any new waste that may result from a new nuclear build programme.
Mr. Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): At what depths would the high-level radioactive waste be buried? Would the Secretary of State be a little more helpful in outlining the volume of such waste that might be expected in the next 50 years?
Hilary Benn: The advice that I have received is that it could be placed between 200m and 1,000m deep. It will depend very much on the nature of the geology in the chosen site, and vaults and tunnels will be involved. The studies that have been done so far refer to the figure of 1 sq km for low-level and intermediate-level waste, and 3 sq km for high-level waste. The straight answer is that until we know the precise location, it is hard to give a definitive answer to that question. It will clearly need to be adequate to do the job.
The Joint Intelligence Committee, which is situated in the Cabinet Office under the chairmanship of Alex Allan, provides intelligence assessments to Departments across Government. An employee working in the JIC assessment staff left two documents on an early-morning commuter train on Tuesday of this week. Although the documents do not contain the names of individual sources or specific operational details, they are sensitive high-level intelligence assessments. The individual concerned informed his superiors about the loss of the documents on Wednesday morning and they called in the Metropolitan police who began an urgent investigation.
On Wednesday afternoon, the Cabinet Office was contacted by the BBC, which told the Department that the two documents were in its possession. The nature of the documents was made clear to the BBC and it was requested that it did not broadcast the contents of the documents, and that they be returned. The original documents were handed back to the Metropolitan police on Wednesday evening. There is no evidence at this stage to suggest that our vital national security interests have been damaged or that any individuals or operations have been put at risk. However, the police investigation is continuing.
This was a clear breach of well-established security rules that forbid the removal of documents of this kind outside secure Government premises without clear authorisation and compliance with special security procedures. These rules are a clear part of the operating procedures for handling matters of this sensitivity. All individuals on joining the assessment staff are given a formal briefing on the rules by a specially designated security officer. That formal briefing is supplemented by clear, written instructions provided to the individual, who has to sign a statement to indicate that they have read, understood and will comply at all times with the rules.
In this case, no authorisation was sought for the removal of the documents. The official concerned has been suspended from his duties as part of a standard civil service disciplinary procedure. The chairman of the JIC, Alex Allan, has confirmed that there are clear rules and that they were not followed in this case. But in order to provide the reassurance that all necessary procedures and safeguards are in place, the Cabinet Secretary has asked Sir David Omand, former permanent secretary for security and intelligence, and former permanent secretary at the Home Office, to carry out a full investigation of the circumstances of the case.
Given the nature of the issues, I have asked Sir David to keep the Intelligence and Security Committee, which has a particular role in security and intelligence issues, fully informed. All JIC staff have been reminded by the chairman of the JIC of the fundamental importance of following all security procedures in full, and similar steps are being taken across government for those handling sensitive, intelligence-related material.
It is a matter of utmost concern to the Government that this breach of security has happened. We will take all steps to ensure that all individuals who work within the Joint Intelligence Committee staff observe the procedures that are necessary for security. We will continue to do everything necessary to safeguard sensitive intelligence material so that we safeguard the British national interest. I commend this statement to the House.
The Prime Minister said yesterday that we should take no risks with national security. There can be few greater risks than the casual abandonment of top secret intelligence material on a train, posing obvious risks both to national security and potentially to the safety of our armed forces personnel. There can scarcely have been a graver breach of intelligence and security procedures than this case. That al-Qaeda do not today know precisely what Britain knows about its activities and, more importantly, what Britain does not know, is entirely due to the responsible way in which the BBC has behaved, and reflects no credit whatsoever on the Government.
This lamentable lapse of basic security awareness and procedures raises a number of specific questions for the Minister for the Cabinet Office, and I would be grateful if he would respond to them. How quickly did the BBC alert the Cabinet Office to the loss? We assume that it was almost immediately, but I would be grateful for confirmation of that. When was he personally aware of the problem? When did he inform the Prime Minister of the problem? What steps were taken immediately when the loss of the file was known on Tuesday?
Were these two documents the original, numbered copies of the documentobviously, it would have been a breach of procedures for them to be allowed out of the Department in such circumstancesor were they illegal photocopies made in breach of the established existing procedures? What reason could there possibly be for this official to remove such files, apparently to read on the train? Why, now that such powerful encryption is available, are documents of such an extremely high level of security printed on paper at all? It may be too early for the Minister to say this, but he may be able to give some indication: will anybody be prosecuted under the Official Secrets Act? Was he aware of there being a problem with information security in the relevant part of his Department, in the JIC, before the incident?
There is clearly a major systemic problem with data security at the heart of the Government, and the saga goes on. In November last year, Her Majestys Revenue and Customs lost 15,000 records of Standard Life customers, followed by the loss of 25 million data records. In December, 18,000 personal records from the Department for Work and Pensions were found at a contractors home. In December, the Secretary of State for Transport admitted that 3 million driver records were lost, apparently in Iowa. Also in December, NHS trusts lost 168,000 confidential records. The Ministry of Defence lost three laptops, stolen from the boot of a Navy officers car, containing sensitive personal details of no fewer than 600,000 people. In January, hundreds of DWP records had apparently been dumped on a roundabout in Devon.
It is not as if there had not been forewarning of the risks. Two years ago, the Walport report called for the Government to improve data security, warning that leaks of personal data would damage the Governments reputation. More than a year ago, in February 2007, General Sir Edmund Burton, the Cabinet Offices own adviser on information assurance, said:
What keeps me awake at night is that, with some notable exceptions, across government theres too little awareness of the scale and breadth of the risk facing us at the moment.
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