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Lord Dixon-Smith: My Lords, I think I am grateful to the Minister for his reply, and the reason I think that is something I shall come to. I should make it very plain that I was careful not to mention the word "nuclear" in my remarks because, if developments go on, it may well be possible to avoid using these sites for nuclear, and they may be required for some other form of generation. That is my first point: we should get right away from the nuclear issue.
My second point is that if one looks at the history of the rundown of major industrial sites, by and large they soon began to develop some other industrial use on them. I can well conceive that some of these sites would be very attractive to other industries. There would also be reasons for the Government to try to persuade industry to locate on those sites if they were otherwise vacant. For a start, there is a site there that has a planning use. It could be shifted from electricity generation to industrial or whatever. The communities involved will obviously be looking to have their employment base changed, and it will be very tempting. So some of these sites should be used for other purposes.
Of course, I would be the first to recognise that what we are discussing with the Nuclear Decommissioning Agency is a programme of work that is going to go on for 10, 20 or 30 years. None of us can predict exactly what is going to happen in that time. We cannot say what the pressures will be, what other developments there will be, and so on. I entirely accept the Government's position that they should not prescribe this at this point. That is fair enough. But we should recognise as a matter of reality that, as a site is closed down and decommissioned, it will very tempting to try to move other employment into that place relatively quickly. It might be that the strategic need is for the site to stay vacant for a few years, but there will be pressure to get it into some other use. So I am half, but not totally, reassured by what the Minister said. It will come back to a lot of factors in the reports that we are now going to call before Parliament annually, as a result of previous amendments. For now, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
The noble Earl said: My Lords, I move this amendment on behalf of my noble friend Lady Miller. There is some confusion outside your Lordships' House, and even down the other end of the corridor, about the NDA. Some believe that the NDA will be responsible for final disposal of all radioactive waste. As drafted, the Bill does not provide for that. This amendment proposes that the NDA will be responsible for final disposal. Some mischievous noble Lordsperhaps the Ministermight suggest that my concerns are predicated upon the needs of new nuclear build. Of course, they are absolutely right. Equally, the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer, is not naive in supporting me, because there are other very good reasons for making progress on the final disposal of nuclear waste.
First, post 9/11, it is no longer safe to keep waste on the surface, in temporary storage and vulnerable to attack. Even some environmental NGOs recognise that. Secondly, I believe that there is a risk of societal breakdown, possibly because of the rapid onset of a biological disaster. If that happened, who would look after the facilities at Sellafield? How would a future
At Second Reading, I suggested that the issue of nulcear waste had been put into a deep geological depository. Ministers have given CoRWM, the Committee of Radioactive Waste Management, the mission to report on the options by the end of 2005. I understand that the committee has exceeded all Ministers' expectations and that it now intends to report at about the end of 2006.
Why the delay? As your Lordships would expect, the committee has undertaken a very rigorous examination of allI repeat, allthe possible options. For instance, the committee will examine the option of launching and ejecting the waste into space. The 1999 Select Committee of your Lordships' House, examining the management of radioactive waste, rejected the space option due to the obvious risk of launch failure. Your Lordships' Select Committee also rejected all other options, with the exception of deep geological depository.
The amendment does not provide for deep geological depository but merely gives NDA responsibility for long-term disposal. I believe that CoRWM is designed to create unnecessary delay by examining every disposal option, even those that are not remotely viable. I have asked this question before, but I shall repeat it. Can the Minister identify any option other than deep geological disposal that does not have insuperable difficulties? It may be that very careful independent analysis shows that deep geological depository is not viable either, but it is the only option that we know about that is without obvious defects at the moment. However, that does not mean that it is necessarily perfect. There may be insurmountable difficulties. If so, we need to find out quickly not slowly, because the implications for the NDA are very serious indeed. That is why the NDA is best placed to manage final disposal. I beg to move.
Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: My Lords, I rise briefly to support the amendment. I do not believe that the Bill adequately defines "disposal", and long-term disposal is the crunch issue for nuclear waste. It is very important to define in the Bill, as suggested by the amendment, exactly what the NDA will be responsible for when it comes to the word "disposal". For that reason, I support the amendment. We cannot have any more short-termism or any more waste stored without planning permission on sites throughout Britain. We need to consider a long-term solution, difficult though that is, and the NDA will be the body best placed to do that.
Lord Jenkin of Roding: My Lords, I have collected a mass of material about what other countries are doing in this respect, but it will please the House to know that I do not propose to say anything about that. Before CoRWM reports, at the end of next year, will it have covered what is being done in such countries as Japan, Sweden, Finland, France and the United States, all of which seem much further ahead with this matter than we are? I entirely agree with the noble Baroness,
Lord Campbell-Savours: My Lords, I hope that my noble friend the Minister rejects the amendment fiercely, because all that it will do is to take us right down the Nirex route, which on a previous occasion proved so utterly disastrous.
Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I reassure my noble friend that I shall propose that the amendment should be withdrawn, although not in quite such cataclysmic terms perhaps. I respect the motivation of the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, in introducing the amendment. I assure him of the absolute cardinal point, addressed by both him and the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer, that "disposal" means "the act or means of getting rid of something". That is its usual meaning, which certainly embraces the long term as much as it embraces the short term. In the nuclear context, this means that there is no intention subsequently to retrieve what has been disposed of. So in the terms of the Bill, disposal is, by its very nature, a long-term solution. This is contrasted with the word "storage" that we use elsewhere in the Bill to indicate an interim solution before further treatment or disposal. Disposal is the long-term concept. That is why I hope that the noble Earl will recognise that his amendment is not necessary because it does not add any substance to the Bill.
Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: My Lords, will the Minister say whether spent plutonium is included among the substances that will be considered for long-term disposal? Is it classified as waste? Will it therefore fall within the long-term disposal solution that the Minster has just mentioned?
Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, we are referring to high-level waste for treatment. I recognise the chiding given on more than one occasion by the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, and the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, about aspects of the time-scale on which we have made progress. The House will know that the committee is due to report in 2006. I can assure noble Lords that the Government expect it to comment upon international dimensions. We believe that we could usefully learn lessons from Finnish activity in this area. We expect the fullest range and quality in the report and have every confidence that it will be so. The committee is due to report in 2006.
On the general issues that have been raised, the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, asked me to be a little more explicit about which strategies might be pursued. I am not in a position to do that. I would prefer to wait for the deliberations of the committee. Secondly, it would be an extraordinarily slender thread on which to hang such a substantive debate. I would be asking the noble
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