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Nuclear Waste (Liabilities)

5. Mr. Michael Jack (Fylde): If she will make a statement on the arrangements for making adequate financial provision for future liabilities for the disposal of nuclear waste. [16473]

The Minister for Industry and Energy (Mr. Brian Wilson): Provisions for future liabilities for the disposal of nuclear waste continue to be the responsibility of the individual nuclear operator concerned, be that public sector bodies such as the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority and British Nuclear Fuels plc, or private sector bodies such as British Energy. However, the right hon. Gentleman will be aware that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry made a statement to the House yesterday about the future management of public sector civil nuclear liabilities.

Mr. Jack: I am delighted that the tabling of my question prompted the Secretary of State's early

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announcement. Has the Minister seen any of the comments by Friends of the Earth following that announcement? It claims that British Nuclear Fuels plc was bankrupt and

It also suggested that there should be no new nuclear development. Will the Minister take this opportunity to rebut those claims by Friends of the Earth? Will he also put on record that THORP and MOX have a good commercial future, and that his right hon. Friend's announcement yesterday should in no way be taken as a barrier to the further development of civil nuclear power in the United Kingdom?

Mr. Wilson: From what the right hon. Gentleman has quoted, I would have thought that, by Friends of the Earth's standards, that response was fairly mild. Some people are irrevocably opposed to the nuclear industry in all its forms, and they will make their statements, comments and allegations. They certainly do not cause us to deviate from the course of securing a balanced energy policy for this country. The decision fully to go ahead with MOX was based on a report that demonstrated its significant viability and on the fact that most of the business was already in place. So I do not take those claims seriously. I believe that BNFL will have a successful future in the form in which it will operate, and I pay tribute to the work force and the management who, in recent times, have turned round many of the problems that undoubtedly existed.

Mr. David Drew (Stroud): I welcome the statement by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. Will my hon. Friend the Minister recognise the complexities of the nuclear industry and the need to consider its different component parts? The Magnox headquarters at Berkeley is in my constituency. Will he open his door, so that we can examine how properly to evaluate the way in which the industry should go forward from here? Such discussions are urgently needed.

Mr. Wilson: The energy review being undertaken by the Cabinet Office performance and innovation unit is under way, and the nuclear industry and the wide range of questions attached to it is only one of the areas it is covering. My door is always open for discussions. A Magnox power station in my constituency is being decommissioned, so I would be pleased to discuss with my hon. Friend the future of Magnox, BNFL or any other aspect of the industry.

Mr. John Whittingdale (Maldon and East Chelmsford): Yesterday the Secretary of State twice refused to answer this question, so perhaps the Minister will do so now. Does he accept that there is no possibility of proposals for new nuclear development being made until the Government take a decision on their strategy for handling radioactive waste, whatever the PIU report says in a couple of months? How can he justify the delay of up to seven years proposed by the Minister for the Environment, which will prolong uncertainty in the industry and put a blight on it?

Mr. Wilson: I certainly do not think that my right hon. Friend avoided the question in any way, but it is somewhat pejoratively posed. In our view, there is no

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sequential arrangement that nothing will happen in the nuclear industry until the waste report appears; nor do I recognise the figure of seven years. Clearly, it is desirable to get answers on waste in a shorter time frame, working both nationally and internationally, but no one currently is making proposals for nuclear power stations. However, they may at any time and they certainly are not prevented from so doing by the factors to which the hon. Gentleman refers.

If there is to be nuclear new build in this country, the time scale for working up those proposals and having them properly considered long before construction would itself be substantial. If such developments are to happen—that is a commercial judgment for the companies involved—there is no reason to suppose that they would happen sequentially; they could happen in parallel.

Dr. Stephen Ladyman (South Thanet): Does my hon. Friend agree that yesterday's announcement on civil liabilities frees BNFL to become the world-class company that we all believe that it should be, secures thousands of jobs around the country and opens up the opportunity for BNFL to lever in other expertise and begin a real attack on the foreign markets, particularly in the old eastern bloc where there are billions of pounds to be made by exploiting British expertise in the clean-up of those countries?

Mr. Wilson: I agree with my hon. Friend. Much of the thinking behind the statement that my right hon. Friend made yesterday involved ensuring that BNFL can get on with its business, that morale can be raised and that there is no shadow hanging over the company. On that basis, there is a great deal of interesting and potentially profitable work to be done. That is the role for BNFL, and it will enable the skills and excellence in the company to flourish.


6. Mr. Michael Weir (Angus): If she will delay support for the extension of the MOX facility at Sellafield, pending the results of the energy review. [16475]

The Minister for Industry and Energy (Mr. Brian Wilson): No. My right hon. Friends the Secretaries of State for Health and for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs announced their decision on the justification of MOX manufacture on 3 October. The commissioning and operation of the Sellafield MOX plant is now a matter for BNFL, subject to the satisfaction of the relevant regulators.

Mr. Weir: I thank the Minister for that answer, but does he agree that, whatever our personal views on nuclear power, it is folly to proceed with the plant before the energy review group reports on whether the UK should have further new nuclear power stations? I do not know about him, but we do not yet know what the review group will recommend, and pressing ahead with the plant has already caused concern about pollution in the Irish sea. I believe that two court cases have been brought by the Irish Government, and, obviously, new possibilities as to the operation of the MOX plant have been raised following 11 September. Would it not be the ultimate irony if the energy review group recommended against

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new nuclear stations in the UK while the new plant is allowed to operate, manufacture and reprocess fuel for others?

Mr. Wilson: I see no such irony. The case for the MOX plant has been fully tested and it was recently subject to an independent economic consultancy report, which found the project to be very healthy economically. Many problems that the hon. Gentleman claims to exist have been tested in the courts in response to an action by Greenpeace, which was thrown out.

It was not the Irish Government but the Irish political party Fianna Fail that put out advertisements at the weekend. According to Ireland's own competent monitoring body, the Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland, at the highest estimate Sellafield would account for less than 2 microsieverts per year. The average intake in Ireland is estimated to be between 2,000 and 20,000 per year. I think that that puts things into proportion.

Mr. Bob Blizzard (Waveney): Does my hon. Friend agree, in the context of the energy review, that if we are to focus firmly on security of supply as well as on environmental matters, it is essential for us to maximise the extraction of gas from the North sea, and also to push ahead with renewables such as offshore—

Mr. Speaker: Order. The main question is about Sellafield. The Minister cannot answer the hon. Gentleman's question.

Mr. Nick Gibb (Bognor Regis and Littlehampton): Both the thermal oxide reprocessing and the mixed oxide plants are to be transferred to the new Liabilities Management Authority. What will be the commercial arrangement between the LMA and BNFL for the operation of those plants? Will BNFL operate them on a management contract basis, with the LMA taking the risk, or will BNFL continue to shoulder any losses, although it will no longer own the plants?

Mr. Wilson: The details of the arrangements will be in the White Paper to be published in the spring, but there is certainly a commitment to transparency. That is part of the reason for the establishment of the LMA: the aim is to separate historic liabilities from current and future liabilities, and to apply that same principle of transparency within the authority.

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