Second quarter of 1999
knowledge level of UK Minister on MOX shipment implications
From a question and answer
session in the House of Commons on the issue of planned MOX shipments
from Europe to Japan on 18 May 1999
4. Mrs. Helen Brinton (Peterborough): What discussions he has had with
overseas Governments regarding the shipment of MOX fuel to Japan. 
10. Mr. Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington): What recent representations
have been made to him by foreign Governments regarding the proposed
shipment of MOX fuel to Japan. 
The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Tony
Discussions have taken place between officials and their counterparts
in France, Japan and the United States to ensure in particular that
appropriate measures are in place for the physical protection of MOX
fuel, consistent with internationally agreed commitments and recommendations.
I thank my hon. Friend for his comprehensive reply, but is he aware
of concerns that MOX fuel is not only highly dangerous for the environment,
but could be a threat in the hands of terrorists? Can he assure me and
the House that the Government will take serious note of international
opinion on the manufacture and, indeed, safe transportation of MOX fuel?
The reality is that transportation of MOX fuel is undertaken in a way
that is consistent with what the public demand, but I must make the
point that, as a fuel, MOX is safer than many other similar nuclear
materials. In particular, handling it is inherently far safer. However,
the capacity of the transportation systems themselves to deter both
accident and attack is high. That includes, of course, arming those
who have responsibility for the safe transport of the fuel. Within those
terms, I think that I can say that we are certain that what British
Nuclear Fuels plc is engaged in is as safe as it possibly can be. There
is a high measure of security.
I also thank the Minister for his response, but must press him on the
point. Will he impress on other Departments the need for caution and
for a plutonium disposal policy that takes into account international
concerns, as well as environmental risks, rather than increasing reprocessing
and MOX production at Sellafield?
Of course I will refer the hon. Gentleman's comments to my colleagues
in other Departments, but the simple reality is that MOX is a better
way to dispose of spent uranium through reprocessing. The advantage
of MOX is that, in refuelling, the plutonium is destroyed. Therefore,
the proliferation risks from plutonium disappear with that reprocessing
cycle. It is a very environmentally and ecologically sound way to get
rid of the dangers of proliferation.
Mr. David Chaytor (Bury, North):
In view of the imminence of the decision about the Sellafield MOX plant
and the increasing public concern about the transport of all forms of
radioactive waste--a concern highlighted by yesterday's revelation about
secret attempts by British Nuclear Fuels to negotiate the import of
spent fuel from the United States--may I ask my hon. Friend whether
his Department or other Departments have conducted any independent research
into the proliferation risks of the transport of MOX fuel, particularly
with regard to the export of MOX fuel to other countries that are also
signatories to the non-proliferation treaty?
The export of MOX fuel is covered by the relevant international conventions
under the nuclear suppliers group regime. It means that we would not
authorise export to countries and Governments where there was no commitment
to use MOX solely for peaceful and energy-related purposes, and no agreement
with the International Atomic Energy Agency to ensure that the conditions
under which the fuels were held were adequate to guarantee security
against any risk, including, obviously, the risk of proliferation. The
transportation system is very safe. I defy any terrorist to breach it.
Even in the more lurid and purple descriptions of what terrorists might
want to do, trying to seize shipments of MOX would come very low on
the agenda of proliferators.
Source: Official Report (Hansard),
18 May 1999, columns 860-861 Foreign Office