Nuclear waste plants could be built in national parks and other treasured landscapes, a minister has told MPs.

Richard Harrington, junior business and industry minister, was grilled by the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) committee yesterday (10 July) on whether the government’s new draft nuclear waste disposal guidance should permit such facilities in national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty.

The committee is conducting an inquiry into the new guidance, which is designed to govern the determination of nuclear waste disposal planning applications.

The government has asked local areas to volunteer to host the facilities, which will be required to store the waste material from the planned new wave of nuclear plants.

Harrington said: “We have to look at all possible sites where communities want it. It would be very wrong to exclude them at the moment.”

But he said the acceptability of the individual facilities would depend on the impact that it had on the landscape of the area.

He cited a new potash mine in North Yorkshire, which has involved very little surface development, as an example of what can be achieved in an environmentally sensitive location.

“If it was a huge 1km industrial building in the middle of a national park that wouldn’t be acceptable.”

The minister also rejected concerns that the government is gambling on communities’ willingness to host the nuclear waste facilities.

“Having a bottom up approach might lead us to no facility at all,” said Peter Kyle, a member of the select committee.

Harrington said he did not believe that this would happen.

“It’s not a gamble, we are working on the assumption with current policy that there will be willing communities. If there were no willing communities, the government will have to consider alternatives.”

“We need a facility like this and we would much rather do it with communities that want it,” he said, pointing out that the nuclear industry is popular in communities like West Cumbria where it is an important source of well paid, local jobs.

Imran Nazir, deputy director for decommissioning in the radioactive materials and geological disposal programme at the BEIS department said that examining a plan B would undermine the process for consulting with communities that expressed an interest in hosting the waste facilities.