HC Deb 22 February 1956 vol 549 cc377-80
47. Mr. Moss

asked the Lord Privy Seal how soon he expects that British firms which accept contracts to build nuclear reactors in foreign and other overseas territories will be able, in cooperation with the Atomic Energy Authority, to supply nuclear fuel as part of the contract.

Mr. R. A. Butler

If the reactors in question require natural uranium, the Atomic Energy Authority are confident that this will be available as soon as it is required. Supplies of enriched uranium are limited, and have to be shared between defence and civil needs. Some of the civil share will be reserved to meet export requirements, although, as I have indicated, the quantity which is available will be limited.

Mr. Moss

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the Americans are likely to offer research reactors and appropriate fuel—

Mr. Ellis Smith


Mr. Moss

—by cut prices in order to capture orders? Is the right hon. Gentleman further aware that in The Times today it is reported that Marshal Bulganin claims that the Soviet Union is ahead of all other countries in the peaceful application of nuclear energy? Bearing in mind the magnificent achievement of the British nuclear programme so far, does not the right hon. Gentleman think it is important for our future export trade that we should be able to compete in this market?

Mr. Butler

Yes, Sir. Of course, we watch very cautiously and carefully the development taking place in other countries, including the Soviet Union. So far as I can tell, the hon. Member's observations will need a certain amount of checking before we are satisfied about their accuracy, but we take them very seriously nevertheless. The output of enriched uranium is limited to the capacity of the Authority's diffusion plant at Capenhurst and we are watching that with a view to meeting the needs of the nation.

Mr. Usborne

While it is important for this country that we should be able to export fissile material and reactors, will the right hon. Gentleman say whether he agrees that it would be quite wrong to resist the creation of what is called Euratom in Europe solely or even mainly on the ground that if it were created it would be harder for Britain to export into Europe?

Mr. Butler

The question of Euratom raises rather bigger questions than are involved in this Question. I will discuss this with my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer who is going to a meeting of the O.E.E.C. at the end of this month, when this and other similar matters of European integration will come up for discussion. If I may, I will ask him to consider what the hon. Member has said.

48. Mr. Warbey

asked the Lord Privy Seal, if he will state the terms of the arrangement between the Atomic Energy Authority and Associated Electrical Industries, whereby the latter are to construct a privately-owned nuclear reactor of 5,000 kilowatt capacity and are to receive a supply of nuclear fuel for its operation.

Mr. R. A. Butler

Associated Electrical Industries propose to construct this reactor as a private venture. The Atomic Energy Authority will supply the necessary nuclear fuel on a rental basis.

Mr. Warbey

In view of the vast implications of this new development, involving the private ownership of an atomic power plant, even if it is only on a comparatively small scale, is it not right that the House should be fully informed of all the details of the agreement, including such matter as the conditions under which the enriched fuels are being supplied and what arrangements are being made to deal with the plutonium by-product at the end which may be of weapons grade?

Mr. Butler

I am able to inform the House of the terms of the loan of the nuclear fuel by the Atomic Energy Authority. They will cover the following: first, the cost of fabricating the fuel elements; secondly, a percentage of the total cost of the fuel, including an element for research and development; thirdly, the cost of fuels spent during the running of the reactor; and fourthly, the cost of reprocessing spent fuel elements. I mention that only because the hon. Member asked whether I could give an indication of the terms. I hope my Answer will be an indication to him that the terms are being very carefully watched.

Mr. Beswick

While accepting that this is a private venture—and whether it should be or not is entirely a different question which some people might dispute—would the right hon. Gentleman say how much this private firm is paying for the know-how and information which is being given to it by the Atomic Energy Authority, which has cost the Authority so many millions of pounds of public money?

Mr. Butler

That is such an important question that I should need notice of it.

Mr. Maclay

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that A.E.I. are being extremely public-spirited in spending very large sums of money on their own account and, more, being prepared to make available this reactor, when ready, for study by our universities and other institutions?

Mr. Butler

I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman has raised that point. Not only have the A.E.I. been patriotic in this matter, but they intend to make the reactor available for educational research work by a group of southern universities.

Mr. Callaghan

Whatever the merits or demerits of the last supplementary question, is the Lord Privy Seal aware that a lot of public interest and some anxiety exists about the terms of these arrangements? We are embarking on an entirely new field and, while we are grateful for the information which we have been given this afternoon, will the right hon. Gentleman consider either making a detailed statement or publishing a White Paper so that we can have details of the whole of these arrangements?

Mr. Butler

As the transaction in question is inspired by the utmost public spirit, I can see no objection whatever to making available to the House all the information which I have. I will consult my noble Friend as to the best way of doing that in order that the House may be informed and the hon. Member may be satisfied.