HC Deb 03 July 1958 vol 590 cc1585-7
49. Mr. Palmer

asked the Prime Minister if he will make a statement on the failure of an electric generator turbine on Saturday, 28th June, at Calder Hall B Nuclear Power Station, now nearing completion.

The Prime Minister

A turbine failure occurred at about 8 p.m. on Saturday, 28th June, at Calder Hall B Power Station. I am glad to be able to inform the House that no one was injured. The power house is separate from the reactor, and there was and is no danger of any release of radioactivity. The turbine affected was of the conventional type in general use in power stations, and was a new machine in the early stage of commissioning. The reactor is undamaged and will be back on power at the end of next week for its primary purpose of producing plutonium.

The Atomic Energy Authority has convened a Board of Inquiry consisting of independent experts, members of the Authority staff and Trade Unions and Staff Associations' representatives to investigate the cause of the accident. The Chairman is to be Mr. P. T. Fletcher, Deputy Managing Director of the Authority's Industrial Group. The Board will hold its first meeting on 4th July.

Mr. Palmer

While appreciating that this accident occurred on the steam side of the plant and was not peculiar in its nature to a nuclear plant, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether, taking this in conjunction with the earlier Windscale accident, he is satisfied that there is a proper concern for safety in the organisation of the Atomic Energy Authority?

The Prime Minister

Oh, yes, and I think that it was certainly the case that this was a defect—though it is not for me to say until the report is published—in the turbine, which could have happened if it had been driven by a conventional force.

Mr. Beswick

May I ask the Prime Minister to consider this fact, that although one accepts that of course there is proper regard for safety in these establishments, there was also, we must remember, a mistake and that some calculations went astray? Ought we not, therefore, to remember the fact that these very skilled, expert people can make mistakes when we give categorical assurances, for example, that there can be no danger in carrying nuclear weapons in aircraft patrolling this country?

The Prime Minister

This not a discussion about anything to do with the nuclear. This is a question of a failure of a turbine which happened to be driven by nuclear power. If there was a fault in this new turbine, no doubt it was a fault in construction, or something of that kind, but that will emerge when the full inquiry is held.

Mr. F. Anderson

Is the report of this investigating body likely to be published so that the general public may know all about it?

The Prime Minister

The publication of the Board's findings will, of course, be a question for the Authority, but I am sure that the Authority is mindful of the need to keep the public informed in all matters which interest the public.

Mr. C. R. Hobson

Will the Prime Minister make it perfectly clear that this racing of the turbine was something which happens in power stations from time to time and had nothing whatever to do with the fact that this is a nuclear power station? Secondly, could he state whether the turbine itself was in the hands of the Authority and had been passed into the care of the Authority, or was in the hands of the makers, when the test was taking place?

The Prime Minister

I must be careful. As to the first part of the hon. Member's supplementary question, I have already stated what I understand to be the case, but I must be very careful not to arrogate to myself what it is the duty of the inquiring Board to do, and I think it would be wise to stop at what I have said, that this may have been a defect in the turbine itself, and that is what has to be considered.