HC Deb 30 June 1958 vol 590 cc857-9
14. Mr. Robens

asked the Paymaster-General what will be the effect on the cost and building progress of the atomic energy programme of the recent decision to modify the programme so as to produce plutonium of weapons grade; and whether he will make a statement.

17 and 18. Mr. Palmer

asked the Paymaster-General (1) what modifications are being made in the nuclear power programme because of the less favourable estimates now current in relation to capital costs, operational conditions, and plutonium credits;

(2) if he will make a statement on the decision to use the civil nuclear power stations now being constructed by the Central Electricity Generating Board for the production of military plutonium.

28. Mr. Mason

asked the Paymaster-General what will be the initial capital cost of the modifications required to the affected atomic power stations for the production of plutonium; and what is the estimated additional operating cost.

Sir I. Horobin

The capital cost of the modifications about which my right hon. Friend informed the hon. Member for Barnsley (Mr. Mason) on 24th June is not yet known precisely but is unlikely to exceed 1 per cent. of the cost of the stations concerned, and since this will be borne by the Government, it will not affect the cost of the civil nuclear programme. The necessary alterations in the designs of the stations can be made without affecting building progress.

The additional operating cost that would be incurred by the electricity authorities, if the facilities were used, would be very small and would also be borne by the Government.

The nuclear programme is kept under constant review in the light of all relevant factors but has not been revised since it was rephased last year as part of the general revision of capital investment.

Mr. Robens

I take it from the hon. Gentleman's reply that modifications of a capital nature are to be paid for by the Government, and the extra operating cost. Could the hon. Gentleman, therefore, tell us who will pay the increased capital cost of the fuel charges?

Sir I. Horobin

As I understand the matter, I do not think that that arises. The question at issue is how long these charges remain under irradiation in the reactors. It is simply a question whether one leaves them there for a longer time or a shorter time, in view of the different isotopes of plutonium which arise at different stages. Therefore, I think that the righthon. Gentleman's supplementary question arises out of a misunderstanding.

Mr. Robens

May I say that it does not arise from a misunderstanding at all? Is not it the case that the number of initial charges required by the Electricity Authority would probably be in the ratio of 5 to 3, or even 4 to 1, and therefore there will be substantial initial capital costs? Who will pay these increased capital costs? The hon. Gentleman said that whether one gets plutonium of weapon-grade or not depends upon how long the original charges are left in the reactor. I understand that the ratio is probably 4 to 1. Therefore, there must be at least five charges to the one which the Electricity Authority would be required to pay for, as it takes fifteen months to extract the plutonium from the uranium rods.

Sir I. Horobin

I understood the right hon. Gentleman to refer to initial capital cost. That is not affected. There will be additional cost, owing to the fact that the uranium rods move through the reactor more frequently, and that extra cost will be met as a defence charge by the Government.

Mr. Robens

If I put down a Question will the hon. Gentleman be able to tell us the exact cost?

Sir I. Horobin

I cannot promise until I see the Question. I will certainly consider it.

Mr. Palmer

Would not the hon. Gentleman agree that this mixing of the military and civil aspects of nuclear energy is likely to make it very difficult for us to form a proper estimate of true operating costs and therefore may have an adverse effect on the expected British trade in export markets of nuclear power stations?

Sir I. Horobin

That is a difficult question to answer offhand. One obvious reply is, of course, that at least two of the generating power stations will not be modified, so facts and figures will be obtainable from them. In any case, if we start from the assumption that we require this insurance, this is a very much cheaper way of doing it than any other way.

Mr. Mason

Am I right in assuming that there are three costs under discussion—the initial capital costs, the operating costs, and the costs which will involve security? The ones which we are particularly interested in, in view of the fact that the hon. Gentleman has assured us that the initial capital and security costs will be borne by the Government, are the additional operating costs in view of the fact that the uranium rods will have to be inserted far more often than previously under the peaceful programme?

Sir I. Horobin

If the hon. Gentleman will look at my original reply, he will see that I specifically dealt with that. I will repeat what I said: The additional operating cost that would be incurred by the electricity authorities, if the facilities were used"— and I stress the word "if"—this is an insurance and it does not follow necessarily that they will ever be used— would be very small and would also be borne by the Government.