§ 11.10 a.m.
§ Mr. John Eden (Bournemouth, West)
I beg to moveThat this House urges Her Majesty's Government, while giving due weight to such considerations as public safety, the preservation of landscape and the need to make power available from the cheapest and most efficient sources, to maintain the nuclear power programme at a level that will encourage the development of manufacturing experience and capacity, and provide the best possible prospects for exporting British designs, products and skill.During the last eighteen months or so the House has had before it a number of Measures, notably the Nuclear Installations (Licensing and Insurance) Act, 1959, the Radioactive Substances Act, 1960, and the Electricity (Amendment) Act, 1960, which have given it an opportunity to discuss certain aspects of the Government's nuclear power programme, but, apart from one or two Adjournment debates, I believe that this is the first time that the House will have an opportunity to debate the nuclear power programme as a whole.
With this in mind, the Motion has been deliberately widely drawn in the hope that it could cover—or the speeches on it could cover—almost every aspect of this subject. For example, the phasing or timing or the rate of building of the nuclear power stations, the position in which the consortia now find themselves, the policy of research backing up the power programme, the development policy of the Atomic Energy Authority, and the opportunities which exist for export and international co-operation.
There are others which I have mentioned in the Motion, perhaps the most important one of which is the criteria which govern the choice of sites, including the aspect of public safety precautions.
I could not, even if I wished, in the course of one speech, even touch upon all these subjects. It is a comparatively new excursion for me to venture into nuclear power, and I find myself rather in the position today of a doorkeeper who is opening up the way to the hall of learning, beyond where I look around me and see awaiting Members whose knowledge and practical experience of 1328 this subject qualify them to speak with much greater authority on it than I can.
Having studied this subject, as it were, afresh, I have been struck—as I am sure every hon. Member will have been struck under similar circumstances—by the fact that this country owes a very great deal to the inspired work of the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority. On a comparatively slender budget the genius of its members has brought this country to the position of being a leading nuclear power.
Although I shall have some criticisms—I intend them to be constructive—to offer later on, I want first of all to recognise that this Authority undoubtedly has to its credit some outstanding and notable achievements. Britain today, for example, leads the world in the practical operating experience of the gas-cooled graphite-moderated reactor. I understand that no other country can offer for export purposes a nuclear power station of such proved design.
Calder Hall, from which electricity was first produced in August, 1956, will always have a place of honour in the history of nuclear power development. But if we can praise the Authority's achievements in the past, we can also question the wisdom of its policies for the future. This programme, extended as it has been by the June, 1960, White Paper, is still to cost some £900 million. I believe that we have a duty to satisfy ourselves that this expenditure is based on sound premises.
The very success of the Authority does not mean, as I am sure it would be the first to recognise, that its activities are beyond the scrutiny of this House. That is what I shall attempt to do in relating its activities to the decisions which have been announced by the Government as the current programme of development of nuclear power.
In this country there are now seven nuclear power stations under construction and the eighth is being tendered for. During the course of this year we shall see the commissioning of Bradwell, in Essex, and Berkeley, in Gloucestershire, bringing some further 575 megawatts capacity between them. With these stations now under construction and in preparation, even if no more were to be begun, it is calculated that by 1966 the total civil nuclear output will be 1329 approaching 4,000 megawatts—equivalent to something like 12 million tons of coal. This is well on the way to the 1968 target of 5,000 megawatts announced in the June, 1960, White Paper.
I have the impression, however, that we have, as it were, arrived at the end of the first stage, and that the first initial enthusiasm has given way to a greater sense of realism. The programme has, perhaps, now reached a lull, a pause. We appear to be at a sort of interregnum.
I think that this is largely caused by the trend in the availability of conventional fuel, principally coal and oil, and also by the remarkable strides made in generating electricity through coal and oil, which has resulted in considerable reductions in capital costs and in improved efficiency in the operation of power stations.
The natural uranium system, the present Calder Hall type of station, will generate electricity at a cost per unit about 30 per cent. above that of the most advantageously sited coal-fired station. In spite of this, it is calculated that by the end of the decade—in the beginning of the 1970s—the cost of nuclear power will fall below the cost of conventional power at base load.
In addition, sufficient progress has been made with the advanced gas-cooled reactor prototype at Windscale to confirm the belief that this offers the best possible prospect for the early achievement of competitive nuclear power in the United Kingdom. It was Sir William Cook, the member of the Authority for development and engineering, who said that the first commercial A.G.R. station could be commissioned by 1966 and would be directly competitive with the best coal-fired stations at that time.
This is, of course, an industry of extremely rapid development. My fear is lest some of the stations now under construction, in spite of the fact that I fully recognise that they have a long and useful life ahead of them and that further improvements may be made to them, should be fairly soon superseded by these more advanced developments, which will produce power more efficiently from stations which can be built at a lower capital cost. I certainly do not want to see the most beautiful parts of our countryside 1330 littered with the decaying carcasses of these leviathans.
While I will not develop that theme, I think that it is important that we should not measure our progress solely in terms of electricity generated, or the cost of electricity generated, for there are some things which are above mere material estimation. The most beautiful areas of our countryside, if destroyed now, can never be restored to us.
In view of that, we must study now, during this lull, this interregnum, what possibilities exist for the future. The first important issue which I refer to my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Power is the question of the wisdom of proceeding at the rate of one new station a year, even if, to use the words of the 1960 White Paper, it is to be only "roughly" at that pace.
I cannot escape the feeling that that was intended as a sop to the nuclear plant industry, as a sort of consolation prize and recompense for the industry's disappointment and disillusionment. After all, the Government had actively encouraged the formation of five consortia. They are now apparently offering the remaining three this rather meagre fare in the hope that they can sustain themselves on it until "the future needs of the country are clearer". I suggest that there are other ways in which the consortia could better be employed during the next few years.
The first point to which I wish to draw attention is the policy of requiring the consortia to tender competitively for the requirements of the electricity generating boards. The cost of tendering is enormous. For the smaller stations it is about £100,000, ranging up to £250,000 for the larger stations. The tendency now is to order stations of ever-increasing size in order to try to secure lower power costs.
For any organisation, no matter how widely based its interests may be and no matter how many companies are associated in the group, an average of £150,000 per tender is a very large consideration, indeed. It is a waste of money and it is money for which the Government ultimately will pay, because, with only a one in three chance of securing a contract, the cost of tenders will inevitably be added to the contract 1331 when it comes along—and not just the cost of one tender, but the others as well.
Apart from that, it is a terrible waste of manpower. Into this industry have come some of the country's most outstanding brains. Top-level young physicists and technicians have been diverted to the nuclear plant and nuclear power industry. My great fear is lest we waste this very valuable and scarce material on highly unproductive work, spending a lot of time and a lot of brain power on preparing elaborate tenders which I do not believe to be necessary.
Even apart from this, apart even from the time taken up in the preparation of these tenders, much of this rare talent is squandered on development projects which are duplicated and even triplicated by other organisations in industry, by the Authority and by Government Departments. Surely it is possible to bring some order into all this. Could we not adopt a more obvious method of selection? It has recently been the practice to assign contracts. Could we not make this quite clearly the programme for the remaining three consortia which exist now?
§ Mr. David Price (Eastleigh)
I am following my hon. Friend's argument very closely, but will he give us an example of this duplication of development work on new reactors about which he is complaining?
§ Mr. Eden
What I am talking about is the duplication of research work. There are many operations which are now being carried out by the new consortia as well as by the Authority. What I hope will happen is that there will be some clear planning of research and development over the industry as a whole. For example, would it not be possible to do something on the lines of the development contracts which have been so successful in the industries related to the Service Departments, where the work could be farmed out by the Atomic Energy Authority on contract to the power consortia? Could not the whole of this research and 1332 development work be carefully balanced and planned to be complementary to the Authority's own programme? At any rate, a considerable conservation of resources in manpower can arise from a study of the policy now underlying the research and development programme.
But there is an additional subject for co-ordination which is just as important and in which our national resources can be much more advantageously employed than they are at present. That is exports. I know that the market in exports is extremely limited and is likely to remain so for six years and that there is not much opportunity now for selling overseas that type of large power station which we are building in this country.
However, British firms are in a unique position. Better than other firms from any other country, they can quote from knowledge and experience for the projects to be installed in other countries, but that position will not last for ever. If we do not take advantage of it now, we are likely to be out of the export market of the nuclear power industry, and if we are out of it in the next six years, we will find it well nigh impossible to get back into it in the 1970s and 1980s.
I should like the Government to be much more positive about their encouragement to the nuclear power industry in connection with exports, instead of what they are now doing which, apparently, is to make it as difficult as possible to export. For example, any exporter will want to know how much support he can expect in long-term loans and what are the credit rates for the period, which must inevitably be prolonged, and what security factors are likely to be involved. He will want to know those things before he starts to tender. Most of the groups will have something like only one in ten chances of securing a contract, and I do not see the sense of making that any more difficult than need be.
Some of the difficulties are caused by the Authority itself. Export opportunities are affected by the conditions laid down by the Authority and to which our competitors, notably in the United States of America, are not subjected. The Authority rightly charges for its patents. It also charges for commercially valuable information. The provision of that varies according to the terms of the 1333 access agreements made with private firms.
I sincerely applaud the cost-consciousness of the Authority and I understand its motive of securing the maximum possible return for the public money which has been spent on research and development. But we must not close our eyes to the fact that that places United Kingdom firms at a considerable disadvantage in their competition with those of the United States.
It was the Report of the Select Committee on Estimates in July, 1959—an admirable Report; and I am delighted to see the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Peart) in his place, as he played some part in it—which indicated how the Authority expected to get increasing receipts from royalty payments, but it was warned in the Report of the danger that… to accelerate these receipts by raising royalty charges would appear to be shortsighted and detrimental to the commercial prospects of the domestic nuclear power industry.The Report went on to say:Similarly, to drive too hard a bargain on payments for the use of patents might deter industry from exploring these new technologies, and so hold back the country's nuclear development.These royalty charges apply equally to reactors sold abroad, and I think that they should be looked at again.
A much more important factor affecting British export chances is the terms and conditions of sale by the Authority of fuel elements to overseas customers. To quote the Select 'Committee's Report again, it says:Their ability"—that is, the ability of British manufacturers—to vary their terms in competition with United States sellers, even if desirable, is strictly limited.All I say at this stage is that this seems to be a profitable field for activity by the Authority, by industry, and by the Government during the next few years. It might well be that, in the light of expected commercial success in reactors and of the current export needs and opportunities, such as they exist, these terms and conditions could profitably be reconsidered. At any rate, I consider that we should go "nap" on the advantages we hold while we hold them.
1334 I am not the only person who thinks that. The journal entitled "Nuclear Power" in its November, 1960, issue had this to say:Bumbledom should give way to recognition that the nuclear industry can play a significant part in Britain's export drive.To strengthen our position in overseas markets, the Atomic Energy Authority can do quite a bit under the impetus of the Government in partnership with industry.
I have dealt briefly with the immediate export position and have indicated how I think we must take advantage of the unique position that British industry holds, thanks to the development of the Calder Hall reactor.
May I now look further ahead. There has been considerable argument about the relative merits of the small or medium-sized reactor as opposed to the large reactors which are being constructed in this country. I do not think that the Authority should continue to hold itself aloof from the opinion of industry that there is a future for the small type of reactor, particularly in the export market. Let us at this stage plan to develop a programme which will prepare a small type of reactor suitable for capturing the export markets of the 'seventies. It might well be that such a reactor will result from the projects now being developed by the Authority, such as the Advanced Gas-cooled Reactor (A.G.R.), or the Dragon project, under the auspices of O.E.E.C., at Winfrith, or some other type, but I will not go into the details of them.
It might equally well be that the best type of small or medium-sized reactor could be developed from other projects now being prepared by other countries. I am thinking here of the boiling water reactor, the pressurised water reactor or the organic liquid moderated reactor types, which might well have considerable future as smaller-sized reactors in the export markets in the 'seventies and beyond. I urge that the Authority be encouraged now, while there is still time, to develop these things, to widen its net a bit, and to use the next few years to take in more types and to investigate their possibilities with that directly in mind. Let the Authority bring to the possibility of exporting reactors the same vigour it has so successfully brought to the export of radioactive 1335 isotopes. In any event, I think that the Authority should keep a much more open mind and be prepared to take advantage of the technical developments in other countries.
After speaking to various people in industry and studying their journals, I have the impression that the Authority has a sort of superior disdain for anything which it has not itself introduced. This is obviously not conducive to healthy research, and I therefore think that what has to come over the next few years is a change of outlook by the Authority towards the possibilities that the export market offers. In this it must look to industry for genuine co-operation and a strengthening of the so-called partnership.
The Authority should extend its patronage a little beyond the somewhat exclusive confines of its present policy. Above all, it should not be too anxious to hog information in a sort of cloud of secrecy until it becomes commercially attractive. Instead, it should bring industry into its knowledge and confidence at as early a stage as possible. By doing that, I believe that we would have the opportunity not only of co-ordinating our resources, but, by bringing industry in to share in the financial cost of research, save quite a lot of money. Also, it would enable a nation-wide programme to be undertaken for the development of the industry.
Having said that about the export need and about our own research and development needs in industry, it occurs to me that it might be profitable to consider the establishment of a standing committee of all the interests involved. I confess that I do not particularly like committees, and I know that already there are a number of committees and conferences in being within this industry, but there might, nevertheless, be a case for considering the establishment of a standing committee of all the major interests concerned. For example, the Minister for Science, the Minister of Power, the Authority itself, the Electricity Generating Boards, the chairman of the consortia, the representative of allied industries and perhaps even of such organisations as the Nuclear Energy Trade Associations' Conference might be on the committee. It could meet regularly under the chairmanship of the Minister 1336 for Science, or even of some distinguished outside person. It would have a number of real advantages which I think makes this proposition worth considering. Apart from the economies I have mentioned, it would ensure the better deployment of the skilled manpower available to the industry as a whole. It would also ensure more effective use of its other resources and would undoubtedly lead to an improved relationship between industry, the Authority, and the Electricity Generating Boards.
I put it no higher than this, that the suggestion is worth examining because, as the industry develops, as our knowledge of these things develops, so must the structure of the industry change to ensure that its design is best suited to exploit to the full the technological advances that we are making.
It is known that the country's energy needs as a whole are steadily increasing. To meet them, coal and oil will for a considerable time still be mainly responsible and they will continue to supply the fuel to the bulk of the power stations in the country. But nuclear power will come to play an increasingly significant part. According to one authority, about 20,000 or 30,000 megawatts of nuclear generating capacity might be installed by 1975, amounting in all to 15 per cent. or 20 per cent. of the country's total energy needs. I rather suspect that that might be a conservative estimate. It might very well be that by 1975 nuclear power will be playing an even greater part in supplying the country's energy needs.
Whatever estimates one uses, there is no doubt at all that the nuclear power industry has a great future. That future depends largely on our ability to maintain a large and successful engineering industry. That fact was well recognised by the Government in the references they made to it in the June, 1960, White Paper. I do not believe that the programme of roughly one station a year will enable us to maintain a large and successful nuclear engineering industry. I have tried to indicate one or two ways in which I think we can make better use of the intervening years between what I call phase one and the more advanced developments which are coming.
My final word is for the Government. I beg my hon. Friend to resist the temptation, which apparently has been 1337 irresistible in the past, to blow alternately hot and cold. May I remind him of what his predecessor said in this House on 1st July 1959:…' it is very important that everybody should realise that a nuclear programme on the scale of this country's must be a long-term, carefully-balanced programme, and cannot be interrupted by fits and starts and lurches in response to short-term considerations."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 1st July 1959; Vol. 608, c. 582.]I not only echo that sentiment, but go further. What I think is important is that the balance must be restored by the Government giving much more positive encouragement to the development of this industry, to the British nuclear industry as a whole.
I think this because I am convinced that there is a great future ahead for it, and I hope very much that over the next few years we shall be able to take full advantage of the knowledge we have already acquired. The civil uses of nuclear energy offer a prospect of untold benefit, not only to this country, but to mankind as a whole. My only concern in introducing this debate is to see that Britain continues to make a leading contribution.
§ 11.44 a.m.
§ Mr. Nicholas Ridley (Cirencester and Tewkesbury)
I have great pleasure in congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, West (Mr. Eden) on introducing this topic, which I think is one of the features of post-war development of which we in this country can be very proud. I also congratulate him warmly on the knowledgeable and thorough way in which he covered most aspects of the subject. I find myself in the position of being able only to reinforce and underline many of the things he said. Broadly speaking, there is agreement throughout the House that his is the right line to follow.
We have unfortunately departed a long way from the policy of using the cheapest fuel for our main energy needs. That, I think, is due to the changing pattern of fuel supplies and the extraordinary change in the coal situation which took place a few years ago. It is, perhaps, unfortunate that at a time of abundant fuel we should find ourselves concentrating on producing electricity from coal when oil would be a cheaper means and also concentrating on a large nuclear 1338 energy programme which, strictly speaking, does not commercially pay. I wish to speak of the financial aspect of the programme so that we may realise, and I hope agree, on the financial background to what has been done in the nuclear field. At present, it is estimated that the cost of nuclear energy which will be produced at the new stations will be something like 25 per cent. above the cost of electricity coming from conventional modern stations so far.
I have worked out that, apart from the expenditure on research and development which the Atomic Energy Authority has spent, the cost of the first five stations now building will be £235 million worth of capital greater than it would have been had we built conventional coal-fired stations. That is a very large sum of extra capital which has to be found, and found by the Government in the long run, in order to support this programme of nuclear power.
Of course, the capital element is high with nuclear power. When one considers the revenue aspect, which is important—and I am afraid it is impossible to be certain of these figures—we see that the extra cost of the electricity produced by these stations in a full year would be something of the order of £4 million above what it would be for modern coal-fired stations. We have to consider that for the first five stations only, which will produce 1,825 megawatts capacity, we are to expend £235 million extra capital and an annual cost of £4 million more revenue. I think the policy of the Government is right to put this cost of gaining experience and research on to the consumer. Although the Government have to find the capital in the first place, the revenue losses, as it were, will fall on the consumers of electricity in terms of having to pay slightly more for the current they use. That seems to be correct because future benefits of cheap power from nuclear energy will accrue to the consumers and therefore the cost of this development should also fall on them.
I think we need to be quite certain that all these stations are essential to the development of the power which we look forward to being cheaper in future. That is a question which my hon. Friend raised. I wish to look back at the history of the programme. One can see that perhaps there has been a certain amount of 1339 blowing hot and cold, as he said. The original programme was for 1,500 to 2,000 megawatts capacity by 1965. In March, 1957, the programme was hotted up to 5,000 or 6,000 megawatts by the same date, which was a considerable step up of three times the target originally proposed. Since then and in two stages the date has been put back to 1968 when this target will be achieved.
I think that with hindsight it is easy to say that the decision of March, 1957, was wrong. It was going far too fast and trying to accelerate the programme too quickly at a time when coal was just beginning to come into abundant supply. We could almost have forecast, I believe, that by 1960 we should be looking desperately for outlets for the low-grade coal which would by then be being produced in this country. In support of that one might quote the situation at Hinkley Point in Somerset. This station, which is probably the direct result of the decision of March, 1957, is well on the way to completion. It is quite a large station and the estimate reduction in cost is somewhere about £20 per kilowatt capacity less than the first two that were built.
Nevertheless, that station will cost about £60 million more in extra capital than a conventional coal-fired station, and perhaps put £1 million a year on to the bill for consumers of electricity when it is in operation. I doubt very much whether the improvements at Hinkley Point justify that extra expenditure. It seems to me it achieved its reduction in cost mainly by being much larger than the two stations which were built before and that the improvements in design do not really justify us going ahead, if we could afford not to go ahead. I entirely recognise that the circumstances which decided us to go ahead then were different from what they are now. I do not think that one can sufficiently underline what was said by my hon. Friend, that there is no advantage in prestige in building one power station a year just for the sake of saying that we are having a large nuclear programme, particularly if we are not incorporating any new improvements.
I think that when a new station is to be built the decision must depend on scientific advance and the increase in the practical experience gained from 1340 the provision of previous stations. This second point cannot be claimed for any nuclear power station being built because no commercial-scale power station is producing electricity. I think it pertinent to ask what improvements are expected at Oldbury and Wylha nuclear power stations which we have just heard are to be built. Many of the improvements are probably design improvements and are improvements on paper which it is not necessary to translate into steel and concrete, graphite and uranium. I think we can take that fact from the knowledge that we know in advance by how much the cost of electricity from these new stations will be reduced. We are told in the prospectus exactly what the cost will be long before the first turf is turned on the site of the new station. Unless there is to be some real practical experience gained from these new stations, it would seem better that we should have something more solid to put into the new design.
The advanced graphite reactor is the obvious example of this. Here the scientists—I cannot pay a sufficiently high tribute to them—seem to have broken through, at least regarding the higher temperature at which it is possible to operate. They think they can produce gas from the outlets to the reactor at a temperature of 510 degrees centigrade, which makes the whole steam cycle more efficient and brings down the cost of the power derived enormously. The Calder Hall plant is now nearly complete and it cannot be long before we are in a position to build one of these A.G.R. stations. But without that knowledge it is hard to see what improvements we shall derive from a new station.
The break-even—which is what we are all looking forward to somewhere between 1965 and 1970—on price in nuclear and conventional fuel will occur, but cannot, I think, occur without an advance in the gas-cooled reactor. A price of ½d. a unit is anticipated which may be cheaper than conventional costs by that time. I hope that the moment this is in sight we shall see nuclear power playing a very much more important part in connection with our total power output.
I wish to say a word about the siting of these power stations. I would be the 1341 first to pay tribute to the care taken in the selection of sites and to the trouble taken in making them look good and also the great trouble taken over the architectural treatment of the power station and the landscape around the site. Of course, there is a great advantage in that they emit no smoke, dirt or noise, nor do they require railways or roads on a large scale running through the site. This provides an opportunity for the power stations to present the appearance of clean, glistening, white apparitions of beauty standing out against the lovely landscape of our coasts and estuaries.
I believe that in this respect we have been successful, and, indeed, Mr. Peter Scot will probably have to incorporate a nuclear power station in his forthcoming pictures of these places. But I invite the House to look twenty-five years ahead from now, when these nuclear power stations which we are building will be dead; they will have ceased to be able to operate, and I gather that it is impossible to dismantle them or to go near the reactors. If this is true, I consider it raises a problem which we must think about, and, if it is not, I hope that my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary will say so. We shall have these beautiful, glistening white monuments of power of the twentieth century dead and sterile, going grey, and with large barbed wire fences surrounding them at a mile radius to prohibit anyone from going near them.
Vice-Admiral John Hughes Hallett (Croydon, North-East)
Why does my hon. Friend say that they will be dead?
§ Mr. Ridley
The reason they die is that the reactor breaks down, the graphite ceases to be able to fulfil its functions. It is impossible to replace it with new graphite and, therefore, we can neither remove nor resuscitate it, so far as I understand from my visits to these stations.
I should like to congratulate those responsible on the trouble they have taken over safety precautions. Immense care has been taken to ensure that there is unlikely to be a leak and great trouble has been taken to protect local interests. There are meetings between the farmers, villagers and other local people which make for a good relationship in the area.
1342 One anomaly, I think, ought to be mentioned. It is the policy of the Government to site these stations some distance away from any large town. That has never been explained, because we are told at the same time that these stations are 99.9 per cent. safe. If that is the case, why cannot we have one near a big city, if that proves necessary because of other considerations? I believe that we could confidently say that the stations are as safe as any other power stations or any other factory or installation in the country and that there is no reason why they should not be put anywhere in the country where other conditions are suitable.
The policy has been to site stations on the coast, where they can get vast quantities of cooling water, and away from coalfields, where there are alternative sources of power. These stations have the great advantage of requiring little labour and only quite poor communications, once they are in operation. I therefore cannot see why we have overlooked the obvious place for these stations, which is the North of Scotland. Two small nuclear stations could probably have done all that the North of Scotland Hydro-Electric Board has done in the last ten years; we could have gained our experience and our knowledge of nuclear power and at the same time have cut down what is admitted by all to be the extravagant and grandiose hydro-electric schemes of the North of Scotland Hydro-Electric Board. Some £200 million of extra money has been invested in the Hydro-Electric Board in the North of Scotland with no apparent benefit in the sense of research or export capacity resulting from it.
We could have built there one of the five stations to which I referred earlier, and it is certainly a place where we could put one of the stations which we are to build in the next programme. I hope that the Government will consider very carefully where we should place these stations, not only because of the economic power and fuel situation at the time but also because of the other considerations—that of decaying and unwanted nuclear power stations—which I mentioned.
My hon. Friend referred to the possibility of exporting nuclear power stations. He dealt with that subject at some length. I hope that he will find success in that 1343 direction. In conclusion, however, I urge the Government to bear in mind that a nuclear power station in the wrong hands can conceivably be used to make nuclear bombs.
§ 12.3 p.m.
§ Mr. Airey Neave (Abingdon)
My hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, West (Mr. Eden) has done great service in raising this matter in the House, for we have not had nearly enough debates on the problems of nuclear power station construction. I support the Motion, which seems to contain all the most important points of these problems.
I am speaking from two points of view. First, I represent in the House the Atomic Energy Research Establishment at Harwell. There, the great Sir John Cockcroft has retired, but under Sir William Penney and Sir Basil Schonland, great work in nuclear research is still going on. Secondly, the firm of which I am a director is under contract in respect of the construction of two of the nuclear power stations which we are considering in this programme. I, therefore, want to speak from both points of view.
When the Government first announced the nuclear power programme some years they envisaged a very close collaboration between industry and official research, if one may call it that. I do not think that it would be fair to suggest otherwise than that this collaboration has gone very successfully and in a most friendly fashion over the years. But, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, West pointed out, the industry received a very severe shock when the Government published their White Paper in 1960. After all, firms had been persuaded to make large investments in this industry and to expect a stable rate of expansion, and it is a stable rate of expansion which they need.
Although the rosy prognostications from the Authority, from the Front Bench and from other sources about our nuclear energy possibilities have not proved correct, and although the industry has suffered as a result, there are certain basic facts which we should consider in relation to the future nuclear power programme. My hon. Friend referred to them, and I will underline them in a somewhat different way.
1344 First, the demand for energy in the world will certainly double itself every ten years for the new few decades; secondly, I think it is recognised that the world resources of coal and oil are limited; and, thirdly and perhaps most important in this debate, uranium is potentially a cheaper fuel than coal. We, therefore, shall need nuclear energy, and already this country is getting a three-fuel economy. While it is true that coal will continue to provide the main source of energy—and we all hope that our former colleague Mr. Alfred Robens will be successful in keeping down the price of coal over the next few years—the long-term prospects for manufacturers in nuclear energy are reasonably good.
Very often, however, long-term prospects of this kind, sometimes as a result of miscalculations, about which we have heard today, lead to short-term upheavals and difficulties. Several factors have changed the prospects of the nuclear energy industry over the last few years and have led to a closing of the ranks in the industry and to the amalgamation of certain firms, so that we now have only three consortia instead of five. In the circumstances, I think that that should be welcomed.
One cause is that, for reasons of national policy, the Government's investment policy caused the interest rates for British utilities to rise and over those years increased the cost of generating electricity by nuclear power by about 10 per cent. Again, the capital cost of nuclear stations—this has not been referred to much in the debate so far—remains very high—about three times that of conventional stations. During my connection with the industry I have seen those costs fall remarkably, by about 20 per cent. in the last three or four years.
Nevertheless, the nuclear stations which will be commissioned by 1964 will still cost nearly three times as much as conventional stations, and one has to take into account the fact that the cost of a conventional station has fallen rather unexpectedly in the interval. In 1964 the cost of a conventional station will be about £45 per kW against £105 per kW for a nuclear station. But, as new types of nuclear station are developed, such as the A.G.R., capital costs will fall still further. If Sir John Cockcroft is any authority—and he is 1345 usually the most accurate of the prognosticators—we may expect a further 20 per cent. fall in capital costs during the late 1960s. There are very important aspects in a consideration of the economics of nuclear power in the national interest.
Another aspect which the House will appreciate and to which we must refer today is that of load factor. The costs of nuclear energy generation are very sensitive indeed to the load factor. The quoted figures at the moment assume the same load factor of 75 per cent. for both nuclear and conventional stations, but so far as nuclear stations are concerned this figure is limited to the availability of the plant. With such high load factors, the cost of nuclear generation may soon be nearer to .5d., as my hon. Friend tie Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley) said, than .6d. per unit. Also the running costs are much lower than are those of conventional stations, being about one-third or one-half of the normal running costs.
That is the position as we know it at the moment, though we have not yet got a commercial nuclear power station in operation. In that connection, my hon. Friend the Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury should not go so far as to talk about a lot of decaying and dead power stations within the next ten to twenty years. I wish to challenge this. It is true that the nuclear power stations are amortised over a period of twenty years on the basis of the expectation of their life, whereas conventional power stations have an assumed life of thirty years. I believe that we shall find from our operational experience that the life of nuclear stations will be much longer, and that it will be demonstrated that the cost of nuclear power in the end will be considerably less than the cost of conventional power.
At the moment, in my view, they are less economic only on paper. When we get to the operational stage we shall find that we can amortise them over a considerably longer period; there will be lower running costs and lower costs of the production of electricity. We do not know that yet for certain, but those are the probabilities as we understand them in the industry and as I have heard them from the Authority.
We have not taken into account—and we should do so—the possible ad- 1346 vances in reactor design, and here I wish to tender my congratulations on the excellent work that is being done at the moment in the Authority which is directed to increasing efficiency in the reactors. My hon. Friends have rightly referred to the advance gas-cooled reactor and other projects.
In this connection I want to make a point about collaboration in industry. The Atomic Energy Authority should make full use of the industrial consortia in the design and development of reactor systems. My hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth. West was quite right to underline that. At the moment they do the basic work, the remainder of the work being handed out piecemeal to the firms in a way that is very unsatisfactory from the planning point of view. I think that it would be proper for me to say, although I am directly connected with this industry, that the consortia should be encouraged to look into new systems and the advanced conversion of existing reactor systems. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary, in winding up, will give some assurance about this. It has already been brought to the attention of the Atomic Energy Authority on many occasions.
My remarks also apply to some of the other industries and firms which are engaged in specialist matters connected with the development of nuclear power; for example, the graphite industry and the development of special steels. My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary knows how necessary it is to develop high quality steels for nuclear stations, and I hope that he will draw the attention of the Authority to what has been said by my hon. Friends.
The position, therefore, is that there is a considerable element of speculation not only in the Authority but in the industry, and I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will give a definite assurance that there will be no further curtailment in the megawatt size of this programme, for this would be a crippling blow for the industry.
Sir Christopher Hinton, the very distinguished chairman of the Central Electricity Generating Board, has said that the revision of the programme in 1960 was designed to ensure technological development so that the cost of nuclear power from new stations would 1347 continue to fall, and to ensure an industry of sufficient size to meet future needs. The White Paper said that this meant, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, West mentioned, ordering one station a year on the basis of increasing capacity. The White Paper refers to:roughly one station a year for the time being.Those are not very reassuring words for an industry which has put so much investment into this work at the encouragement of the Government. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary, in the course of his winding-up speech, will use words which will do something to encourage the industry to think that it will have a stable rate of expansion.
On the other side of the picture, from the Government's point of view, one can appreciate the reasons that led them to rationalise—if that is the proper word—this programme of nuclear power station construction. With oil and coal more plentiful, with technical advances in conventional stations, with the shortage of capital and with the optimum size of nuclear stations being larger than was originally thought, as my hon. Friend the Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury pointed out, there were obvious reasons why this decision had to be made, and if one had been confronted with this situation in the position of the Minister of Power one might not have been able to take any other action. But I hope that when making decisions of this kind—and here again, my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, West mentioned this—he will remember the very large staffs which have been taken on by the consortia and the expenses involved in maintaining them. The staffs of professional scientists and engineers employed by the three consortia exceed 1,000 people and they are expensive to maintain. The major question for the industry is whether it can maintain these teams at the level of one station for every three years per consortium. They have a good case, and so has the country, for asking the Government that the whole of this work should be put on a sound economic basis for the future.
Reference has been made to the very important aspect of exports in connec- 1348 tion with nuclear power. When we first debated this subject some years ago we had high hopes of the export future for nuclear plant but they have not been realised. There are many reasons why that has been so—reasons mainly of a technical nature—although we must congratulate those firms engaged in the construction of nuclear power stations in Italy and Japan. The reason for the present situation is that we have developed large stations for heavily industrialised countries. We have not yet been able to develop a reactor of a design suitable for smaller units in underdeveloped countries. This is a very pressing point and perhaps my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary will say something about it.
It must also be recognised that from the industrial point of view this is largely a question of local manufacture. The industrialised countries will wish to construct most of the power stations themselves and we shall be engaged largely in selling "know-how" where that type of country is concerned. It is in the under-developed countries that we might have a real export market if we can produce a reactor for the smaller unit.
Another difficulty in connection with exports is found in the very heavy capital costs and the credit problem, which has already been referred to, in the case of a country like India. I am afraid that despite our lead in this field, our export output is very uncertain at the moment, but it will be improved if the Authority can be encouraged to continue with this research into these smaller reactors.
My conclusion is that for the industry and the Government one can have restrained confidence in the future. Technically we have made enormous progress, and we should all offer our congratulations to those who work at Calder Hall and also on the experimental reactors. But let us have from the Government opportunities for both scientists and the industry to plan their activities in a less fluctuating atmosphere.
§ 12.20 p.m.
§ Mr. Ray Gunter (Southwark)
Mr. Speaker, I am sure that I shall command your sympathy in my first appearance at the Dispatch Box on being asked to enter into a debate on nuclear science. 1349 I find the language of the scientist very difficult to follow. I am very glad the story of the Creation in the Book of Genesis was told in language that I can understand.
I would address myself this morning to one aspect of this subject that has not so far been touched upon. Up till now the debate has been on the administrative details of the industry itself. I am of the opinion, as has been mentioned by one or two hon. Members, that we must project our thoughts away from the immediate future of this industry and try to come to some understanding, if it is possible, of what it will be in twenty or twenty-five years' time.
As I understand the situation, the possibilities are very great indeed; and the impact of this industry of nuclear power and nuclear science upon industry as a whole and upon the export trade of this country can be very great. Therefore, I would look at this problem, or at this phase of our industrial life, perhaps because of my greater affinity to industry than to politics, from the point of view of how it is to affect our export industries. It will be necessary for me only briefly to emphasise that at this time in our national life exports are very necessary and the need to increase our exports over the next 10, 20 or 25 years is a condition of the maintenance of our standards of life of our people.
It must be a matter of concern that in some respects, not only in this but certainly in the field of general productivity in industry or capital investment, this nation is not at the present time holding its own. When we are talking on this subject, we must be thinking, not perhaps of the immediate difficulties of industry—of heavy capital charges and so on—but of how we are to utilise it in the future for the creation of a sound economy in this country.
The President of the Board of Trade last night—I shall confine my remarks to a very narrow point on this—gave some priorities which required, he said, a conscious decision as a whole from the nation. He said that one of the great priorities was that we must be prepared to make full use of our manpower, and that, in addition, priorities must be given to exports and investment and, of course, to an increase in the rate of saving.
1350 I think that he is right, particularly on the question of manpower, which is of great importance to the subject that we are now discussing. In this rapidly changing world where nuclear science will play an every increasing part, where the genius of our scientists and technologists is of such vital importance, it is imperative that the nation's eyes should be set upon wider horizons than they are at present, and I hope that we shall not get bogged down too much in the present problems of this industry, but rather seek to dream of the vital rôle we can play in the next few decades.
It is because of the rapidly changing conditions that leadership is now so essential, and this means bringing the nation face to face with the absolute priorities for our economy. I am thinking of our position in the next 10 or 20 years. In this field of nuclear science, we must ask the question, in view of the emerging facts and figures from other nations: shall we have dropped behind or shall we have really harnessed the genius of our scientists and the skill of our workpeople? It is true to say, in this as in other technical matters, that, if we really get behind, we should be in no doubt that the standards of living of our people will certainly not have doubled as anticipated.
I say to the House—perhaps I am rather old-fashioned in this—that the greatest threat to us is not the hydrogen bomb at the present time. The threat that we face is that Russia is now training five times more scientists and engineers in proportion to its population than the United States, and Britain is even lower in the scale. That is the peril, and we might have a few marches on that line rather than about the bomb.
More than half the graduates in Russia are in science and technology, and we have not yet come to within anything like that figure. Such a situation, if it is allowed to continue, could put us, I believe, in deadly peril in the next two decades or so. It would be a tragedy indeed if Communism became triumphant because it ruthlessly applied the right priorities, and a tragedy if a free society, such as ours, diminished in status or power because we were unwilling to discipline ourselves enough to apply the right priorities. I hope that the Minister will be able to give us a 1351 report of progress today on this matter of the attraction of scientists and technologists to the tasks that lie before us.
There are certain aspects of the Select Committee's Report, of July, 1959, that must cause us some uneasiness. I hope that the Minister will be able to allay some of our fears. I refer particularly to those paragraphs of the Report dealing with the staffing programme. Paragraph 191 states:In practice, the expansion of this side of the Group's work has been allowed to grow as long as the extra men could be found. Indeed, the indications are that the Group has planned to do more development work than the available manpower has permitted. A number of Branches and establishments concerned with development work have not been able to recruit up to their permitted complement. In this way the real check on the size of the Group's development has been the shortage of scientists and engineers.I would only say to the Minister that for a nation with our history in science, technology and engineering it would be something of a tragedy in a world that is so rapidly changing, when the impact of new discoveries on industry is so great, if we were unable to attract as many men as are required to maintain our status.
Paragraph 193 of the Report states—circumstances may have changed now and I hope the Minister will be able to tell us that they have:The Authority have taken the view that their research, development and design organisations should be restricted to an annual growth of about 8 per cent. for the next three years. This is a rate of increase with which the Group's recruitment should be able to keep pace …It goes on to say later:it should, however, be emphasised that the limitation is imposed in terms of staff numbers, not expenditure; …".So we find running through those sections of the Report thoughts that make some of us uneasy that we are unable to obtain sufficient men to ensure for the next ten or twenty years that the economy of this nation will be soundly based and that we can hold our own with any other nation in the world.
My last point—and it may seem to be a little unorthodox for a trade union leader—is that the Report says:The Authority are enjoined by the Government not to pay salaries seriously out of scale with those paid by other public corporations. 1352 This means that at the top level the Authority cannot offer salaries as high as those which the men they would like to recruit can earn in industry".Perhaps my heresy in trade unionism is that I would be prepared to pay to those who have the "know-how" anything to recruit them, because they are fundamental to the future welfare of this country. I hope that the Minister will be able to give us a favourable report on this part of the subject and say that we have now been able to attract greater numbers of our scientists and technicians at high levels than we have clone in the past.
Returning for a moment to the question of priorities, I feel that there is something wrong with our determination of priorities if we have a system of education which can continue as it does and fail to supply us with the scientists and technicians we need. I believe that one person in 12 in Russia goes to university. Here it is one in 22. It really is the first priority that we should have men coming into this side of our national activities.
Finally, I want the Minister to give us some reassurance about the partnership within industry. I cannot make any definite criticism because I do not know the full facts, but in my industrial connections I have heard suggestions that the partnership, the liaison, which ought to exist is not, perhaps, as close as it should be. In other words, there is a sense of aloofness on the part of the Atomic Energy Authority as distinct from industry. I think it was the present Home Secretary who, when Lord Privy Seal, in 1956, emphasised that if there were to be a successful outcome for us, it was very necessary that industry should have the closest possible contacts with the Authority and that there should be an intimate knitting together of the two. After all, it will in general be industry as a whole, for good or ill, which will have to use the power and techniques produced by the Authority. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will be able to tell us that there have been good developments during the last 12 months or so in this respect.
I said that I would speak only on the narrow point of recruitment of scientists at proper salaries in order to stop the drain away from us to other countries which has been taking place. I believe 1353 that the drain has been stopped to a great extent, but it is essential that we should have at our command sufficient of these people to help us in the task. We have a great opportunity. I have a very great faith indeed, as we all have in the House, in the genius of our own people. I cannot believe that the British people will miss the opportunity in this field as in other technical fields in industry to match their wits, genius and skill against all foreign competitors.
I ask the Government to give leadership in the matter and I hope that they will be able to bring back a sense of vision to the British people so that it cannot be said that we ended our great history just when the first Industrial Revolution was working itself out. We should be participants, leading participants, in the new changing world which, during the next 20, 25 or 30 years, in an industrial sense, I feel sure, will have changed almost out of all recognition compared with what we knew 10 or 20 years ago.
§ 12.33 p.m.
§ Mr. David Price (Eastleigh)
If it be in order for a back bencher to congratulate an hon. Gentleman on his first appearance at the Dispatch Box, I warmly offer my compliments to the hon. Member for Southwark (Mr. Gunter). I am sure that hon. Members on both sides were all charmed by his speech and agreed with the points which he made. I find it an attractive invitation to join him on a counter-Aldermaston march to demand more scientists and more effort in the export trade. He can count, I know, on the support of most hon. Members whom I see in the Chamber now, and I look forward to receiving the invitation from him.
As previous speakers have done, I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, West (Mr. Eden) on his imagination and courage in raising today the subject of Britain's nuclear power programme. I say "imagination" because in this debate we are discussing the place of nuclear energy in our future power programmes and we are, therefore, looking ten, twenty or thirty years ahead. It is, I think, a measure of my hon. Friend's sense of responsibility that he forbears to choose a subject of immediate political moment but which in the general scheme of our nation's affairs 1354 might have been more ephemeral. I say "courage" because, having regard to the uncertainty of future estimates and marginal costs in regard to competitive fuels, it is only a brave man who is prepared to hazard a guess at the relative balance of the potential sources of basic energy ten or twenty years hence.
I confess that I did not agree with all that my hon. Friend said. In particular, I thought he was rather unfair in one or two of his comments about the Authority. Also, I did not agree with his complaint that there was duplication of research and development. I challenged him, and I still do, to give me an example of that. There may be one, but I should like to know about it in detail.
My hon. Friend the Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley) spoke about the high cost of a nuclear power station today compared with a conventional one. When the matter is put in the naked terms he used, one wonders why we have not in the House had a Motion of censure on my right hon. Friend the Minister of Power for wasting public money. However, I ask hon. Members to throw their minds back a few years. I remember that, during the late 'forties and early 'fifties, we in this country, like people in other industrial economies, spent long days trying to work out our basic fuel needs and how we should meet them. There was a very serious fuel situation facing the country in the 'forties and the early 'fifties, and the content of the estimates of forward fuel needs made here were reflected in the estimates being made in America, in O.E.E.C. and elsewhere. All of them showed that there would be, by now, a basic fuel gap.
We in this country were not faced with the same opportunities to move to natural gas and the cheaper oils which a country like the United States had, and the Government of the day, therefore. took the very bold decision to go ahead with a nuclear energy programme. On the advice of our scientists, they decided to concentrate on what we usually call the Calder Hall type of reactor, which is technically more accurately known as the magnox reactor. Everything was concentrated on that. The result was that, in 1955, the White Paper of that year forecast a programme of between 1355 1,500 megawatts and 2.000 megawatts installed by 1965. Such was the improvement in technical design of the magnox station during the next eighteen months that the Government were able to announce in March, 1957, a programme of between 5,000 and 6,000 megawatts by the same target date of 1965.
To my hon. Friends who speak about duplication and about the expense of competitive tendering, I reply that it is my view that we should not have had this big technical improvement which made it possible within less than two years to increase the target three times if it had not been for the fact that we had a number of teams working on the same problem. They were not duplicating each other. I will not weary the House with the details of how the approach taken by different consortia produced different results or of the different ways they set about constructing their power stations, but part of the reduction in costs lies in the whole technology of fuel elements, canning and so forth.
I would just make the point to my hon. Friend that I believe that that very big improvement arose from the fact that we had a number of teams working independently on what was the basic prototype R and D design produced by our friends at Harwell. I think that the lesson from that applies today. That is why I like my hon. Friend's suggestion that the consortia should be allowed to do more development work. I think that that makes sense. However, it also applies outside the immediate field of the nuclear power programme. I get rather fed up hearing people talking loosely about duplication of our scientific efforts. If one gets down to the precise details of what is alleged to be duplication, one finds that that is not so, because no two teams tackle the same problem in the same way.
With the sort of picture which we had in 1957, how has it come about that it is possible for people today to question the rightness of the whole programme? What has turned out to be wrong is not the estimates of forward energy requirements, but the estimates marginally of how they would be met. It is interesting to recall the forecasts made in the late 'forties and early 'fifties. There was, for instance, the famous paper by Dr. 1356 Daniels of the then Ministry of Fuel and Power. The forward estimates of demand for electrical energy have risen, as expected. What has not worked out as expected has been the way in which that demand has been met.
One of the most important factors why the cost of coal- and oil-fired stations has come down has been the remarkable technological improvements which have been made in conventional power stations, by the same electrical manufacturers who have been designing nuclear power stations, so that they have succeeded in reducing the cost of conventional power stations. This point was touched on by my hon. Friend the Member for Abingdon (Mr. Neave). One of the completely unpredictable factors in the forward estimating has been this sensational success in reducing the capital cost of conventional power stations.
Secondly, it was a common error in all the forward estimates which I saw at the beginning of the 'fifties to extrapolate the increased cost curve for the production of conventional fuels at existing rates. As we now know, the curves of coal and oil prices have not continued at the rather alarming rate of increase which was experienced during the 'forties. That has been one of the most important factors marginally to increase the time ahead when nuclear-produced electricity will be competitive with conventionally-produced electricity.
The third factor is that the political crisis in the Middle East did not turn out to be the obstacle to the flow of oil which many of us feared. It is interesting to reflect on some of the alarmist speeches made in those years by some hon. Members about the oil position and using that fear for putting pressure on the Government to go ahead with the nuclear power programme. They are the very same people who now say that the Government have been wasting money by going ahead with the nuclear power programme instead of relying on oil, which is cheaper. It is possibly unfortunate from that point of view that HANSARD accurately reports hon. Members' speeches.
Furthermore, there is the great unknown factor in any comparative cost between nuclear and conventional power which arises from the fact that we have not had a full-scale nuclear power station 1357 running long enough to know what should be its proper life for amortisation and depreciation. A period of twenty years is taken at the moment, but should it turn out to be thirty years a nuclear power station today would be very nearly comparable in the cost of electrical generation to the latest conventional power station. It will be within the knowledge of the House that, broadly speaking, the capital cost of a nuclear power station is three times that of a conventional power station, but a conventional power station has three times the running costs. That is in very crude figures. It is, therefore, essential to any proper estimate of how nuclear energy compares with conventional energy to get a far more precise figure for amortisation. Should it turn out that the life is fifteen years, then the picture is gloomier than that painted in the White Paper of June last year.
One of the most encouraging things is the way in which the nuclear engineering industry has succeeded in reducing the cost of nuclear power stations. With great respect to my hon. Friend the Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury, I thought that he was rather cavalier when he spoke about the drawing board. Here T should like to quote from a talk given last April by Sir John Cockcroft. He said:The capital costs of the British nuclear power stations fell by more than 20 per cent. between the first and fifth nuclear power station and are likely to fall a further 10–15 per cent. by developments of the existing type. Beyond that further falls of capital costs of the order of 20 per cent. are foreseen by the end of the 1960s as new types of nuclear power stations now being developed (such as an Advanced Gas-cooled Reactor) come into operation.I should like my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to give us some of his Department's views about the appropriateness or otherwise of the choice of twenty years for the amortisation of power stations, because it is germane to the question which we are discussing.
It is natural that we should ask ourselves, as hon. Members have already done, what the Government should do in this situation. On the bare figures, if we look at this year and not the future, clearly we should build no more nuclear power stations. On the other hand, we have set out on this great programme 1358 and have brought the private consortia into being. Clearly it would be folly not to continue with a programme of some sort. The question is how large should it be? We read in the White Paper of June last year that the Government intend to restrict the number of stations to roughly one a year. Subject to correction by my hon. Friend the Member for Abingdon, I understand from the consortia that that is really less than can keep their teams in being.
It may be argued that the teams should be broken up, but it is very much easier to break up a team than to bring one together. I think that we all agree that eventually we shall need nuclear power. These teams are in being. They have learnt how to work together, how to design, and so forth. I suggest that to break them up now would be the height of folly. What would these engineers, physicists and so on do? I suppose that they could work on improving refrigerators and bringing about better television sets. Possibly they could be engaged in a space programme, but I doubt whether the Government would be minded to do that. When we have some forward-looking scientists, then we should be grateful for their foresight and be prepared to pay a certain price and have a certain forbearance from maximising our economic advantage today in order that in future we may be able to have an economic existence at all.
The question is, what is the appropriate number of stations that should be ordered over the next few years? I cannot suggest an alternative figure to the Minister. None of us is in a position to do that. I merely register my view that we must keep at least two consortia in being. I do not consider it necessary to keep them all. Unlike my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, West, I would keep them in being by competitive tendering. I have doubts about a third consortia and how far they would all survive under competitive tendering. That would be as good a way of killing off the redundant consortia as any.
I agree with my hon. Friends that we must keep ahead with research and development. I should like my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, when he replies, to give us rather more information than we have had about the progress at Dounreay on the fast-breeder reactor. 1359 If this type of reactor succeeds, there ceases to be any argument as to the relative competitiveness of nuclear power with conventional power. Nuclear power will be cheaper. Therefore, I should like some information from my hon. Friend concerning some prognostications which I read in a paper by one of the staff at Harwell, who suggested that a nuclear power programme based on fast breeder reactors in the early 1970s would be able to produce electricity at about .4d. a unit.
We ought also to broaden the area of advance in research on reactor design. Until recently, we have rightly concentrated on the Calder Hall magnox type and the developments from it such as the advanced gas-cooled reactor. Now that we do not have the same immediate need to build nuclear power stations, however, we can afford to deploy our resources over a rather wider field.
I hope that the Government will take up the suggestion of my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, West and my hon. Friend the Member for Abingdon of finding means of associating the consortia more closely with the Atomic Energy Authority on reactor design. We should also be prepared to make more use of the European Nuclear Energy Agency. We have made a good start with this type of co-operation in Dragon—the high-temperature gas-cooled reactor at Winfrith Heath. I had the pleasure of going to see it in August. The co-operation there on an international basis seems to me to be excellent, but it should be concentrated, above all, on those reactor systems which seem to be quite a long way off in the future rather than on those which are an immediate follow-up of what we are already doing.
There are a number of questions arising out of European co-operation which I should be prepared to discuss with my right hon. Friend the Minister, but I will not bore the House with them now. Looking further ahead, however, I should like to know whether the Government can give us any more idea of the programme of experiments on the thermonuclear fusion reaction. The Zeta apparatus, I gather, has now been abandoned. What work is going on in applied plasma physics?
To come a little nearer to the present than the time at which we will be able 1360 to harness the thermonuclear reaction, which, in popular terms, is harnessing the sun, can my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary say whether any work is being done on the direct production of electricity from the core of nuclear reactors? It will be obvious that if we can succeed in doing that, we shall have made a major scientific break-through in electrical generation.
At the moment, a nuclear reactor is used merely to heat steam and from then on it is the conventional heat cycle. In the conventional heat cycle, there is a heat loss of 60 or 70 per cent. in cooling water, the heat exchangers, and so on. If we could find a method of drawing the electricity straight out of the core of the reactor, we should make a break-through in the production of energy as great as James Watt's first steam engine. I will give my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary an idea of how this might be done. Would it be practicable to produce an electric current in a vacuum chamber placed around the hot fuel element of a nuclear reactor core and so cool the element as electric power is taken away? I understand that there has been a minute experiment of this nature and I should like to know whether my hon. Friend can give an indication of whether any work is being carried out in this field. This is getting down to basic principles. Obviously we do not expect the Minister to know all the details. The great thing in guiding research is to be able to go back to first principles and see whether we cannot eliminate the whole of the conventional heat cycle, because it is unnecessary, and get our electricity right out from the core of the reactor.
We all agree with what has been said concerning exports and how wonderful it would be to succeed with them. This, however, has been the great disappointment of the nuclear engineering industry. The obvious reason is that, just as we have not had the immediate need for nuclear power stations to fill our energy gap, there has been a similar situation elsewhere in Europe and in the other advanced industrial countries to whom we hoped that we might sell nuclear reactors. The best hope, as mentioned by other hon. Members, might be the small package reactor, but, unfortunately, we have not done the same amount of work on it as on the magnox reactor. Nevertheless, 1361 I agree that this line should be pursued further.
Let us be under no illusions. We will have stiff competition from the Americans, because they have not had the same need as ourselves to concentrate on the magnox reactor. They have not had to go in for a nuclear power programme as of now. Therefore, they have concentrated on developing a far wider range of reactors and they have more experience of other reactor systems such as the boiling water reactor. All the evidence that I can get shows that the type of reactor system which has produced spectacular results in nuclear submarines seems to be just about right for the small package station which might be supplied to underdeveloped countries.
In fair trading terms, we have a serious problem. The Americans are our allies in the North Atlantic Alliance, but they are very tough commercial rivals. Do not let us rest on the Atlantic Alliance and expect that they will not fight us to the limit for every market they can take from us. We might have a hope of getting a foothold in the vast industrial countries of Europe, and we have sold one station at Latina, near Rome. The Americans, however, have put up 1.000 million dollars to Euratom as loans.
§ Mr. Frederick Peart (Workington)
Does the hon. Member also appreciate that even the Americans now find difficulty in the export field? It is all very well speaking about the scope in the highly industrialised countries of Europe, but those countries can do what we describe as the "hardware" and it is now merely the "know-how" that they wish to have.
§ Mr. Price
I agree entirely. Other people, however, want the long-term credits and big loans that America is putting up. We are faced with the problem that our potential exporters cannot get the same credit terms. On the other hand, it would not be right for us as a nation, in order to meet competition in one field of exports, to have to use public money for giving similar long-term credits. If we were to do it in this field, we should get into the credit race; and once we became involved in that, there would be no limit to it. We should meet the same arguments concerning shipbuilding, aircraft, and so on.
1362 Another important fact is that the small package reactor requires enriched fuel and the Americans are far betel placed to export and subsidise it than we are. Their plutonium is a by-product of their military programme and they are quite prepared to sell it at knock-down prices. I believe, therefore—and I hope that my hon. Friend will say something about this—that the Authority should increase facilities for the production of plutonium and enriched fuel not for military reasons but so that we can start an export programme in small package reactors which cannot run on natural uranium ore.
There we are. This is not at all easy. The eventual future for nuclear power, I am sure, is good, but it depends on what time scale we regard as relevant. The world at present is using energy at the rate of 4 billion tons of coal equivalent a year. A middle estimate for the year 2,000 is 10 billion tons. Even if hydro-electricity in the world can produce another I billion tons, that leaves 5 billion tons to be found. I suggest that most of that 5 billion tons will come from oil and nuclear energy rather than from coal. Therefore, the long-term future for nuclear power must he good.
The problem here is, let not our immediate circumstances be the enemy of our long-term advantage. Of course, hon. Members may say, Well, what is the use of nuclear engineering? What is the use of a nuclear energy programme? "It reminds me of one of the early lectures which Faraday gave on electricity to a bemused audience. One person said at the end, "Well, Mr. Faraday, what use is electricity anyway?" To which Mr. Faraday replied, "Sir, what use is a newborn baby?"
§ 1.1 p.m.
§ Sir Eric Errington (Aldershot)
I have listened with great interest to the rather technical discussions which have taken place this morning in connection with the generation and the industrial uses of power, and I intend for a few moments to ask the House to look at the other side of the picture, and that is the problem which arises from the transmission of power. The happily wide terms in which my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, West (Mr. Eden) has drawn his Motion enable me to discuss 1363 this, which is, I think, a matter of great importance.
It would be generally accepted, I think, that the generation of power has been, from an engineering point of view, more successful than have been the efforts in regard to transmission as an engineering problem. The preservation of the landscape in this small country of ours is of vital importance, and it may be that many people who complain when they are individually affected by the production of works on land nearby them at the same time do realise the importance and the inevitability of some form of power distribution. I am quite certain that more consideration has got to be given by the authorities to the long-term planning, particularly of main transmission lines.
I have been unable to find any general policy of a forward character dealing with this matter. The 132 KV cable—I am sorry to be slightly technical about these matters—has been replaced for main transmission purposes by the 275 KV cable, and there is a lot of thought that in the future a 400 KV cable is not impossible, and, indeed, I understand that in America a 750 KV cable is being experimented with. If the position remains as it is each of those, I understand, will require larger pylons, which will still more adversely affect general amenities.
Experiments, I understand, have taken place with regard to undergrounding. That is, as I am sure we shall be told, an expensive matter to deal with, but if a decision has been reached about the main lines and the main development, surely the main trunk of transmission might suitably be undergrounded, leaving overhead branch lines. The expense in undergrounding seems to be very largely at both ends, the surfacing involves considerable and expensive equipment. This undergrounding in this country of ours where space is so small is really, I submit, of vital importance.
We all know, and certainly my right hon. Friend the Minister knows, the problems which arise in connection with underground oil lines, and it may well be that there will be future developments underground of various character. When I was in America last summer I had the opportunity of seeing in diagrammatic form the immense number of lines which are underground for conveyance of 1364 natural gas and other types of power at as great a distance as from the very north of the United States right down to the south—thousands of miles. It does seem to me that this is the time when steps should be taken to accelerate the examination and research into what can be done to avoid surface methods of transmission which become larger and more unsightly, and actively to examine other methods. After all, we have heard a lot of talk today about the scientists. I believe the scientists could possibly find methods to underground lines at reasonable prices.
In addition to that, I am not altogether satisfied that there is enough co-ordination between those responsible for the main transmission lines and the area boards. The area boards, of course, subject to any examination which is made by the inspector appointed by my right hon. Friend's Ministry, can look at these matters from their own point of view and needs, but a lot of small lines may very well be just as objectionable as a large transmission line. We do get in places what I call "Clapham Junctions"—what, I am told, in technical terms are called "wirescapes" or "bird cages"—so that there is a very great need for much closer co-ordination in the use of lines and pylons by the area boards and by local boards generally. Opportunity may be taken, I think, when the main transmission lines are not necessary to be used for wider distribution, for them to be used for local transmission.
I have had experience of this in my own constituency. A small and quite satisfactorily situated sub-station was started there two or three years ago and two or three lines were carried into it. The station was satisfactorily situated because it was more or less surrounded by trees, but since that time the whole station has been changed. Now, ten or twelve lines lead into it and nobody can say with any degree of certainty whether or not in the future there may be twice as many lines.
I was interested to find that in some cases transmission lines have had to be taken down, which does not indicate that they were erected with a suitable eye to the future. In that connection, there is considerable difficulty because of what is involved in taking up the pylon foundations. All these things are arguments in favour of a comprehensive forward-looking policy on transmission. Several 1365 points require to be looked at. Can amenity areas be avoided? Is it possible to make a reasonable diversion? Is the most suitable background chosen for the part of the country involved? Can wirescapes or birdcages, whether of very large power pylons or a conglomeration of smaller posts and pylons be avoided? Is consideration given to the approaches to urban areas and the possibility of approaching them by the industrial way rather than spoil the few rural amenities that now exist round and about our towns?
I should like to ask boldly that more consideration should be given to this matter. I know that there are great difficulties because the demand for sites changes from time to time, but there ought to be more intelligent, forward-looking decisions accompanied by early consultation with local authorities on the long-term requirements. The Central Electricity Generating Board can help very much for these excrescences which everybody realises are necessary should, as far as possible, be limited in their interference with the rural amenities of the public.
§ 1.13 p.m.
§ Mr. T. H. H. Skeet (Willesden, East)
I do not propose to follow the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Sir E. Errington) about transmission lines, though I should like to turn for a moment to that most animated speech we heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Eastleigh (Mr. D. Price). Before doing so, however, I should like to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, West (Mr. Eden) on having introduced this debate, which is highly important, first of all from the angle of the nuclear power companies in this country, and secondly, looking further ahead, from the point of view of the production of electricity for the national grid.
We have already discussed today the question of the declination of capital cost. My hon. Friend the Member for Eastleigh quoted Sir John Cockcroft as indicating a declination by steps, first of 20 per cent. and then with the prospect of technical improvements of 10 per cent. to 15 per cent., and ultimately with the advent of the A.G.R. reactor a further 20 per cent.
We have already had experience of the capital cost per kilowatt capacity 1366 falling from £160 down to £130 and on to £120, and the possibility in future of its going down to £80 with the A.G.R. In comparison, the newest type of coal-fired station shows a capital cost per kilowatt capacity of as low as £40. The operating side must be considered carefully, and it must be borne in mind that after 1964 the agreements affecting the sale of uranium will terminate. I have been hearing for a long time that the price of uranium, which had been stabilised at the figure paid by the international organisation, must fall to a competitive level. In that event we shall have a considerable advantage.
There is another way of looking at this matter, and I should like to ask the Parliamentary Secretary to confirm or deny some estimates that I should like to put to him. These are the figures of the cost of electricity sent out, in pence per kilowatt hour. The original United Kingdom estimate for the first commercial power station was 0.6d. It was estimated that by 1965 we would break even, but this was an erroneous belief, and I think that the date has now been moved forward to approximately 1970. Let us hope that this was an enlightened mistake and that in the past those responsible for these estimates were like navigators in an uncharted sea and are inclined to err.
The figure for the Berkeley nuclear power station may come out at 0.86d. and the figure for the Bradwell station at 0.81d. Certain modifications have been introduced during construction and these lead to difficulties in making an estimate. The later stations under construction may come out with a figure of 0.67d. to 0.7d. and, to jump ahead into the area of prognostication, the estimated figure for the A.G.R. is 0.5d. and for the high temperature gas-cooled reactor based on the "Dragon" project, 0.35d. Perhaps the Parliamentary Secretary will bear in mind that those who made prognostications about five years ago have found that they have had to revise them downwards and he might wish to avoid placing himself between Scylla and Charybdis. He might find himself on the rooks if he gives a figure that may be invalidated by time.
The cost has come down and we might approach the matter from another angle and ask what we have ahead of us. My hon. Friend the Member for Eastleigh 1367 indicated that we are going ahead from Calder Hall through the A.G.R. to the high temperature gas-cooled reactor and the fast breeder system. The A.G.R. is, of course, a considerable advance. We do not know whether the high temperature gas-cooled reactor will meet expectations, though we know that a great deal of money is to be spent on it. The objective in view is to design or improve the fuel elements so that larger surfaces will be exposed for heat transmission. This would lead to higher gas outlet temperatures. The Calder Hall temperature is 400° centigrade. That has been raised in the A.G.R. to between 520° and 560° centigrade. In the high temperature gas-cooled reactor it will probably be as high as 750° centigrade. This will have a great advantage because the thermal efficiency of stations will increase from 28 per cent. to approximately 40 per cent.
This, again, is a question of conjecture. What we want to be in this House are realists. A miscalculation was made several years ago. We must all be castigated for this, because four bites at the nuclear cherry in five years is quite fantastic. Whether it be a short-term question or not, it has certainly been bad for industry in general and bad for the nuclear industry in particular. If one is to have four changes in the programme it will unsettle the staff of the organisations engaged in research. Will they be given the money? Will Parliament say, if we have to cut down on capital investment, that this must be one of the developments on which we shall have to economise?
It is true to say that we have all these large nuclear power stations in the United Kingdom. The Germans and the French are saying that these are now obsolete, and will be rapidly superseded by others. However, somebody had to start this programme, and at that time we were short of coal, although I am not admitting that we are short of oil, because I think there was a general view among the oil companies that but for the caution of the Government any amount of oil could be transhipped to the United Kingdom and placed on the market. But that is another matter.
When we consider the amount of money which is put into research and 1368 development in respect of conventional stations—it works out at 5 per cent. of the total expenditure compared with 30 per cent. in the nuclear field—one may speculate what would be the effect if these figures were transposed and if one spent 30 per cent. of the total capital expenditure for conventional power stations on further research and development. It is possible that the capital cost of £40 per kilowatt capacity would be substantially reduced.
Looking at the White Paper produced by my right hon. Friend in which he says that there is a possiblity of the break-even date coming about 1970, we must bear in mind that there have been false prognostications in the past. I am not certain that we can rely on that figure, nor that it would be right to do so. We have a number of untried experiments on hand.
I admit that if the high temperature gas-cooled reactor comes up to expectations it will be remarkable, and our ideas about price would have to be altered if we were able to produce electricity direct, that is by direct conversion of heat into electricity. It may be that there is further hope in the development of the H-bomb principle in peaceful applications to provide power. If so, we would then be able to see the correct line to take.
Since we recognise the superiority of steam for heat transfer of steam, I should like to ask the Parliamentary Secretary what he is doing to look more carefully into the American systems—the P.W.R. and B.W.R. type of reactor systems which have been brought into use in submarines and utilised in other ways. It would seem that we should spend a little more money in that connection. Are we not constricting ourselves by saying that the gas-cooled reactor is right and limiting our attention to the two other systems that I have mentioned?
I am also nervous about a statement which I read in a publication the other day. It said:Canada leads the world in the development of nuclear reactors for commercial power production …This was according to Dr. Siegfried Balke, the West German Minister for Atomic Affairs. The report went on:The Canadian reactor design, he told a press conference in Toronto, is the only one in the world based on a reasonable commercial 1369 calculation. If the NPD-2 atomic power plant now being built in Canada lives up to expectations … it will be the prototype for many other reactors.I have tried to check his statements, but I have not been able to get them further verified. It is interesting to follow on to Dr. Balke's next observation:West Germany believes this is the type of reactor that will be most acceptable in other countries, and is following the Canadian lead in its own nuclear program.Thus, we have this big country, Western Germany, which has hesitated in building its hardware itself, looking not particularly to the United Kingdom but to Canada for its nuclear inspiration. It will be recollected that some time ago we tried to persuade the R.W.E. of Western Germany to buy a gas-cooled reactor. They at first stated that they might take one but then decided against it because they considered that brown coal was much more economical. Do we find that the whole of the German research is now running on Canadian lines? Have they something in the heavy water reactors which we have not? I know that we are looking into these matters, but I should like to ask the Parliamentary Secretary once again whether we are spending enough money on this type of research, particularly with an eye on the export market. We know that this type of reactor is smaller in size than the immense reactors of Calder Hall, the A.G.R. and others.
I do not want to spend too much time on the topic which has been raised, but I think I should say that I am a little nervous about the date which has been brought forward viz. 1970 as the approximate break-even date. I think that it is based on some knowledge of the rate of interest structure probable at the end of the decade; but that seems to be a factor which has unsettled all earlier estimates. Also, one has noticed with the present stations under construction that there has been an inflationary element influencing costs which has had an escalator effect on prices. Therefore, it is a little dangerous to make a forecast about 1970 unless it will be, with poetic justice, well after 1970 itself.
I suppose there may be some confirmation for the official view from Mr. Pittman, of the United States Atomic Energy Commission. He is prepared to postulate that, assuming that financial 1370 charges are 14 per cent. and that there is a load factor of 80 per cent., the cost of power sent out may be something like 7 mills by 1968, which is about 0.6d.
It will be noticed that in Europe at the present moment there has been a reduction in the nuclear programme, as in the United Kingdom. We no longer hear about 15,000 megawatts by 1967. The "three wise men" of Euratom have completely revised and overhauled their programme. We do not hear about the immense programme in Japan; there the programme has already been brought back to 1,000 megawatts by about 1970. Therefore, there has been new thinking on this matter on a world plane.
When we consider nuclear power installations, there is very little prospect of their competing with hydro-electric plants. Therefore, while the hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley) indicated the possibility of replacing hydro plants in Scotland, I am not certain that he is batting on a very good wicket.
Also, if one is to have low costs of fossilised fuels, such as coal and oil—and when one considers oil one has to take into consideration freight charges—the present nuclear power stations cannot compete. If one looks at the type of plant that we are producing in the United Kingdom, the economic size seems to be between 300 and 500 megawatts, which may be too large for certain markets overseas, although I agree that they are peculiarly suitable for the requirements of the United Kingdom.
The following is the observation of Dr. Balke on the United Kingdom reactors:As to the U.K. reactors, they are excellently designed…Here I would add parenthetically an observation of my own, that they are remarkably safe and extremely reliable in performance:… and well adapted to British needs…. However, their primary function is to supply plutonium for military needs, rather than to produce commercial power, and therefore they are not suited to the needs of other countries.I do not fully accept that proposition. Certain of them are being adapted. However, one can see how the continental people are thinking. Is the British system adapted to their requirements or not? I think that the 1371 Americans and the Canadians have a chance in the export market with their developments in the seventies, and unless we broaden our research a little further we may fall into difficulties.
I would be most grateful if my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Power will give some indication of the total money being expended on research and development connected with the A.G.R. high temperature gas-cooled reactor and the fast breeder reactor in Scotland. Would he also indicate a breakdown of these figures—that is, the amount we expend on development and on research? Is the nuclear industry still receiving some form of subsidy from Defence as was the case in the past years.
I would not like to sit down without commending the extremely valuable work done by nuclear technicians in bringing this country to the lead. I am concerned to keep this country in the lead, but I am concerned whether at present we are following the right projects and that we are on the right lines.
Atomic energy has a great future in power, but I believe that the break-even date has been falsely set as it underrates a number of factors, including the ability of the manufacturers of conventional equipment to cut their costs by bringing about technical improvements. It also underestimates the elasticity of the supply of fossilised fuels, including coal, and particularly oil. In mentioning coal, I hope that stability in price, will continue.
If people are to put a lot of money into the industry, it is hard if they can look back at a situation when the Government tells the industry that it should get down and build these great plants and they are told a few years later: "Sorry, gentlemen, but you will have to amalgamate from five to three," or—if we follow the advice of one hon. Member—say "Knock one out and form two, and it may be that, if we do not have enough work, there will be a further contraction."
That is not the right way for the Government to handle the industry. The right way is for the industry to be given a lead. It was brought into being at a time of difficulty, and the Government have a certain obligation to it in return.
§ 1.34 p.m.
Vice-Admiral John Hughes Hallett (Croydon, North-East)
One of the features of the debate is the large number of highly technical questions discharged at the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Power concerning research. As I understand it, however, he has no responsibility for any of that whatsoever. I cannot help suspecting that some of his questioners knew that, because they have not stayed to listen to the answers.
The speech I listened to with great pleasure and relief was that of the hon. Member for Southwark (Mr. Gunter), speaking from the Opposition Front Bench. He made an enlightened and far-seeing contribution to the debate. I was so afraid that he would pour cold water on the nuclear programme on the ground that it would threaten the livelihood of the miners.
None the less, it is interesting that the next Motion on the Order Paper should be concerned with one of the terrible occupational hazards of the mining industry—I will not say the word, because it is one that I never try out in public as I do not know how to pronounce it.
§ [That this House, whilst recognising the advantages gained from basing the diagnosis of pneumoconiosis on X-ray findings, accepts that loss of faculty can ensue from the inhalation of noxious dusts without appreciable radiological changes, and that pulmonary disability as shown in asthma, bronch spasms, and emphysema results from occupational hazards in coal mining, pottery, and other occupations, and urges the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance to institute an examination of the procedure for the diagnosis of pneumoconiosis, and to accept that in all such occupations pulmonary disability without radiological signs should be accepted as an industrial disease after 10 years of work in the occupation.]
§ When we are considering the nuclear programme and looking to the future, we should be humble and remember that it was the sweat and sacrifice of generations of miners that brought us wealth and that make such a thing possible to contemplate. But, having said that, I must state how very strongly I welcome and support the Motion.1373
§ I also add a tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, West (Mr. Eden) for having remained in the Chamber throughout the debate to listen to what was said, which is more than can be said for all hon. Members who introduce Motions on Friday mornings.
§ I am convinced that the future lies with nuclear power. Any industrial country that disregards it does so at its peril. We must face the fact that the future does not lie either with coal or with oil, but that, in a very short time, if not already, the generation of power by nuclear stations will be more economical than it is from so-called conventional stations. I want to add a postscript to what has already been said about these comparative costs.
§ The matter was discussed in some detail during the proceedings of the Public Accounts Committee last year in connection with the compilation of its second Report for the 1959–60 Session. I am surprised that nobody has referred to those Minutes. It is just possible that hon. Members sometimes refrain from reading these very bulky documents.
§ On page 340 of the Public Accounts Committee's Minutes there is a specific estimate by the Atomic Energy Commission that at that time the difference in the cost of electricity generated by an existing nuclear station and a conventional station was .2d. of 1d. per unit. That estimate was based on the assumption that the coal power station was up to date and situated in the vicinity of a coalfield. The gap, however, must have narrowed since then as there has been a rise in the price of coal.
§ If hon. Members go further into the Minutes a very much more important and in some ways a much more interesting fact is to be found. It may not be generally realised that this country has immense stocks of uranium. We talk about our anxieties about our existing stocks of coal, but in the time they are likely to last they are a mere flea-bite when compared to the time which our stocks of uranium will last.
§ This time has gone up as a result of the reduction in the speed of construction of nuclear stations. When the stocks were purchased the prices that had to be paid were high, and, therefore, the price which the electricity boards have to pay now is very much higher than the current work price of uranium. I 1374 do not remember the exact difference, and in any case that was one of the things scratched out and censored from the Report—quite rightly so. But the fact itself is common knowledge.
§ It will also be seen in the Report that, as an approximate statement, the proportion of the cost of electricity attributable to the cost of uranium fuel in our existing stations is about one-third. It varies from station to station but in round figures it is one-third.
§ Therefore, if we assume that when the present uranium stocks are used up the electricity boards will have to pay only the current world price for it, a price which might be half the current price, there will automatically be a reduction in the cost of generating electricity from atomic power stations of about 15 per cent. That halves the gap quoted by my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, West.
§ That is a very important factor in this connection, but even more important is the question touched on by a number of hon. Members, notably in some detail by my hon. Friend the Member for Abingdon (Mr. Neave), in connection with the life of the stations. I was a little concerned when my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, West spoke of the stations being superseded. I nearly interrupted him to ask whether he meant that they would be pulled down after that time, but when he was followed by my hon. Friend the Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley) it was clear that he thought that they would be pulled down, if they were not dangerous to approach because of radioactivity. My hon. Friend spoke of them being "dead."
§ I will not refer to what has been said about the uncertainty of whether their reactors might not last a good deal longer. My hon. Friend the Member for Abingdon mentioned a possible life of thirty years, but, whatever the life may be, it is an error to imagine that when the end of the period comes the whole station will be a write-off. The alternators, switchgear, transformers and associated equipment will not necessarily be a write-off. I am convinced that, long before we reach the moment when the technicians have to decide what has to be done when the reactor wears out, their ingenuity will 1375 find some means by which the reactor can be removed and replaced by others. After all, if the ancient Egyptians could erect pyramids, this problem will not outwit the twentieth century ingenuity of our technicians.
§ Will my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary say whether there has been any serious investigation into this matter, which is of some concern to his Department? I believe that, if a corrected figure for the rate at which we should allow for amortisation could be calculated—and here I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Abingdon—we should find that, even at our existing stations, nuclear generated electricity was already cheaper than conventional electricity. There is little doubt that the adverse differential is a paper and not a genuine figure.
§ In the long run, it is not possible for the coal industry to survive on its present scale, any more than it was for sail to compete with steam. How long it will be able to put up a rearguard action and how long it will be possible to defer the day when the industry withers away largely depends not on the nuclear power industry, but on the coal industry, on the determination of all who work in it to keep the price of coal down. Every time the price of coal goes up for any reason, there is an increased urge and an increased argument to accelerate the nuclear power programme.
§ That is a fact which has to be faced, but it is not a fact which need cause any distress in the country, not even to the miners. The hon. Member for Southwark quoted the President of the Board of Trade as having said that we should make the best use of our manpower. It is not making the best use of our manpower to condemn the miners indefinitely to work far underground in an industry which is dirty, hazardous and not particularly economic. A proper use of that manpower is surely to bring those men to the surface and to let them go to the jobs which will become available as the cheaper power which we shall get—and I think in the not very distant future—from the nuclear power stations becomes available.
§ 1.45 p.m.
§ Mr. A. P. Costain (Folkestone and Hythe)
As a comparative new boy to the House of Commons, I would like your guidance, Mr. Speaker, on how I should declare my interest in this matter, because my company has been dealing with and building some of the earlier atomic power stations and we are building a number of hydro-electric stations and thermal power stations throughout the world. If that can be taken as a general declaration of interest, it is the best I can do on the occasion.
At Dungeness, in my constituency, an atomic power station is being erected, one of the seven of the programme. I was delighted when my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, West (Mr. Eden) paid due respect to the appearance and landscape of the stations, because it is with that matter that I want to deal.
I first came across this problem when the Ministry of Housing and Local Government was holding an inquiry into whether a power station should be erected at Dungeness. Understandably, there was much concern in the area about whether this was the right place for a power station. There was a very extensive inquiry, lasting for two days, with evidence from all interested parties, and I attended the whole thing.
It is extraordinary that whenever matters of this kind arise great value is attached to fauna and wild life generally, but there was a special application in the case of Dungeness because that happens to be the bridgehead from where migratory birds fly the Channel. Channel swimmers ordinarily begin their swim further down the coast, but the birds know better.
There was much concern about what the effect would be, and it is only fair to pay tribute to the Central Electricity Generating Board for the trouble taken to see that there was a minimum of damage. I had the opportunity of going with the Board's representatives to Brad-well Power Station which was then just being completed. It was arranged for a number of the residents from the area to visit Bradwell, which was a similar station. There is this difference, I am 1377 glad to say, that with the development of nuclear power it has been possible to arrange for electricity to be produced from Dungeness 30 per cent. cheaper than at Bradwell.
These interested people were able to see what had been done with landscaping at Bradwell, so that they could see a copy of what was to be built in their own locality. They were able to talk to people who had had similar fears two or three years previously. They were very much relieved and there is nothing like the same anxiety that there was at the time of the inquiry.
I mention that because there must be other hon. Members facing the same problem. I recommend to them—and I say this after long experience of the view that builders are dreadful people—that if only the finished product can be seen instead of people having to watch the power station slowly growing, it would be found that fears were unfounded. That is why I particularly welcome the reference in the Motion to landscaping. Hon. Members can see for themselves the trouble which the electricity boards take in this connection.
So much technical information has been given today that I do not think it would be proper for me to be involved in a long technical discussion. However, I would like to make one or two germane points about our export business.
Hon. Members will have seen a reference in The Times this week to the large increase in the contribution made by civil engineering industries to exports. It is in developments of this kind that we can lead the world on "know-how". It is in developments of this kind that we can show the world that Britain is the place where so many inventions were made.
Those who attended the World Fair in Brussels last year must have been as amazed as I was when I went round the British Pavilion and saw the number of inventions of world-wide importance which emanated from this country. I am still staggered when I look back and see how much we take these things for granted and remember how much they have done for our national effort.
There has been a lot of discussion about whether we should develop large atomic power stations or smaller ones from the point of view of exports. It 1378 is my belief that in the fullness of time both kinds will have great potentiality depending on the part of the world to which we export.
The great problem in any engineering project which is developing as rapidly as nuclear power is to know when the research boys should stop and when the builders should get on with their job. As a civil engineer and a builder, it is fair to say that if a repeat building is not 10 per cent. cheaper than the original it is a poor look-out, but the great danger when developing a new process is to know when one has reached the stage at which one should proceed with the actual building.
I know that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Power has a good deal of experience in industry, and I would welcome his views and advice about what line of action the Authority should take. I would like his help on when the Authority should say that it will stop designing and start building and perhaps think again on the next occasion. The difference between building Bradwell and Dungeness showed what savings and improvements could be made, and I am certain that when it comes to running costs the same savings will be apparent.
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Croydon, North-East (Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett) referred to the cost of coal. In our developments over the last 100 years we as a nation have probably suffered because in the early days we had too cheap coal. One has only to compare the trouble which people in other parts of the world take to insulate 'buildings and compare it with how careless we are about doing that to see how apparent this is. The reason for our carelessness is that we have had cheaper means of providing power and heat and there was no necessity to conserve it. We are now running into an era of dearer coal and we must now consider how the new developments can be followed through, 'bearing in mind the extra cost of raising power, heat and steam. I would be delighted to discuss these various projects from a technical point of view, but I think that it would be improper for me at this juncture to abuse the privilege of the House by developing those thoughts.
We are on the threshold of an era of a new type of power. We have broken through the barrier. Let us not be 1379 chickenhearted about the way we develop it. Let us take normal risks, and, if necessary, abnormal risks, because in our export drive this is the sort of project which could lead to fields as yet unknown. I would welcome an assurance from my hon. Friend that the Government are following this course of action.
§ 1.55 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Power (Mr. J. C. George)
I have no doubt that this debate has been extremely useful, but it has not by any means followed the lines laid down in the Motion. Were I to answer all the questioned posed to me from both sides of the House, it would be necessary to send for the Minister for Science, the President of the Board of Trade, the Minister of Education and the Secretary of State for Scotland. I do not propose to do that. I think that it would serve the interests of the House best if I confined my reply to the terms of the Motion.
Reduced to its real terms, the Motion amounts to this. Leaving out the matters of safety, preservation of landscapes, and so on, it says:This Houses urges Her Majesty's Government … to maintain the nuclear power programme at a level that will encourage the development of manufacturing experience and capacity, and provide the best possible prospects for exporting British designs, products and skill.That seems to be the underlying purpose of the debate, though the debate has strayed far from it. It has, nevertheless, been a very useful debate.
I share the pleasure of the House at having heard the first speech from the Front Bench opposite of the hon. Member for Southwark (Mr. Gunter). I wish him happiness in the new position he has attained.
The hon. Gentleman made the same mistake as many other hon. Members. He asked me many questions, not within the province of my Ministry, but largely within the province of the Minister of Education. I sent one of the hon. Gentleman's questions to the Minister for Science. The hon. Gentleman thought, I am sure quite rightly, that the Atomic Energy Authority was suffering from a shortage of scientists. I am happy to assure him that the 1380 Authority is experiencing no serious difficulty. It appears to be able to get all the scientists it needs.
§ Mr. Gunter
Has the position changed since the publication of the last Report of the Select Committee?
§ Mr. George
That is the information I received a few minutes ago from the Atomic Energy Authority, and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will be glad to know the position now.
Perhaps I could get rid of one or two other matters at this stage. My hon. Friend the Member for Eastleigh (Mr. D. Price) raised the question of Dounreay. I sent his question to the Minister for Science. I assure him that the programme of commissioning the experimental fast reactor at Dounreay is proceeding satisfactorily. I am sure that he will be glad of that information.
The hon. Gentleman also raised a number of abstruse technical points which I shall not attempt to answer, being entirely unqualified to do so.
I was asked about controlled thermonuclear reactions. I also sent for information on that point, feeling that the House would like a simple reply. I am told that the Authority announced last September that it had decided not to proceed with the intermediate current stability experiment. The Authority considered that in the present state of knowledge it was not justified in devoting so much effort to a single experiment. It has broadened its programme of research with a number of smaller but important experiments aimed at future development of the advanced techniques required. This is a long-term research project in a very difficult field. As my hon. Friend knows, if successful it will give great rewards, but the programme of research must run its course and develop step by step.
I turn to the question of amortisation, to get rid of it once and for all. It has been raised by a number of hon. Members. My hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, West (Mr. Eden), the mover of the Motion, painted pictures of stricken leviathans all over the country, and others have made striking reference to decayed carcases on the assumption that the stations have a short life and that nothing can be done with them when that life is past. They 1381 would stand as monuments to someone's inefficiency. Of course, that is not true. The life of twenty years has been settled for many sound reasons, and always on the best advice, but we are not certain about the life of the stations we are building. We are not certain of the life of the graphite within the reactor, but we know with reasonable certainty that techniques will improve.
How long that life will be, we do not know, but it may improve very rapidly. The stations might be obsolete before twenty years have passed. It might not be right to keep them in existence, so different may be the conditions of the new stations. We do not know. In this great uncertainty, we must exercise caution.
§ Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett
The question which worries me is the argument about their being obsolete. They may be obsolete in a sense that one can have a more economical one, but it surely does not follow from that that they should be immediately pulled down and not used. In my constituency there is a factory with a steam engine dated 1876. Although there are more modern engines in existence, it does not pay the owners to change.
§ Mr. George
As my hon. and gallant Friend will recollect, I began by using the picture painted by the mover of the Motion of stricken leviathans and decayed carcases and pointed out that amortisation was on a twenty years basis. With the aggregation of uncertainties at present, caution is demanded, but that is not to say that, should techniques so improve, existing stations will be so obsolete that they should be abandoned. Not a bit. As well as advancing techniques of electrical generation, we shall have advancing techniques in the stations themselves. What may appear difficult, if not impossible, to do might easily, with the advancing knowledge of years ahead, render the demolition of these stations, if thought necessary, an achievable project. Apart altogether from that, there is no doubt that a new type of reactor could be built alongside existing stations.
Several of my hon. Friends today have been talking about the advanced gas-cooled reactor and how much smaller that is than the present Calder Hall type. If a station becomes obsolete, we might 1382 learn how to use it in another way, and we could almost certainly put a station of the new type alongside an existing station. So much for amortisation and the points which have been made about that.
I thoroughly enjoyed the disquisition on education by the hon. Member for Southwark. Perhaps it was not directed to the right channels, but he struck a note very dear to me which his hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Peart) and I have dealt with many times in the past. The shortage of scientists is an anxiety which is felt by hon. Members on both sides of the House, and a great deal of thought has been given to it over a long period by successive Ministers of Education. There is no doubt, however, that we should not make the mistake of over-emphasising the accomplishments of other countries and denigrating our own. A great deal of money and effort have been spent on technical education, and we are catching up in the race with other nations. We realise that Russia is a long way ahead, but I think that a battle is half won when one realises the true position. We know the position and are taking steps to deal with it.
Turning to the terms of the Motion, I shall try to keep within two parallel lines which I think ought to be before the House in considering this very important subject. It does not merely mean economics, the cost of production and technical advance. It means considering the fears of ordinary people throughout the country. Those fears have been expressed very fully today, and very properly, by the mover of the Motion. My hon. Friend moved his Motion with great ability, although I thought that perhaps several times he was rather hard on the Atomic Energy Authority. Nevertheless, he made a good job in the time allotted to him.
He mentioned the beauty of the countryside, as did a few other of my hon. Friends. He was good enough to pay tribute to the performance of the Authority in recent years. These are early days in the history of this country's nuclear power. The first chapter may be ended by the commissioning this year of the first completely economic commercial station at Berkeley. That whole chapter shows a record of great skill, foresight and courage. It has shown the 1383 skill of our scientists and the Atomic Energy Authority, to which many have paid tribute, allied to the great skill and fertile imagination of the industry, backed by Government assistance which gave a lead and showed clearly to the world that in thought and action this old country was still virile, venturesome and young. This lead we mean to keep. I can give that assurance to both sides of the House.
The nuclear power stations, in which this new challenge has to be met, have to be built. They have to be in remote places, and because they are in remote places they are distant from points of high consumption and there have to be transmission lines where feet rarely tread. This gives rise to misgivings in many minds. We love our countryside for the quiet enjoyment it gives, and this House was not unmindful of its responsibility to preserve this inheritance. It was not unmindful of the responsibility which that placed on the Electricity Generating Board, the Electricity Council and the Minister under the 1957 Act. Those obligations enjoined all three to preserve natural beauty, to conserve fauna and flora and to preserve places of historic interest. Those responsibilities have been discharged with good taste, good manners and great care.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, West and others raised the question of the choice of sites for power stations. That, of course, is a very difficult subject. Sites are not lightly chosen by the Central Electricity Generating Board. Far from it. They are chosen only after long and critical examination of many factors and after consultations with a large number of very responsible bodies. Paramount in the thinking of the Generating Board, all through these consultations and considerations, is the need to cause the least offence to public taste or feeling. Sometimes the Board is forced to choose a site—this applies also to conventional as well as nuclear stations—which arouses resentment, but that is as inevitable as it is regrettable.
With nuclear stations, a combination of favourable conditions must be satisfied before the site can be considered suitable. First, there must be great supplies of cooling water. For a 500 megawatt nuclear station there must be 150,000 tons of cold water per hour 1384 available. There must also be good foundations, for such a station can weigh as much as 60,000 tons. The site must be flat over a large area. At least 100 to 200 acres must be flat.
There must be a reasonably good route for overhead lines and reasonable road access, and the population must be sparse. There are many considerations, and these are but same of them. The House will realise that before all the factors in these complex equations are satisfied many sites are eliminated, and, indeed, relatively few sites in the country are likely to be completely suitable for the present type of station. Therefore, I submit that in the choice of sites the Generating Board is severely limited by the demands of the stations themselves. It is severely limited by the restrictions regarding safety which are rightly imposed by the Government, and by the necessity to fulfil its obligations with reference to preserving the natural beauties of the countryside. When the time comes to see these new structures I believe the Board will be found to have carried out its obligations in full measure.
§ Mr. Costain
Does the Parliamentary Secretary appreciate that in some localities there is more resentment regarding the disfiguring caused by overhead cables than from the fact of the presence of a power station, and is that borne in mind in the planning?
§ Mr. George
I intended to deal with overhead cables. The matter was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Sir E. Errington), so perhaps I may deal with it now.
I believe that the stations will be found acceptable, but there is the question of pylons and overhead lines, and the oft-repeated request that there should be undergrounding of cables rather than the use of overhead lines. This House has been told on many occasions that the undergrounding of cables carrying a voltage of the magnitude used in our systems today is an extremely costly undertaking. I am speaking from memory, because I had not anticipated that the matter would be raised today, but I think that about a year ago the cost of undergrounding a main line cable amounted to at least £300,000 a mile. That does not include the costly charges which my hon. 1385 Friend mentioned. On the other hand, an overhead cable for the same purpose would have cost about £23,000. These figures 1 give from memory and I am open to correction, but the obvious difference in cost provides the reason why undergrounding is not carried out. Until some advance is made to cheapen the process of undergrounding these cables, I am afraid that we shall have to use overhead lines.
§ Sir E. Errington
Can my hon. Friend give some indication of what is being done regarding undergrounding? The point was that a great deal more research ought to be undertaken in connection with this matter.
§ Mr. George
The cable companies have been pressing ahead with research with a view to cheapening the cost of installation. But, with a difference in cost of something like ten or fifteen times, it is obvious that great advances will have to be made before under-grounding becomes a practical proposition, desirable as it is. I join with my hon. Friend in appreciating the desirability of undergrounding these cables.
May I say a word on design. My hon. Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Costain) complimented the Generating Board on the quality of the design of the stations, and I think that compliment was merited, although there have been criticisms on a number of occasions. Great thought has been given to design, and I submit that when they are completed the stations will be found to be generally pleasing and acceptable. Man engages with nature in a most unequal contest when creating objects of beauty, and if the most skilled and sympathetic men be awarded the task on our behalf, what more can be done? No less is done on every occasion by the Generating Board, which selects the best and most sympathetic men available for the task of planning these new arrivals in the countryside. The Board employs highly qualified architects and consults the Royal Fine Art Commission. Without going into the subject further, I would say that soon the first stations will be completed and will face the test of friend and critic, and my confidence in them is high.
Not only has the Board tried to carry out its responsibilities to preserve the 1386 beauty of the countryside in the ways I have mentioned, but it has also attempted it in other and technical ways. After the war, the size of generating sets in use in this country was about 30 megawatts. The Board realised long ago that the demand for electricity in this country would double itself every ten years, as indeed it has in many other industrial countries, and the Board saw that if it continued using 30 megawatts sets and 132,000 volt systems the greatly increased demand would result in a very large number of stations being scattered all over the countryside. That, as has been said today, would have resulted in the countryside looking like a birdcage.
The Board knew its task and went about it diligently, and the results have been of great consequence. They have been mentioned several times today. Not only did the Board preserve the beauty of the countryside, which was the point I set out to make, but the result of its work has been of great consequence financially. No longer do we have 30 megawatt conventional stations, but stations of 2,000 megawatts. We have progressed from 30 megawatts to 2,000 megawatts between 1948 and 1960, and that represents a dramatic advance. On the nuclear side, we have moved from 250 megawatt stations originally built or contemplated, to 800 megawatt stations prepared for the late 1960s. These are sensational advances and have resulted, of course, in many fewer stations being needed, and the consequent saving of the country from desecration in many ways.
The Board has also been active and skilful in preserving the face of the countryside from desecration from the point of view of transmission. To start with, there were 132,000 volt systems, and now it has begun the construction of 400,000 volt systems and, in between, has been transmitting at 275,000 volts. There has been a reduction in the number of stations required by making them larger, which does not mean just a question of building larger stations, but rather of discovering how larger stations should be operated at higher temperatures and pressures. Great technical advances have been made in that respect, and I consider that the Board is due a great deal of credit for the dramatic advances which have been made. Figures have been given today of the savings which have resulted from this technical advance.
1387 In advancing forward to larger sets, the conventional stations have moved from 30 megawatt sets in 1948 costing £67 per kilowatt to 550 megawatt sets for 1963—which are now on the way—costing £39 per kilowatt sent out. That is a tremendous reduction at a time when the post of raw materials has risen by over 60 per cent. These are dramatic things and, were we not so reticent as a nation, we should be shouting about the sensational technical advances which we have made. They have proved of great advantage to the electrical industry. It is true that by this and other means the people of this country are receiving their electricity at a rate which, in real terms, is very much cheaper than was the case at the end of the war.
I give full credit to the Generating Board. When a nationalised industry has performed in a way which deserves credit, it should get credit, and we should be glad to give it. I am glad to give it in this case. This same progress has been made in reducing the cost of nuclear power. As my hon. Friend said, the cost at the Bradwell station will be approximately £160 per kilowatt, and it is true that the Dungeness station will cost £110 per kilowatt, which is a reduction of £50 on £160 in the short time between 1962 and 1964. We expect a further reduction for the Sizewell and Oldbury stations.
§ Mr. George
I have learned from long experience never to make a forecast unless I have to do so—and today there is no compulsion on me to make a forecast.
I turn to the question of public safety. Several hon. Members have rightly raised the question of public safety. Indeed, my hon. Friend the Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley) suggested that we were imposing too strict a series of restrictions and that stations need not be in remote places but could be brought nearer towns. That is not my information. I am told that, with the present knowledge, prudence dictates restrictions on the siting of nuclear power stations, even though the risk is no greater than that with other industrial 1388 installations. We must remember that nuclear power is not yet accepted by the people as a friend. It is connected with sinister happenings in the past, and it must serve a period of probation. Siting is based on providing the highest possible degree of protection in the unlikely event of the accidental release of fission products, and therefore the fewer people present the better. A maximum population density is therefore prescribed within a certain distance of a site. No site is accepted within five miles of a town with a population of 10,000 or more.
These restrictions are tough on the Generating Board. In the choice of sites it means heavy restrictions, but these restrictions are kept under continual review, and as advances in technique and knowledge accumulate it may be that grounds for some relaxation will commend themselves to the Nuclear Safety Advisory Committee appointed by my right hon. Friend and the Secretary of State for Scotland. At the moment, however, these restrictions are imposed. We have very little experience of the operation of these stations, and it is obvious that some years must yet pass before any substantial relaxation can be considered.
I have given the questions of safety and the beauty of the countryside a full measure of my time because I believe that they are important to the people of this country. I come to the nuclear programme, to which several hon. Members have referred. Anxiety has been expressed—an anxiety which I share—about the effect upon the heavy electrical industry of the latest stretching out of the programme. I was, however, confused by one or two of my hon. Friends. Early in his speech my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, West said that we could not justify one station a year but that we had given it as a sop to the industry. At the end of his speech he said that one a year was not enough. I did not know exactly what he meant.
These changes in the programme have been made, and we share the anxiety. We know that these changes, allied with the deterioration of overseas prospects, have created employment problems in the industry. The Government very much appreciate that these are matters of serious concern to the industry, but it was only after great consideration and receiving the best advice that the programme was 1389 stretched out. We all know the reason for the original acceleration in the programme. At the time of Suez this nation felt that its oil supply was insecure, and at the same time—and the National Coal Board shared the view—there seemed likely to be a gap in the future supplies of coal. It therefore seemed right to accelerate the nuclear programme.
These things change. The situation about the supply of crude oil changed and the shortage of coal disappeared. The whole picture had changed, and the conditions which had caused the acceleration disappeared. My right hon. Friend announced proposals which have been described as stretching out the programme; it was a new programme of one station a year. A programme of one station a year does not seem very much for the industry to advance, but it means that there are five or six stations in various stages of construction at any one time, to provide future advances in technique. At present six civil nuclear power stations are under construction, two more will be started in the next twelve months and permission for another has been sought. In the Government's view—and this is a sympathetic approach to the problem—this programme should sustain an industry of size and efficiency capable of competing with success abroad and of expanding this nuclear industry to meet our own needs.
The Government believe that it is enough but that it is no more than enough. We could not have stretched the programme out any more and have been satisfied that we were giving the industry a fair deal. We believe that we have reached a point, with five or six stations under construction at any one time, from which the industry can obtain the technical knowledge which it needs to guarantee that we can move ahead in the future, when overseas demand and home needs develop, and that we keep the lead which we have gained.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, West, spoke of the handicap upon the industry of having to make large quotations which cost them up to £150,000 to prepare. He thought that the cost was high and was purely a waste of money, and that we should drop the principle of competition and use the principle of selection. I advise him to do a little arithmetic and to put £150,000 1390 against the total cost of a power station. He will find that in no case does it exceed 0.3 per cent. of the total cost. We recognise that a power station has to bear this cost, but surely tendering is a normal, sound business precaution. We want to retain competition in this industry; we do not want to give that away and to use selection. We want a guarantee that there is a need for everybody to improve their methods and to strive to make things cheaper as competition does. The result of competition can be seen in the figures which I have given. I do not hold out any hope to my hon. Friend that we shall accept his suggestion, abandon competition and adopt selection.
§ Mr. George
I am afraid that I should delay the House too long if I sought for that information among my papers.
§ Mr. George
Perhaps the House will bear with me if I quote figures in respect of falling costs. They are: Berkeley £160 per Kilowatt, Bradwell £159, Hinckley Point £133, Trawsfynydd £123, Dungeness £110. There is competition and the price is coming down all the time. Competition has that virtue. For the moment and for a long time ahead competition will be the method adopted.
There has been a great deal of complaint about the so-called slackness of the Atomic Energy Authority in connection with overseas business. I admit that overseas business has not expanded as quickly as was expected in 1955, but the reasons are the same as have led to the stretching out of our programme at home. All the world thought that coal would be in short supply, that the gap would have to be filled, and believed that here was a new arrival which would fill the gap. The disappearance of the coal shortage and the delay in nuclear power achieving cost parity with conventional 1391 power are the main reasons for the fact that the market has not lived up to the. hopes which were held in 1955.
Two stations have been sold abroad, one in Japan and one in Italy, and there are three other possibilities at the moment. India holds out the possibility of two stations and Brazil may invite a tender this year. In addition, Japan is considering a second station. Not only do we export power stations, but we export research reactors abroad and we are doing a useful trade in nuclear instruments.
We have also built up our trade in radio-isotopes which last year amounted to £600,000, and this will rapidly expand as a result of the Electricity (Amendment) Bill which was passed through this House a short time ago. We believe that the home programme and our overseas business will give the heavy industry the necessary facilities to keep ahead technically. It also shows that assistance abroad is being given in the limited market which has appeared and some success is being attained.
The Atomic Energy Authority is by no means idle, as was implied by a few of my hon. Friends. It has bilateral and similar agreements with ten countries. It has arranged for an exchange of information. It has arranged for the provision of fuel elements by the Atomic Energy Authority and for assistance in the purchase of nuclear equipment. The Authority is playing a very big part in the development of the export trade.
I want to deal with one last point—the economics of small reactors. We have had a great deal of discussion on this, and there has been an inference that the Atomic Energy Authority was not alive to the importance of small reactors. It may be that the first experience that this country will get of small reactors will be on merchant ships. It has been suggested that we are not devoting a great deal of time to evolving a small nuclear reactor. Our experience from the systems of which we are aware at the moment—the Calder Hall system and the A.G.R. system—is that efficiency increases with size. It does not seem possible to construct a small nuclear station to provide power at anything like an economic price.
1392 It is said that a lot of work in this field has been done in the U.S.A. which has cheap enriched uranium, and that it is within striking distance of achieving small units. In fact two sets have been built, one in Alaska and one in Greenland, regardless of cost. The Atomic Energy Commission in the U.S.A. said this about small stations:Preliminary results indicate that small nuclear reactors have a difficult way ahead.That comes from America where, we have been told this afternoon, great progress has been made and that none has been made here.
From Canada we have more information on small nuclear stations. In a recent report, Atomic Energy (Canada) Ltd. said that small stations built in the North-Western territories, where fuel costs would be enormous, still cost 25 per cent. more per unit than oil-fired stations. That is the latest advice that we have.
One of my hon. Friends asked about plutonium. The Atomic Energy Authority feels that in the long term this will assist towards the development of small reactors. In the short term the policy is to learn what is likely to be achieved in marine propulsion and to devote every effort to study what is happening abroad. There is a future for small power stations abroad and indeed at home. We believe the time has not yet come but, having got a lead in the bigger aspect of power stations, we will not neglect the possibility of getting a lead with the small ones.
The Authority is also devoting a great deal of time to publicising the achievements of the industry abroad. It is participating in international exhibitions. The facts relating to our attainments in British industry are disseminated throughout the world so that when the demand arises, people abroad will know what we can do. In the time that elapses between now and then we hope that our technical advance will be such that we shall be the leaders in nuclear power.
I shall have to pass over many points. I am glad that this Motion has been raised, and I compliment my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, West on the way that he moved it. The discussion has been useful to the House 1393 and the terms of the Motion are acceptable to the Government. I therefore accept it.
§ Question put and agreed to.
That this House urges Her Majesty's Government, while giving due weight to such considerations as public safety, the preservation of landscape and the need to make power available from the cheapest and most efficient sources, to maintain the nuclear power programme at a level that will encourage the development of manufacturing experience and capacity, and provide the best possible prospects for exporting British designs, products and skill.