HC Deb 16 April 1969 vol 781 cc1140-1
21. Mr. David Price

asked the Minister of Technology if he will make a statement on his plans for joint Anglo-Dutch-German co-operation in the development of gas centrifuge processes for uranium enrichment.

Mr. Benn

Discussions have continued between the three countries since the Ministerial meeting of 11th March in London. A number of issues remain to be settled before the Governments concerned will be in a position to reach decisions and I will make a statement at that stage.

Mr. Price

In the interim, will the right hon. Gentleman inform the House whether his Department and the A.E.A. are of the view that the gas centrifuge process is, on total cost evaluation, to be preferred to the traditional diffusion separation process?

Mr. Benn

There is another Question about Capenhurst later in the Order Paper. Broadly speaking, the reason why there is such interest in the gas centrifuge system is that its operating and capital costs show an advantage, and it is on this basis that the three countries concerned began their discussions. I hope that we can bring this to a conclusion, subject always to the economic criteria which I have rigidly laid down both for international collaborative ventures and at home.

Mr. Hooley

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there is world political concern about the military implications of this development, particularly in so far as the Federal Republic of Germany is associated with it? Are any discussions being initiated with the International Atomic Energy Agency for inspection of the development of this process to assure the world that it will be used exclusively for peaceful purposes?

Mr. Benn

I think that I can reassure my hon. Friend on this, at any rate as much as anyone can reassure someone in the face of a technology that, wrongly used, would be potentially dangerous. The very fact that my hon. Friend the Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs and Foreign Office officials have participated very closely on this indicates that we link this issue very closely with the matter of non-proliferation and safeguards. I think he would agree, as I would, that, given a dangerous technology, to have three countries working on it under a political supervision covering the lot is better than having it done individually.