HL Deb 02 April 1957 vol 202 cc977-1017

3.55 p.m.

Debate resumed.


My Lords, the closing words of the noble Viscount, Lord Hall, in moving his Motion reminded me of the many years that he has spent in another place in helping the mining industry and in interpreting to Parliament the desires of the miners. I am quite sure that there is to-day a real need to make clear, not only to miners and their families but to everybody interested in coal production, that, whatever may happen about nuclear energy, in the next decade, at any rate, there will still be a great demand for coal. There is one aspect in regard to coal production of which your Lordships have not heard very much: the gasification of the industry. A paper has been written on it. We know that other countries have been successful in their research, and that it has been fruitful of great results, for there is a return without great consumption of manpower. Undoubtedly there are in this country seams which would benefit very much by that treatment, as they are very difficult to work by human endeavour.

To pass to the matter of the programme, which has been mentioned by the noble Viscount, Lord Hall, I would remind your Lordships that the nuclear power industry is unique in that—thank heaven! there has never yet been the necessity for an inquiry into any accident in any of the establishments under the control of the Atomic Energy Authority. That speaks very highly for the care, attention and accuracy of Sir John Cockcroft and all who have been responsible for this tremendous achievement. But there is no doubt that other countries also are going forward with atomic energy schemes, and it does not at all follow that their record of freedom from accidents will be as good as ours. In that connection I should like to draw attention to one or two matters.

The noble Lord, the Minister of Power, told us the other day that it was essential that these stations should be located in centres of population and consumption. There have since been comments, in the newspapers and elsewhere, on that statement, and I believe that we all feel that at this stage of development it is a matter of the utmost importance that a proper balance should be struck between the questions of the location of these stations and the transmission of power from each station to the centre of consumption. One of the carious things is that in Canada and the United States of America, countries very much larger than ours, the cost of transmission of power is very low—a fraction of a penny per mile; and, so far as I know, no great attention has been paid to working out what would be the financial difference between using this transmission of power and locating several power stations at one suitable place; in other words, having a "battery" of nuclear energy stations linked to centres of consumption by ordinary transmission lines.

Having looked at figures for Canada and the United States, I feel there is no doubt at all that it should be possible to reduce the cost of the site by taking into account the reduction in the cost of the transmission of power. The figures which were quoted the other day by the noble Lord the Minister were interesting, but the most modern quotation I have seen shows that there could be a reduction, provided that the load was constant and that it could be transmitted by transmitters of the latest design.

Another matter in this connection on which I believe all of us feel strongly is the design of these stations. The Minister told us the other day that Sir William Holford and others were to be called in. I believe that they have never been consulted so far. It is very important, if the architectural features are to be developed, that advice should be obtained from others than engineers. Those noble Lords who have been to Calder Hall will recollect that there are a considerable number of high chimneys there. No one really knows yet whether it is necessary to have these high chimneys. It is certainly unnecessary to have high chimneys for one or two kinds of nuclear production. The only reason for having some of these chimneys is that, should there be an accident, they could be employed to carry off fumes that would otherwise be inclined to settle near ground level. My point is this. I think that it is very important to bring in architects in the early days and to let them be informed what is necessary from a technical point of view. Then, with their co-operation, it will be possible to ascertain what can be done to ensure so far as possible, that the design is made less ugly than Calder Hall undoubtedly is.

Another matter which I think probably has a bearing on this subject is this. If you talk to a power engineer, and say that you are going to put up a power station, he will probably say that he believes it is impossible to have a power station without chimneys. While that is true of conventional power stations, I doubt very much whether it will be true of nuclear power stations—in fact, I do not think it will be.

There is another matter, in connection with criticisms that have been made, to which I think attention ought to be drawn. It is not correct to assume at the present stage of our knowledge that there is no danger whatever in connection with a nuclear power station. As I said earlier on, happily there has been no accident so far out of which information can be gathered. I do not believe that any industry in the history of this country has had such an accident-free record over such years of research and trial and practical experiment. It is an astonishing fact. But it means that one is bound to calculate, so far as one can, from theory, rather than from what has happened in practice, what is the margin of safety.


Will the noble Lord forgive my interrupting him? He is on a most interesting point. Would he explain to the House what he means by danger? What is the kind of danger to which he refers?


I am not sufficiently well equipped in the technical sense to give a technical answer, but, as I understand it, a tremendous number of experiments are being made in regard to metals that will stand the high temperature which is the basis of all new developments connected with nuclear power stations; and it may well be that something other than metal may be necessary in the future. If you have to sustain heat temperatures of over 700° Centigrade, or even more, and everything turns and depends on the metal you employ to withstand these high temperatures, I think that those responsible are right at the present stage in saying that, until we know a little more than we do at present, it would not be safe to locate a nuclear power station in the middle of a densely populated district. I myself believe that before 1965 so much fresh information will have been obtained that everything we are saying to-day may require revision and change.

A further matter which I think ought also to be mentioned concerns the people who are going to be employed in the new industry. It is absolutely essential that there should be this marriage of industry and the scientists who are engaged in advancing this new product. That is going ahead fast. Industry is collaborating, as the noble Lord, the Minister, has explained, and many of these new stations will be placed in the charge of industry for these particular purposes. A Member of this House, I am told, is responsible—or his companies are—for no fewer than four of these stations. The noble Lord in question, as head of a great concern, has the advantage of all the information which can be gathered therein, and it may be that the last of the stations which he puts up will be totally different from that which he may be designing at the present moment. There must be flexibility; there must be scope. Those who are working on this matter must not be tied down too tightly to any particular design.

Then there is the requirement with which we dealt in the special debate on the siting of nuclear power stations: the need for having available plenty of water, and all the rest of it. There are certain places, no doubt—notably somewhere along the coast of Pembroke—at which several power stations could be grouped and whence, if you could get your transmission, it would be possible to deliver power to the centres of consumption at a very much cheaper rate than if separate stations were erected, scattered all over the place—possibly at spots which did not always have readily available the things which stations need in the way of water and so on. Those matters seem to me to demand a great deal more consideration than they have had up to the present time. Therefore, I welcome the idea of the White Paper.

Besides having a White Paper, however, it is important that the people of the country generally should have the means of learning from an illustrated booklet, containing a great amount of detail, what are the prospects for young men and girls going in for this industry and what the initial steps should be for those who desire to do so. Everything turns, in the end, on the human factor handling these tremendous affairs. We shall never escape from that—indeed, the only danger that exists to-day is the danger of some human error in carrying out the work. A twenty-four hour watch must be kept at all these nuclear power stations lest something should be clone which might cause some damage somewhere. In my view, sufficient information is not available at the present time to bring home to parents what a wonderful opening is offered for their boys—and for their girls, too.

Undoubtedly there is great scope and there are fine prospects in nuclear energy and nuclear power works, but it is hard to appreciate this fact fully at the present time. I am certain of that from what I have seen at Harwell, which is in my old constituency. I remember it as an R.A.F. station. Now it is the university of nuclear energy, and it will so remain. Clustered around it these great places, where different forms of application of nuclear energy can be tried out, are springing up. Naturally that is having an effect on the educational establishments in the district—the elementary schools, the primary schools and the grammar schools. To get staffing by the type of people you want, it is necessary not only to improve educational facilities but also to convince parents that when their boys and girls go into this profession they are probably going to gain something for which their forefathers would have longed. But that must not be done, in my view, at the expense of encouraging miners' sons to remain in the mining industry, though it is far less attractive, harder and dirtier, and not easily advanced as a very lucrative form of employment at the present moment. If we are going to have our power, we must utilise not only our coal resources and those other resources in the form of gas, but also the oil which is imported; and we must use our nuclear power to the maximum extent. Even then, we shall hardly be able to supply the energy that will be required for the expansion of industry.

Finally, may I say this? I believe that something more than a White Paper is necessary in order to bring public opinion along with these advances, so that public opinion will not be hostile to the requirements which the Minister knows so well. If we are to carry out this programme, no time should be lost in making the people appreciate not only the job our engineers are doing, but also the fact that we live on a very small island, with a limited number of places where these stations can be located, and that we want to make them as attractive as we can, commensurate with efficiency. I think that if something could be done quickly by the Minister, not only by means of a White Paper but also by television and radio and other channels, so that the British people can understand what opportunities there are, it would be helpful to those who are responsible for doing such a wonderful job in bringing nuclear power to its present position.

4.12 p.m.


My Lords, whatever else one says, one must congratulate the Government on the courage with which they have seized the nettle and gone ahead with this programme. I had intended asking questions on the figures which the noble Lord, Lord Mills, gave the other day, but the noble Viscount, Lord Hall, has already done so, and I must admit that until I read the OFFICIAL REPORT tomorrow I shall be in a worse muddle than I was in before. There is one thing which I think has not been mentioned yet—the cost of coal power stations in relation to the cost of nuclear power stations. Costs of kilowatts and megawatts have been bandied about, but they seem to have been given on the basis of stations operating on base load. Somebody has to carry the peak load business and it is a question which would be most efficient to carry that, the coal power station or the nuclear power station.

There is also the question of uranium supply. The figure expected for uranium in South Africa in 1958 is 6,000 tons or thereabouts—that is, about half of the expected figure from Canada; but, of course, South Africa is not a dollar area. However, there is this other factor in South Africa: that there uranium is produced as a by-product from the gold mines. The cost of gold mining is increasing, on an average, by 2s. 6d. a ton a year in South Africa, and if it were not for the production of uranium a number of gold mines would have to close down already. The price of gold is largely controlled by America, so it seems that even there we are more or less indirectly bound to America for our supply of uranium.

I think that one of the greatest achievements of the Central Electricity Authority is that their latest generators are capable of generating 1½ times as much electricity per ton of coal as the overall average per ton of coal of our generating capacity to-day. That is a great achievement, and whether it is calculated on base load or not, it is something worthy of note. In his statement, the noble Lord, Lord Mills, stressed rightly that the programme must be flexible, and I wonder whether he could give an opinion about the likelihood that our scientists will manage to overcome the sheathing troubles of the fuel elements in these atomic reactors and get up to the desired temperature of 600° Centigrade by using either ceramic elements or beryllium sheaths. And if they get up to that temperature in the near future, will it be necessary to re-design the reactors for the first three or four stations which are proposed? I would also ask whether he could tell us what are the prospects for a more advanced type of reactor, such as the homogeneous aqueous reactor and something of those which depend on metallurgy for the recovery and renewal of fuel elements.

Those matters are referred to in the first part of the Motion. The second part deals with problems in connection with power. That is a fascinating invitation, and I hope that I shall not spread myself more than I should. I think that the question of power must be considered as a whole. I like very much Lord Glyn's idea of a publication in pamphlet form, but I think that it should deal not only with atomic energy but with the whole field of power, and, at this stage, when things are advancing so rapidly, I think it could be revised once a year. As the noble Lord, Lord Mills, said in his statement, the Government could not produce a White Paper every time our engineers and technicians improved on their programme.

The only large source of indigenous power in this country is coal, from which is derived gas and electricity and various gas by-products and a certain amount of oil. There is a small quantity of natural crude oil produced in the Midlands round about Nottingham. We have a certain amount of natural gas and there is the Scottish shale oil industry. All of these are very minor sources of power, but in the context of our balance of payments and the saving of dollars I think that they should not be ignored. Magnificent work has been done by our technicians on underground gasification. We are late starters in that field, but I think that we are right up to the front now as the result of their painstaking and persevering experiments. The results are hopeful, and I understand that in the near future a pilot plant is to be erected. That is something of which both the Gas and the Coal Boards should be very proud.

Another possible source of power lies in the methane drainage from certain coal mines. The volume of gas that is being led off the pits in those that have systems installed is in the order of 7½ million cubic feet, but the amount that is being utilised for production of power, if my memory serves, is less than 3 million cubic feet. I find it disappointing that a bigger drive for the use of this source of power is not being made. The real point about methane drainage is, of course, increased safety in the pits, which makes it possible to mine coal where it could not otherwise be worked. That is the proper start. I think something more should be done, if possible, to utilise the gas, having got it out. I think there are eighty pits where this method could be applied, but that only thirty-two have plants in production or under consideration. I feel that there is definite room for improvement there. These sources of power can never answer the main problem, or fill the main gap, but I think they are important, in as much as they help the balance of payments and exchange.

Another interesting development is the gas turbine working on upcast mine ventilation gas, which contains very little methane, although it does contain some. There there is a fascinating possibility. In a number of mines it requires ten tons of air to produce one ton of coal. If you can utilise that ten tons of air—you have to blow it down the mine, anyway—to make power at the other end, as it comes up the shaft, which has been done experimentally, there is a fascinating possibility of a big increase in the output, all of which saves coal and helps the situation. I think the attention of people should be drawn to that work. Other people besides myself may be fascinated by that question, and I think it would be a suitable subject for a publication.

The thing that rather worries me about the whole power question is this. Have we the capacity, from the engineering point of view, to carry out all this proposed work and also meet our commitments overseas—and, indeed, expand them? From the civil engineering contracting point of view—and that is the only thing that I personally know anything about—there is an enormous programme in being at the moment. Just to mention a few things, there are about £140 million of work for the Coal Board, and £300 million for the railways; the Central Electricity Authority have over £50 million; the Forth Bridge, £10 million; Whiteinch Tunnel, £5 million; Dartford Tunnel, £10 million; steelworks, £20 million; docks and harbours, £5 million; hydro-electric works, £10 million; oil refineries, another £10 million. And there is also the normal building work, such as that on technical colleges and private industry, which in all amounts to something like £600 million. Overseas last year the industry secured £100 million worth of new contracts, and they have outstanding, to complete by 1956–57, £300 million worth of work.

The contractors' plant industry has an output now of £78 million per annum, of which about 50 per cent. is being exported. Our industry holds the world record for tunnelling, which was recently achieved in Scotland, and it is no wonder that, in spite of the upsurge of nationalism, our services are eagerly sought overseas. There was a case in point, which has been mentioned to your Lordships, of the Snowy Mountain Scheme in Australia. Our services were required there, although somewhat belatedly. These figures are now all wrong, because I do not know how the total would break down, but on the old figures given to us by the noble Lord, Lord Mills, there would have been roughly £487 million worth of civil engineering work superimposed on top of this programme that I have sketched out. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Mills, has a most powerful co-ordinating and planning committee to help him with this difficult programme. It would be a great pity if we had to hold back on some of our other activities, particularly those overseas.

On the question of manpower, it is all very well for Sir John Cockcroft to say that you can take an ordinary engineer and in a few months train him to be a nuclear engineer. But from whom are you to "pinch" him? It is no good "robbing Peter to pay Paul." There may not be sufficient engineers to go round. I would humbly suggest, for the consideration of the noble Lord, that there may be merit in the idea of inviting the Euratom countries, who are keenly interested in this development, to send over here their technicians, foremen and engineers to be trained with our people in our own programme. There is an idea that the type of power station built on the Continent after that might be in line with what we are doing here, and not in line with what the Americans are doing. That is a possibility—I do not know whether it is feasible—and it is a thought I should like to leave with the noble Lord. The second point that I feel ought to be urged, and which I do not think has been urged to-day, is that great saving in power can be achieved by an economy drive and by great attention to thermal insulation of buildings. I believe that something might be done there to help.

It is quite apparent that the main attention should be focused on what we are discussing to-day—namely, the nuclear energy programme. Nevertheless, I feel that a few words on these other things of rather minor importance should be said in this debate, and I want to make a special plea for the Scottish shale industry. It is a small industry, but any idea that it is a decaying industry is utterly wrong. Perhaps I may briefly give your Lordships a few facts. The industry produces about 19 million gallons of oil, derv and motor spirit, a year. It produces one-third of the total amount of paraffin wax produced in this country, which is about 14 per cent. of the total of paraffin wax used, or what was used. If one had to import that, it might cost 2½ million dollars. If the shale oil industry were to shut down, the Pumpherston Oil Refinery might have to shut down, too, because that refinery refines all the shale oil produced in this country, and also the oil produced at Nottingham, which, again, is a figure of something of the same order, of about 70,000 tons a year. That means to say that we might have to import that, and then we might be faced with the loss of yet another 1 million dollars a year.

Oil in this country can never be a great thing, because the geological formations are not big enough; but there are hopeful prospects at Plungar and Egmanton, not to mention Cousland, Eskdale and Formby, which are worth considering in the general context of balance of payments and dollar reserves. The shale oil industry also produces a good detergent, which is exported, as well as a very pure carbon which is highly esteemed in the electrical industry. Whether that carbon is used in the production of graphite, or not, I do not know, but, so far as I know, most of it goes to industry for producing the electrodes for furnaces.

The peculiar point about the industry is that about 50 per cent. of its costs represent labour. The National Coal Board miners receive £4 a week more than the shale miner does, and the process workers in the Pumpherston refinery are paid £2 a week less than the people in the refineries refining overseas oil. The end product of the shale industry is oil, and it is impossible to increase the price of oil to pay higher wages, because it is controlled by the price of imported oil, which is a world affair. In spite of these low wages, however, the industrial relations in the industry are extremely good. There has been no strike for thirty years, and even now, with these poorer wages, there is no contemplated strike. But of course they have the effect that the young men do not go into the industry. The industry is losing money—a situation which cannot continue indefinitely. It is, however, the only major industry in this particular area near Edinburgh, and it employs 3,000 men, who have some 12,000 people dependent upon them, apart, of course, from the tradesmen in the district, shopkeepers and so on. Efforts by past Governments to attract suitable alternative industries into that area have largely failed, yet closure of the shale oil industry would mean the creation of yet another black spot in Scotland—and we have quite enough black spots, from an unemployment point of view, without that.

All that is necessary to avert that disaster—and it would be a disaster to that district and to those people—is to relieve the shale oil industry, and the shale oil industry alone, of the 1s. 3d. per gallon duty they now have to pay. There is no need to relieve the other people who come under the half-tariff, the gasworks people and those engaged in the production of oil from coal. I think they pay 1s. 3d. per gallon duty, instead of the total 2s. 6d. They have end-products which can carry a price which the shale oil industry has not. If the shale oil industry were relieved of this 1s. 3d. per gallon duty, the Treasury would deny itself £715,000 a year. But if that were done, the shale oil industry would be enabled to pay off their losses, which are £200,000 or thereabouts. They could utilise £300,000 of that money to pay decent wages—and they are anxious to do it. As I say, there is a very good spirit and feeling in that industry between management and labour. They both realise each other's problems, and from that point of view they should be encouraged. That would leave them a balance of £215,000 to modernise the remainder of their plant. Some of their plant was modernised at the beginning of the war, and they have a very fine retort, which I think is called a Westwood retort, which uses very little additional coal to produce oil. Some of their earlier retorts which they are using use a certain amount of coal to produce oil, and the industry has been criticised on that account. But they use very low grade coal, and if this rebate of duty were forthcoming I think they would be able to get the whole of their plant up to a high state of efficiency.

The finance of the matter is this. The Government might forgo £715,000 but they would probably save themselves 3½ million dollars. So what they lose on the swings they more than gain on the roundabouts. I believe that there is a clear case, financially, socially and for every other reason, for considering this thriving little industry, which at the moment, is struggling under great difficulties. I cannot sit down without wishing the noble Lord, Lord Mills, very great luck in the difficult problems that confront him. I hope, in fact, I am sure, that he will overcome them all with great success.

4.35 p.m.


My Lords, it is right and proper that I should follow the usual custom of making a disclosure of an interest in this matter, as I am a director of the Ekco Electronics Company, which is actively engaged in the field of nuclear instrumentation and is currently making nuclear instruments for the new reactors at Sydney, Harwell and Doon Ray.

The plan outlined in your Lordships' House in the statement the other day by my noble friend the Minister of Power is indeed a vast one. It is so vast that I have sincere doubts that, with the groups at present authorised by the Atomic Energy Authority to get on with this work, it can be completed in the time scale that was outlined. I therefore make a strong plea that there should be a wider dissemination of knowledge and information from Harwell to industry in this country. I suggest it might be possible to form further groups, because I feel that unless this is done we shall, in fighting the battle of the overseas market, lose the advantage that has been gained for this country by the brilliance of our engineers. We must sell in overseas markets to help to pay for the uranium we buy. In this connection I am afraid I differ from my noble friend Lord Stonehaven, because I, for one, should not like to see all the other countries, who are now five, eight or ten years behind us in technical knowledge, taught how to make these stations. We must always try to sell our know-how and our engineering brains. I think that is most important. If we cannot do this and complete these stations in the United Kingdom with what we have got, we certainly cannot compete in the overseas markets.

I should like to draw your Lordships' attention to an article in The Times of yesterday, and with the permission of your Lordships I will quote from it. It is written by The Times Tokyo correspondent and says: Following the Japanese atomic energy commission's decision recently to purchase a Calder Hall type of reactor, the United States has redoubled her efforts if not to persuade the Japanese Government to reconsider the question, at least to get an American enriched uranium, reactor as well. The latest development in the controversy is an invitation extended by Admiral Strauss, chairman of the United States Atomic Energy Commission, through the Ambassador there, Mr. MacArthur, to the Minister of State, Mr. Uda, who is responsible for atomic development, to visit the United States this year. Lower down, this article goes on to say, under a heading, "British Complacency": The aggressive marketing by American nuclear reactor manufacturers in Japan contrasts with the complacency and apparent lack of interest of their British counterparts (unfortunately in evidence in other fields as well). American manufacturers, with Government backing, have been offering Japan very favourable terms. That is what we are up against in the world markets, and I again say that we must have enough capacity made available in this country. I am sure the capacity is there if the knowledge is given to our engineering industry. The whole of our industry is capable of doing it as well as the five big groups, and I hope to hear that something may be done about it in that way. If it is done, I feel that the Minister who is responsible for the Atomic Energy Authority—I am not quite sure at the moment who he is going to be—could write to Japan and tell Mr. Uda that if he came over here we could offer him a Calder Hall to be completed during 1960. I am sure that we could make some suitable financial arrangements as good as those of the United States. I do not wish to take up any further time in this debate except to say one thing in conclusion. Our engineers have won a brilliant victory. I beg that neither politics nor Government decisions—nor, possibly, a lack of them—will prevent this country from reaping the reward of their labours.

4.41 p.m.


My Lords, when I first entered this House many years ago now, I remember being strongly advised by everybody who knew about it never to open my mouth on a subject unless I knew something about it. I am going to fly in the teeth of that advice this afternoon. In fact, I am going to ask the noble Lord, Lord Mills, one or two very short questions. During the debate in your Lordships' House the other day, the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, asked a very pertinent question—at least it seemed to me to be pertinent. He said [OFFICIAL REPORT, Vol. 202 (No. 45), col. 555]: Before he leaves that point, could the noble Lord…tell the House what is the risk factor? Does he not think the public should be told? Is the risk factor substantial? If so, over what area does the risk extend?—over a twenty or twenty-five mile radius? The noble Lord, Lord Mills, followed and said: It is not so much that there is a risk, but that people think there is a risk, for we are dealing with highly toxic materials and with power stations of which we have not yet had long experience. Then comes the White Paper entitled A Programme of Nuclear Power. Paragraph 38 of that White Paper, at page 9, says: The disposal of radioactive waste products should not present a major difficulty. The problem is primarily one for the chemical processing plants, which will be few in number, and not for the power stations. The volume of waste will be small and great efforts are being made to determine the most economical methods of storing or disposing of it. There are many valuable uses for it which may be able to absorb a great part of the output. I hope they are right. I remember attending a lecture given by Sir John Cockcroft, several years ago now but since the last war, in which he said that the disposal of waste products was one of the greatest problems of the nuclear power industry. He said—I remember his remark very well—that, if you ran all the power stations in London on nuclear energy, the amount of waste that you would collect for one year would pretty well fit into a suitcase. That may be so; but he said at the same time that that suitcase would be incredibly radioactive; in fact, it would be lethal.

This is a question I want to ask the noble Lord, Lord Mills. What is it proposed to do with the waste from nuclear power stations? I remember that a few months, or it may be a year or more, ago, an effort was made to find a "retired" coal mine in the Forest of Dean, the idea being to put the radioactive waste down the coal mine. But it was hardly surprising that many of the people in the area produced strong objections. It seems to me that that idea has been dropped—whether or not it has been, I do not know. But, obviously, if you are dealing with something like highly radioactive material, you do not want to infect all the water in a particular river basin. You need to be careful where you put it.

Another suggestion which was made, again by Sir John Cockcroft when he was talking about it on the occasion to which I have already referred, was that the waste might be put in containers and sunk into the deepest part of the ocean. That is all very well, but what are the other countries going to do? I should like to ask the noble Lord, Lord Mills, if he can tell us whether it is in the Government's mind to achieve some sort of international agreement upon the disposal of radioactive waste, and whether any steps have been taken so far towards that end. It seems to me that, as the use of nuclear power expands all over the world, this is a problem which will grow. If we can be told what the position really is, it may be that, with the passing of the years since the lecture to which I have referred, the world has moved on and that what is said in this White Paper is more or less true, and that we need not worry too much about it. But there are people—and I am one of them, an ordinary layman—who do not know anything about it and who would be much relieved if they could be told the extent of the risk: if, in fact, they could be given the answer to the question of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth.

On a visit to Harwell some time ago I saw a factory chimney. Factory chimneys have been mentioned this afternoon in this connection. I saw some fumes, or whatever they were, coming out of it. I was told then that those fumes were highly radioactive and that it was necessary for the station to keep a team of observers with geiger counters, or some such instruments, going round at some distance from Harwell to take observations in the surrounding country to see whether the fumes were settling in any of the hollows of the district. Could we be told whether this is really all "moonshine"? Is it, in fact, a menace? If these stations are put in or near populated areas, is the population likely to suffer from the emission of radioactive fumes from them?

Water has been mentioned this afternoon. I remember being told at Harwell that the water discharge from the station, besides being slightly warm, was 1 per cent. radioactive. They explained that it went into the Thames, but at the same time they said that the risk was negligible and that the water was actually purer than when it went into the station. With all that I can agree. But let us be told what the risk is, first of all, from radioactive elements, waste and the like, and, secondly, from the fumes which may come out of the station.

4.48 p.m.


My Lords, there are one or two points that I should like to refer to briefly this afternoon. First, some of my friends and I share the feeling of wonderment at the enormous amount of money involved in the various capital schemes which one has seen announced in the country. As the noble Viscount who brought forward this Motion said, one cannot these days be tied to a certain figure, because money changes in value, and what may be a certain figure today may become a quite different one to-morrow. Large sums are set aside for modernising the coal mines, which is most important; and even bigger sums are set aside for modernising the railways. That is very important work, which should be carried out, because our railways now do not entirely match up to some of the railways in other countries. Then there have been sums of money required by the Central Electricity Authority and other bodies.

One wonders whether, with this enormous amount of capital investment, some sort of attempt has been made to co-ordinate the various expenditures with what we shall get out of them. Supposing we get a large amount of electricity from the nuclear atomic stations (I think I saw it stated somewhere that by the end of 1965 we shall be getting from this source about one-quarter of the total amount of electricity produced) can we correlate that with the amount of oil that we shall need to import for other purposes? That is one of the questions I should like the noble Lord to answer, if he can. I know that it is not an easy one.

I, too, should like to add my warm congratulations to those that have been extended to the engineering bodies who have made possible this extraordinary line work with the nuclear atomic stations. I think I am right in saying that we are the first country to exploit atomic energy for peaceful purposes, not only with the production of electricity but also with the production of radioactive isotopes from Harwell, which I believe we use largely for medicine and in industry, although a certain number are exported abroad, where their value is much appreciated. One trusts that that side of the work will not be allowed to drop and that, so far as we can, we shall try to work in with the European countries. I should particularly like to support what has been said in regard to the possibility of securing some international agreement for the disposal of radioactive materials and waste.

I should, now like to come to my second point, the question of the safety of people living near atomic power stations. I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Glyn, who referred to the fact that there had been no accidents in these establishments. I think that that position is partly tied up with the extreme care taken to protect the workers from radiation. But people certainly get worried about the thought of these buildings being in their neighbourhood. I do not pretend to know a great deal about the scientific side of the matter, but so far as I can gather there is little danger at present from the fumes which come from the chimneys. Indeed as the noble Lord, Lord Glyn, said, it may be possible in the future to build these factories with no chimneys. But the fumes are carefully monitored before they come out, and the amount of radioactive fumes coming from the chimneys is so small as to be almost negligible. I believe the same applies to the bulk of water which runs away from the cooling point.

These are points which have not really been put to the public. I support the idea that some kind of booklet should be published, explaining these things and saying, so far as we know, exactly what danger there is. We know what the personal dangers of radiation are. What we do not know yet are the dangers from the genetic point of view. Even there, if radiation is kept down to the minimum, to a known degree of safety, we may be able to get some idea of what the genetic effects will be. So long as nothing goes wrong, they do not appear to be at all marked—in fact, I think they will be quite negligible.

The danger, of course, is that there might be some catastrophe at one of these nuclear power stations. I wonder whether the noble Lord can say whether any experiments have been made? Supposing one of these stations were to explode, or to catch fire, what degree of contamination would ensue? Would it be over a large or a small area? I have an idea that I saw it stated somewhere that there had been some experiments of that sort, and that, relatively speaking, the amount of land contaminated was extremely small. I think these are things that the public would like to know.

I should like to give one curious example of what people are thinking. The World Health Organisation is at present holding a lengthy meeting, or conference, upon the mental aspects of the peaceful use of atomic radiation and atomic energy. That may seem a rather curious thing for this body to do, but I can assure your Lordships that it is correct, because one of my colleagues is taking part in this convention in Geneva. If a body like the World Health Organisation—which, though I cannot agree with everything it does, is a fairly responsible body—feels worried enough about the matter to call a conference at this point, I think that if we were to contribute something from the work that we have done in this country, such as issuing a publication, it would be much to the advantage of the world and would show once again what fine work we in this country are doing in the promotion of nuclear atomic power.

4.56 p.m.


My Lords, I had not intended to address your Lordships' House this afternoon in this debate, but it has been curious to observe that while oil and coal and, more especially, nuclear energy have been discussed, natural gas has had only a passing mention, and there has been none of the possibility of the importation of natural gas. The noble Lord opposite who introduced the Motion rightly stressed the enormous cost and, more particularly, the dollar cost of imported energy; yet there are vast quantities of energy, the equivalent of many millions of coal tons, going to waste in the Middle East, in the form of natural gas for which science has, as yet, found no means to transport.

I have a humble contact with the gas industry, and I have learned that negotiations are in fact in progress with an enterprising gentleman from Chicago, under which initially an experimental 3,000 ton ship will be built, with the thought thereafter of a 30,000 ton ship, to carry liquified methane from dollar sources to this country. Such a ship, or such ships, would involve great risks. The gas would be carried at a temperature very near to absolute zero, and little is known about what would happen to the steel, none of which would be in direct contact with the gas, but some of which would inevitably be in indirect contact with it. I believe, however, that as regards the physical risks the position now stands that the authorities who are concerned are reasonably satisfied that such a ship could be built and could carry this wasting, sterling energy into this country. But it would also involve financial risks which are formidable. I am given to understand that there have been contacts from time to time, some time ago, with shipping companies in this country, but that there is no active contact at the moment between the gas industry and the shipping industry in this country—the contact is, surprisingly, working across the Atlantic.

Her Majesty's Government have shown great courage and foresight in the support which has been given to atomic power stations. I suggest to Her Majesty's Government, for consideration, that here is another instance where the expenditure of public funds in a research programme to produce ships, if necessary at Government expense, should be undertaken in order that we may bring sterling energy from the Middle East into this country rather than that we should be left with the know-how developing across the Atlantic, and finally find ourselves using dollar ships for dollar gas.

Before I sit down, I should like strongly to support what my noble friend Lord Stonehaven has said in his plea for the Scottish shale oil industry. This operates in the neighbourhood where I live, and it will be a serious disaster in that part of Scotland if that industry is allowed to die. Certainly all the figures seem to justify its being given considerably more support than it has at present.

5.0 p.m.


My Lords, by courtesy of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, I rise for only two minutes, and for one reason only: to stress what the noble Viscount, Lord Hall, said, in the concluding part of his speech, about the necessity for the country to realise, still to-day, the existence of inexhaustible stocks of coal under our feet. It will be a sad day when our people fail to realise, or forget, that the prosperity of the British Empire was built up on British coal, and on exports of British coal. I believe it is twenty years ago next month since the question of our reliance, for the whole of our industry, and our land and sea transport, on a fuel which did not exist in this country was discussed. That formed the subject of my maiden speech. I was ridiculed a good deal, particularly by my noble friend Lord Howe, because I suggested, among other things, that to be sure of keeping the mobility of the fleet it should be dual-fired—not because anybody thought coal was a more efficient fuel than oil (for a child knows that it is not), but in order to safeguard mobility.

I am a complete layman in the subject which we are discussing to-day. I know nothing about uranium. I was appalled to hear what the noble Viscount, Lord Hall, said about uranium indigenous in Canada being subject to a prior claim by the United States of America. I only hope that the noble Lord who is to reply may say something on that matter. I should like to see the words of the noble Viscount, Lord Hall, blazoned round the country. I should like to see the noble Viscount and my old friend Lord Lawson start a "back to the mines" campaign. I know the difficulties in the production of coal to-day, but I wish to reinforce the particular words of the noble Viscount, Lord Hall, that I have mentioned

5.3 p.m.


My Lords, my noble friend Lord Hall opened a remarkably instructive speech on this subject, about which all too little is known by all too few, by making a plea that there should be published a White Paper, and that Parliament should know far more about this subject and about the proposals of Her Majesty's Government than they do at present. This was underlined and extended by the noble Lord, Lord Glyn, who went a stage further, and wanted a publication so that the public also might know. I do not think that the noble Lord the Minister of Power has one opponent in this country for this new conception of nuclear power stations. We, and all informed opinion in this country, wish him well; but if the country is not as enthusiastic as noble Lords who have addressed your Lordships' House this afternoon, it is his Department and Her Majesty's Government who must bear the whole of the blame.

I have never known such a bad piece of public relations as there has been in putting over the power policy of this country. The noble Lord the Minister is building up an antagonism in this country by (if he will forgive my sinking to the vernacular) the "ham-handed" methods of his own Department—and I sense that this was at the back of the mind of the noble Lord, Lord Glyn. I remember asking some questions a little while ago on the 275 kilovolt grid and complaining, as I am complaining this afternoon. I was told that I was wrong; that the public had been informed, and that the information had all been set out in the house organ of the Central Electricity Authority. What an answer! This information should not be in technical language as it is in this White Paper; it should not be in the technical language issued by the Atomic Energy Authority, which is to be found in the Library of your Lordships' House, though I doubt whether your Lordships have seen it—and if you have seen it, I doubt whether you have read it: or, if you have read it, whether you could understand it. This should be done in a pictorial display by which Her Majesty's Government can carry with them the people of this country, for I can assure the noble Lord the Minister that he will not make the progress he ought to make, and that his path will be strewn not with roses but with boulders, unless he carries the British public with him.

On March 13 last we had a debate upon the amenity angle of this great problem, and I am going to return to that question for a few moments because I am hoping to get now some of the answers I did not get then. I do not yet know what the whole power policy of Her Majesty's Government really is. I do not know now why it is necessary to have all these new atomic power stations south of a line drawn, roughly, from the Severn to the Wash. On March 13 I asked the question which the noble Earl, Lord Howe, has asked this afternoon; did her Majesty's Government think that these new power stations were dangerous? Was that the reason they were put in isolated places and not in industrialised areas? In his reply, the noble Lord the Minister said that Her Majesty's Government were satisfied that the stations were not dangerous but that, unfortunately, the public thought they were. If the noble Lord will forgive me for saying so, that seemed to me a pretty poor basis on which to spend thousands of millions of pounds of public money.

The noble Lord, Lord Glyn, mentioned this question of danger, and that was why I was rude enough to interject to ask him what danger he had in mind. From his reply I gathered that he was speaking about the danger from explosion. I had thought that the major danger was from toxic radioactive effluent, either in water or in the air. The noble Lord, Lord Amulree, says that there is none. The noble Lord, Lord Glyn, in a speech which I followed word by word, said that, whatever danger there may be, it will all be over and that we shall know all about it by 1965. Unfortunately, by 1965 we shall have spent £2,000 million of the taxpayers' money in building these power stations.

Government spokesmen and the noble Lord, Lord Glyn, talk of having a flexible policy, but a nuclear power station is a pretty solid object and not very elastic. What is going to be done if, in three or four years' time, after the power stations have been built, it is found that all our fears are groundless and that they are as safe as a girls' school—if that is safe? Are these stations going to be dug up and put where the noble Lord, Lord Glyn, very sensibly wants them put, where the transmission line to the seat of the power requirement is as short as possible? The noble Lord said that in Canada and the United States of America the cost of transmission was a fraction of a penny a mile. I take it that he meant capital cost as well as operating cost. We are strewing this country with 275-kilovolt super-grids and we are piping power from power stations near the coal mines in the North to the South. Now we are going to have atomic power stations and to pipe atomic-power-generated electricity back to the North from the South. Where is all this going to end? Has it really been properly thought out? These are some of the questions which members of the British public are asking themselves.

We are to have all these new stations. I grant the noble Lord that they must be near water. But there is water in the North of England—this country is an island—as well as in the South. Why is it that every spot that has been mooted for one of these atomic power stations is situated in one of the most beautiful parts of the country? Why is one to be put up in the middle of Dorset and at the entrance to the Bingham Malcombe valley? What industry is there to need power from such a power station? A super-grid is going up this valley. We had a public inquiry at which practically every authority concerned protested against the vandalism of putting a super-grid up that valley. It was then agreed—this is my information—that an alternative and less offensive route should be taken. Now I am given to understand that that is all turned over, and there has been a reversion to the original plan.

Take the case of Bradwell on the Essex Marshes. About a mile away from Bradwell is Foulness Island, which I believe in the 1914–18 war was occupied by the military as a gun site and has never been occupied by anyone else since. Why should the power station not be put there? Is it because that area belongs to the War Office? If I may use the vernacular again, I suppose it is the case that "dog does not eat dog," and if you do not appeal for the site for some purpose the War Office will be there for ever. So the Minister of Power must have a virgin site—one of the wildfowl reserves of the East Coast. Then there is the case of Cleeve Hill in the Chilterns. I could go on reciting these instances. I notice that the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, is present in the House. He could tell us about Bridgwater and Bridgwater Bay.

The public are getting really annoyed about what they think is the farce of the public inquiries into power stations sites, and I want to ask the Minister whether he will give his personal attention to the matter. These public inquiries, as I have said in your Lordships' House before, are a farce. The noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, let out of the bag the cat that I always suspected was in it when, speaking in your Lordships' House the other afternoon, he admitted that the Minister of Power was above all planning authorities. He did not have to have planning permission, we were told; he was a law unto himself. So why do we have public inquiries? When I challenged the noble Lord, Lord Mills, in all friendliness, and said that of course one great trouble was that he was judge in his own case, he said: "No." But he is.

If the noble Lord is above planning authority, why is a public inquiry held for the planning authorities to present their cases to one of his inspectors and to learn what the public think about: the matter? The decision has already been made. Going around now is a team of trained expert evidence-givers. They go from town to town. With respect to the noble Lord, they will soon be known as "The Mills Circus". They are led by a ringmaster who, I understand, has the title of Chief Wayleave Officer, and, according to my information, he says to people: "It is useless for you to appeal to this public inquiry. I have not lost a case yet, and I do not intend to start now."

My Lords, I am just citing these cases. These are the things which are agitating the public mind at the present time. I want to get an assurance from the noble Lord that he will look into this matter and will himself investigate the cases which I have mentioned this afternoon. The noble Lord has impressed on your Lordships in every speech which he has made in this House his grave concern and his full appreciation of the public disquiet. In point of fact, he said in his original statement—I quote from the OFFICIAL REPORT of March 5 [Vol. 202 (No. 41) col. 185]: Her Majesty's Government and the Electricity Authorities are determined to carry through the programme with the least possible interference with the amenities of our countryside or with the rights of individuals. He went on to say: My right honourable friend the Paymaster General will accordingly be tabling Amendments to existing legislation for inclusion in the Electricity Bill…. I thought, when I heard that, that there was hope at last. The only thing the noble Lord did was to legalise trespass that had been going on for years—that was admitted in another place. He legalised it by giving the electricity authorities the right to enter people's land after twenty-four hours' notice. So I got rather discouraged when I read that. Admittedly, the noble Lord has now altered that from twenty-four hours to twenty-four days, which is rather different. So I think I should like another assurance from him to-day that not only are the amenities of this country in safe keeping but also that the rights of individuals and justice are in safe keeping. Unless he has a different type of inquiry from that which he is having now, I cannot see how the legitimate objections of people are to be taken into account. You might as well do away with such inquiries altogether. They are a farce and a travesty of justice, because the noble Lord remains, as he has always been, a judge in his own case. I will not ask all the questions I asked last time. The noble Lord has a note of them. I ask him to answer one that the noble Earl, Lord Howe, has repeated to-day.

What I should like to do now is to look at this matter from the economic angle, because I have never yet had an answer. This is the third time I have raised the question. The four nationalised industries—electricity, which includes atomic power, gas, coal and transport—will by 1965 have had £6,000 million of the taxpayers' money invested in them. I gave a wrong figure in your Lordships' House last week; I gave the figure of £3,000 million—I got lost in the noughts. It is, in fact, £6,000 million. What I want to ask is whether this money is being properly spent. We spent on the Scottish hydro-electric scheme £154 million, at the fabulous average of £175 per kilowatt, and from a recent reply which was given to a question I asked in your Lordships' House the cost goes up as high as £533 per kilowatt. I suppose the noble Lord will tell me that the present estimated capital cost per kilowatt from a nuclear power station would be about £154. And I suppose the noble Lord is going to run his 275-kilo volt super-grid up to Scotland. What, then, is going to happen to the scheme on which we spent £154 million? I was browsing through some of my cuttings the other day, and I came across a paper, dated August 4, 1956, in which it was reported that in April of that year a power station that cost £16 million to build had been opened at Cadby, in Lincolnshire. It was designed to use coal from the nearest pit at Thorne, ten miles away. After a month it was found that the coal was not the right kind, and was too far away; and so, according to the Press report, the station was being closed down. Is the same thing going to happen with the atomic power stations?

When I was a small boy, I was taught to beware of the enthusiast. Your Lordships have shown enthusiasm for this project, but I have grave doubts whether these stations are being sited in the right places. I am not carried along by the danger argument. I do not think that the modern atomic power station will be any more dangerous than the local gasworks, the power station or the coal mine. But what about all the heat that is being wasted? I thought that one of the great advantages of these huge power stations was that they would provide district heating. The noble Lord, Lord Hylton, however, reminded us that one of the advantages of having one of these stations at Bridgwater Bay was that one might be able to go to Weston-super-Mare, or some other nearby resort, and bathe in the sea which was fifteen degrees higher in temperature than anywhere else—if that is an advantage; I do not know. But what a waste! A decent-sized city could be heated with the hot water that will be pumped into the sea—25 million gallons a minute. I think the noble Lord said, was the amount of cooling water that would pass through the station.


Per hour.


Per hour—I am obliged to the noble Lord: enough to heat a good-sized town.

May I come back to these super-grid power lines. They are being taken from the remote Eastern part of the country, through some of our loveliest countryside, over the Cotswolds and through our beautiful valleys, to the Midlands and the North. I am not convinced that technology and science have not got so far that these lines could not go underground. I am not convinced by the argument of the cost of putting them underground, as opposed to the cost of putting them above ground. Much as we want these things, we could go on in this country until future generations were living under a network of wires. As the noble Lord, Lord Glyn, said, if these stations were properly sited, these lines need not disfigure the countryside, as I am afraid they will do. I want the noble Lord to see whether he cannot stimulate the scientists, who, as I have said before, make good servants but bad masters—we who are living in this scientific age find that the only people who may contradict them are other scientists, because nobody else knows enough about it—to find means of putting these lines underground, instead of across some of the beauty spots of this country.

I think that the noble Lord, Lord Waleran, made an excellent point when he said that it appeared that the whole manufacturing capacity of this country is now earmarked for the atomic power programme. I have doubts when he says that we could supply Japan with one of these stations.


My Lords, I said only that the possibility was there. I thought that the knowledge could be disseminated to other companies; and we need more facilities, so that we could tackle both home production and exports.


I agree that the "know-how" is one of our greatest exports. I suppose that today this country has a lead of ten years over every other country in the use of nuclear power for industrial purposes, but we shall not have that lead for always.

I followed my noble friend's argument on the question of the supply of uranium, but I understand that plutonium is an "enriched fuel," and that one ton of plutonium is worth about 160 tons of uranium and can be used time and time again. Perhaps the noble Lord would care to tell your Lordships that the bulk of our plutonium supply in this country is stored in the warheads of "A" and "H" bombs, frozen there for a future atomic war, and cannot be used for peaceful purposes, where they are so much desired. Perhaps the noble Lord would also like to tell us whether, if we let off one of these bombs as a test, it will not blow sky-high 10 per cent. of our stocks of plutonium. Has a proper balance been thought of between the storage for war purposes and the use for peaceful purposes of plutonium as a fuel instead of uranium? That is one of the points on which I hope the noble Lord will tell the House and the country.

I end as I began. I hope that not only will a White Paper be issued, but that it will be a publication, if I may use a rather offensive phrase, that has been written down to the mentality of the general public. I would class the mentality of the general public on this particular subject as about as high as that of your Lordships' House. It is such a scientific subject that somebody must find a way of putting this over in schoolboy language, with pictures, if you like, so that the noble Lord, Lord Mills, can carry the public with him. After all, the noble Lord, like myself, has spent the greater part of his life selling things to the public, and he knows what sales promotion is. I can assure him from my own experience that Government Departments are about the worst sales promoters I have ever known. He needs to have this matter on a sales promotion basis, and put it out to the general public; and in that way his road will be eased.

My noble friend Lord Hall finished his speech to your Lordships by making a plea, and I would do the same. It is that in this wild enthusiasm for atomic power, which is quite properly generated, we shall not forget coal; because when the noble Lord has completed all his programme of atomic energy power stations, if the demand for electricity in 1965 reaches the peak that he anticipates, he will still need 65 million tons of coal every year to satisfy that demand for electricity. With that, I wish the noble Lord the very best of good fortune.

5.32 p.m.


My Lords. I am grateful to the noble Viscount, Lord Hall, for his friendly understanding of the problems which face the fuel industries, and I am grateful to him, and to the noble Lords, Lord Stonehaven and Lord Lucas of Chilworth, for their good wishes. I was particularly gratified to hear the tribute of the noble Viscount, Lord Hall, to the Central Electricity Authority. The Central Electricity Authority deserve our praise. They have done a marvellous job, under the distinguished and able chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Citrine, and I am glad to make public acknowledgment of that fact.

We have to-day had a debate on the fuel programme, and on March 13 we had a debate on amenities. As the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, said. I made the statement on that occasion in which I said [OFFICIAL REPORT, Vol. 202 (No. 45) col. 554]: I am sure that if we are (us I know we are) united and determined to supply the power which this country needs, we are also united in our desire and intention to preserve the amenities of this country and the rights of people, so far as that is possible. I see no reason to depart from that statement in any particular. One of the problems which the authorities have to face is that this is a beautiful island, and therefore it is difficult to do anything without interfering with beauty spots. But I want to repeat that every care has been taken, and will continue to be taken, by the authorities in this matter. To listen to the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, one would think that I was a sort of dictator who had the power to say: "This shall go there, and that shall go there." That is not true. I am a member of Her Majesty's Government, and my right honourable friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government plays a leading part in these matters. The noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, will, I am sure, forgive me for not dealing with his questions at once, but I will answer some of them later on. I seem to have quite a number of questions to answer.

I should like to take your Lordships through the energy position in which this country finds itself, and it might be useful to look, first, at the energy demands in Western Europe as a whole, because there was a time when we made available our surplus coal to meet the energy requirements of other countries in Western Europe; and we still do, in so far as coal can be made available. In May, 1956, the Organisation for European Economic Co-operation issued a Report on Europe's Growing Needs of Energy. That Report was prepared by a special Commission, under Sir Harold Hartley. It looked at the post-war years from 1943 to 1955, and then proceeded to examine what the position was likely to be in the two decades from 1955 to 1975. The Report found that primary energy consumption had increased from 1948 to 1955 by 40 per cent. If I may express it in terms of coal equivalent, because that seems a convenient way of expressing it, it was from 525 million tons of coal equivalent in 1948 to 730 million in 1955. By 1955, 20 per cent. of Western Europe's energy came from imports, mainly oil, the imports of which in that short time had nearly doubled.

I turn now to the future. The picture drawn by Sir Harold Hartley's Commission was that there should be a continued rapid increase in requirements. This they placed at from 730 million tons of coal equivalent in 1955 to 1,200 million in 1975. So that, as your Lordships can see, the gap between energy requirements and indigenous resources widens greatly. Whereas in 1955 20 per cent. of energy consumption was from imported fuel, it is expected that in 1975 the proportion will be well over one-third. They took into account, in arriving at that estimate, the use of nuclear energy. The Report allowed for nuclear energy in 1975 the equivalent of 80 million tons of coal, 40 million tons of which was estimated as the amount in the United Kingdom, and 40 million tons on the Continent. Even so, imports remain a very great feature; and it is not surprising, therefore, that there was a desire to accelerate nuclear power, both here and on the Continent. It was also clear that greater coal production was essential for the well-being of the whole of Western Europe, and I should like to endorse what the noble Viscount, Lord Hall, said about that matter. Coal is our great national asset, and we need to use it in the best ways that it can be used, and to the greatest extent possible. We need to praise the mining community for their contribution to our energy requirements, and we need to ask them to do all they can to make up our energy deficiencies.

I should now like to take your Lordships through the situation here in the United Kingdom. At home, fuel consumption has increased 2½ per cent. per annum since the end of the war, despite all the efforts—and they have been considerable—which have been made to promote fuel efficiency. I think that this great demand is a reflection of our industrial activity. There has been a greater value than ever placed on research and on the work of the scientists. The inventions of scientists and engineers have called for new materials and processes which are made possible only by the consumption of power. As I see it, this industrial advance must continue if we are to be competitive in expanding world markets, and if we are to play our part in dealing with the requirements of the underdeveloped areas of the world.

The fuel and power industries must not be allowed to be a brake on invention and production. These industries must plan to meet ever-increasing industrial activity. It was an ambitious but not, I suggest, an unrealistic target which was set by my right honourable friend the Lord Privy Seal when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer, and to which reference has already been made this afternoon: that was, to double the standard of living in twenty-five years. This requires an annual increase of 3 per cent. in the national income, and it has been calculated, from detailed estimates for each sector of the economy, that that involves an increase of some 5 million tons of coal equivalent a year. Thus, in the ten-year period 1955 to 1965, home fuel demand of the order of 50 million tons of coal equivalent will be a necessity. In addition, we must strive to abolish coal imports and to restore the cuts in coal exports which were imposed a year and a half ago. I am sure that we can do much to abolish coal imports by proper utilisation of coal and, at the same time, look after the interests of a smokeless country to which we are pledged. If I assume a figure in respect of exports of, say, some 10 million tons, that means that the figure, instead of being 50 million tons extra which we need, would be about 60 million tons of coal equivalent.

There has been a well-marked tendency for the primary fuels to reach the consumer in an increased percentage of processed fuels—electricity, coke, gas and petroleum products. Before the war, those processed fuels represented about 25 per cent. of the total fuel consumption, and they are now 40 per cent. There has been, and continues to be, a rapidly increasing demand for electricity, and industry will need an output by 1965 of 26 million tons of coal equivalent. There will be an increased demand for the carbonisation industries, particularly for metallurgical coke for the steel industry; and there is, as we all know, an increased demand for refined petroleum products for transport and other purposes of that kind. These account for the greater part of the increase in the United Kingdom energy requirements. It has been clear for some time that coal cannot meet these extra requirements, and if oil has to be used to meet them, it will mean that we are dependent more and more on our imports.

I should like to take your Lordships through the experience of recent years. The increase in energy consumption for 1946 to 1951 was 32 million tons of coal equivalent, of which 21 million tons was met by coal and 11 million tons by oil. But from 1951 to 1956, when consumption increased by 21 million tons of coal equivalent, coal, even with the assistance of imports of coal, met only 8 million tons, and oil had to meet 13 million tons. That is why oil had to be encouraged to ensure that the expansion of the economy was adequately fuelled. As I have said, to rely on oil to fill the whole of the future gap would be a serious burden on the balance of payments. Therefore, large investment programmes are being embarked upon, both for coal and for nuclear energy. The coal investment programmes cannot promise, as it is seen at present, more than an additional 19 million tons by 1965 towards the 60 million tons we require; and the nuclear energy programme, if the higher figure of 6,000 megawatts is achieved, would provide an annual rate of 18 million tons of coal at the end of 1965. Oil imports would have to meet the balance, probably requiring about 50 per cent. above last year's net imports of 30 million tons of oil.

Now that, of course, is a serious debit against our balance of payments, and so I should like us to consider the question of the import of uranium. I could not follow the figures which the noble Viscount, Lord Hall, gave us, but I can tell him that the cost of importing fuel for nuclear power will be considerably less than the cost of importing conventional fuels. It is true that in the early years the provision of initial fuel charges will be costly, but the annual replacements will cost very much less and, broadly, over the life of the nuclear stations uranium imports will cost—I must give your Lordships rather wide figures—from one-tenth to one-fifth of what would be the cost of coal or oil if we had to import them instead.


My Lords, I very much dislike intervening, but I should like to ask the noble Lord: over what period will that reduction take place?


It will take place over the life of a station, which for this purpose, I believe, has been taken at twenty years. The noble Viscount asked me about a sum of £7 million which the Atomic Energy Authority had in their Civil Estates. This was a loan to the Atomic Energy Authority for processing uranium which they, in turn, loaned to various firms in that connection.

As I said, in relation to coal we must hope to end coal imports and increase our coal exports. But, even so, oil imports will grow substantially, and the net cost of imports in 1965 will be greater than they are to-day. We have got to pay for those imports and therefore our export trade must be expanded. I think we need to contribute to help other countries to close their energy gaps. Their need is just as great as, and in some cases greater than, ours. Up to the Second World War, and from the early days of the Industrial Revolution, we made an enormous contribution to other countries as coal exporters. When coal gave way to oil in the international fuel trade, we still played a leading rôle. I suggest that we must retain our traditional leadership in helping other countries to harness the atom.

We have trebled our own target for nuclear power production to take full advantage of the lead which our scientists and engineers have given us. The introduction of nuclear power promises two things. It promises to keep our imports in check and also to result in the export of equipment. In fact, I do not think I should be exaggerating if I said that the industrial use of the atom is the key to our industrial future. With your Lordships' permission I should like now to deal with the costs of the nuclear power programme. On March 5, I was asked to give certain figures of cost for this programme. These requests were not all framed in the same way but I should have understood them. For example, the noble Viscount, Lord Alexander of Hills-borough, asked what was "the kind of financial burden" to which I had referred in my statement; and later he sought "something like the established cost in stages of the proposed programme." The noble Earl, Lord Attlee, asked for "a round figure of this expenditure" and the noble Viscount, Lord Hall, asked again for "the cost of the programme."

The cost of the programme does not consist only of the cost of building the power stations: there is also the cost of the initial fuel charge, which is a capital cost that must be met. There is also the cost of the transmission works associated with the stations. The White Paper of 1955 forecast that the cost of building the stations then projected, having an output of 1,500 to 2,000 megawatts, by 1965 would be £300 million, including the cost of the initial fuel charges, and also £60 to £70 million expenditure by the Atomic Energy Authority on ancillary plant and prototype development. For the Electricity Authority alone, therefore, the figure would be £230 to £240 million. This did not, however, allow for the cost of any work on stations coming into operation after 1965, whereas we expect to achieve a more or less continuous programme. The comparable figure for the new programme of some 6,000 megawatts by 1965 is £919 million. This represents the cost of the stations, £742 million, and the initial uranium fuel charge, £177 million.

The White Paper of 1955 referred to the concurrent expenditure of the Electricity Authority on conventional stations, part of which will continue even with this enlarged programme. The estimate for conventional stations coming into use concurrently with these nuclear stations between 1961 and 1965 is £316 million, and for the associated transmission lines £225 million. Adding these three figures—£919 million, £316 million, and £225 million—together, we reach the figure of £1,460 million as the cost of all new stations and their associated transmission lines coming into commission between 1961 and 1965. This was the figure that I gave in your Lordships' House on March 5 in reply to the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, as the cost of nuclear stations; and I am glad of the opportunity of correcting any misapprehension I may have left with your Lordships on the subject.

So much for the programme of generating plant in the years 1961 to 1965, during which the first nuclear stations will be commissioned. There is already a programme of conventional stations and their transmission lines under way to meet the growth in demand on which some £630 million will be spent from now on until the early 1960s, and there will be an expenditure of some £220 million to be met before the end of 1965 in respect of conventional and nuclear stations which will not come into use until after that date. The total expenditure on generation and bulk transmission between now and 1965 will therefore be £2,310 million. In addition to this expenditure, it will be necessary over the same period to provide about £1,000 million for local distribution and about £40 million for extra working capital, giving a grand total of £3,350 million.

Noble Lords will naturally wish to know how much additional investment is required by the inclusion of this nuclear power programme compared with what would have been needed if the programme had been all conventional stations. The difference in total cost is, in round figures, an extra £750 million. Of the extra cost of £750 million it is estimated that nearly £200 million will be needed for the initial fuel charges, including the charges for the stations to be commissioned after 1965. The actual figures will depend on the ruling prices of uranium at the time and on technical development in the use of the fuel. As has been said, the present sources of uranium supplies include South Africa and Australia, and it is expected that considerable supplies will soon be available from Canada. I will answer at this point one of the questions which was put to me—namely, why did we need any agreement with the United States.


Would the noble Lord forgive me for interrupting—I see he is just leaving this question of cost. I gather that hundreds of millions of public money will be spent up to 1965. Would he tell me how Parliament is going to approve or disapprove that figure? Will it be a question of bulk? Will it be dealt with through the Estimates? Are they annual costs? What Parliamentary control is there?


The annual expenditure required will, of course, be included in the Estimates each year. Parliament has had a statement, both in this House and in another place, as to the total figures which are contemplated.


Is there going to be no possibility in either House of submitting for debate and approval the whole scheme, with the financial future before it, on an annual Vote? It seems difficult to weigh it up now from this important statement that the Minister is making. We have all along wanted a White Paper so that we can have the matter put down altogether. It is something upon which I should have thought that both Houses might be asked to vote upon in a White Paper.


My Lords, may I just support the point made by my noble friend? What troubles me about this matter is the difficulty of getting the Government to understand that what we are asking for is some definite Parliamentary responsibility in regard to the atomic authority. People in various parts of the country are finding these sites established and all that goes with them. There is a kind of inquiry, but everybody knows that the result of the inquiry is a foregone conclusion. In one way or another we are trying to get the noble Lord, as the Minister, to understand that all we want in this matter is some definite Parliamentary responsibility.


My Lords, in reply to the noble Viscount and the noble Lord, each of the nationalised industries has certain borrowing powers which are voted to them by Parliament. When we have reached the point at which those powers have to be granted, Parliament again has to be asked to authorise additions. It is also, I think, open to any noble Lord to put down a Motion on this matter. Perhaps at this point your Lordships would like me to deal with the suggestion that a White Paper should be published on the expanded nuclear programme. I have given most careful consideration to that suggestion, and it may meet your Lordships' views if, as I propose, a section on the nuclear power programme is added to the White Paper on investment in the fuel and power industries, which I shall shortly be presenting, in conjunction with the Secretary of State for Scotland.

I was about to reply to the question about the arrangement with the United States of America on uranium. I understand that the United States of America had an option on certain Canadian supplies which they have now relinquished in favour of this country. Perhaps your Lordships would like me here just to say a word on the operating costs of nuclear power. On March 5 I told your Lordships' House that the cost of electricity generated from the first nuclear power stations would be slightly higher than that generated from new conventional stations—that is, after taking into account the combination of the higher capital cost and the lower operating cost. I added that as experience was gained the cost of generating electricity in nuclear stations should fall.

Sir Christopher Hinton's lecture to the Royal Swedish Academy of Engineering Sciences on "The Future for Nuclear Power" has been referred to. He estimated that, taking into account only the general improvement in engineering efficiency—in other words, assuming no new inventions—by 1962 the advantage would be with the nuclear station and the costs would then continue to fall. That opinion can only reinforce our determination to reap the full advantages which can be gained from cheap and abundant power.

Perhaps your Lordships will now permit me to answer certain questions. One question was about risks and the siting of stations in remote areas. This matter is kept under constant review but, as I have emphasised in your Lordships' House before, it is the intention to keep this programme flexible in every respect. At present the policy is based on two main points. There is no experience yet of operating nuclear power stations of this size continuously, so we cannot claim that all the possibilities can be known; but the design of these stations, I am informed, is inherently safe, and the system of monitoring is such that an escape of radioactive materials is extremely unlikely. Indeed, it can be said that in this respect these stations are as safe as some factories. But, as I have said, nuclear power stations do contain highly toxic materials which would be dangerous if they did escape. The system of monitoring is designed to prevent any accident, but it is thought to be right to have the extra insurance of remote siting for the time being, even if it were possible to put them in other sites.

The noble Earl, Lord Howe, asked a question about waste material. There is no waste from a nuclear power station. The fuel elements which alone contain radioactive material will be re-processed and most valuable products will be obtained from them. I was asked a question about underground gasification. The National Coal Board are responsible for this and the Board are at present undertaking a full-scale pilot project to be developed at Newman Spinney. The noble Viscount, Lord Stonehaven, asked about United Kingdom production of crude oil. As he said, this amounts to about 70,000 tons per annum, mainly at Eakring. In regard to Scottish shale oil, I have noted, and will carefully consider, what the noble Viscount had to say. As your Lordships know, it enjoys the duty preference on home-produced oil, but I understand that the noble Earl would like to go further.

The Gas Council are spending about £1 million over five years in research for natural gas in the United Kingdom. As yet, there are no substantial results. The question of liquid methane, which has been referred to to-day, is under consideration; but we are well aware that that is another imported fuel and that aspect will have to be taken into account. The suggestion was made, I believe by the noble Lord, Lord Glyn, that we should consider grouping power stations and seeing whether in that way economies could be effected and less damage done to the countryside. That suggestion will certainly have the consideration of the electricity authorities. But I should not like to say that it is a possibility. I can assure Lord Glyn that the question of professional advice regarding the design of stations is now being very carefully followed. I am also grateful to him for his suggestion—which was supported by other noble Lords—of an illustrated booklet. I think that is an idea that might be well worth pursuing. It certainly shall have my attention.

I look upon the question of the training of manpower as very important. I consider it most important that every possible opportunity should be made to attract manpower into all the fuel industries, into coal as well as into nuclear power. I was asked a question about more advanced types of reactors—for example aqueous homogeneous reactors. These are all being very carefully studied, but they are still some distance away. The noble Lord, Lord Lawson, asked a question about national parks. I should like to assure the noble Lord that the Central Electricity Authority's primary concern is to avoid national parks and outstanding beauty spots. I am assured that they will have the earliest consultation with all interested bodies, including the Royal Fine Art Commission and the National Parks Commission.

The noble Lords, Lord Hylton, Lord Hall and Lord Lucas of Chilworth, mentioned in our previous debate the question of undergrounding; and the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, referred to it again to-day. It is technically possible to put transmission lines for short distances underground, but it is not feasible to keep changing from overhead to underground. Loss of power from putting cables underground is great, and the extensive putting of cables underground would mean more power stations, and the construction of booster stations every ten miles. The cost of one mile of overhead super-grid is £25,000. One mile of underground super-grid would cost £300,000, plus the cost of booster stations. I think that those figures are rather significant in this connection. The noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, asked if there were to be any additions to the super-grid in consequence of this nuclear power programme. The answer is that no addition to the "inner circle" of super-grid is contemplated, but there will, of course, be additional links between the new stations and the "inner circle."

My Lords, I think that I have dealt in the main with the questions which noble Lords put to me.


Would the noble Lord mind replying to the point, which I consider very important, about the siting of stations? If they are sited as near as possible to built-up areas, it gives the great advantage of district heating, which I should have thought was one of the modern advantages of the power station which the noble Lord envisages.


I think that the noble Lord has put forward an important point. If and when consideration is taking place as to when it will be possible to put these stations near built-up areas, the point is one which we shall certainly take very fully into account.


The noble Lord, would agree, would he not, that it would help him considerably in the conservation of other fuel for the purpose of heating?


I think the answer is obvious: it would.

6.27 p.m.


My Lords, it is left now for me just to say how much we appreciate the very hard work which the noble Lord has put in to reply—as he has replied—to points which have been put to him. In addition, he has given a great deal of very useful information. I should also like to thank all other noble Lords who have taken part in the debate. I think the debate has been worth having. It has certainly cleared up several points. I am not going to suggest that all the points raised have been cleared up: I am afraid that we may have to come back to this question of finance and Parliamentary control.

As to the White Paper, we were under the impression that it would be much better to have a White Paper dealing fully with nuclear power, but if the noble Lord and his Department are going to produce a leaflet or some kind of statement in relation to fuel generally, then we should be very happy if there could be included in, or attached to, that document some statement relating to the matter we have been discussing to-day. I did not want to interrupt the noble Lord, because he has had a pretty hard day, but I wish at some time to discuss with him the question of initial fuel and the very heavy item of £177 million for initial fuel costs. I do not want him to explain it to me now. Probably we shall have a word about the matter at some other time. On behalf of noble Lords who have taken part in this debate, I want to thank the Minister for the very full reply which he has given, and I ask leave to withdraw my Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.