HL Deb 22 December 1976 vol 378 cc1355-87

1.54 p.m.

Debate resumed.


My Lords, I rise to continue the debate. I should like to assure the right reverend Prelate that I will do my best to follow his injunction, and the injunction in the report, that we should seek better to understand each other and that we should do so in a dispassionate way. If I appear to err, it might be because I spent last night in an aeroplane flying from New York and I am a little short of sleep.

The noble Baroness, Lady White, said that a galaxy of scientists and engineers was to speak to your Lordships in this debate. I am not one of those; but I have an interest to declare, in that I am honoured to be the Chairman of the National Nuclear Corporation. That is the instrument of this Government and their predecessor, with shares held jointly by Government and industry, which has been chosen to be responsible for the design and construction of nuclear power stations. Although I am that chairman, I shall be speaking personally and I do not bind any of my colleagues, or the Corporation, or its subsidiary, the Nuclear Power Company. I can speak personally because I have had a long span of interest in nuclear power, starting in the days when I was Parliamentary Secretary at the Ministry of Supply from 1951 to 1954. For me, at any rate, it is interesting to remember that it was in 1953 that we announced in the other place the start of the Dounreay project.

I suppose that those of us who are concerned with nuclear power may be said to have some prejudice in favour of nuclear power and some prejudice against the environmentalists. I hope that your Lordships will accept from me that I try not to have that prejudice. I am every hit as much a human being as any of your Lordships or, indeed, as any of the right reverend Prelates. I have a strong prejudice in favour of life and of good health and a good environment, not only for ourselves but also for future generations. Knowing them as I do, I am certain that is true also of my noble friend, if I may call him so, Lord Sherfield, who started this debate with such an excellent speech, and of the noble Lord, Lord Hinton of Bankside, who has such massive authority and who spoke to us in such a very persuasive and convincing way.

I agree at once that people have a right to have the risks and hazards explained to them in the way in which that is done in this very lucid and comprehensive report. I do not think I am so critical about the report as was the noble Lord, Lord Hinton of Bankside, in his speech. I found the report balanced and clear. I found also that it set out with as much force the risks and hazards of not having nuclear power as it did the risks and hazards attached to having nuclear power. However, I should like to stress to your Lordships what my noble friend Lord Sherfield said, that because it is a balanced report it is very important that sentences and paragraphs should not be taken out of their context and used for a case which the Com-missioners did not make. I think that that has been done outside this House but not, happily, here today.

The importance of avoiding emotion and passion is as great, I think, as the importance of avoiding unbalanced presentations while the debate, which I fear will last longer in our country than the noble Lord, Lord Sherfield, would like, proceeds. I very much hope that the media, particularly the British Broadcasting Corporation, will not repeat unbalanced presentations like a recent one in "Panorama".

I should like to direct my remarks, and I hope they will be quite short, first to the plutonium argument, secondly to the policy on nuclear fission power, with particular reference to Recommandation 45, and, last, to the fast breeder, but before I come to those three points there are some general considerations which I will mention, although they have been stressed in several speeches. We cannot under-stand the problems attaching to nuclear power, whether they be development, waste, environmental or whatever, or the hazards of not having the nuclear option, unless we look at the whole matter in its full international as well as national context. The noble Lord, Lord Hinton of Bankside, made the point, as also did the noble Lord, Lord Sherfield, both of them powerfully.

The second general consideration is that the progress in nuclear power, not only in this country but outside, in these last 25 years has been remarkable by any standards, and despite what the right reverend Prelate said there is no reason to suppose that the advances towards perfection will not continue at as fast a pace in the next quarter century. The report necessarily stresses points where more work is needed to provide proper conditions for a larger programme, in waste, in safeguards and in other matters.

For those who cast doubt upon the ability of the industry and technology and the scientists to make further progress, I think it is as well to remember that they, too, are human beings and they are more closely concerned than any of us, not only with the success of what they are trying to do but with the safety of every-thing they design and help to produce. This most valuable corps d'é lite of scientists and engineers and others that has been created during the last 20 years by people like the noble Lord, Lord Hinton, and the noble Lord, Lord Sherfield, and others of your Lordships who are not here today, shares with the rest of us the absolute need to provide safety; and, as I have said, they have an even greater urgency and personal concern because they are—or may be—closely connected in their daily life with nuclear power. They also know more about the facts which affect the risks and hazards, but it is unhappily true that neither in the United States of America nor here have their voices been able to reach the public as easily or as forcefully as have the voices of others.

I now come, shortly, to some of the plutonium arguments. I should first like to ask the question: Is not the phrase "the plutonium economy" rather an emotive phrase that might prevent discussion being quite as dispassionate as the report intends it to be? Of course plutonium is nasty and potentially lethal to communities as well as to individuals, but so, as the report reminds us, is chlorine, and so—as others of your Lordships will know—are a lot of other elements and poisons. The arguments in Chapter VII of the report are all important arguments but they seem to me to be heavily influenced by the programme that is set out in Table 14. It is a programme for the construction of nuclear power stations in this country put before the Commission, I think, by the Atomic Energy Authority in relation to a question about how much waste products they would have to deal with. The programme in that table includes 30,000 megawatts of nuclear power by 1990 and 104,000 by the end of the century, of which it is thought 33,000 would be from fast reactors.

I cannot believe that such a programme is either possible or probable, either in the requirement or in the achievement. For my own part, I would not expect there to be more than one or two fast reactors operating in this country in this century. Nevertheless, the arguments in the report must be taken seriously, even though it is right to make the point that if they are wrong about the programme, they are wrong about the time-scale in which the problems that exist can—and I am sure will—be solved.

Though I say that the argument should be taken seriously, despite what the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, has said I hope that we shall not be too much put out by the fear of sabotage and terrorism as being things which would happen only with—or the better with—a large nuclear power programme. A saboteur has easier targets (and as damaging) than a nuclear power plant or even a reprocessing plant. As I heard the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, describe how a terrorist might take a piece of explosive and blow up a nuclear power station I wondered whether he really knows how thick the concrete is round these nuclear power stations and how impossible it was during the last World War by the very biggest bombs to break through what was, I believe, less strong concrete covering the submarine bases. So I think we can make too much of some of that argument. I also have to point out that terrorists can find more immediately effective poisons than plutonium, if they want to, and if they really want to get bomb material they would not be deprived of the chance of so doing by our not having a nuclear power programme, or even having a smaller one. Nevertheless, of course, security is important and security of plutonium in transit is obviously important, but I am told by experts that at least in that instance the terrorist can be dissuaded from stealing the plutonium, or if he does steal it he can be effectively prevented from making use of it it the plutonium is only sent in transit in fuel form and is slightly radioactivised. Indeed, the report itself makes that point.

I now come to recommendation No.45 about the nuclear power plant policy. As has been said, the report does not advocate a non-nuclear strategy. Indeed, in a speech on the 2nd December to which the noble Lord, Lord Sherfield, referred, Sir Brian Flowers advocated the keeping in being of the nuclear industry—and I quote—"at the lowest level that is viable", and the noble Baroness, Lady White, in what I thought was a very fair and interesting and pleasant speech, made the same point. Sir Brian Flowers went on to define this lowest level as ordering one thermal station every two to three years. I look at the problem a little differently and I think rather more positively but I agree that there has to be a minimum ordering programme. Although there is no present need for any more power stations in England and Wales and no need for orders for any large nuclear programme until, say, 1984 at the earliest, there may be a need for a large programme then. The simple fact is that we have no proven ability to produce up-to-date, proven types of reactor in series. There is no proven nuclear industry suitable yet for a large programme. It would take time for both of these things to be secured. Indeed, we still have to reach a decision about the system to be adopted as the best system for the 1990s—which is what it is all about: not the best system for the 1970s.

Here I must refer again to the international point and take up a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Hinton, about the outside world and the Third World. I would think that certainly British industry shares this view with me. We should be able to play our part in building nuclear power stations overseas. We cannot do that at present, and certainly cannot do that if we do not have a programme at home. It may interest your Lordships to be reminded that the CPRS in their recent report on the power plant industry have noted that one of the main reasons for low exports by that industry is the failure of the industry to have a capability for taking turnkey nuclear power contracts. Therefore, a number of things need to be done to ensure that we have a viable nuclear industry, and to ensure that the nuclear power option really is there. I join with the noble Lord, Lord Sherfield, in calling for an unequivocal commitment to nuclear power, at least as far as that. Time is important because, first, as the noble Lord, Lord Strathcona and Mount Royal, said, in all energy production there is a long lead time, and particularly is that true of nuclear power. Now is the time to seek to prepare for the 'nineties, but now is not the time to seek to postpone action out of fear of having too many nuclear power stations in 50 years' time.

My Lords, finally I come to the fast breeder. I heard the noble Lord, Lord Hinton of Bankside, saying to your Lord-ships that the fast reactor is not inherently more dangerous than the thermal reactor. I know that to be his view. I think there are few who are entitled to express such a view with more authority. The importance of having the fast reactor in the system is well set out in the report, and I need not refer to it again. However, I do wish to refer to the fear expressed by the Royal Commission at paragraph 502, that because of the importance of the fast reactor we may be tempted to accept a quantitatively different increment in risk. Of course, that must mean not only ourselves, but the whole international world where the fast reactors are being developed. I must express my view to your Lordships that nothing is less likely with the men I know who design and operate nuclear reactors. They will not downgrade the element of risk just because of the importance of a particular type of reactor. The report, and also one or two of your Lordships, have expressed the view that there would be advantages in delaying the development of the commercial fast reactor, that is, the large one to follow the PFR now in operation at Dounreay. But such delay brings risks with it also.

I must say to your Lordships that to delay development of the CFR here will endanger the maintenance of the expert teams built up over the last 10 to 15 years. It would do something more; it would prevent us from recruiting new young men who will be needed very much in the 'nineties. Many of the men now at the head of design and construction and of research and development in the whole nuclear industry are men of an age who will have retired by the 'nineties when this work will be of such importance. But to delay will also endanger the chance of international collaboration, particularly collaboration with our European partners. It is by international collaboration that we shall be able to husband resources, which noble Lords have rightly asked us to do, in order that other options can be examined, and in order that conservation can be pushed ahead. So I hope that there will be no such delay.

Nevertheless I have already said that I do not expect the CFR to be built in this country in the near future. I do not expect more than one, or possibly two, to be operating before the end of the century. Such a programme combined with international collaboration would keep the team in being and would keep the nuclear operation viable. Those are the remarks I wished to make. I felt that I had a duty to put those points in front of your Lordships. My Lords, in closing, may I say again that, in my view, the report gives a backcloth for a national debate which I think will last for a number of years. However, I hope the Government will ensure that during that time of debate a nuclear power capability for the 'nineties and beyond is created and encouraged.

2.16 p.m.


My Lords, five years before I was born, Marie and Pierre Curie discovered radium. At that time it was looked upon, and indeed continued to be looked upon, as a scientific curiosity, as a bit of a toy, as a means of painting the hands of watches so as to make them visible at night, and for all sorts of purposes like that. At that time, the number of chemical elements known was something like 75. Today, I am wearing a tie which has upon it 103 of the known chemical elements. Of those, 11 are the transuranic elements, the ones which are artificially made by man. None of them existed in this world before—at any rate, not since the early days, and plutonium is one of those. I am speaking now not of myself but of scientists, who took very great risks.

A friend of mine works in the Curie Institute in Paris. When some alterations were being done, they found that under the floor of my friend's laboratory was some radium left from the time when the Curies had been working there. He got immensely scared. They investigated and found that the radium had obviously been there for a long time. My friend's desk had been right over where this material was, and he had been subjected to radiation for many years. But he survived all right. He is still alive, and this was 15 or 20 years ago.

I am not saying that in order to show how courageous scientists were. I am trying to point out that risks have been taken all the time; risks have been taken throughout the whole of our existence. In fact, man really is a very precarious animal. He lives all the time only because the forces of nature do not happen to explode devastatingly in his own particular region. When there is an earthquake in Turkey it does far more damage than any known effect by man, with the exception of the deliberate dropping of an atomic bomb. The accidents that have taken place have always been trivial compared with the forces of nature. A hurricane can do far more damage than anything we can think of doing. That does not, of course, mean that we neglect to pay attention to all those problems that arise from the activities of man, but I do think it is important for us to remember how trivial man is in comparison with the forces of nature. Even when he thinks he has domination over the forces of nature he still is very much subject to the forces of nature.

I think the noble Lord, Lord Hinton, gave us today one of the most remarkable analyses of the whole situation. In fact I suppose I really ought not to speak now, because Lord Hinton said everything that there was to be said; so anything I say is merely a frill, merely an elaboration of what he said, because he said it perfectly. He showed that when we are talking about nuclear energy in this country, or indeed in the whole of the developed world, we are being extraordinarily arrogant, because we are neglecting the far greater part of the world which is undeveloped. if we imagine that they are going to say "Of course, we are not going to have any growth at all, we shall continue to remain on an almost subhuman standard in order that you should be safe from any possible nuclear effects", I am afraid that we are deceiving ourselves. If one says that they do not know already, both India and Pakistan have already got facilities; they have been presented with these. Does one imagine that they are going to refuse to carry out development? Then, as Lord Hinton rightly pointed out, the ordinary thermal reactor is at least as dangerous as the fast breeder reactor, but with one enormous disadvantage, and that is that it is using up uranium at such a rate that there are not going to he the resources by the end of this century to fuel all the generators which will he put up. In other words, it is nonsense to say that we can continue with the present programme. It is just absurd. It makes no sense at all. Therefore, we have to think of going on further. What we do obviously has to be considered. I have a feeling that perhaps Lord Hinton, if he was still chairman of the Central Electricity Generating Board, would probably, when the demise of the steam generating heavy water reactor was announced in The Times, have put in a little notice "No flowers by request". I think that he would probably feel that it was not wise for us to say much more about that.

But, my Lords, when we are discussing what we do with regard to the next step forward it is no use saying that we are going to jump forward to fusion. We hope we will go forward to fusion, but we have not yet got even a bench model fusion reactor working. All we have got is a reasonable indication that the fusion process will work; but the temperature we require is of the order of 50 to 100 million degrees and we have not yet had temperatures above 10 million degrees. So all we have is an indication that it may work. We are back with the fusion reactor in the position that Lord Rutherford was in in the Cavendish Laboratory when he first discovered that the atom could be split. We are nowhere near the point where we can even say that we know we can make it work. We have a good idea that it is possible. if we solve the problems within 30 or 40 years we shall be extraordinarily lucky. There-fore, we have to say that it is ruled out for this century. So far as this century is concerned, we will not have a working fusion reactor actually supplying energy for our main electricity supplies. I am prepared to make that bet, and I will stay alive in order to prove it.

With regard to the fast breeder reactor, the position is quite different. We know it will work. What we do not know yet are all the problems concerned with it. I have been rather fortunate, because I was over in America last month and I was speaking to Mr. Charles Rose, the Congressman, who happened to be vice-chairman of the Committee of which I was chairman. I asked him if he had any information he could give me. After I left America this Report was presented to Congress. It is dated 29th November. It is from the Comptroller-General of the United States, entitled, Considerations for Commercialising the Liquid Metal Fast Breeder Reactor This is the latest American report.

In this report they start by outlining the problems, and the problems are just the same for them as for us, except for one point. The problems as they put them down are as follows. One, what will be the principal characteristics of a com-mercial breeder reactor industry? Two, what supporting facilities and industry would be required to bring it into being and thereafter to support it? Three, when is a demonstration needed of the required technologies on a scale sufficient to warrant the commitments of those institutions whose support is essential to breeder reactor commercialisation? Four, what factors are likely to influence the timing and rate of commercial breeder reactor introduction and proliferation? The whole of the report deals with these points.

I sent the Report to Professor Bain-bridge at the University of Newcastle, who happens to be the adviser to Sub-Committee F of your Lordships' Scrutiny Committee. and he has sent me a number of comments on it. These are extremely interesting and very important for us. He says to begin with that the questions set out are equally pertinent for Britain, but he makes the point that the Americans are under no pressure to produce a fast breeder reactor, for two reasons: one, their nuclear industry is already over-committed on making the present type of reactor, and they have run into considerable technical difficulties; consequently they are rather behind schedule on producing them. Therefore, they are not in the least anxious at the moment to produce a fast breeder reactor.

Secondly, they are confident that they have got all the oil and coal that they want, even if they have to buy it, over the whole of this century, and they are still today, as anyone can see by going to America, very wasteful of their energy resources. So they are not at the moment worried about it. But, despite that, in this report there is this statement: The liquid metal fast breeder reactor has been accorded highest priority among energy supply technologies that hold long-term promise. This ranking is accompanied by the highest Federal outlay to date for any single energy research development system". Although the Americans do not think that they have to produce a fast breeder reactor at once, they are pumping more money into it than they are into any other field of energy research, so that one can see that the Americans are not ignoring this field. What is their programme? Their programme essentially is that they propose that there should be a commitment to start a commercial fast breeder reactor in the early to mid 1980s. They reckon that it takes a long time to build one. In fact, their estimates are very interesting. They say that it would take 13 years to build a reactor; that it would take 10 years to build a fuel fabrication facility; it would take 12 years for a plutonium reprocessing facility, and 11 years for a radioactive waste disposal facility.

Professor Bainbridge tells me that the Americans in this field of fast breeder work are probably technically at least five years behind us, and that there is every probability, if we were to set out to do the same thing, that we would have a clear five years' advantage in building anything of this sort. We are faced with the position that we have no natural resources of uranium; all our uranium is imported. So far as America is concerned, they have natural resources; we have none. Consequently, every single ordinary thermal reactor we are using is using up uranium which has to be imported. The plutonium part of it can at the moment be used only for atom bombs. If, of course, some people would say,."We would much rather have atom bombs than fast breeder reactors", I can only retort, chacun a son goat It seems to me an extraordinary choice for us to have.

I was rather surprised that from the Liberal Benches we were told that we could do without this sort of thing. We cannot do without plutonium, as the noble Lord, Lord Aldington, said. It really is extraordinary to talk about a plutonium economy. We are in a plutonium economy. Plutonium is being produced all the time. The fast breeder reactor is a means of using that plutonium. It is a means of doing the job more efficiently; of making certain that we are able, with our limited amount of uranium, to go ahead. No one imagines that this is the end. One would hope that the fast breeder reactor would see us out through the end of this century into the beginning of the next century; that by then we may hope that fusion will come along. We may hope that all the other methods that are talked about may play their part; but, as the noble Lord, Lord Hinton of Bankside, said, one cannot imagine that, however much all these other methods contribute, they will solve our energy problems.

I would say that obviously we have to pay the most careful attention, as the Royal Commission's report rightly asks us to do, to all the dangers; to look at everything with the greatest care. This is absolutely essential. But are we going to say that, because we do not yet know everything, therefore we condemn posterity to a lower standard of living, to less energy? If we do we are quite entitled to do it; but let us not, for heaven's sake, say how virtuous we are. Let us not say that in order to save them from one evil we condemn them to another, the one being uncertain, the other being dead certain.

It seems to me that the report of the Royal Commission is invaluable as a warning to us, as a guide, as advice; but that if, because of it, we say we do not build fast breeder reactors, then I would say that we are really suffering from the most extraordinary delusion. May I, in concluding, ask your Lordships' forgiveness if I do not stay to the end. I have a commitment which arises from the fact that the daughter of my niece is being christened this afternoon.

2.35 p.m.


My Lords, I must begin on the opposite note to the noble Lord, Lord Wynne-Jones. I must ask your Lordships to accept my apologies and ask for your indulgence because I am afraid that, owing to transportation difficulties, I was not here at the beginning of the debate. I apologise particularly to the noble Lord, Lord Sherfield. I should like to express my gratitude to the noble Lord, Lord Sherfield, for initiating this debate, and also to Sir Brian Flowers and his colleagues for what to me is an almost racy document. It is one of the rare occasions on which I have picked up a Command Paper and found it so easy and interesting to read.

There has been much discussion recently about replacing your Lordships' House by some alternative Second Chamber. There have been suggestions that the Second Chamber was to consist of political Peers in the same proportion as Members of the House of Commons. There were, in addition, to be Life Peers. I sincerely hope that if a new Chamber is created, Life Peers will be chosen for their distinction and experience in public affairs, the world of commerce, the trade unions and the scientific community. I also hope that, unlike the all-Party proposals, those Life Peers will have the right to vote, and that the Second Chamber will retain the power to delay but not permanently frustrate measures from the other place. The reason that I mention this is that we are now debating a highly technical and complex subject, and although there are more scientists in your Lordships' House than there are in the other place, none the less there are barely enough to make sure that all aspects of this extremely complex subject are going to be discussed.

Today we are discussing problems which involve physicists, chemists, biologists, geologists, engineers, to name but a few, and although many noble Lords with scientific experience have spoken and are going to speak, I think I am one of the very few Members of your Lordships' House who daily spend a large part of their time in a laboratory. But I must add at once that, like the noble Lord, Lord Wynne-Jones, I am a chemist and not a physicist. In so far as I can speak with authority at all, it must be on the chemical aspects of pollution and energy.

Since what I want to say is almost wholly critical of plans for further development of nuclear power, either by fission or by fusion, let me make it clear at once that I am not opposed to big science. I sincerely believe that we should continue to support high energy physics with a view to elucidating the structure of the atomic nucleus, just as we should continue to explore space. Man has always felt the irresistible urge to explore the longest rivers, to climb the highest mountains, to reach the Poles, and so man has continued to explore the planets and to investigate the fine details of the structure of matter. But what we are concerned with today is not science developed simply for curiosity, important though that is, but customer contract science, or project orientated science, which will lead mankind to permanent sources of energy. I am absolutely convinced that our primary source of energy must be what it has always been, the sun. Although I accept that the wind and waves, which come from the sun anyway, may in certain circumstances he important sources of power, the really important source will be, as it always has been, the conversion of solar electromagnetic radiation into fuels by photochemical processes.

All the fossil fuels we have and use—from wood to peat, to coal, to oil—were formed by photochemical processes utilising sunlight to convert the carbon dioxide in the air and water into complex carbon substances. The total energy we release by the combustion of fossil fuels is infinitesimally small compared with the amount of electro-magnetic radiation which reaches the surface of the globe from the sun. There are two main ways in which solar energy can be utilised. The first is the direct conversion of solar radiation into either heat or electricity and the second is to use electro-magnetic radiation to produce chemical transformations leading to fuels, which can subsequently he burnt releasing the energy stored by chemical syntheses. It is the second use of solar energy that I wish to bring to your Lordships' attention.

There are two feasible processes. The simplest is the direct decomposition of water into oxygen and hydrogen and the subsequent use of the hydrogen as a fuel. A more sophisticated process would involve the photochemical transformation of carbon dioxide and water into formaldehyde or methanol and oxygen. Methanol would in this case be the fuel and clearly it would be more convenient than hydrogen. The important point about either of these processes is that they would have virtually no effect whatever on the environment. Sunlight would be used to convert water or water and carbon dioxide into a fuel which would then be burnt to give back water or water and carbon dioxide. This is not some farflung remote idea but is the very process which has been going on ever since life became well established on this planet.

The simplest process would be to grow green algae and extract them from water, dry them and burn the resulting powder. This would not be a very efficient process, and I gather there are numerous technical difficulties, and although green plants have always converted water and carbon dioxide from the air into potential sources of fuel, the very complexity of life means that much of the solar energy would have to he used in the preparation of highly complex chemical systems which would be unnecessary in any system devised simply for the photochemical synthesis of fuel.

I will give some figures to show that this is not a wild pipe-dream but a really practical proposition. If we assume that our solar factory is no better than 10 per cent. efficient, we should need only 360 miles square—that is perhaps cheating and I should put it the correct way round —or 125,000 square miles of the Sahara Desert to collect enough energy to supply the world needs of energy at the present time. The great natural deserts of the world, where the cloud cover is minimal, are also places where there is unlikely to he any great demand for development of the land, and as the needs of the solar factory would be so minute in space compared to the total desert space avail-able, there is no need to worry about possible environmental effects; I have emphasised that there is really no environ-mental effect except the factory.

To summarise, as the report before us shows, nuclear power brings with it many dangers to the environment and to the political stability of the world. I can think of nothing more shameful than the way in which this country, the United States and France have vied with each other in trying to sell nuclear technology and power plants, and by so doing have proliferated the capability to manufacture atomic weapons. I have been told that North Sea oil will have to flow for more than seven years before the cost of developing the oil will have been met. It seems to me that the cost of developing nuclear power has already reached the stage, rather like Concorde, when the development costs will rise more rapidly than the value of the energy produced.

According to the report, the annual expenditure by the Atomic Energy Authority on nuclear fission research and development amounts to about £80 million a year, compared with less than £500,000 currently spent on other sources, of which solar energy is simply one. I am not suggesting that there should be an immediate abandonment of all research and development on nuclear power, but I am suggesting that a transfer of sums even on a very small scale from nuclear fission research to photochemical research should be contemplated.

In paragraph 515, the Commission support the suggestion that there is need for a high level independent body to provide advice on energy strategy taking account of economic, social, technical and environmental considerations. The Commission go on to add that the study of nuclear power has made them aware of the need for an authoritative exposition of the implications of the different policies that might be adopted on energy supply. I am convinced that the Commission is right and that such a body should be set up, but I am also convinced that they will find that there are viable alternatives to nuclear power which are cheaper and which totally avoid the serious environmental problems associated with nuclear power. I am suggesting that perhaps Mother Nature was right all along. We must seek to use sunlight to promote photochemical reactions which lead to fuels. These fuels can be burnt at our leisure and yet their combustion will return to the atmosphere only the very chemicals we have taken from it in our photosynthesis.

2.47 p.m.


My Lords, in his contribution today, the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, said, if I understood him correctly, that he thought the debate about the exploitation of nuclear energy should now enter the democratic process. What-ever the constitution of your Lordships' House may be, I suggest that this debate shows that it has already done so. The correspondence in The Times and other newspapers and weekly scientific journals indicates the same thing. We therefore have to thank not only the noble Lord, Lord Sherfield, for having initiated the debate but the Royal Commission for having produced a Report which has sparked off so much controversy. and indeed the Commission in its Report indicated that it was likely to stimulate controversy.

The noble Lord, Lord Hinton of Bankside, in a brilliant speech, suggested that the terms of reference of the Royal Commission, which he read out, had been interpreted a little too narrowly. On the other hand, the Royal Commission wondered whether it had strayed beyond the strict terms laid down for it. I know those terms of reference because—I can say this because Sir Harold Wilson, the Prime Minister of the day, records it in his book—I was one of those responsible for suggesting that there should be such a Commission. He also gives me credit for something I did not do, which was the background work for the Department of the Environment, which was not the Department of the Environment as we know it today.

I am certain that the Royal Commission has exceeded its terms of reference. A good chairman and a good committee will often do that and it is a good practice. But there should be a condition—it should do so with competence. Lord Hinton criticised many aspects of the Report, and I suggest that one should not mince one's words here. The Press has described it as a report which means all things to all men. That is perfectly true; one can take any quotation one likes from the report. But the overwhelming impression that has remained—an impression which. I fear, the noble Baroness, Lady White, did not dispel from my mind in her address, and an impression to which Lord Avebury added in his speech—is that nuclear power is too dangerous in itself and in the long term hardly acceptable as an option—an option which we need to keep open, as Lord Hinton indicated—because of its environmental, social and political consequences. May I say straight away that on this point I side absolutely with the noble Lords, Lord Hinton and Lord Wynne-Jones? I believe that we can rely on the competence and experience of the noble Lord, Lord Hinton, in this field as much as—dare I say it and with great respect?—upon that of any member of the Royal Commission.

The report is also inconsistent in itself. It is not fair to itself. On page 191, paragraph 498, we read that the report is a complete account of the problem. When it comes to reactor safety, however, we are told on page 113, paragraph 282. that the Commission has not investigated the matter deeply. On page 4, paragraph 10, we are informed that inquiry would involve itself in matters beyond the competence of the Commission. On page 5, paragraph 14—and the noble Baroness, Lady White, referred to this point—we are told that the Commission had to educate itself on the matters concerned. I feel that we have a right to ask whether it succeeded in its task. If I may quote, as did the noble Baroness, Lady White, from the report, it also tells us that the Commission, has the duty to be the guardians of the future environment". So have all of us, my Lords. The Commission has no monopoly of noble sentiment. We are concerned with this problem. We in your Lordships' House and the Members of Parliament in another place are also concerned with this matter. We all recognise that the exploitation of nuclear power is hazardous and that it demands the greatest care. This is no new discovery. The record of the industry is, so far, not short of miraculous. I want to emphasise those words.

But it is not true that we have always recognised the hazards. Those of your Lordships who may have read the memoirs of the late Lord Attlee may recall the passage in which he says that, when he had to endorse the suggestion put at the Potsdam Conference that nuclear weapons should be used at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, he did so in total ignorance of the fact they were dealing with anything other than bigger bangs. He says that it was not only he who was ignorant. President Truman and the previous Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, and Sir John Anderson, who was in charge of the project, were ignorant, he says, and he goes on to add: So, I believe, were the scientists, unless they deliberately did not tell us. I happen to know that the scientists were then not concerned with these hazards. Those few scientists who were in the know and who did not want to see nuclear power exploited in that particular way, were concerned with the vistas of destruction which would be opened up, not with any of the dangers about which we are now talking. We therefore have to ask ourselves whether, in the realisation that we have to use the option of nuclear power as the noble Lord, Lord Hinton, indicated, we can at the same time guard against the hazards. Also, we must see the problem in global terms, not just in terms that apply to this country. I do not know who it was who emphasised in the course of the debate that we should be failing in our duty if we did not pay attention to the energy needs of the world as a whole. No figures that I have ever seen suggest that we can dispense with nuclear power. We must also look at the problem in terms of those resources of energy other than nuclear power that can he used and of such new research as the noble Lord, Lord Tedder, has just referred to and also in terms of the social, economic and political factors involved.

Clearly, accidents can happen. The human factor cannot be guarded against, as the noble Baroness, Lady White, said. We are told on page 113, paragraph 284, of the report that—and this is an interesting quotation— it is a common experience … that incredible things do happen no matter how surprising [they may seem]". I read that sentence more than once and asked myself how it was to be construed. I put it round this way: If it is common experience then the things that happen are surely credible". Or are we to construe the sentence to mean that it is an uncommon experience for credible things to happen? There is magic in that sentence. It is a marvellous piece of logic.

I am neither a nuclear scientist nor a nuclear engineer, nor have I the privilege, like the noble Lord, Lord Tedder, of still working in a laboratory. But I am a scientist and I read the report closely as a scientist. I have also had the opportunity of discussing these matters in the United States, from which I returned only yesterday, with members of two major committees which are looking into the matter and which will shortly be reporting. One launched by the Ford Foundation is carrying out a much more extensive study than has ever been attempted before. The second is being carried out by the National Academy of Sciences. The worksheets are as voluminous as the report we are considering today.

This report goes to great length and in great detail into the theoretical principles of safety analysis, but nowhere, when discussing reactor safety, does it refer to the fact that we already have 200 years of reactor experience upon which to base ourselves. Nowhere, although there is a reference to the fact that the Commission had not been able to consider military matters, is there any reference—and there is no secret information in this—to the fact that over the past 20 years, there has been a minimum of 250 vessels at sea powered by nuclear reactors. The men in those ships are exposed to 100 per cent. risk, not a tailing-off risk, and there has been no accident.

If ever a field of engineering had been provided with prototype experience, I would say that it was this one of nuclear engineering. So far, nuclear engineers have definitely proved themselves competent for the task that they set themselves. If only the noble Lord, Lord Hilton, had been able to tell us about some of the magnificent work done by our own Atomic Energy Authority in its early years, your Lordships would be surprised at how much was achieved by so few.

Some peripheral parts of the report which go beyond the terms of reference are somewhat naive. Here I am speaking about a field where I have had to exercise myself in my previous official capacities. I find the references to sabotage and the making of nuclear bombs very odd. I should like to know whether any members of the Royal Commission would be able to steal a little plutonium—say 2 kilograms—and go and make a little nuclear weapon. Another piece of military science fiction is the suggestion that nuclear power plants would be prime targets in a third world war. The noble Baroness, Lady White, reminded us of the phrase, in the report. My Lords, if nuclear power stations were ever to be prime targets in a new war, we should have no need to worry: nobody would be able either to write and print the next edition of Hansard. It is a totally idle argument, brought in as the sort of thing that is discussed by people who do not know or have never been through a proper scenario of a Third World War.

I should have liked to see different questions put in the report which we are discussing. The kind of question I should think would be worth putting and answering is: Can high pressure tubing be made to withstand these temperatures at these pressures? We know—the American newspapers were full of the fact last week—that there have been leaks from the welds in the pipeline from the North-West part of the American conti nent. But I also happen to know that in the past three years a new pipe, a new alloy, has been devised which is not brittle at any of the temperatures which had to be dealt with up in Alaska. It is a great pity that that pipe was not available at the start. I was also told on the best authority that other Governments are already very interested in this pipe. But technology moves fast. I should have liked the Commission to ask where the better valves could be made, and for pressure vessel arguments to be settled by the Royal Commission as it is claimed it had made a complete inquiry. I should have liked it to go properly into the vitrification process for the disposal of waste and to have told us where those people who are working on the subject are being —I was about to say defective in their operations; that is to say, not as urgent, to use the word used by the noble Baroness, Lady White, in her speech. Those are the kind of questions that I should have liked answered—


My Lords, why does the noble Lord think that the Royal Commission should have gone into pressure vessel safety when the subject has just been dealt with exhaustively by some other authority?


My Lords, I apologise to the noble Lord. I did not quite hear his question.


Why does the noble Lord think that the Royal Commission should have gone into the subject of pressure vessel safety when the subject has just been dealt with exhaustively by another authority?


For the reason that I was taught as an adviser in Government not to criticise unless I can put forward better suggestions than the points which I am criticising.

Despite all I have said, I hope that the recommendations of the report will be fully studied by Government. But there are some general comments that I should like to make arising from the point put to me by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury. The first is that it is far easier to generate fear in people's minds and hearts than it is to spread confidence. The word "nuclear" now spells disaster in the same way as the term "genetic engineering" is likely to do. There have been others like them before. It is easier—and here I regret very much one or two of the things said by the noble Baroness, Lady White—to deprecate than to praise official advisers. I do not remember all of the noble Baroness's remarks, but the Commission's official witnesses were accused of having rigid, closed minds, and so on. It is only too easy to criticise advisers in technical fields. Official advisers very rarely get blamed for policy mistakes, but when it comes to drugs, or agrochemicals, or nuclear matters, one turns immediately on an adviser if something goes wrong, and he gets no thanks when things go right. It is easier to ask for independent and authoritative supervisory bodies of experts than it is to find them. I do not know where they are. And if they were appointed I would put to your Lordships the proposition that it is likely that they would very soon become a bigger vested interest than those bodies whose work they would be supervising.

I found it shattering to read implied criticism of the Medical Research Council, on which the Government have to rely for so much, because of the veiled suggestion that it was in a sense prejudiced. I read in The Times the letter by Dr. Mole to which the noble Lord, Lord Sherfield, referred in his opening address; I also read the reply. I then discovered in a copy of Nature that there was a letter, signed by two independent advisers consulted by the Royal Commission, together with two members of the Commission itself, dealing with the toxicity of plutonium. The Royal Commission found it necessary to seek the advice of independent authorities, but I read: We wish to make it clear that the two other signatories of this letter, who are members of the Commission, take full responsibility for Chapter II on radioactivity and radiobiology in the report. This was not seen by the consultants at any time prior to publication. In fact they disagreed with several of the statements made in the chapter". If it was necessary to seek the advice of independent consultants only to reject that advice, why was it necessary to consult them in the first place? Why did the two members of the Commission not act on their own authority in the first instance?

Let me go on. I asked a question about the Windscale breakout. I understand a Statement—I saw a copy only this morning —has been put out giving the facts of the case. I am not interested in that. What I am interested in is the knowledge given me personally by one of the two or three technical members of the Royal Commission, and he has given me permission to quote his name—Sir Frederick Warner—that, in signing the report and in associating his name with paragraphs 422 to 424, he was doing so on the assumption that these would not be used in order to delay a decision about going ahead on Windscale. That is a remarkable thing. He went out of his way to send this letter to me, and I believe that another Member of your Lordships' House also has a copy—

Baroness WHITE

My Lords, may I interrupt the noble Lord for a moment? I am sure that he wants to be fair on this matter. I too have a letter from Sir Frederick Warner. But there was nothing in the paragraphs to which he referred which would necessarily cause any delay in making the decision.


My Lords, I would agree with the noble Baroness that a close reading of those paragraphs does not necessarily give any reason to delay, but Sir Frederick Warner saw in what happened that these paragraphs were being used to justify delay. As we now know, the application has been called in.

Baroness WHITE

My Lords, I am quite sure the noble Lord would agree that he could not possibly blame the Royal Commission for that.


My Lords, I would agree with the noble Baroness. I do not blame the Royal Commission for the use that was made of its text; but, as I said earlier on, its text does seem to be susceptible to different interpretations. As I have said, I have no views as a nuclear technologist—I am not a nuclear technologist or a nuclear expert in any way; I am not a resources wizard, and I accept all the arguments of the noble Lord, Lord Hinton. But I can claim to have had some useful experience as an adviser on scientific matters, and to have some knowledge of certain disastrous decisions in which I, too, have been involved, and less experience, if I may say, about really wise decisions. The late Mr. Crossman, in the second volume of his memoirs, says at one point, when talking about a certain missile we were then developing and which has since more or less disappeared: How can Cabinet come to a sensible decision when no one of us has the vaguest idea what these things really are? That was a very honest and true remark. I know it is a very difficult task for Cabinet Ministers to come to decisions on matters which they do not understand technically.

I am not surprised that the report we are discussing was well received by the Friends of the Earth. I hope, as I said, that it will be equally well studied by the Government from the point of view of seeing whether any of the recommendations can be put to use. I regret, as I have said, the things which have been said about official advisers; and I would suggest to the Government Front Bench that before the Government decide entirely about these matters they should wait until the appearance of the two American reports to which I have referred, one of which, I am assured, is due to come out in the relatively near future. These are highly professional studies. They compare nuclear hazards with those hazards of extensive coalmining—environmental and health hazards—and discuss how a possible nuclear catastrophe is to be measured against the cumulative disasters in the coalmining industry.

In conclusion, may I say that I had the privilege of giving the Romanes Address in Oxford two years ago. I did not read it again until I started getting ready for this debate on the plane coming back from the States two days ago. What I said there is relevant, I think: No one claims … that the body of government scientists necessarily includes the best scientists or the wisest men in the land … From the point of view of the scientist's responsibility to those whom he advises, it is essential that there should be total frankness, not only about the known, but also about the unknown issues which might affect major government policies". I went on to say: There is … no advantage to the official scientist if he takes too exaggerated or sanguine a view about the successful outcome of some major project which depends on the technical solution of critical issues, whether we are dealing with solar energy"— to which reference has been made— nuclear power stations, or some new aircraft"; and I went on to say that it would be a good thing if Government Departments which are concerned with technical matters had available, not only ordinary Press officers but bureaux of scientific information which could be consulted by journalists and others in confidence, so that knowledge could be shared and issues about which there were differences of opinion could be properly discussed.

My Lords, I hope that that last suggestion, which I put out a couple of years ago, and which got nowhere, is considered. I have spoken at length. But I think the report deserves a long speech. I have indicated why I think it should be studied by the Government. I have also indicated my views about certain of its shortcomings and some of its more naï ve statements. May I here, unfortunately, make the same apologies which Lord Wynne-Jones had to make at the end of his contribution; namely, that I may not be able to hear the end of this debate.

3.14 p.m.


My Lords, I am delighted to follow the noble Lord, Lord Zuckerman, and delighted that we have had the opportunity of this debate through the wisdom of the noble Lord, Lord Sherfield, and that we have had this report. I find this to be one of the most important documents we have had in my experience in the postwar world; because it is, whatever the critics may say, bringing us face to face with issues which, if they were not discussed in the terms and in the depth of the report, would be ignored or would be treated merely as the aborations of people like myself.

Your Lordships will find on page 82 of the report Alvin Weinberg's proposals for a "nuclear priesthood". Alvin Weinberg, I should remind your Lordships, was at Oak Ridge, Tennessee, one of the key scientists in the production of the atom bomb and is still one of the greatest authorities in the nuclear field. His nuclear priesthood would be a dedicated, self-perpetuating body of people forming a technological elite which would be entrusted, through the generations to come, with the task of safeguarding them from the hazards of nuclear power.

The suggestion conjured up in my mind a bizarre picture of the monks of the Order of Pluto assembling 24,000 years (a thousand generations) from now, for the rituals celebrating the first half-life of man-made plutonium. That is the time-scale we are talking about: as far into the future as CroMagnon man is in our past. That is the extent by which we have taken into our hands or manifested in our generation the potentials of man's capacity to determine and risk future generations.

I am intrigued by his idea of a priest craft, for I have maintained for the last 30 years that we are wrestling with nuclear superstition; and understandably so. In 1958, I was a member of the World Health Organisation Study Group on the mental aspects of the peaceful uses of atomic energy. We considered reports, from inquries not only among scientists and people working in the atom industries and not only from the advance countries but in primitive societies and we concluded that our vaunted civilisation was only eggshell thick. We were cowering in the dark caves of our own emotions like our eldest ancestors cowering from the wrath of the elemental gods. But our elemental gods were radioactive, unseen, untasted, unheard, unsmelt and unfelt and all-pervasive. Nuclear energy had exploded as a cataclysmic bomb contrived behind the sky-high fences of military security.

The noble Lord, Lord Zuckerman, has cited the case that I was going to cite where the horrifying truth emerged from Clement Attlee. I will quote it in deference to the noble Lord, Lord Zuckerman. Clement Attlee said after the decision, long after the decision, to agree to drop the bomb on Hiroshima: We knew nothing whatever at that time about the genetic effects of an atomic explosion. We knew nothing at all about fallout and all the rest of what emerged after Hiroshima. As far as I know, President Truman and Winston Churchill knew nothing of those things either: nor did Sir John Anderson who co-ordinated research on our side. Whether the scientists directly concerned knew or guessed I do not know, but if they did then, as far as I am aware, they said nothing to those who took the decisions. That is incredible. The more so, because in 1927 Herman Muller had already demonstrated the effects of radiation on genes, the factors of heredity for which he was later to receive a Nobel Prize. Radioactive mutation was already text-book stuff but none of those associated with the bomb regarded it as anything but "just a bigger bomb", in Attlee's phrase. It was a physicist's bomb and biologists were, by security, excluded from it. The only way to rebut nuclear superstition and irrational fears is by reason and by rational argument. But what happens when the repositories of reason, the scientists and the official experts are not believed or when they prevaricate or when they temper facts to suit official policies and with all deference to—I was going to say my noble friend—my friend, the noble Lord, Lord Zuckerman, it is true and absolutely manifestly true that we have been systematically misled by official advisers over the years. This is demonstrable. It has been true unfortunately that during the past 30 years—and the Windscale incident has recently emphasised what I am saying—official spokesmen, including famous and reputable scientists, have gone on record to reassure the public by minimising hazards and have been proved wrong.

In this House, the late Lord Cherwell, defending atmospheric bomb testing, compared the radiation from bomb fallout with the natural cosmic rays and said that the comparative amounts were no greater than walking 200 feet up a hill into cosmic rays. Then radio-strontium came tumbling out of the sky, into babies' milk and children's bones to the measureable concern of the Medical Research Council and the National Academy of Sciences in the United States, and elsewhere. Any why? Because not only the late Lord Cherwell but one of the world's greatest radio isotope experts, Willard J. Libby, had fooled us. I mean fooled me as well because I was present at the Press conference. Libby, who gave us carbondating (which has proved that Winchester's round table is not King Arthur's Round Table after all) was a member of the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission when it started testing the H-bomb. He was the only scientific member of that Commission. He gave a categorical assurance that the only fallout would be from the fission-bomb detonator of the H-bomb and would be confined in a test area. The theory was that the massive explosion from the hydrogen fusion reaction would punch a hole in the stratosphere where radio active gases would dissipate and carry away the radiostrontium of the bomb denotator. It also left out the fact that one of the gases would quickly decay into radiostrontium which is a particulate. It also left out of the account the fact that the troposphere which separates the stratosphere from our atmosphere is not continuous, as we were told, and that the radiostrontium came in through a fan-light to get back into our climatic jet stream and was spread all over the world. I found it difficult not to interrupt the noble Lord, Lord Strathcona and Mount Royal, when he was invoking Teller as part of his justification, and using much the same analogy; that is, that what we are talking about is no different from being hit by a meteorite. This is something I will not stand for—or for which I will not stand.

I want to follow the noble Lord, Lord Zuckerman, and others in saying something which is categorically true. The nuclear industry has been the safest of all industries. It has the best accident record of any industry. But why? Because of nuclear superstition; because we had a public opinion, view, dread or misgiving which insisted all these years ago in building into the terms of the hazards the safeguards which I am prepared to admit are probably excessive now, but I would not give up one of them except by a fight. What we have done is simply because we have this sense of the unseen, the untasted and the unsmelt, and we have provided in the nuclear industry the kind of safeguards about which we are now boasting.

Sometimes, the experts are less than candid. I follow the noble Lord, Lord Zuckerman, in saying that we often criticise them without reason, or with good reason; that is to say, the famous story of Senator Muskie in the U.S. Senate Commission. He had one scientist after another coming in saying, "On the one hand, so and so; on the other hand, so and so". Senator Muskie said, "For God's sake send us a one-armed scientist".

In that sense, there has to be a balance. On the other hand, I accuse them of being less than candid. They have been often constrained—I will say it again—to be dishonest in the sense that what they are withholding is something which would affect the policies they have been called upon to defend. I would condone nuclear superstition on the very ground I am citing now, because you cannot rebut superstition except by producing rational answers. You cannot complain that people are stupid, silly or fearful if they are ignorant. You cannot get their support unless you inform them; and trouble has arisen throughout the whole history of siting reactors, and so on, because of the fact that people who may be affected by the building of a new reactor are entitled to be reassured. Very many times in the experience of many of us, the experts have failed to articulate what might have been a perfectly good case. People must be properly informed. They must not be just blandly reassured—because they will not accept that reassurance.

Your Lordships will notice in the report a very proper concern and suggestions about the disposal of radioactive waste, with a preference for deep burial in granitic formations. Now, the authorities are looking for possible sites, apparently in Galloway and the Western Isles. In the small hours of yesterday morning in another place that issue was raised under the Consolidated Fund Bill. It was raised by perfectly reasonable people. Is that nuclear superstition? No. It represents a proper demand for the what, the why and the wherefore of what is going on. You cannot expect people to accept something they do not understand; and no matter whether they live in Galloway or anywhere else, they have to know the facts. That is where the communications have broken down over all these years.

The Royal Commission was right, in spite of what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Sherfield, and the noble Lord, Lord Zuckerman, to involve itself in questions of nuclear sabotage, guerrilla risks and nuclear blackmail. All of them are appallingly feasible. The only reticence one should exercise is when one starts putting ideas into people's heads—and I could put plenty! With all due deference to the noble Lord, Lord Zuckerman, it is not science fiction. It has been demonstrated in America how casual has been the approach to the handling and the accessibility of fissile material. In one installation, exposed in Science Magazine, no more than rabbit wire was used—you needed only a pair of clippers and you could go and help yourself. The bomb is no longer that top secret for which, for exposing it, the Rosenbergs were sent to the electric chair. It is not a kitchen-table-in-Clapham device. Determined people can and often do get the knowledge, but short of making a bomb—you do not even have to make one—the evidence of having the capacity and the materials would be blackmail enough to hijack a community.

That is one of the reasons why the proliferation of plutonium has properly exercised the Royal Commission. In a way, I am committed to the fast breeder reactor. In the early 'sixties, I called it "the pixilated pile" and compared it to the pixies filling the coal-scuttle every time you stoked the fire. That is what it is—a process of producing more fuel than you consume. I still think that, until you have fusion energy, this is the neatest form—or, as the scientist would say, it is a beautiful form—of fission reaction. But, none the less, in spite of my precedent, I go along with the report in its reservations about the fast breeder and the whole question of the plutonium economy.

I want to say this, because I seem to remember, when I was writing about this all those years ago, that we were talking about using thorium as the blank for the breeder, and in this case we would be converting thorium into Uranium 233. Uranium 233 is degradable, recoverable or treatable in a way that plutonium, with its half-life, certainly is not. I am just wondering why we have lost sight of that. All I know is that when we are talking about plutonium, we are talking about the most deadly poison known to man.

That brings me to the projected nuclear development, with which the report deals so effectively on pages 72 and 73. We are told that the amount of plutonium involved in the AEA programme would increase from a little over 10 tonnes in 1975 to about 250 tonnes by the year 2000, and to perhaps 10 times that figure by the year 2030. This would be accompanied by the movements of plutonium between facilities, which would number several hundreds per year by the year 2000, and several thousands by the year 2030. In the next 25 years, the amount of radioactive wastes stored in liquid form, but intensively radioactive and continuing so for centuries—radioactive in the sense that it has to be kept practically refrigerated or chilled, to prevent it from boiling and so on—will occupy a volume of 6,000 cubic metres.

But radiation hazard is not a parochial question. It can affect peoples remote from the epicentres of nuclear power. It has been projected that by the year 2020 in the United States there could be the equivalent of 2,000 large reactors, most of them breeder reactors, and that would involve something like 60 fuel processing and fabrication plants, handling something like 30,000 tonnes of plutonium. This could involve about 100,000 shipments of plutonium annually, from one place to another, and that is a great many curies to have loose on the move.

The Royal Commission disavows all knowledge of the military dispositions of nuclear energy. This is discreet but, I respectfully suggest, disingenuous. The military dispositions are very much a question of the environment—and, in the event of a nuclear holocaust, totally so. A long way short of a nuclear holocaust, all the concern expressed about industrial uses applies manifold to the military. There is now stockpiled in the arsenals of the nuclear Powers, in terms of fissile materials, an estimated 100 tons of TNT equivalent for every man, woman and child on earth, which is capable of reducing the entire planet to a radioactive desert. To produce that military potential has meant radioactive wastes of the scale which we are projecting into the future. Fifteen years ago, in my book Living with the Atom. I pointed out that already, then, in the burial grounds at Hanford in the State of Washington, where millions of gallons of liquid wastes were boiling in stainless steel tanks, it had cost as much to bury the live atoms as it cost to bury all the dead Pyramid Kings of Egypt. The transport of fissile materials about which we are agitating takes place, in military terms, all the time and in fabricated forms.

The United States has 30,000 nuclear weapons, 8,000 of which are strategical and 22,000 tactical. Of the tactical, 7,000 are in Europe. These latter represent 20 times the total ordnance employed in World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam war. The Soviet Union's tactical nuclear weapons in Europe are estimated conservatively at 3,500. So there are 10,500 tactical nuclear weapons—a nuclear minefield—and the smallest have an explosive power equivalent to 1,000 tons of chemical explosive while the largest have an explosive power of more than 1 million tons equivalent.

One of the points I wish to stress is that it is estimated that nearly 120,000 persons have access to United States' nuclear weapons and weapons-grade fissionable materials. A Congressional inquiry has recently shown that 3,647 persons with access to nuclear weapons were removed from their jobs during a single year—that is, 1974—because of mental illness, alcoholism, drug abuse or breach of discipline. I hate to make your Lordships' flesh creep, but we are speaking here about a potential of access, in terms of the distribution of weapons, which makes minute whatever we are speaking about regarding safeguards at Windscale. But we are forewarned. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Zuckerman, who said, with justification, that what we did in terms of application of foresight in the nuclear industry can apply also to security. But we have to know about it; it is no good running away. I am grateful to the Royal Commission for drawing attention to this point in their report and for making us aware of it, even if it makes us jump out of our seats and not sleep very well at night.