HL Deb 18 May 1976 vol 370 cc1310-54

5.12 p.m.

Lord HINTON of BANKSIDE rose to move, That this House takes note of the Twenty-eighth Report of the European Communities Committee of this session on the siting of JET (R/253/76). The noble Lord said: My Lords, although the Report is a short one, it deals with an extremely complex subject, but I believe it does this in a way which is clear and I hope I shall not take up your Lordships' time by repeating what is already clearly stated in that Report.

Your Lordships will remember that last December we debated in this House the Report of your Committee on the plan that had been prepared in Brussels for the supply of energy to the Community in the year 1985. We found it necessary to criticise that Report, mainly because of the size of its nuclear component. We understood and we sympathised with the thinking which had led the Commission to propose so large a nuclear programme. They had in mind the fact that within the Community the reserves of coal are limited and that the reserves of oil and natural gas are comparatively small. They had in mind, too, that the possibility of getting large quantities of power from renewable sources, such as solar energy or wave or wind power, within the near future was very limited, and to meet a shortage which was obvious it was natural that they should propose large nuclear programme. But we felt—and we felt bound to say—that that programme was unrealistically large and that it might even be dangerous.

I think it was realized at that time that there is at present—and probably even by 1985 the situation will remain the same—no real shortage of energy. Such shortages as we are having to put up with at the moment are economic rather than real, but there is good reason to believe that about the end of the century there will be a real shortage of energy, and even though use of the renewable resources is developed as quickly as possible I think it is certain that we shall have to rely on nuclear power to supply a large part of the World's requirement of energy.

That need for nuclear power cannot be met by continuing to build the type of thermal reactors which are at present being constructed, because if that is done we shall be short of uranium. That shortage can be remedied only if the fast reactor is developed, and developed quickly. But every honest man must admit that hazards arise from the use of both thermal and fast reactors. I believe that with care and skill and by resisting the inclination of engineers and scientists to be over-ambitious, we can make nuclear plants safe for ourselves and for our children. But we should be irresponsible if we failed to remember that all fission reactors produce long-lived radioactive products. Some of these radioactive products will retain that activity for a period which stretches out into the future far further than known history stretches out into the future far further than known history stretches into the past. I think that while meeting our own and our children's needs for energy we ought not to ignore the problems that we may be creating for far distant generations if we leave those future generations to deal with unnecessarily large quantities of radio-active materials.

One way of minimizing the problem that we leave for posterity is to get power from atomic fission. Fusion reactors would almost certainly leave far smaller quantities of radioactive products as a problem for posterity and it is this, as much as the problem of uranium supply, which makes me feel that the development of fusion power is a matter of urgency. This urgency is realised both in the Community and in other industrial countries, and a great deal of research has already been done although much more is needed. Unfortunately, most nuclear research is expensive and it may seem that the Community is already spending a great deal of money on research into plasma physics, but our present EEC expenditure is not large when compared with that of other highly industrialised countries. I believe I am right in saying that the USSR is spending twice as much as the EEC on fission research and that the USA is spending about half as much again as Europe is spending.

In the EEC the next step forward in nuclear fusion research is to build the Joint European Torus. If Europe intends to continue to do development on fusion reactors, the decision to start work on JET must be taken quickly. There must be a sense of urgency because unless JET is built soon and is built on the best possible site, we shall find ourselves so far behind the Russians and the Americans, and possibly even the Japanese, that our work will prove to be nugatory.

Two decisions are needed: The first is the decision to proceed with the construction of JET and the second is a decision on the site on which JET should be built. In considering the second of those problems, the problem dealt with in the Paper before your Lordships' House, I want to suggest to your Lordships that one consideration is paramount in determining the siting of the new plant; that consideration is, on which site will results be obtained most quickly and most successfully?

The problems that have to be solved before we achieve controlled nuclear fusion are extremely complex, far more complex than we met in establishing fission reactors. Experience teaches us that when such complex problems have to be solved, they are best and most quickly solved when the work is done in centres of excellence. One sees proof of this if one looks back to the work done by that brilliant team at Farnborough during the First World War, if one remembers the work done at the Cavendish Laboratory in Cambridge under Ruther- ford in the 1930s, if one looks back at the work done by the Royal Radar Establishment during the last war, and the work done at Harwell after that war. I suggest it is a matter of absolute importance that JET should be built on a site which is already a centre of excellence.

My Lords, there are four sites competing for the JET project. They are the Euratom Laboratory at Ispra, in the North of Italy, Cadarache in the South of France, Garching, near Munich, and Culham, eight miles South of Oxford. If I say that Ispra has a sad history, I am not being critical. That history I think is its misfortune rather than its fault. Ispra has done virtually no plasma research, and in the field of plasma physics it certainly cannot be considered as a centre of excellence. The officials of the EEC claim that that is not of importance. They say that experts can be flown in for discussions as and when necessary, but in all of my experience sporadic visits of that sort do not make a centre of excellence. It is when able men working on related problems meet each other every day round the lunch table or in their homes in the evenings that there is that cross-fertilization of ideas which helps to solve the problems of an incredibly difficult project.

I feel that there is little other than sympathy that could lead to the choice of Ispra as a site for JET. As I look back on my life in industry, I realise I made all my worst mistakes when I took decisions on grounds of sympathy and not on considerations of logic. I believe that other work can be found for Ispra; for instance, work on high energy neutrons, I am sure that JET should not he sited there.

At present the French are not doing research on plasma physics at Cadarache. Their work on plasma physics is being done at Fontenay-aux-Roses and at Grenoble. I understand that if Cadarache were chosen as a site for JET they would move plasma physics from Fontenayaux-Roses to Cadarache. But I suggest that if this is done there must be serious disruption of the work which is at present being clone at Fontenay. The experimental apparatus is large, heavy and complex, and the engineering effort of moving it must be very great indeed. While it is being moved, the present work being done on plasma physics must be disrupted, and I feel sure that the dispersion of effort would lead to delay in the construction of JET if it were located at Cadarache. In spite of the fact that in recent years the French have achieved exemplary speed in some of their nuclear development, I believe that Cadarache should be dismissed, because in my opinion delay is inevitable if the French plan is carried out.

We are left with Garching and Culham. To make a choice between those two sites requires a judgment of Solomon. The noble Lord, Lord Ironside, who is speaking later in this debate, visited Garching with me last week. Our visit was paid after the report of the sub-committee had been agreed. I think that perhaps if we had been able to pay that visit earlier, it is possible—and here I am expressing a personal opinion—that the last paragraph of the Select Committee's Report might have been rather differently worded.

Both at Culham and at Garching the staff at all levels is outstandingly good and full of enthusiasm. Both establishments are well designed, and both are carrying out plasma physics research on a similar scale and doing work of a similar complexity and importance. Both establishments have room for expansion. Culham has the advantage of having at its disposal the general engineering support that can be given by the Atomic Energy Establishment at Risley, but Garching seems to have managed very well in the past with its own engineering design teams, with the help of German industry, and by the employment of consultants.

It can reasonably be claimed that the electricity supply at Culham is more solid than at Garching, but Garching has a firm offer of supply from the local undertaking. Whether that local undertaking has made it clear to its partners in the German interconnected network that there will be some disturbance of voltage and frequency I do not know, but I feel it is something we must leave them to sort out for themselves. Garching is already starting to complete one large Tokamak which goes under the name of Asdex, due for completion in 1978. I do not for one moment wish to argue on the basis of fair shares for all; rather, I want to argue that Asdex will stretch the Garching staff to a reasonable limit and that for this reason JET, which is the next step forward, should go to Culham.

Technical considerations are outstandingly important. I think that in addition we have to weigh the ancillary attractions of those two sites. I myself would dismiss the visual environmental amenities of the surrounding countryside as being of secondary importance. In my experience, good men will go wherever interesting work is being done under good management. The very successful engineering team which gathered at Risley to build Britain's atomic energy factories in the years after the war certainly did not go to South Lancashire to admire the scenery. The back-drop at Risley might well have been painted by Lowry.

Where Garching has a real environmental advantage is in education. Already there are foreign language centres in the area. In addition, the EEC is establishing a multilingual centre there to meet the requirements of the large patents office which it is establishing. One of the arguments made in favour of Garching is that it would be better to build JET at a place where the EEC already has a multilingual centre than to put it at Culham, where the size of the JET staff would not justify a similar school. I cannot accept that argument. Carried to the extreme it would mean that EEC activities would be centred round EEC multilingual schools. I would sooner argue thaw the United Kingdom is now in Europe and that, if we are to he good Europeans, we need an EEC multilingual school. There could be no better place for such a school than Oxford, which is only eight miles from Culham.

There is one last point which I wish to emphasise. It would be quite wrong to imagine that this JET is a prototype fusion power reactor. If JET were built at Culham, this would not give Britain the inside track in the construction of industrial fusion power plants. I think that one can find an analogy by looking back at the development of fission power plants. Research work on nuclear fission had been going on for several years before Enrico Fermi built the world's first nuclear pile in the squash courts at Chicago University. When he started to build that pile no one knew whether, with the resources of knowledge and materials available at that time, it would be possible to sustain a fission chain reaction. Fermi's pile proved that this was possible, but many more experimental piles and a great deal of research work had to be done before the world's first large scale prototype nuclear power plant was commissioned in 1956.

Fusion scientists today are not nearly so far advanced as Fermi was when he started to build his reactor. They do not know whether, with the resources that are available, nuclear fusion can be achieved, and they do not even know whether JET will prove that controlled fusion can be achieved. Even if success were achieved in JET, it is certain that a prototype plant will have to be built before the system could he used industrially, and it is quite certain that such a prototype could not be built at Culham.

We in Britain stand to gain little, if anything, in long-term industrial advantage from the choice of Culham as the site for JET. I am told that wherever JET is built the orders for the main components will be placed in whichever of the EEC countries is best able to supply the equipment. Industrially we stand the same chance as our EEC partners do.

In hoping that Culham will be chosen as the site for JET I am not being chauvinistic. If it could be proved that results could be obtained more quickly and more satisfactorily at Garching, I should be in favour of building JET there. But I think that, with the present load of work on Garching, results will be obtained most quickly at Culham. But quite certainly an early decision must be taken if we are to remain abreast of others who are working in this field. Unless results can be obtained quickly, it is not worth while for the EEC to be active in the field of plasma physics. It would be better to leave developments to the Americans, the Russians, and even the Japanese. There is no dividend in this world in chasing one's competitors round the block. I beg to move.

Moved, that this House takes note of the Twenty-eighth Report of the European Communities Committee of this session on the siting of JET. (R/253/76.)—(Lord Hinton of Bankside.)

5.35 p.m.


My Lords, I think I can honestly claim that I have to be brief after the very authoritative and clear way in which the noble Lord, Lord Hinton, has predictably presented this debate this evening. If it is not pretentious, I think I can say that I agree with every word he said, and really there is not a great deal more to be said. He has pointed out that all forms of nuclear fission lead to pollution; that the more sophisticated types of reactors that we are currently developing tend to be more dangerous in this respect than the ones we are currently using, that is the fast breeders; that they are using finite resources, that is, uranium; and, therefore, sooner or later we have to find some alternative source of energy. There would appear to be two possibilities. One is the sun, the various manifestations of the energy which arrives on this planet from the sun, and the other one is the possibility of nuclear fusion, so far as we can see at the present time.

So far as the other alternatives are concerned, I think it is worth making the point that this country is perhaps potentially less dependent upon nuclear power than almost any other country in the developed world. We have greater and longer lasting resources of both coal and oil than any other developed country, and we also have something that is not often mentioned or recognised. We have potentially, on a 20 or 30 year time-scale, the very useful contribution to be made from the waves which beat upon the Atlantic shores of this country. This is less true of almost any one of our fellow European nations than it is of this country. For these two reasons, therefore, it is worth noticing that the urgency of nuclear power production is less pressing upon us than it is upon them. It is as well to recognise that we are different from them in this important respect.

If we look at the slightly longer time scale, it is not a very serious difference, would suggest. I would say merely that we ought to think carefully whether we are devoting enough of our research effort to the so-called renewable sources of energy, when we compare the amount of research which we are currently devoting to nuclear research. Furthermore, there is one further point about all these renewable resources. It is perfectly clear that the results are attainable in every case. They are demonstrably feasible within a finite time-scale. I should like to agree very much with the noble Lord in emphasising that fusion is by no means certainly possible. I think he was saying that he would have some doubt as to whether this report is not perhaps unduly optimistic when it says: Fusion is roughly at the stage reached by fission when the first pile was being built in 1941. Fission technology passed through many stages in various countries before a prototype power plant could be commissioned at Calder Hall in 1956. In other words, that is a period of 15 years, as the noble Lord said, from the first pile to the Calder Hall reactor. I would suggest-—and I believe the noble Lord was saying this in another way—that it would be very optimistic to hope that we shall be at the Calder Hall stage in 15 years' time, so far as fusion is concerned.

All those things having been said, it is perfectly clear that it is right for us to play our part in fusion research, and that the JET project is the biggest and most important part of that programme. It is an interesting observation, in passing, that I believe that the name "Toekamak" or "Tokamak", I am not sure how it is pronounced, is there because this research originated, rather surprisingly, in cooperation between the Europeans and the Russians—and heaven knows we should welcome that rather unusual experience!

I would also agree with the noble Lord that the first priority is the progress of the job, and we clearly here want to make the best use of all our resources, including money. Here Culham begins to have its impressive claims. The tradition of fusion technology and plasma research there, as the noble Lord said, is second to none. Therefore, I would agree with the Report when it says on page 5: On this criterion Ispra must fail. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Hinton of Bankside, would agree with me when I say that the European Communities Commission background note put out on 18th February appears to be standing some of these arguments on their head. They say: It is necessary to ensure that a truly Community team can be brought together on the site, with adequate Community services and facilities. They go on: Furthermore, it is essential to ensure that the construction of JET does not cause any upset to the essential parts of the rest of the Community fusion programme. They then go on to argue that putting JET at places where this kind of research has been going on could conceivably hold up progress.

But the noble Lord was saying, if I understood him correctly—and I hope I did, because it is part of my own feeling about this—that one of the most fundamental reasons for wanting to put this project at Culham is that this is precisely, to use his term, "Where the centre of excellence in this particular world is". To argue that putting a project of this sort in the "centre of excellence" is thereby going to prejudice and damage the other work that is going on there seems to me to be a totally nonsensical argument. This really, as I understand it, is practically the only argument which is put forward in favour of Ispra, apart from the thoroughly unrespectable one of the Italian Government, apparently, saying, "If you do not bring this project to our country, we shall attempt to veto the whole European effort". It is a really astonishing assertion from a Government about which the kindest thing one can say is that their political stability is somewhat in question, however kindly a view one takes of that Government—and I am not in any way trying to be anti-Italian but trying to be totally realistic.

In face of these arguments I find it rather odd that there are any doubts at all that this project should go to Culham, and I hope that the noble Lord, when he replies, might be able to reassure us on one or two possible reasons why the decision to go to Culham might have been questioned. Have we upset our European colleagues by the cancellation of the Dragon project? We had a Question this afternoon on rather the same lines about our co-operation in the European airbus project, which suggested that Britons are no longer respectable collaborators in these high technology industries. I sincerely hope that this is not the case. I do not wish to embarrass the noble Lord, but can he reassure us that his colleague, Mr. Benn, has not irreparably upset some of his European colleagues by saying that he thinks it is more important to attend trade union meetings in the North Country than to go to European energy discussions?—because I think I would find that a little worrying were I one of his European colleagues.

The noble Lord, Lord Hinton, went on to deal with the important question of what is sometimes called the infrastructure. I hope that the noble Lord will be able to tell us that, while the Government may not be able perhaps to take a very positive action in making the necessary educational facilities available, at least they will not impede any efforts in this direction. This again, on past form, is not something which could be wholly possible to rely on in the educational field in this country. Then there is the curious argument which comes out in some of the papers whereby the European Community appeared to be saying, "We must support our Community facility. Simply because it is a Community facility, we must put something there." Here again we come back to Lord Hinton's argument: should we not all the time keep in the forefront of our minds that what we are trying to do is get on with the job? For goodness sake, let us not play that kind of politics with something as important as this.

So I end up totally persuaded by the noble Lord that Culham has an unassailable claim on scientific, organisational, and on technical logical grounds. I sincerely hope that the noble Lord will be able to tell us that the Government are prepared to support this scientific logic by a positive enthusiasm for the project, and that they will devote the considerable political skill to it which has been demonstrated by this Government—perhaps I might think in regrettable directions. Political skill is one of the things they have never shown themselves to be lacking in, and they are going to need it all in this instance. We are, for once, in the happy situation where our national aspirations are wholly pointing in the same direction as the international benefit. I sincerely hope that the Government will tell us that Culham has their wholehearted support.

5.48 p.m.


My Lords, as is customary, I must ask your Lordships' indulgence as this is the first time that I have spoken in your Lordships' House. I think it would be best if I gave your Lordships a brief description of my background. I address your Lordships as a humble engineer. I use the word "humble" after some consideration as I feel that a fourth class honours degree entitles the holder to humility. It must, therefore, be clear that it is a most daunting prospect for me to follow a speaker with the enormous knowledge and experience of the noble Lord, Lord Hinton of Bankside.

I have had the privilege over the last few months of sitting on the Sub-Committee chaired by the noble Earl, Lord Lauderdale, and in the light of the evidence that has been made available to us I should like to draw your Lordships' attention to one or two points. The first is that I believe it is worse than useless to put our faith in so-called benign forms of energy production such as tidal power, wave and wind power, and solar furnaces. All these are methods of energy production which deserve encouragement, but none of which could come anywhere near to supplying our needs when oil and coal run short. It is merely fiddling with the problem to look on them as our salvation.

Secondly, it seems highly misguided, as a country, to spend, as I believe we do, nearly 10 times as much on research into nuclear fission as we do on nuclear fusion. The whole cost of JET could be covered by one year's expenditure on fission research. We must remember that fusion has the potential of producing vastly greater quantities of energy using relatively cheap and plentiful raw materials, and producing no direct radioactive waste. I am convinced that the best chance of solving the world's long-term energy problems lies in the speediest possible development of a fusion reactor.

As for JET, the evidence shows that Culham is the best site as regards both the facilities and the unparallelled wealth of expertise available there. Nevertheless, I believe that it would be better for the project to go elsewhere than to fall further behind schedule. Having said that, I should add the rider that if the project does go elsewhere, it will of necessity fall behind schedule, obviously very much more so if it goes to Ispra than if it goes to, say, Garching or Cadarache.

The way forward in fusion research is going to be lengthy, difficult and possibly hazardous. There is a great deal of work to be done on the development of instrumentation and controls, and above all materials, in addition to the work already done and described in the JET design proposals. There must always be a risk of unexpected energy emissions, although it is only fair to say that these will be extremely localised and it seems inconceivable that an accident of the magnitude that occurred at Windscale a few years ago could occur in a fusion project. However, it is certain that the end result of a successful programme will so outweigh the dilliculties and hazards that they pale into insignificance.

Let us prove that this country does not always dawdle over important projects. In recent years we have missed out on the siting of the Geneva accelerator and the Eurospace laboratories, which are now in Holland. We must ensure that Britain gets a share of the action but, above all, we must ensure that the action actually happens, and soon. If we do not, we shall go down in history as the generation which not only squandered the world's natural resources but bequeathed to its descendants a monstrous legacy—the guardianship of a hideous quantity of poisonous chemical and nuclear waste.

5.53 p.m.

Viscount SIMON

My Lords, I have the happy duty of being the first to offer congratulations to the noble Duke, the Duke of Hamilton and Brandon, on his excellent maiden speech. He obviously spoke with knowledge, he gave a well-balanced account of his mental processes, all in a splendid logical sequence, and he ended with a nice appeal which must have warmed us all. I do not know whether I am in order in adding for the information of your Lordships that the noble Duke only just got here after having the pleasure of greeting a new member of his family, so we might add our congratulations to him and the Duchess and our good wishes to the new arrival.

As the noble Lord, Lord Strathcona and Mount Royal, said, there is very little that one can add to the masterly speech of the noble Lord, Lord Hinton of Bankside, in introducing the Motion. On the question of the siting of JET, I have only a few points to make. The first is a general observation because perhaps we have tended, certainly in the Committee, to be rather critical of the Commission in the decision it reached. I believe that it was the wrong decision, but wrong decisions are sometimes reached for quite explainable reasons. It seems to me that any attempt to decide the relative merit of different sites on a points basis obviously depends for its validity on the relative weight which is given to the different factors which are taken into account.

As Lord Hinton reminded us, the Commission has gone on record as saying that it did not consider the presence or absence of plasma physics experience to be a determining factor. I suppose that it can be said that no one factor is, strictly speaking, a determining factor, or there would be no need to consider other factors. But as the noble Lord pointed out, there is no doubt at all that this factor—the presence or absence of plasma physics experience—is absolutely paramount, and the views expressed by the Commission seem to imply that it was wrongly advised in this matter and that this most important factor has not been given adequate weight in comparison, for example, with factors associated with social conditions. I agree with the noble Lord that people who are really keen on a job will not worry much about social conditions. I might add that there is already a large international body working at Culham and we have not heard that any of the people or their families who come from other countries are complaining about the conditions there; and if more had to come to carry out the JET project I have no doubt that those conditions would be enlarged as necessary.

There is one other matter that I should mention in connection with siting. Since the report was published, my noble friend Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran, who unfortunately cannot be here today, paid a visit to Washington. While there he was invited to attend as an observer a high-powered symposium on the development of energy from nuclear fusion. Meeting in the corridors some of the United States delegates to that symposium, he was rather surprised to find a lobby, if I may so describe it, in support of the siting of JET at Ispra explicitly on political grounds. How, one wonders, has this come about? It appears that the Commission has an active propaganda organisation in the United States. It is perhaps permissible to guess that on this issue, which one would have thought was not of any direct interest to the Americans, the Commission, having come to a decision that it is clearly finding difficult to defend, felt that it might get some support by taking advantage of the natural concern of all NATO allies, and particularly of the United States at this time, about the political situation in Italy. Be that as it may, my noble friend tells me that when he put to the delegates the sort of views that have been expounded so brilliantly by Lord Hinton he found that they excited a reasonable amount of interest, but that the Americans were firmly convinced, by what they had been told, that Ispra was the right solution. I do not know whether the noble Lord who will reply, through his contacts with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, has heard of this; it seems curious that what is essentially a European problem should be discussed in those terms in America.

I wish briefly to draw attention to another aspect of the matter, and that is the importance of establishing the right organisational framework within which this vitally important research can be carried on. I recognise that this is not explicitly dealt with in the report; it arises from the statement which is made earlier in the report that the Commission and the Council of Ministers have agreed to set up this advisory committee. On this aspect, the noble Earl, Lord Lauderdale, who was hoping to be present before the end of the debate but who was in Scotland earlier in the day, has received a letter from Dr. Pease, the very able director of the laboratory at Culham, which he handed to me before he went away because he felt that he might not be here to refer to it. In this letter, Dr. Pease expresses concern that the right framework for cooperation in this field among Western European countries has not yet been found. It is most important that it should be found, and found quickly. As I have already said, the Commission and the Council have now agreed to set up a consultative committee on fusion to advise on the broader aspects of the programme.

It has been suggested that the committee's first task may be re-examine the question of siting but, looking further ahead, it is of great importance that the functions of that Committee should be clearly defined. It would be more than unfortunate if, having been set up to advise on the broader aspects of the fusion programme, we should find the Committee becoming involved in the planning of the work. Once a programme has been agreed and financial limits set, it should be for the director and the staff to carry it out. I hope that we can be assured that this advisory committee will not be like a back seat driver constantly making suggestions or offering criticism. This type of research cannot be effectively controlled by a committee, however eminent its members—indeed, I may say that the more eminent the members the more likely they are to disagree and the more difficult it will be for them to control anything. So I hope that, when the Minister comes to reply, he will be able to tell us that it is quite clear that the committee is an advisory committee on the broad lines of policy and is not concerned with implementation.

6.2 p.m.


My Lords, we have heard many fine speeches this afternoon and I am sure that we are all very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Hinton, for giving us an opportunity of speaking on this subject. May I be the second of your Lordships to congratulate the noble Duke, the Duke of Hamilton, on his maiden speech. It was a model of humility and competence. I hope that we shall hear a great deal more of him from his eyrie up in Scotland.

Previous speakers have already covered a great deal of ground and repetition by me would be tedious. However, I should like to start by saying that, when I first came into contact with the problem of the siting of JET, I was slightly confused by the nomenclature and I should not be surprised if other noble Lords suffered the same confusion. For instance, the mention of "jet" to me means some form of turbine which squirts out a jet of gas or water. But, in the case we have under discussion today, "JET" means "Joint European Torus". "Torus" rather threw me for a loop and somewhat confused me until I discovered that a torus is a hollow, ring-shaped device something like a doughnut and that inside it there circulates this blessed stuff called plasma. I was gratified to learn that this plasma has nothing to do with the substitute for human blood but is a mysterious but definable substance sometimes recognised as a fourth state, the other three being solids, liquids and gases. It is therefore clear that we are dealing with a highly sophisticated matter.

That brings me to the main theme of what I have to say, which is that at Culham there is in being and in operation a highly advanced project which, to my mind, has all the earmarks of a successful venture. I have spent much of my business life in connection with laboratories and research establishments and I know full well how difficult it is to get the right kind of ambience and the proper mutual understanding among a team of highly intellectual and, therefore very sensitive physicists and scientists. After the lifetime's experience which I have enjoyed, one can almost smell the efficiency of a plant or a laboratory as one walks through it and I was sensible with Culham that that odour of efficiency was very marked. That bodes well for its future functioning.

I have not, like some of my colleagues on Sub-Committee F, had the benefit of having visited any of the alternative sites for JET, but I know from having been an executive director of an Italian chemical and pharmaceutical corporation that it is not a simple matter to obtain a stable, level-headed degree of operation among people who, by nature, have, to say the least of it, a delicate artistic outlook and whose background and ancestry are not noted for highly technical innovation and sustainment. After all, we in Britain can claim certain very major breakthroughs in the world of science. The invention of radar during the war has already been mentioned; there were also the original splitting of the atom, the development of the gas turbine, the introduction of penicillin.

All these are original pages in the British history book. No one can doubt that fact. We also discovered the method of aeroplane fuselage construction which is now known as "fail-safe". Other countries have exploited these inventions, but, to the never-ending credit of Britain, they were first developed in this country. I grant that we perhaps did not commercialise or productionise these inventions, but there were circumstances which at the time militated against our doing so. But, in so far as the JET project is concerned, it is not so much a matter of productionising the final form as of culminating the experimental development in a workable undertaking.

What impresses me and what I hope will be accepted and fostered by your Lordships is that at Culham we have a development which is well on the way. There there are two units in which the principle of fusion is being proven. To try to move that undertaking elsewhere would create a big hiccup in the European programme for the generation of energy from atomic fusion. I must make it quite clear that, however little or however far energy creation by fission has gone, the fact remains that fission absorbs fuel whereas fusion can be developed to generate fuel and that means that fears of running out of atomic energy in years to come as a result of lack of material resources are negated. Unless it can be irrevocably proved that there is more hardware in an operating state somewhere else, I would give my judgment that the European Community will get far more out of developing the site at Culham than elsewhere.

This is not a small undertaking. The next stage which is proposed at Culham is a reactor which will be far bigger than the whole of this Chamber, taking it from ground level. It is a very important undertaking and involves the bright idea of making the shield which must surround future devices of this kind into a structural part of the undertaking. There are all kinds of advantages in the design which appeal to me as (in the words of the noble Duke, the Duke of Hamilton) a humble engineer, particularly the fact that the amount of active material involved in the fusion process is comparatively small, so that any danger of cataclysmic explosions is reduced.

Those of us who know Culham have seen the plans and models of the buildings concerned. All this is under way and I believe that we should be very ill-advised not to take note of what has already been achieved, what is in the pipeline and how important it is to maintain the tempo and the enthusiasm of a team of some 800 dedicated souls who will work even harder if they know that their future and that of their families is stable. I can assure your Lordships that highly sophisticated scientific units such as those involved in this project cannot be moved around willy-nilly, either in terms of humanity or in terms of hardware. My vote is strongly in favour of Culham and I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to tell us.

6.9 p.m.


My Lords, I shall make only a brief intervention in this debate, since the noble Lord, Lord Hinton, has very thoroughly covered the main points which arc of concern to me. I feel that the whole House is indebted to him for the trouble which he has taken to examine the question in depth. Perhaps I may also add a tribute to the maiden speech of the noble Duke, the Duke of Hamilton. Some of us are neither humble nor engineers and therefore much less qualified to speak in this debate than he. I hope we shall hear from him often in the future.

Perhaps I should declare an interest, although it is somewhat out of date. When I succeeded the noble Lord, Lord Plowden, as chairman of the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority, it had already been decided to concentrate the thermonuclear and plasma physics work of the Authority, then divided between Harwell and Aldermaston, at a new laboratory at Culham and planning permission was obtained in January, 1960. Culham was selected for its propinquity to the atomic energy establishment at Harwell and the Clarendon Laboratory at the university of Oxford. In my first report as chairman of the Authority I observed that as the basic scientific research for which Culham was planned was not classified, it would be possible to make arrangements for free international collaboration and for visiting scientists from other countries to share in the work. It was therefore designed from the outset to be an international centre. The Authority of course had already done much work on fusion by that time, including the ZETA experiment at Harwell, and this, though one of several false dawns in this field, was none the less the ancestor of the present-day machines.

From 1960 until 1964 the Culham laboratories were built up in stages. The first stage was completed in 1962, with a staff of 300 under the skilled direction of Dr. John Adams. The laboratory was in full operation in 1964. The extent of the resources which should be committed to what in relation to the then very pressing problems of reactor development was a long-range project, was kept under constant review. However, it was decided, because of the huge prize of a successful fusion project, to continue with the build-up of the Culham site. As a result, the laboratory has been in operation for nearly 15 years and in that period has become a centre of excellence in this branch of natural science. I think that the present head of the establishment has been working there almost from the outset. I entirely share the view of the noble Lord, Lord Hinton of Bankside, of the importance of building on strength. I am not aware that any fusion work at all has been done at Ispra.

I have not said anything about Garching as I have never been there, and the noble Lord, Lord Hinton of Bankside, has covered that subject in detail. The Germans, I understand, are also opposed to Ispra, and have put in a claim for Garching. I would only point out that what the noble Lord, Lord Hinton of Bankside, said supports the Commission's view that with major fusion experiments already under way at Garching, to put a third there might stretch the facilities too far.

The Commission's report seems to cast some doubt on the back-up facilities available at Culham, but since Harwell is only a few minutes away it is appropriate to think in terms of a Culham-Harwell-Oxford complex of facilities. The Director of Culham, in his evidence to the Select Committee, spoke of the JET project as primarily in the field of engineering physics, but if more engineering support is required than can be found locally, then the back-up, as the noble Lord, Lord Hinton of Bankside, pointed out, could very easily be provided from the Authority's engineering laboratories at Risley—more specialised and accessible, I would suppose, than anything similar available at any of the other sites.

It has, I believe, been adduced as one argument for putting the European project at Ispra, that the educational and social facilities for members of the project would be much better than at Culham. I may perhaps be excused for being partisan; if I point out that Culham is not exactly located in a cultural desert, placed as it is between the universities of Oxford and Reading, within a few miles of the scientific establishment of Harwell, and the Rutherford and Clarendon laboratories, with access to all the educational, intellectual, cultural and linguistic facilities which exist in and around Oxford. It is true, I suppose, that the surroundings in Munich provide an environment which, if not comparable to that in Oxford, is very fine indeed. Nevertheless, I think at Ispra, despite the beautiful scenery in which it is placed, there is no such complex of facilities available.

If one now considers some of the political aspects of this matter, my mind goes back to the many occasions in which over the years the United Kingdom has put in a proposal that an international organisation should have its headquarters in this country. These proposals have almost always been rejected by our friends and allies, and as a rule Her Majesty's Government have never thought the issue to be of sufficient importance to dig their toes in. It is of course the case that the European Nuclear Energy Agency, the Dragon project, was set up at Winfrith and ran smoothly until last year, having carried research into the high temperature reactor systems about as far as was practicable on that scale. At the time that the Dragon project was set up, Winfrith was probably the only suitable place for it. But of the other innumerable international organisations I believe that the headquarters of only one or two have been established in this country. Of course this is not a conclusive argument, and I am not suggesting for a moment that international organisations should be set up according to the Law of Buggins's Turn; but it seems to be fair to claim that the United Kingdom should get one occasionally, especially when the arguments are as strong as they are in this instance.

My Lords, having read the documents in the case, I find the present position rather depressing. There seems to be a dialogue of the deaf between those who put Community politics ahead of scientific excellence and those who put the priorities the other way round. The first group also seem anxious to overwhelm the scientific programme with a pyramid of commissions and committees that are only too likely to stifle the project in a bureaucratic strait-jacket. If Europe is really to keep abreast of the Americans and the Russians in this field, then the scientific research and development must be carried on in the best scientific environment, with the greatest possible speed, and with a minimum of red tape.

We have seen many examples of the dangers of embarking on large advanced technological projects for political reasons, or indeed for any reason extraneous to the scientific and technological merit and welfare of the project itself. I hope we shall not now agree that a similar error should be made in the case of the JET. Without being chauvinistic or nationalistic or over-partisan, it seems to me that there is good reason for the Government to stick to their guns on this issue.

6.20 p.m.


My Lords, first, I should like to declare an interest in this subject, as my company has been under contract to the Commission on JET design. Secondly, I should like to apologise to the House if I have to leave before the debate is finished, as I have another pressing engagement to carry out. Thirdly, I should like to congratulate the noble Duke on his maiden speech. I think he has made a valuable contribution on a very technical subject; and if he says he is a humble engineer, I would not agree with him about that because I think that is no mean achievement, and he should certainly be proud of it. He has said some very pertinent things, and I have listened to him with great interest. I hope we may hear him often again in this House.

The document—R/253/76—on which the Committee has reported, was published very recently by the Commission after the contents were leaked to the Press and openly discussed, thus making informed debate rather difficult until the documents were available in this House, when it was found that a date tag was attached asking for the Council's opinion within three weeks. The Commission were holding a pistol at the Council's head in this case. The decision, of course, is an important one: to spend a very large sum of money—135 million units of account—on what is the Commission's biggest project yet to be undertaken; a project which is integral with the Community's fusion programme. Under these circumstances, it is probably quite right for the Commission to ask for the Council's opinion, because the JET experiment, if it is to be a success, must be sited where success can be assured. It involves a massive investment and should not be undertaken lightly.

The noble Lord, Lord Hinton, has given the House the background to the present state of the art of nuclear studies; and if anybody held out the promise of an Eldorado in energy within the lifetime of most of us in this House at the moment, then they are not likely to be scientists and are still less likely to be engineers. I think they are much more likely to be astrologers, soothsayers or conceivably oppositions promising not only the earth but the energy of the sun and the stars as well. Fusion studies are in their infancy, and it would be true to say that wherever studies are being undertaken, on whatever scale, striking new knowledge is being gained and the hunt is on for fusion energy. Therefore, the importance of the national laboratories which have built up scientific skills must be recognised, and particularly those laboratories which have been engaged in fusion studies over a long period, which have acquired a reputation and have built up a pool of qualified and experienced professionals expert in the field. Even in South Africa, Tokamak experiments are being mounted. In that country the project is named Tokoloshe, which in fact, in South African folklore, is a mischievous spirit, and if ever there was a mischievous spirit it is a plasma, I think.

What the Commission is now proposing is that JET should go to Ispra, the leading establishment of the four Joint Research Centre sites and a place where no fusion work has yet been undertaken. The Commission is dogmatic about this. They say, "JET must be at Ispra", though I find if very difficult to support the arguments which have been advanced for this decision. They disagree fundamentally with the site committee on the necessity of having plasma physicists backing the JET team on site. Who are the site committee? They are now disbanded, of course, but they were the experts, and at least those who understood that there is a direct link between major scientific experiments, the scientists and success. Having had the opportunity to visit Culham and also to visit, a few days ago with the noble Lord, Lord Hinton, Garching, it is very clear that these two establishments are strongly staffed with physicists and other specialists. They have the facilities for setting up JET and the spare land to do this. Above all, both establishments are well served by local industry, and both have access to the major European industries upon whom the JET design team will depend for construction of the various large assemblies.

My Lords, I have not visited the competing sites of Ispra, Cadarache, Julich and Mol, but it is the view of the committee, I think, that, in the case of Cadarache, the upheavals involved in shifting the physicists en bloc from Fontenay-aux-Roses, where they are now, to the Cadarache site, if it was chosen, would cause an unacceptable setback in the fusion programme as a whole. In the case of Ispra, there are many more conflicting issues, but in a way the Ispra case is in my view easier to decide, as the establishment has no prior experience in fusion, and the risks arising out of such a decision in favour of Ispra are therefore quite obvious. Julich and Mol are not thought to be true contenders, I think, as the noble Lord, Lord Hinton, said. An important point made by Dr. Pease, the Director of Culham, is that the United Kingdom has the longest experience in Europe of constructing and operating big experiments, and the Culham laboratory have also built the largest fusion experiment to date in Western Europe. It is this experience, together with gifted staff, which is needed to avoid the pitfalls that may be encountered along the selected research route—that route which is most likely, within the limits of present knowledge, to lead to success.

The Commission is looking desperately for an excuse to mount a European project at the leading establishment—that is to say, Ispra—of the Joint Research Centre, and wishes to base JET there. What could be more unsatisfactory, my Lords, for a scientific establishment to be a latecomer in a scientific field? History teaches us that you can never catch up properly. In my view, the most important factor to take into account with JET is the track-record, and this is the one thing which is lacking at Ispra. What the Commission is saying publicly at the present time is that a project of the JET type should be at Ispra to show Community spirit, so that the Community nature of JET can be recognised, and to give the JRC something to bite on. But, my Lords, this is another problem. Why sacrifice JET on this modern Roman altar? If the JRC is to become a centre of excellence—and there is no reason why it should not be so—then build from the beginning; take a new field of science and develop new knowledge, acquire new skills and a reputation. I think the noble Lord, Lord Hinton, referred to the fact that it might be a good thing to start intense neutron-source studies there in support of JET and fusion generally. If there is one thing which I think scientists and engineers dislike more than anything else, it is changing horses, and if the stables have to be changed as well that is the worst thing of all.

It is also evident now that the risks at Ispra are greater than was at first thought. It was at Garching that the noble Lord, Lord Hinton, and myself were shown repair work being undertaken on cracks in a large quartz plasma ring of some three metres diameter which were attributed to the tremors felt in Munich at the time of the Italian earthquakes. These were regarded as second-order effects, although sufficient to disturb furniture in people's homes in that area.

Ispra is situated in a zone where geological faults lie, and I think it would he folly to locate a major scientific experiment which is vital to the success of the European fusion programme in an area which is now manifestly at risk without proper consideration of this factor, in terms of both equipment and people. It would seem to me, my Lords, that at the very least special building costs would now have to be incurred at this site to provide protection in the event of future earthquakes—costs that would not occur at other sites.

The Committee conclude—and I concur with this—that Culham is in all respects a suitable site for JET. All our evidence suggests, also, that the alternative site is that of Garching; but according to the Commission there is some risk of disturbing the progress being made on the two experiments there—that is, Wendelstein-7 and Asdex; one an accelerator experiment and the other a Tokamak experiment—if JET was sited there. The noble Lord, Lord Hinton, and myself were unable to assess the situation in detail, but I think that the more JET is delayed the more progress will be made on Wendelstein-7 and Asdex; and, as time goes on, JET could then become the holding factor in the whole of the European fusion programme, which I think would be a disaster. The noble Lord, Lord Hinton, has emphasized the urgency of reaching a decision on a site for JET.

Both the noble Lord, Lord Hinton, and I myself are grateful to Professor Wienecke, the director of the Max Planck Society's Institute for Plasma Physics, his scientific board and the staff for conducting us around the Institute and spending a lot of their valuable time in discussion with us on all aspects of the experimental work, and particularly the problems concerning JET. I think it was remarkable that no members of the senior staff or any of the group leaders were not able to describe their activities in fluent English and we were very much helped by this factor. If this is significant, it is because the English-speaking laboratories of the world have been in the forefront of plasma physics studies and the case for siting JET at Culham may be slightly strengthened on the score that English is a language of plasma physicists.

However, my Lords, site for site there can be little to choose between Culham and Garching. There are many comparisons to be made but, at the end of the day, it is the factors that are most likely to lead to success that matter most. These are, in my opinion, the scientific and technical merit of the establishment; the background support in engineering; and the record of success that the establishment has had. The sociological and environmental factors were highlighted at Garching by the proximity of the site to a major metropolitan area of 2 million people—that is to say, Munich and its surrou8ndings—and include a quarter of a million resident foreigners. The demand for schooling is such that, apart from the German State schools and universities, there have been established in the area one French school, three American school, one private international school; and also a European school is to be established by 1978 to cater for foreign residents and particularly those connected with the Community Patent Office at Munich. It is the European school which is the key to the compatibility in education whereby a child who has to re-enter his own country's system can do so easily and the certificate of education is recognised by any Community university. It is these problems that now most concern the families of visiting staff.

My Lords, I think it is clear that, with Euratom financing of many of the projects at the Max Planck Institute and the founding of the Community Patent Office in Munich, the Federal Republic is already host to a fair share of Community interests. Therefore, will not the addition of JET cause an imbalance between Member-States? Is there not a case for the JET project to go to the United Kingdom on these grounds alone? We have no Community establishment in this country; neither do we have any major experimental projects except for the Dragon reactor, which I think everybody agrees is now a dead duck. I think it is a pity that there is no Community establishment here. As the noble Lord, Lord Sherfield, has said, it is an issue now for the Government to consider. Also would not the right thing be to establish an international school near Oxford, as many noble Lords have already said, to cater for European interests and to recognise the need that exists. It may be small to start with but it will grow with the years. It has been suggested as an alternative that an international stream in a State school would suffice; but has such a scheme been worked out? Is it compatible with the comprehensive system? It certainly sounds like a contradiction in terms to me. What system of secondary education can most easily absorb an international stream? I think these are all questions which need to be answered.

We are in the Community and there is a real need for these international schools. There is a European school at Mol in Belgium; there is one at Ispra in Italy. There are French and American Schools in Aberdeen as well as in London; but London is too far away for a foreigner based near Oxford to send his children. Now that we are in association with other countries and involved with international projects, I do not think we can gloss over these problems any longer. My Lords, in conclusion, I hope that the Government will press strongly for Culham as the site is certainly suitable and will be even more so if the Government are able to give assurances in the educational field. Men of science gravitate to where the action is. In plasma physics, it is at Culham and has been for many years. Let us therefore do what we can to attract people to Culham. Culham has a reputation, it has a backing of physicists and engineering. In short, it has all the ingredients necessary for the success of JET.

6.35 p.m.


My Lords, in extending my congratulations to the noble Duke, I think this House has been treated to an example of the great contribution that the noble Duke makes in attending our Committee. I hope that he will give wider expression to his thoughts by speaking more often in your Lordships' House. To the noble Lord, Lord Hinton, one can only express admiration coupled with gratitude for bringing this very important subject for debate—and not too soon. JET is a pilot experiment. Not by any stretch of the imagination will it immediately lead to the formation of a power station. Along with the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, I, too, have this sensitive attitude to the atmosphere in which experiments are carried out. If you do not have this verve, this harmony, that the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, mentioned, you run into frustration, muddled thinking and a wasting of time on trivia.

We scientists, as the noble Duke rightly pointed out, have been revelling lately in presenting all kinds of new forms of energy: harnessing the waves, harnessing the wind; and I am claiming to be interested only in hot rocks. But all this, by comparison with the thinking in the world on fusion energy, is low-level technology. Fusion technology is a level of technology which sets out to create fusion reactions similar to those which surround the sun and the stars. It is as big and as mystic as that. It is a technology which hopes to simulate the thermal reactions which go on beneath the crust of the earth and which express themselves as earthquakes and volcanoes. That is the quantity of energy that we are contemplating.

The noble Lord, Lord Ironside, pointed out that we must not rule out earthquakes in the consideration of the siting of JET.

There are massive pieces of equipment to be established with absolute stability; and the most minor of earth tremors could lead to disastrous results. I do not want to give a lecture on the geology of Germany but there are more brittle areas in Germany than in Britain—and I mean that geologically and not otherwise. Culham is situated on the Oxford clay, which is like putting something on a nice soft cushion which will absorb all the earth tremors which might hit Britain; so that there, if you take the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Ironside, is a point of additional favour to Culham.

To return to the high technology of plasma physics, it is a technology, as I see it, in which men and women are trying to translate pictures of plasmas and to bring them into three dimensions to perform, as the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, eruditely pointed out, in the fourth dimension. To do this it is believed that mankind should harness all the mental resources on an international scale to find the best way to utilise them. Between the Russian Tokamak and Culham we have seen a perfect example, without political pressure, without disharmony, without suspicion, of liaison in exercising and exchanging thoughts.

What does all this mean? Success would mean that the solution of the world's energy problems would be in sight because, as has been pointed out, fusion power stations could be sited anywhere and the fuels would be abundant, cheap and free from radioactive pollution of any significance. To realise this dream, let us hope that Her Majesty's Government will continue to protect the future of plasma physics at Culham regardless of the decision made across the Channel; because along with Culham we also have these other centres of excellence throughout Britain, our universities, which theoretically are also carrying out work in this field of plasma physics. For this reason, I derive no comfort from the recommendation that vast sums of money—much of it British— will be invested in Italy if JET is to be sited at Ispra.

The ultimate design of a successful Torus will probably emerge from a concept as vivid as that conceived by Whittle for jet propulsion. Inspired ideas of this kind never emerge from fancy laboratories or in organisations swarming with scientists. It will be in the calm, modest atmosphere of a place like Culham that somebody will wake up at night and say "That is it!" and, next morning, put his dream to the test.

In many ways the history of fusion resembles that of antibiotics. When Fleming discovered penicillin he opened up a whole new world of antibiotics. When Rutherford and Oliphant discovered tritium, they revealed a new dimension in the behaviour of matter. Penicillin, the queen of antibiotics remained a figurehead until Florey and Chain placed her on the throne to govern disease. In the realm of the lighter elements, tritium is still the uncrowned king of the kingdom of plasma energy. It will be someone as yet unknown who will discover the magnetic pattern of control for plasmas and provide tritium with a kingdom. That to me is the objective of JET. If JET goes to Ispra or anywhere else outside these Islands, I urge Her Majesty's Government to make their position clear now and to render unto Culham a positive promise that, regardless of the decision regarding JET, we will continue to support this fundamental study of plasma physics.

6.45 p.m.


My Lords, as convenor of Sub-Committee F which persuaded my noble friend Lady Tweedsmuir's Scrutiny Committee to approve the report which we are now discussing, I must apologise for having been absent for more than half of this debate. The last minute change of time table involved me in a clash with my duty as one of the two Scottish Standard Bearers who appear at the General Assembly in Edinburgh to flank the Lord High Commissioner representing the Sovereign. That was not a duty that I could, even if I wished, ignore or from which I could desert.

I particularly should like to apologise to my noble friend the Duke of Hamilton and Brandon and express my regrets at having missed his maiden speech. I will however tell him that the "bush telegraph" is so alive with static electricity that I heard within one minute of coming into this Chamber that his speech had been, as I knew it would be, a great success.

I know it was prepared with diligence; I know he approached this day with a becoming modesty and humility so accurately and so agreeably recalling the lina-ments of the character of his father whom we in this Chamber remember with such great affection. The noble Duke has worked hard at our Sub-Committee and helped to originate this report. May I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Hinton, for introducing the debate, and who more fitting than he to do so? I should like to thank him and the noble Lord, Lord Ironside, for undertaking their most valuable journey of inquiry to Garching at very short notice last week.

I should like to thank those noble Lords who have taken part or are going to take part in this debate. I am certain that whatever effect this debate may have on Her Majesty's Government it will also have considerable effect independently in Brussels. We have learned from experience, which has mounted up in the past 18 months, that a series of debates in which noble Lords with great expertise and background take part are studied line by line, They are not studied only by middle ranking officials in the Commission but by Commissioners themselves. Therefore this exercise today should be of double value, and I hope it will so prove.

I should also like to thank my colleagues on the Committee for their work which has been purposive, zestful, diligent and untiring, and also for their work and help in educating a common layman. As an untechnical, unscientific person I do not pretend to understand what it is all about. But, so far as I have been able to make it out, this is a question of trying to harness the sun's own energy source by using plasma, the glowing material found in fluorescent lights and occurring in the stars and tails of comets; it is evidently a question of trying to confine this in a gigantic bottle, except that the bottle is a magnetic field and not one made of glass. The question is whether this enormous enterprise, already some years old in its thinking, can be successful to the point of leading to a fusion reactor actually being built. As I, as a layman, understand the matter, it is by no means certain that success is at hand. For even though the theoretical physics are sound it is thought there are gigantic engineering problems ahead which have yet to be overcome.

Arriving so late in the debate and having no technical knowledge to contribute, may I content myself by calling attention to a few banal generalities? If it is true that our fossil energy resources must be at least under great pressure by the year 2000 and with it the motive power of industrial civilisation anywhere in the world, then this is not a small or mean matter. The Council of Ministers meet two weeks hence and will be deliberating beneath the laser beam of history, for the programme is already running late. From 1960 to 1969 there were what I might call general international scientific preliminaries and the exchanges of ideas. From 1971 to 1973 there has been European discussion and work. From 1973 to 1975 there has been the evolution of the JET design at Culham. The programme was that the site decision should be taken not now or even last January, but January last year, with funds being released early this year. Therefore already we are more than a year behind the construction schedule, and even if the programme were finally approved at this meeting in a fortnight's time, the actual experiments with the newly built equipment could not start before about 1980. There is a story here of sad delay, and I think it was once said, Doubtful delay is worse than a fever. A question must be put to Her Majesty's Government and I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, when he graces our debate with his reply, will be able to give us some indication or assurance about Government policy. Are we going to stand pat on the critical issue that this must be decided on scientific and not political grounds? Are we going to stand absolutely firm on that? That is the first question. The second question is this: Are we prepared to make a real gesture to European solidarity and the success of this experiment by being ready to provide a suitable international school within range of Oxford and Culham? Both questions deserve an answer. Perhaps the question about the school is a bit of a fast ball, because I dare say the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, was not aware before the debate began that this aspect would loom to any extent in our discussions. Perhaps he could let us know later about that. But we do want to know from the Government that this site issue will be decided on scientific principles and not on those of political bargaining. We also need the assurance which was asked for by the noble Lord, Lord Energlyn, that, whatever happens, the work at Culham is going to be underwritten come what may. It is far too serious a matter to fool around with, if I may use that phrase.

On the site issue, one point must be stressed. Wherever the next phase goes, it will mean absolutely nothing in terms of the engineering effort for the phase following that. Therefore, to take the next phase to Culham will not, is not supposed to, and none of us thinks it could, mean any kind of enormous engineering benefit to the United Kingdom. What it means is getting on with the job in the best place. The engineering benefits will not come for a long time, and they will come from the phase after the one we are now seeking to enter upon. So we can surely be exonerated of any charge of mere national bias in favour of our own country in terms of strictly engineering advantage.

It is exceedingly important to be sure, as our report quotes from the evidence of Dr. Pease at Question 10 on page 3, that wherever JET is built there should be on site ample expertise to support the project. Yet the Commission seem to make light of this. It is also important to draw attention to a passage of our report which occurs in the early part of paragraph 8. There we noted that, the Commission do not think the lack of experience of plasma physics among the staff available at the site should rule that site out. Though the Commission recognise the need for much specialist advice they argue that this can be brought in as needed". I am quite certain that the noble Lord, Lord Hinton, will have demolished that argument when he introduced the debate. But it really is not to be taken lightly when the Civil Service of a major international organisation, the initiating body of this great new experiment of a community of nine Member States, should think in such terms, terms which are not worthy of the subject.

After hearing evidence from Dr. Pease of Culham and after being helped by Dr. Schuster of the Commission, your Committee believe strongly that the most important factor must be whether the site has, and will continue to have, such a background of experience of fusion technology and plasma physics that those working on JET will constantly be associated together and not just assembled occasionally. We attach great importance to that, and one does not have to be a scientist to see the point of it. Anyone who has worked in a university or looked in envy upon membership of a senior common room, anyone who has had the good fortune to be well tutored despite being a dullard like myself, can see that a situation where these highly intelligent people are associating all the time and living, as it were, their lives together, is not to be compared with the trivial idea that you can fly in experts or send them in by the train-load as needed. We have stressed that they should be constantly associating, both professionally and socially, with others engaged in these fields. There is the critical requirement which was underlined by Dr. Pease at Question 12 of the evidence. This is the constant presence of engineering physicists of the highest order, and we are all agreed, I think, that such people do indeed exist at Culham.

As a Committee, we have suggested to your Lordships that the Government would be well advised to continue along their present path in this regard, if perhaps not in all others, and really focus the argument on the purely scientific case. We might say, with Thomas Fuller: Spare your rhetoric and speak logic. It is important to bear in mind that floating about there are strange currents—I will not say of thought, but of propaganda. We have had it reported to us privately from the United States that Italian propaganda in favour of Ispra is really going all out among members of the United States Congress. Whether that will have any effect is another matter, but it shows the kind of thing that is going on.

I think one could say in the nicest possible way to the Italians that hope is such a bait that it covers any hook. It has been said by a leading Community figure to at least one member of our Committee that to try to approach this matter on a strictly scientific basis is being unbelievably naive. It was suggested that the Government would have better luck if they just argued the simple case for Buggins' turn. But we are trying to speak in a serious way on a critical matter. In the councils of the European Community we do not believe that the Buggins' turn approach is worthy.

Attention has already been drawn to the strange confusion of mind which has led the existence of Ispra as a not very successful Community enterprise to be muddled up with the whole question of the future of JET. That has been stressed by others. All I would say is that the distinction must be made very clear. Either we go all out to make a success of JET in which case there will be great benefit to the Community, or we put the wrong things first and lose both the Community and the JET.

Attention has been drawn to this critical social question of providing an international school or schooling facilities within reach of Culham. It is of course well known that at Abingdon Grammar School, as it used to be, now comprehensive, provision can readily be made for an international stream of children capable of taking 20 children in any one year age-group and forming them into a special international stream. Whether that is good enough, I do not know. I share with my noble friend Lord Ironside the hope that the Government will be able to say today, and if not today quite soon, that they are prepared to take very seriously indeed the proposal to provide facilities for an international school.

The question of schooling is particularly unsettling to the staff now working on this project. There is anxiety among the team at Culham about their children. They are worried where they are to be placed when they get to matric level or take their bachau or whatever it may be. These are not anxieties to be lightly brushed aside. The men and women working on this at Culham are humans: they are fragile and they have family problems. Scientists are every bit as delicate as and a great deal more precious than, their instruments. This is not a mean matter nor is it worthy of a mean political wrangle.

7.3 p.m.


My Lords, before the noble Lord rises to reply perhaps the House will forgive me, although my name is not on the list of speakers, for making a few remarks from the European point of view, which up till now has not been dwelt upon. In saying that, I do not want to fall under the criticism of the noble Lord, Lord Sherfield, as one who is entirely devoted to European institutions, irrespective of any national consideration and so on. I do not think I come into that category. But during the last month or two I have heard great denunciations of the British Government for not accepting the recommendation of the Commission in regard to Ispra. If one reads the Commission's report with attention, it is very convincing so far as lspra is concerned, and it is perhaps not unnatural that the Italian Government is hanging on to that. After all, they would say that the Commission has been advised by very great experts—perhaps it has—and I suppose it is possible that Ispra is not quite so unacceptable as sonic speakers today have made out.

The case for Culham seems to be, on the face of it, unassailable, although its only rival, Garching, may be almost as good, and on general grounds I would not dispute the fact that the general interests of Europe would best be served by situating JET at Culham. I dare say that that is logical and reasonable and in the general interest, and I would not dispute that. But there is a certain amount of disquiet in European circles lest the British Government are becoming rather nationalistic, and that has not been helped recently by the murder of the dragon, as it is called. Rightly or wrongly, that is taken as showing a certain disinterestedness on the part of Her Majesty's Government in European affairs. That may be unfair, but it is all part of the case of the devoted Europeans against the present policy of Her Majesty's Government.

I should like to ask whether JET is really necessary. Is it essential? It is alleged in Strasbourg and in Parliamentary circles in the Community, that unless we can create JET or its equivalent in the near future—and as I believe the noble Earl, Lord Lauderdale, said, it has been delayed for at least a year—we shall inevitably be out-distanced by the Russians and the Americans who, according to all our information, are making very substantial progress. It is said that Europe—and I suppose that means Culham, Garching and so on—now has a slight edge over the Russians and the Americans, but that will not last very long and if we delay much longer over JET we shall in the long run be at the mercy of Russian and American techniques. Is that the case or is it possible that because of the machinery, which is regarded as so great and so magnificent, Culham would be able by itself to produce some kind of fusion reactor in a few years' time, independently of what the Russians and the Americans do? From what we have heard, the team and the apparatus there are so good that perhaps Culham could do it on its own, if not the Germans. If that is possible, then perhaps JET is not absolutely necessary. I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Sherfield, who suggested that JET may now be doomed and that, after all, it is not necessary. That is the impression I got. Is that what the noble Lord said?


My Lords, if the noble Lord is referring to me, I think he must have misunderstood what I said.


My Lords, I thought the noble Lord implied that it would not matter so much if JET was not proceeded with.


My Lords, I think no such inference can be read into what I said.


My Lords, perhaps the noble Lord can read the report of his speech. Perhaps I have misunderstood. But I ask the Government: do they regard JET as absolutely necessary in the general interest? If they do, and if the Italians continue with their virtual veto, then I imagine that we cannot proceed with it. I suppose that that is inevitable. If JET is regarded as absolutely necessary, not only for progress towards a fusion reactor in Europe but also to lead technique in the whole world on this great project, perhaps we ought to do something about trying to induce the Italian Government to withdraw the equivalent of their veto. What kind of concession can we give to the Italians, unless it is thought that they will withdraw it anyhow owing to the powerful arguments advanced in favour of Culham, which I hope will continue to be advanced by our representative on the Council.

That is something which we ought to consider and perhaps the Minister can allude to this aspect, which cannot be ignored. Do we think it absolutely essential that JET should be proceeded with, both in our interest and in that of Europe and the rest of the world? If we do, does the noble Lord think that we can persuade the Italians to withdraw their opposition, despite the great lead in favour of Ispra given by the Commission, by technical arguments in favour of Culham? If not, is there any kind of compensation which can be devised for getting the Italians voluntarily to withdraw their veto? If possible, I should like the noble Lord to answer those questions.

7.9 p.m.


My Lords, may I first join with all noble Lords who have taken part in the debate in congratulating the noble Duke, the Duke of Hamilton and Brandon, on his maiden speech. I think that as much as could be said in his favour has already been said by noble Lords, so if I do not repeat any of it I hope he will understand that my tribute to him is all the more sincere for that.

As noble Lords will be aware, we in the United Kingdom have been conducting research into controlled thermonuclear fusion for well over 20 years. Work began in the universities in about 1947. Much of this research was transferred to Harwell and Aldermaston between 1952 and 1956 but the need to broaden the work resulted in a move to Culham between 1962 and 1965. In 1973, when we joined the EEC, our programme already included work on a Tokamak design but at an early stage it was agreed that by pooling resources a more significant experiment—JET—could be built, and the Culham effort was merged into a Community team, based at Culham, to prepare and cost a design. This design formed the basis of the proposals for JET. In reply to one of the questions which I believe the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, asked, I do not think anyone believes that it will be possible to go ahead with JET except on a collaborative basis—either on a European basis or with the resources of a country like America or the USSR behind it. Nobody has seriously suggested that either Culham or any other country in Europe should go ahead independently with this project and I do not think that it would be "on".

In any event, our commitment to European collaboration is complete. There is no question of this country wanting to go it alone in any way. We are committed to JET on a European basis and will remain so, wherever JET is sited.

There is general agreement that JET is the right scientific route to pursue in the next stage of fusion research and development. The United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority advise that it is the only current design potentially capable of reaching a key stage known as "scientific break-even" on the road to power generation by nuclear fusion. This is the stage at which the power fed into the plasma is equal to that generated within it by nuclear fusion. A large machine is essential to achieve this but JET has been designed at the minimum possible size, thus avoiding the need for the costly radiation shielding and remote handling facilities which a larger device would require.

We are fortunate today in having before us the report on Community document R/253/76 that has been prepared by Sub-Committee F. As the Committee has pointed out, there are in fact two communications to the Council. The first concerns the site for JET. The second relates to the organisational structure of the proposed fusion programme. In February 1975 a site committee reported on the merits of each candidate site for the JET project, and these have been enumerated by various noble Lords during the debate. The site committee's criteria were the availability of electrical power supplies, the existence of facilities for the handling of tritium and activated materials and for radiological protection and medical supervision, the quality of supporting services and infrastructure, and the appropriateness of social conditions for the multinational staff and for their families. In the Commission's document the Commission has made a further analysis of the site in question and concludes that, The site for JET must be Ispra. Ispra, in Northern Italy, is the largest establishment of the Euratom Joint Research Centre. The Commission rate it as the most suitable site for JET on Community and financial grounds and as well placed among other sites on technical grounds. So far as scientific aspects are concerned, the Commission does not consider the presence or absence of plasma physics experience to be a determining factor.

In setting out the arguments which led to its choice, the Commission, in the Government's view, has not been consistently objective. For example, on page 17 of R/253 the Commission discount the importance of lower staff costs in the United Kingdom, on the ground that relative costs in the Community may change over the life of the project. That is a valid point. However, the Commission fails to apply the same qualification to the lower electricity costs which are claimed for Ispra on page 16. The Commission, in recommending Ispra, asked the Council to give its opinion on this choice. In seeking the Council's opinion, rather than its decision, on the site for JET, the Commission indicated that in its view the siting decision lay within its own competence and was not a matter for decision by Ministers. However, Commissioner Brunner has since conceded publicly that, given the political implications of the site in question, the decision must be taken by Ministers.

In R/253 the Commission also proposed a new body—the Consultative Committee on Fusion—to advise them on the broader aspects of the fusion programme. With the objective of ensuring a balanced view of the place of fusion in energy research, it was proposed that the Committee should comprise senior officials whose research responsibilities encompassed both nuclear and non-nuclear areas. This proposal, amended to provide that the Committee should report to the Council as well as the Commission, was approved by the Council of Ministers on 24th February. The Committee has held two meetings—on 5th April and 17th May—at which a variety of questions on the JET project have been considered. The United Kingdom representative is Dr. Marshall, Chief Scientist of the Department of Energy and Deputy Chairman of the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority. I can assure the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, that the Consultative Committee on Fusion is intended to be a high level advisory body and that it will not interfere directly with the JET project. They are, of course, concerned with the setting up of an appropriate management structure for JET, but JET will operate under its own director who will be appointed by the Community.

I should like to return for a moment to the central question, that of the site for JET. The Government regard it as essential that this very difficult experiment should be sited where it has the best possible chance of success. Siting must be determined primarily by scientific and technical considerations which, in our view, have been given insufficient weight by the Commission. The Government agree with the Select Committee that the most important prerequisite is that the site should have a strong background of fusion technology and plasma physics to help the staff overcome the problems during construction and initial operation which are bound to occur with advanced technological projects of this kind. Culham, which is acknowledged as one of Europe's leading fusion laboratories, is very well qualified in this respect, since its fusion work has been directed to Tokamak devices, of which JET will be the largest European example. This gives Culham a clear advantage over Ispra.

Subsidiary but important factors in Culham's favour are that the electrical supplies for the enormous currents which JET will need are right to hand; that facilities for, and a vast reservoir of skill on, the handling of radioactive materials and tritium are nearby at Harwell; and that Culham has an excellent record in the construction of fusion machines on time and to cost. Other factors in its favour are that the design team is already at Culham and that, although we joined the Communities in 1973, no Community project has yet been sited in this country. The Government reject absolutely any contention that there would be a loss of Community character if JET came to Culham. The Commission itself has noted that the autonomy and Community character of JET will be assured, whichever site is chosen, but the Government agree with the Select Committee that in making its site recommendation the Commission has allowed Community ownership of Ispra to weigh heavily in Ispra's favour.

I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Hinton of Bankside, that Garching is an excellent fusion laboratory, but Culham has the advantage that its programme—which, like Garching's, is part of the Community's fusion effort—is, unlike Garching's, already geared to accepting JET and would suffer no strain from accommodating JET at Culham. We believe that this factor must operate strongly in Culham's favour when comparing Culham and Garching. The European Parliament has recommended that the site for JET should be … an existing large research centre in this specific field that has an attractive location for qualified researchers and a particularly favourable infrastructure. The Government believe that Culham is already able to meet the first two criteria. It is one of Europe's leading fusion laboratories and has the advantage of being close to the cultural and academic life of Oxford, as several noble Lords have pointed out during our debate.

If JET comes to Culham, suitable provision will be made to house the international staff. I can assure noble Lords who have raised the question of schooling that arrangements will also be made for the education of the children of the European scientists who will come to Culham. I can see no difficulty in the way of establishing the necessary school facilities at Culham, Abingdon or Oxford, nor would there be any difficulty in fitting a European stream into a comprehensive system.

I will certainly draw to the notice of my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Education the remarks which have been made during the debate about a European School, but, as I say, in the Government's view the absence of suitable schooling facilities need be no bar to the siting of JET at Culham. I hope the fact that noble Lords have tended to ask me some questions about the schooling will not detract from the view of the Government and, I understand, the view of all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate, that the scientific and technical considerations must come first in the siting of JET, and it is on those grounds that the most outstanding case can be made for Culham.

In putting the case for Culham the Government have concentrated on the advantages of our site rather than the disadvantages of others. I am sure that this is the best policy, but I must agree with the Select Committee that Ispra lacks the essential background experience of plasma physics and Tokamak engineering. The case for siting JET there is based essentially on infrastructure considerations; for example, the proximity of power supplies, the availability of housing and the existing European school. As I have already indicated, we believe that such factors, although important, are not central to the scientific success of the project. I was interested in what the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, and the noble Earl, Lord Lauderdale, said about the views they had heard being expressed in America in Ispra's favour. I have listened to what they had to say with interest and will make sure that it is taken note of in the relevant quarters.

I was upset when the noble Lord, Lord Strathcona and Mount Royal, implied from what somebody said at Question time today—it certainly was not me—that this country under this Government was not an enthusiastic and willing partner in any viable and collaborative European effort. Certainly it has been put on the record by Government Ministers recently in connection with the aerospace industry (which is what the Question was concerned with today); and if I may say so to the noble Lord I think it might be more helpful both to Culham and to this country's interests if he had drawn attention to those statements by my right honourable and honourable friends rather than to some remark attributed to one of my right honourable friends some considerable time ago in a completely different context, which as I understand it was grossly distorted and misreported after he had said it. What is important is that the Government are committed to JET and committed to supporting Culham's plan to have JET sited there.

Various noble Lords have expressed concern about the future of Culham if JET is sited elsewhere, and I should like to reassure them. As I have already said, all the fusion work at Culham forms part of the Euratom co-operative fusion programme. The continuation of that work at Culham is not dependent on JET being sited there.

Noble Lords will be aware that the Commission's document was recently debated in another place when the Motion, That this House further recognises the outstanding experience and facilities of the Culham laboratory in the field of thermonuclear fusion, considers Culham to be the most appropriate loca- tion for JET and calls on the Government to secure the choice of Culham as the research centre, was unanimously adopted with full support from the Government.

JET is the most expensive single experiment the Community has ever contemplated, and one of the most difficult. It is essential that it should be sited where it has the best possible chance of success. The Government welcome the report of the Select Committee and their support for the Government's view that JET should be sited at Culham. I agree that the siting of JET is an important matter and it certainly deserves the debate which your Lordships have given it this afternoon. I am sure that the helpful contributions made by noble Lords will strengthen the Government resolve to press the case for Culham with the utmost vigour and I join with the noble Earl, Lord Lauderdale, in expressing the hope that the debate is carefully read by those concerned in this matter in Brussels.

7.25 p.m.


My Lords, the report which your Lordships have been debating today has been prepared by your Sub-Committee which sits under the chairmanship of the noble Earl, Lord Lauderdale, and he has already thanked those who have taken part in this debate. Having introduced the debate, I should like to add my thanks to his, and in doing so particularly to thank and congratulate the noble Duke, the Duke of Hamilton and Brandon, on a very remarkable maiden speech which was not merely lucid but which made a point which I would have wished to make if I had had time to make it; namely, that we should be wrong to have too much faith in the use of the renewable sources of energy. We hope that we may use them in the long run but they will not be available on a large scale within foreseeable time. The noble Duke described himself as a "humble engineer", but all members of Sub-Committee F have to be humble when they sit on that Sub-Committee because the noble Earl rules it with a rod of iron. Indeed, I sometimes wonder whether I ought to hold up my hand if I want to go out of the room.

I should like to make only one technical point. I think it has been argued that we have lost face in Europe by the cancellation of Dragon. I happen to be one of those people who did not agree that Dragon should be put in hand in the first place. In that, I may or may not have been right; but I am quite sure that it was right to stop Dragon when it was stopped, and I think that rather than have it argued against us the Government should be congratulated on their courage in stopping a project which had already run beyond its useful limits.

I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, for his very helpful reply. I think he suggested that the Committee had been pushing at an open door, but indeed I think the Committee knew that they were pushing at an open door in so far as Her Majesty's Government were concerned. But there is another door beyond that which still has to be pushed open, and that is the door of the European Parliament. I hope that what has been said in our debate this evening will assist Her Majesty's Government in opening that next door.

On Question, Motion agreed to.