HL Deb 08 May 1984 vol 451 cc795-7

2.45 p.m.

Lord Gridley

My Lord, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows: To ask Her Majesty's Government what is the total sum of money provided to date by the European Community to finance the Torus Project at Culham.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Energy (The Earl of Avon)

My Lords, since the establishment of the Joint European Torus Project in 1978, the total sum of money provided by the European Community up to 31st December 1983—the latest year for which figures are available—was £174.4 million.

Lord Gridley

My Lords, is not this scientific research which is being carried out at Culham, which could one day assemble the sun's rays for the production of energy and unlimited supplies of electricity, one of the wonders of this age which should be made public in some degree to the people of this country? As to what my noble friend says about the finance available for the research, do the Government consider that this is at present adequate?

The Earl of Avon

My Lords, I am all for the public being aware of what is going on. So far as I know, nothing has been hidden in this context. The Government consider that the present financing is adequate.

The Earl of Bessborough

My Lords, are there not a number of benefits accruing to this country as a result of our having the Joint European Torus Project located here, especially in regard to contracts for British firms and research establishments? Secondly, if I might ask another question, would my noble friend not agree that, as I have an Unstarred Question set down on this subject, it might be appropriate for us to have a short debate, perhaps before the Summer Recess, when we could compare our efforts with those in the United States, Japan and the Soviet Union?

The Earl of Avon

My Lords, in answer to my noble friend's first supplementary to the end of 1983 some 43 per cent. of the contracts, by value, had been let to United Kingdom firms and organisations. So far as his second supplementary is concerned, I should be only too happy to have a debate on this subject, if neccesary before the Summer Recess. I shall rely on the normal channels.

The Earl of Halsbury

My Lords, would the noble Earl agree that when the JET project was set up at Culham we already had available the most advanced theoretical design team in Europe? Is it not very satisfactory that our partners in Europe have put up £174.4 million to keep it going.

The Earl of Avon

My Lords, I think it was extremely satisfactory that the Culham development came to this country in the first place, and it is one from which Culham itself has benefited.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

My Lords, I wonder whether the noble Earl can answer two questions. Can he say what is the total cost to the British taxpayer of the project—which, incidentally, I support—bearing in mind the 10 per cent. direct cost that we pay, and of course, our contribution to the European Community? Secondly, may I ask whether there are other forms of research into fusion which are going on? Would he agree that the Torus Project is not necessarily the only route, nor that it will perhaps prove to be the best route? Are we, for example, experimenting in laser technology to obtain fusion?

The Earl of Avon

My Lords, in answer to the noble Lord's first question, the total estimated cost to 1990 is about £600 million at current rates, and the direct United Kingdom financial contribution to JET is approximately 12 per cent. in addition to our share, which is currently 20 per cent., of the European Commission's 80 per cent. support of JET. Other research is going on. I believe we have a debate next week on the other alternatives, when we can perhaps pursue the subject.