§ Mr. Beaney
asked the Minister of Technology if he will make a statement on the progress of thermonuclear fusion research in the United Kingdom, having particular regard to the use of fuels 211W deuterium and tritium; and what will be the effect upon the coal mining industry.
§ Mr. David Price
Nuclear fusion research in the United Kingdom is the responsibility of the U.K.A.E.A. and is carried out at the Culham Laboratory.
To achieve a thermonuclear reactor it is necessary to heat a mixture of deuterium and tritium gas to a temperature of about 100m° and to contain this gas known as a plasma in isolation from its surroundings. The main investigations are directed to containing hot plasma by magnetic fields. Several methods of heating the gas are under development. Substantial progress is being made in this very difficult technical area both at Culham and in overseas laboratories: the most notable recent result being that obtained in the so-called Tokomak experiment in the U.S.S.R. in which a U.K.A.E.A. team collaborated, to measure temperatures of up to 20m°. International collaboration in this field is increasing.
In addition to the scientific problems of achieving controlled fusion in the laboratory, studies are being made by the U.K.A.E.A. of the engineering and technological aspects of a power-producing nuclear fusion reactor. The first international conference on these problems was held by the British Nuclear Energy Society at Culham Laboratory last September, and the proceedings indicated that although outline solutions are available for many of the most difficult problems it will still take many years to proceed from a scientific demonstration of fusion to an economic reactor. It is difficult to envisage the construction of a commercial fusion reactor within any meaningful time scale. It is therefore impossible to predict what the effect on the coal industry will be. The effect would of course depend on the comparative costs of generation by fusion reactors and coal-fired stations at some undefined date in the future.