HC Deb 17 October 1975 vol 897 cc838-9W
Mr. Warren

asked the Secretary of State for Energy if he will make a statement on the future of the Dragon Reactor project.

Mr. Eadie,

pursuant to his reply [Official Report, 16th October 1975; Vol. 897, c. 792–3], gave the following further information:

Since April of this year the Dragon signatories have been trying to settle their collective policy on a proposed 5-year extension of the project. The United Kingdom has been aware of the risk that exhaustion of funds during the current extension might lead to premature termination of the project before a decision on a further extension could be reached. It was for this reason that in April the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority made it clear that it was ready to bear its share of the costs to prevent closure before 31st March 1976, if the other signatories could do likewise. Unfortunately this arrangement was not acceptable to the other partners.

We have a high regard for the achievement of the team at Winfrith. But there is no place currently allotted for an HTR in the forward programmes of our electricity boards. The Government's White Paper of July 1974 (Cmnd. 5695) accepted that we would not have the resources for a substantial effort on HTR against the much higher priority accorded to SGHWR and the fast reactor.

In current circumstances the Government, in agreement with the nuclear industry, the Atomic Energy Authority, the electricity boards and the Trades Union Congress, have concluded that the benefit to the United Kingdom's nuclear programme of the proposed extension would not justify us in continuing to bear the substantial costs which we would incur as the largest single contributor to the project. Accordingly, looked at from the standpoint of our own nuclear reactor policies, the Government are not in favour of a further extension of the project.

However, we are conscious of our special position as the host country and would not wish to see the project brought to an end if the other signatories wished to continue work at Winfrith under a new financial regime. To enable our partners to make new arrangements to continue the project if they wish to do so, we have informed them—on 30th September—that we are prepared to provide support to give them time to do this. We are prepared to bear our present share of the costs to the end of June 1976 if the other partners will do likewise. Because desecondment will take effect on 6th December if this offer is not accepted, we have made it conditional upon acceptance by 30th November.

As the largest single contributor and host country we recognised that our decision was of great importance to the future of the project and the staff engaged on it. We therefore made the offer to our partners at the earliest possible moment.