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Atomic Energy Plant, West Cumberland

Volume 440: debated on Wednesday 23 July 1947

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Mr. Speaker, with your permission, I propose to make a statement about the proposed atomic energy plant in West Cumberland.

On 29th January, last year, the Prime Minister announced the setting up of an organisation to be responsible for the provision of fissile material. It has since been announced that the first stage of this process, the production of pure uranium from pitch-blende concentrates, will be carried out at the Ministry of Supply factory at Springfields, near Preston. Consideration has been given to the location of the second stage of the process, the production in a chain-reacting pile of fissile material from the uranium produced, at Springfields. In addition to purely technical considerations, it was necessary, in order to save much time, to find a prepared site with services already developed, and, if possible, in reasonable proximity to Springfields. At one stage it was thought that these requirements could only be met by the use of the former explosives factory at Drigg in West Cumberland.

When it was learned that His Majesty's Government were considering the construction of an atomic energy plant at Drigg, Courtaulds Limited, who were proceeding with a project for a new rayon factory on the site of the Royal Ordnance Factory at Sellafield, a few miles north of Drigg, informed His Majesty's Government that it seemed unlikely to them that there would be sufficient constructional and operational labour for both schemes. His Majesty's Government concurred in this view. This made it possible to consider the Sellafield site as an alternative to Drigg for the atomic energy project. Sellafield has proved to be technically more suitable, and in addition has the advantage that its use for industrial purposes is consistent with planning proposals for the area, and, in particular, with the proposals for a Lake District National Park, which will include part of the coast line, and that it will permit re-examination of the scheme for raising the level of Ennerdale Water. The atomic energy project will, therefore, be located at Sellafield. Building and engineering work will begin in the near future, and will employ a considerable number of men for some time to come. For the time being, there will be no change in the present use of the Royal Ordnance Factory at Drigg.

In view of the Minister's statement, may I ask when ho will he able to announce that this factory at Drigg can be used for something which is really productive?

For the time being, I think that the factory at Drigg must proceed with the work it is now doing.

Can the right hon. Gentleman say what type of employment will be given by the atomic energy factory at Sellafield? We understood that Courtaulds were going to employ a large number of women, for whom there is little employment in West Cumberland Will the atomic energy plant employ women, or what type of employment will be offered?

For some Lime the labour employed on the site will be constructional building labour, as would nave been the case with the construction of the rayon factory. Later on, the special staff of the atomic energy project will be the labour employed. I think we had better leave it at that.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the decision he has announced will give the greatest satisfaction to all those who were so concerned about the preservation of the amenities of Ennerdale Lake?

I am very glad indeed that this solution of the problem appears to be acceptable to the friends of the Lake District.

In reference to the supplementary question asked by the hon. Member for West Cumberland (Mr. Wilfrid Roberts), can the right hon. Gentleman give any indication of how many people will be employed?

Hon. Members will, I think, appreciate that it would not be in the public interest, on security grounds, to go into the question of the number of persons to be employed, or the size of the project.

Will my right hon. Friend assure the House that the maximum amount of research will be made into the possible effects on rivers of effluents from these atomic energy factories in rural districts, which is very important?

Yes, Sir. The Medical Research Council and our own people are actively engaged upon research on this problem at the present time.

Will the right hon. Gentleman renew the assurance given on a previous occasion, namely, that before authorising any new use of the Drigg factory, he will pay the closest regard to the undertakings given by his predecessors?