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Nuclear Reactors (Research)

Volume 640: debated on Tuesday 9 May 1961

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asked the Parliamentary Secretary for Science if he has now reached a decision with regard to the application from the London University Imperial College of Science and Technology for permission to build a low-power nuclear reactor.

The Government has approved in principle the provision of three reactors, which will be available to Universities and Colleges of Technology for teaching and research. One will be sited in Scotland and one in Lancashire. It is proposed to site the third in the London area. This will be available to the Imperial College as to other institutions in London. Negotiations on arrangements are continuing.

While thanking the hon. Gentleman for that reply, may I ask whether he is aware that we are being very late in supplying these low-power nuclear reactors? Can he give the House some definite date on which they are supposed to be erected?

Yes, indeed; it is to be for the Universities of Manchester and Liverpool. As regards the exact site, I should like the hon. Gentleman to put a Question on the Order Paper in order that I may be absolutely accurate.

Is not the hon. Gentleman aware that sites have been fixed for the reactor to be used by Liverpool and Manchester Universities and, therefore, can he state where it is to be exactly, because two years ago he was given an indication about the arrangements made for Liverpool and Manchester?

I admit that there has been considerable delay since the projects were first mooted, but this has been necessary in order that we should decide where best to locate the reactors in order that they could be put to the maximum amount of use by the various universities and the colleges of technology. We could not possibly permit, with public funds, reactors to be allocated for every single institution of higher education.


asked the Parliamentary Secretary for Science if he will give details of research being conducted in the development of small and medium nuclear reactors.

I am advised by the Atomic Energy Authority that it is not at present developing small and medium reactors.

Is the Minister aware that only recently a factory which produces small reactors, and its research organisation, was closed down: namely, the Hawker-Siddeley nuclear power research centre at Langley? In view of the fact that the Americans now have a virtual monopoly in the export of small reactors, when are we going to do something about it?

Small reactors, and in fact medium reactors, have already been designed by commercial undertakings. There is the point of the work which the Authority ought to do. As nuclear power is very dependent on economies of scale, and as the prospects of achieving competitive nuclear power in this country within the next ten years are based on building units of large generating capacity, it is surely right that the main emphasis of the Authority's attack should be on problems relating to that. On the other hand, the Authority is undertaking research into a large number of fields of study which would be applicable both to small and large reactors.

While we recognise that the Authority must do the main research on power reactors, this specialised field is now being neglected. Is the hon. Gentleman aware that I have given the Minister an example of one major firm which has been doing remarkable work in this field, and yet now it has closed down and nothing is being done?

I think that the hon. Gentleman is inaccurate in his final statement, but if he cares to put a specific Question on the Order Paper, I will look into it and make certain of the degree of his inaccuracy.