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Jet Project Site

Volume 375: debated on Monday 18 October 1976

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2.49 p.m.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they can now make a statement about negotiating within the European Community on the site of future research for the JET (energy by fusion) project.

My Lords, the JET project, including the question of siting, has been discussed by the Communities' Council of Ministers on several occasions since December. No decision has yet been taken. The project is on the agenda for the Council of Ministers on 21st October.

My Lords, in thanking the noble Lord for that reply, may I ask whether he would agree that the failure to get a decision on this has meant that there is great difficulty in holding together the design team at Culham and, in the meantime, the only work that can be done on this project is on an ad hoc temporary, short-term basis, which in itself argues for strong British pressure to get a useful decision out of the meeting on 21st October.

My Lords, in discussion with our Community partners in preparation for the Ministerial meeting on Thursday, we have continued to make clear our view that JET should come to Culham as it is obviously the best site on technical and scientific grounds. With regard to the point the noble Earl made about the design team, the Council of Ministers recently agreed to release 4 million units of account from the appropriation for JET to enable the design team to continue work, and place contracts for the site-independent long lead-time and prototype equipment.

My Lords, while I do not normally wish good fortune to the Government, I certainly do in this matter. The noble Lord will carry the support of both sides of the House for what he has just said about our approach to the meeting on the 21st. Will he bear in mind, or agree that it is the fact that, meantime, both the Americans and the Russians have been able to make extremely important advances in this sphere which the EEC should have been on to by now? Can the noble Lord say whether it is the case that there is any sign of the Italians giving way on the basis that so long as Ispra continues to be used for the JRC, they might forgo their endeavour to pre-empt the JET project for Ispra?

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Lauderdale, and certainly take note of what he has said. Although the site offered for JET at Ispra is contiguous with the Joint Research Centre, the JET project would be quite separate. The new programme for the JRC currently being discussed in Brussels does not, therefore, include JET or depend on it in any way.

My Lords, would the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, bear in mind that in a research and development project of this calibre where scientists, engineers and technologists are absolutely vital, it is very important to get an early decision? These are very much sought after characters who, if they are not given enough work to do, must seek their careers in other places. This would be to the detriment of Britain and to the development of more economical nuclear energy producers.

Yes, my Lords. I fully agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Orr-Ewing, said, with his great interest in these matters.

My Lords, would the noble Lord opposite not agree that it is a mistake to say that this decision should be taken regardless of the consideration of site? Would he not agree—as I think he does agree—that Culham is the best site? Would he not agree that, therefore, we should not take up the position, as I think certain people have, that a decision should be taken regardless of the site and merely in order to avoid falling behind the United States and the Russians? Would not the Government agree that there is still a good chance of it coming to us?

Yes, my Lords. We continue to think that Culham is the best site, on the grounds I gave earlier. Ispra, which is the next possible site, lacks the necessary background of plasma physics and tokamak engineering. We oppose and continue to oppose, the recommendation of the Commission to site JET there.

My Lords, what about Garching in Germany. and Cadarache? Are they not on the list, too? Is Garching not a second-best site? What about Cadarache?

My Lords, there are two sites in Germany, there is a site in France and one in Belgium. But at the moment, I think the opposition to Culham tend to favour Ispra.

My Lords, I think the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, perhaps made a slip of the tongue when he said that Ispra was the next best site. Is he not aware that the Germany site at Garching has long since been considered the only conceivable alternative to Culham, and that Ispra is really down at the bottom of the list? Perhaps it was a slip of the tongue when the noble Lord referred to it in that way.

My Lords, I did not mean to say that Ispra was the next best site. It is a site that has been considered. Of course, it has strong points, as the Siting Committee recognised. It has proximity to the necessary power supplies and a good social infrastructure; but all these, I think, should come second to the scientific considerations.

My Lords, quite independently of the justice of our claim to Culham, with which I fully agree, are the Government aware that there is some resentment in this country that we do not get our fair share of the research sites that are available, possibly because we were late-corners into the Common Market? Will the Government now insist that we do get our fair share, quite independently of the inherent virtues of Culham in this case?

Yes, my Lords. I absolutely agree with the noble and learned Lord. Although we joined the Community in 1973, no Community project has yet been sited in this country.

My Lords, is my noble friend not aware that it seems rather strange, listening to the questions asked, in the first place by the noble Earl, Lord Lauderdale, who confirmed the statement made by my noble friend in reply to his Question that this was the best site; then, from the noble Earl came an application for the Government to use their pressure. Then the noble Lord, Lord Orr-Ewing, spoke in regard to the technologists and the scientists and so on. Is my noble friend aware that we get—

My Lords, there is no speech about it. This is a question. This is just as important a matter as questions from that side of the House. We are just as involved in this as anyone else.

Several noble Lords: Speech!

My Lords, my noble friend the Leader of the House may not get himself embarrassed on my account. I can take my stand with any of them over there. Is he aware that so far as statements made in regard to this particular project are concerned, the Government chose efficient people within the Departments in regard to technology and other matters concerning this issue? Is he aware that they want no advice from the other side?

My Lords, of course, this is a matter which is discussed by the Communities' Council of Ministers. I am sure they will take full note of what my noble friend has said.