§ 6. Mr. Palmer
asked the Secretary of State for Energy if he will make a statement on the Government's policy for the future of the high temperature reactor.
§ Mr. Benn
The high temperature reactor has no place at present in the forward programmes of our electricity boards. Nor do we have the resources to pursue its development, given the higher priority of the AGRs, the SGHWR and the fast reactor. I have discussed the future of the Dragon project with other EEC Energy Ministers and Monsieur Simonet.
§ Mr. Palmer
Does my right hon. Friend agree that this technique is a most valuable fall-back position should something go wrong—and it could easily go wrong yet—with the fast-breeder reactor and that the Dragon project has been a 902 net currency earner for the country over a number of years? May I also urge upon my right hon. Friend that a decision now to abandon the high-temperature reactor is extremely short-sighted, and one which this country will greatly regret in the future?
§ Mr. Benn
I appreciate what my hon. Friend says. He is very knowledgeable. I believe that any country is bound to settle upon a particular reactor system. We have settled—I think that this is widely understood—on the SGHWR and the fast-breeder to follow the AGRs. Of course, the experimental operation being carried out on Dragon is of value. We have been paying very heavily for it ourselves, and I have made an offer to our partners abroad—I have discussed it with Commissioners Guido Brunner and Simonet, in Brussels—which would give an opportunity for this facility to continue if they wish it so to do. I am criticised for putting too much emphasis upon nuclear resources as compared with other non-conventional methods of energy generation. I think it would be wrong to pursue the Dragon project with the object that my hon. Friend has in mind—that it is a stand-by—as the only reason.
§ Mr. Skeet
Before the Secretary of State takes the wrong decision on the high-temperature reactor, will he consider this matter from the angle of process heat and consult the British Steel Corporation and the chemical industry first? Will he also contact KWU of Western Germany, which has advanced ideas on this subject?
§ Mr. Benn
The point about process heat is one that had to be taken into account. I recognise its relevance, because it is clear that any successful system, as the HTR promises to be, would have those side effects. I discussed the matter very candidly with Herr Matthöfer when I was in Bonn, and it was as a result of representations made by the German Government that I was able to make a further offer to our partners, saying that if, by the end of November, they would agree that it should continue until the end of June, we would cancel the desecondment notices to the AEA staff. I think I have played quite fair by this, but the basic 903 decision is one that the Government think is right.
§ Mr. Patrick Jenkin
Is it not the case that by giving that extremely short notice the Government have simply held a pistol to the head of their partners on the Dragon? Is not the real long-term danger that this country will simply not be trusted by our partners to be the host country for major technological projects of this kind? When one thinks of the future of the Joint European Torus project, will not this be extremely damaging for Britain's scientific future?
§ Mr. Benn
No, certainly not. If the hon. Gentleman knew the circumstances he would not make such a charge. We originally offered that it should continue until April, and we made it clear that our own view was that we could not justify it ourselves. Then, when we were told that this involved short notice, no one accused us of putting a pistol to anyone's head. It was said, rather, that it was rather short notice. We offered to extend it to June, which provides six or nine months' notice, provided that our partners were ready to agree to this by the end of November—that is, it was in their hands to determine the continuation of the programme. Therefore, I do not believe that the charge of putting a pistol to anyone's head could be laid against us. Moreover, among other Treasuries, the German Treasury is now extremely rigid in its control over research and development, and all the countries of the Community are anxious to get the maximum benefit from research that they commission.
§ Mr. Evelyn King
As this concerns my constituency, may I be allowed one supplementary question, Mr. Speaker?
§ Mr. Benn
I am grateful to you, Mr. Speaker, for allowing the hon. Gentleman to ask his supplementary question. I had a meeting recently with the Atomic Energy Authority staff side and I discussed 904 this matter with its members in some detail. They did not raise the staff question themselves, because the Authority was able to assure me that there would be no forced redundancies arising from this ending of secondment of staff. If the hon. Gentleman has anxieties beyond that, perhaps we may discuss them. I have no reason to believe that the matter impacts upon the future of Winfrith.