Controlled Thermo-Nuclear Reactions (Experiments)

Oral Answers to Questions — Trade and Commerce – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 21st January 1958.

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Photo of Sir David Price Sir David Price , Eastleigh 12:00 am, 21st January 1958

asked the Prime Minister what recent thermo-nuclear experiments have been carried out on the Zeta reactor at Harwell; to what exent the successful fusion of heavy hydrogen atoms has led to the generation of neutrons; and if he will now make a further statement.

Photo of Mr Roy Mason Mr Roy Mason , Barnsley

asked the Prime Minister if he is now able to make a statement on the recent thermo-nuclear experiments which have been conducted on the Zeta reactor at Harwell; what proposals have been made and adopted by the joint United States/United Kingdom declassification committee; and if he will now disclose more details about the work going on in the United States of America and the United Kingdom towards harnessing the power of the hydrogen bomb for peaceful purposes.

Photo of Mr Jo Grimond Mr Jo Grimond , Orkney and Shetland

asked the Prime Minister if he will make a statement on the progress of research into the harnessing of nuclear explosions for peaceful purposes.

Photo of Mr Charles Hale Mr Charles Hale , Oldham West

asked the Prime Minister whether he is now in a position to make a statement as to British progress in research in the field of production of thermo-nuclear energy.

Photo of Mr R.A. Butler Mr R.A. Butler , Saffron Walden

I have been asked to reply.

On 11th November, 1957, my right hon. Friend the Paymaster-General informed the House of the general position regarding research on controlled thermonuclear reactions. The United Kingdom and the United States have brought into effect a further measure of declassification, and it is now possible to publish technical details about the experiments which have been taking place in the two countries as part of the full collaboration between them on all research work in this field. I understand from the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority that arrangements have been made for this technical information to be released at 6 p.m. on Friday, 24th January.

Photo of Sir David Price Sir David Price , Eastleigh

While welcoming my right hon. Friend's statement, may I ask him to examine the machinery for releasing this information, as I hope he is aware that over the last three months this information has been leaking to the British Press in a rather backstairs manner which suggests that the authorities are trying to hush up a failure, whereas in fact this is one of the greatest triumphs of British science comparable with those of Lord Rutherford, J. J. Thomson and Sir John Cockcroft? Will my right hon. Friend discuss with the authorities how they can ensure either that there are no leaks in anticipation of statements or that there are earlier statements of such successes?

Photo of Mr R.A. Butler Mr R.A. Butler , Saffron Walden

Taking first the last point in the supplementary question, following upon declassification the earliest possible arrangements were made for a joint statement, one to be made here and one in the United States of America. The answer to the first part of the supplementary question is that naturally leaks are undesirable, particularly as I agree with my hon. Friend that this achievement ranks very high in the history of British science. Proper arrangements have been made, including a Press conference at Harwell, for informing the Press generally of the progress of this research.

Photo of Mr Roy Mason Mr Roy Mason , Barnsley

Why should we receive news of this great experiment from garbled driblets in the Press and, as the right hon. Gentleman has said, finally in a scientific magazine, Nature? Is not this experiment of such significance to this House and to the nation that the right hon. Gentleman should be prepared to make a statement, and a proud statement, now?

Photo of Mr R.A. Butler Mr R.A. Butler , Saffron Walden

I do not agree. I think it much better that this highly scientific information should be published, as was done on a previous occasion, in a scientific journal. We may then be quite satisfied as to its accuracy and as to those who understand it publishing it. I think that is the better way.

Photo of Mr Jo Grimond Mr Jo Grimond , Orkney and Shetland

Is not this the most laudable answer that the Western world can make to Russian advances in this science and would not we be well advised to put our efforts into this type of nuclear development instead of duplicating American effort in nuclear bombs?

Photo of Mr R.A. Butler Mr R.A. Butler , Saffron Walden

That question cannot be taken as literally correct. I would not accept the latter part of the supplementary question in toto. The more we make advances in this sphere the better it will be for the civilised world and for our own civilisation.

Photo of Mr Roy Mason Mr Roy Mason , Barnsley

On a point of order. In view of the very important nature of this question and as I think this statement should be made in this House and not in scientific journals, I beg to give notice that I will raise the matter on the Adjournment at the earliest possible moment.