The Cabinet Papers banner

Nuclear power programmes

The programme initiated by the UK Atomic Energy Authority expanded rapidly after 1954. The expansion was due to the potential of nuclear power to generate electricity, and also the need for uranium and plutonium for weapons.

'A Programme of Nuclear Power'

The 1955 White Paper entitled 'A Programme of Nuclear Power' outlined a ten-year plan for the construction of 12 nuclear power stations at a cost of £300 million. The paper downplayed the possibility of environmental contamination and envisaged a further large-scale expansion of nuclear power after 1965. The design and construction of the plants was for the purpose of generating electricity and would be carried out by a consortium of several private firms.

Nuclear Power Working Party

Following the Suez Crisis in 1956, the closure of the Suez Canal raised questions about the reliability of oil supplies from the Middle East. The government set up a Nuclear Power Working Party, which recommended the expansion of the nuclear programme to meet Britain's energy requirement. The plan involved the construction of further nuclear power stations, including a controversial project at Dungeness.

Setbacks and concerns

The government considered funding the programme with a loan of £100 million from the International Bank of Reconstruction and Development. However, it was feared this might enable American officials to gain access to the programme.

1957 also saw setbacks to the nuclear programme. An accident at Windscale in Cumbria raised safety issues and produced a number of enquiries that resulted in the reorganisation of the programme. Britain's first hydrogen bomb test also increased popular opposition to the nuclear programme

National Nuclear Corporation

The government proposed a second nuclear energy programme in 1964, with the aim of greatly expanding the capacity for electrical production. A prototype fast reactor was deployed at Dounreay. In 1972, Cabinet decided that the nuclear design and construction industry should be consolidated. The National Nuclear Corporation, in which the General Electric Company took a leading role, was established in 1973.

Content