HC Deb 30 January 1957 vol 563 cc977-9
3 and 4. Major Wall

asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty (1) whether he will make a statement regarding the progress of atomic propulsion for merchant vessels;

(2) whether he will make a statement about the progress of the construction of a British atomic-powered submarine.

Mr. Galbraith

As was stated in First Lord's Explanatory Statement on Navy Estimates last year (Command 9697), scientists and naval officers serving at the Atomic Energy Establishment at Harwell have for some years been collecting the knowledge necessary for the application of nuclear power to marine propulsion.

Detailed work on the design of a prototype submarine nuclear powered installation, which is shore based, is now well advanced, and some orders for the prototype machinery have been placed. It is planned to construct a basically similar plant for installation and extensive trials in a sea-going submarine. Experimental work on shielding problems is also proceeding at Harwell.

The wider question for further application of nuclear power to ships for both the Royal and Merchant Navies is being carefully studied, and encouraging progress has been made with feasibility studies.

The Admiralty, which has in the past successfully pioneered other forms of ship propulsion, is fully alive to the commercial opportunities opened by these new developments.

Major Wall

While thanking my hon. Friend for that comprehensive reply, may I ask him whether, if the American Navy is already operating nuclear powered submarines which can use guided missiles, he will agree that it seems probable that the atomic powered submarine, as it is developed, may attain a submerged speed which may enable it to outstrip all surface vessels and that, in view of this, it may supplant all our normal types of warship? Will he, therefore, press ahead as hard as possible to ensure that we have one of these submarines operating as soon as possible?

Mr. Galbraith

I think my hon. and gallant Friend had better table another Question about the American submarines. As I stated, we are pressing ahead as hard as we can with our own nuclear propulsion research.

Mr. Bottomley

While I appreciate that all the research work which is being carried out at Harwell is towards a common objective, can the hon. Gentleman assure us that in regard to research in respect of merchant shipping and research in respect of ships for the Royal Navy there is the fullest co-operation in order to obtain the best results?

Mr. Galbraith

Yes, Sir, I can give that assurance.

Commander Maitland

Has there been any co-operation with the United States of America in regard to either of these projects?

Mr. Galbraith

I should like notice of that question.