HC Deb 09 December 1959 vol 615 cc520-1
53. Mr. Wall

asked the Minister of Transport his estimate of the period which will elapse before a nuclear-propelled merchant ship or warship could be commissioned, on the assumption that the order for a reactor was placed before the end of 1959.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport (Mr. John Hay)

This will, to some extent, depend on the type of reactor chosen, but I am advised that, for a merchant ship, it would be at least three or four years.

Nuclear propulsion of warships is the responsibility of my noble Friend the First Lord of the Admiralty.

Mr. Wall

Is it not a fact that the United States, Japan and Soviet Russia are getting well ahead of us in this important matter, and will my hon. Friend undertake to go into the question so that we can get a nuclear-propelled ship commissioned at sea as soon as possible?

Mr. Hay

Yes, Sir. We are very concerned about this matter. The immediate object of getting a ship to sea is to gain experience. If we are to get full value from the experiment, it must be a ship economic to operate, compared with a conventionally-powered one. I think that it would be better to investigate carefully before taking a plunge in this matter and that is what we are trying to do.

Mr. Wall

Does the Minister expect the prototype to be economic?

Mr. Hay

The Question simply asked for a date.

Mr. Popplewell

Can the hon. Gentleman intimate when he hopes he will be able to give the order for a reactor, because it is important to our shipping interests at the present moment that they should have an "all clear" in this respect?

Mr. Hay

I cannot intimate a date at the moment, but it will certainly be as soon as we can make it.

Mr. Benn

Will the hon. Gentleman answer the supplementary question put to him by his hon. Friend? Does he intend that the prototype must be economic?

Mr. Hay

No, Sir. Our intention at the moment is to carry out the fullest investigation of the matter to ensure that the prototype, when built, will be economical and that it will lead to a better ship when the time comes to build a fully operative one.

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