HC Deb 08 July 1959 vol 608 cc1329-32
3. Mr. Ellis Smith

asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty what progress has been made on the application of nuclear propulsion for ships; and what are the prospects of it being used for passenger and merchant ships.

7. Dame Irene Ward

asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty, in view of the frequent references both officially and industrially to the use of nuclear power for marine propulsion, if he is yet in a position to make a statement on the provision of a prototype ship.

9 Mr. D. Price

asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty (1) whether he will make a statement on the progress made by the Naval Research Establishment on nuclear marine propulsion and its application to surface craft in the Royal Navy;

(2) when he intends to place the first order for a nuclear-propelled naval auxiliary supply vessel;

(3) what steps he is taking to support research and development in nuclear marine propulsion by private consortia.

12 and 13. Mr. Wall

asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty (1) when he will place a development contract for the first nuclear propulsion plant for a British ship;

(2) whether he will make a statement about progress in the development of nuclear propulsion for Her Majesty's ships and merchant ships.

16. Mr. Willey

asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty whether he will now make a further statement on the development of nuclear propulsion for merchant shipping.

The Civil Lord of the Admiralty (Mr. T. G. D. Galbraith)

The House will recollect that on 8th and 9th May, the Admiralty arranged facilities for firms to present reactor systems in which they were interested and that as a result of this presentation a technical appraisal of the respective merits of the various systems was put in hand.

This has been carried forward as a matter of urgency by a Sub-Committee of the Admiralty committee on the application of marine nuclear propulsion, of which I am chairman. Besides investigating the feasibility of the eight systems concerned, the Sub-Committee is examining the associated problems of safety, economics, the potential of the various systems for future development and the time scale in which each could be put into service. I will not be able to tell the House what the next step will be until the Sub-Committee's work has been completed and its report assessed.

Mr. Ellis Smith

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that that statement will be especially appreciated by those who understand the pioneering work which has been done? Is he aware that those who are well versed in these matters are very optimistic about the prospects? Will he use his influence to ensure that Britain can take the initiative in getting the world market now that we have pioneered it?

Mr. Galbraith

I will certainly do everything I can, but at the moment I must naturally await until I have had the Sub-Committee's report.

Dame Irene Ward

While I associate myself with all that the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ellis Smith) said about my hon. Friend's Answer, can my hon. Friend make any statement on the possibility of having a prototype ship in which the selected reactor will be installed in order that we may be able to assess in commercial circumstances the value of this new form of propulsion, as this would be very helpful in enabling us to lead the way in this matter?

Mr. Galbraith

I appreciate my hon. Friend's interest in the matter, but naturally I cannot anticipate the recommendations of my Committee. However, in spite of that, provided that we are satisfied on all the aspects which I mentioned in my original Answer, I would hope that my Committee would be able to recommend plans for a nuclear-propelled ship.

Mr. Willey

While I fully appreciate the difficulties of this decision, does not the hon. Gentleman think it is about time we got this matter on Cabinet level? Does he not appreciate—I am sure he realises it—that when the decision is taken there will still be a considerable further delay because of the matter to which the hon. Member for Tynemouth (Dame Irene Ward) referred, assessing the reactor in commercial circumstances, the consideration of tenders, and so on?

Mr. Galbraith

I think the hon. Gentleman is being a little unfair. There were eight different systems, all very involved, and there are questions not only of feasibility but of safety, economics, the time scale and potential development, all of which have to be examined thoroughly before a proper assessment can be made.

Mr. Steele

Can the Civil Lord tell us how many more committees we have to have? I understood that the purpose of the Committee of which he is chairman' was to make a decision on which reactor was to be selected. From what he has already said in this House, I understood that a decision would be reached fairly soon. Now we are told this afternoon that there is another Sub-Committee. How many more committees must we have before a decision is reached?

Mr. Galbraith

The hon. Gentleman is wrong in saying that he has been told this this afternoon for the first time. An announcement was made two months ago following the presentation of the eight different systems that a technical Sub-Committee had been set up to assess their potentialities, and it is perfectly obvious that until that Sub-Committee has reported my main Committee cannot come to a decision as to what to advise the Government to do.

Dr. Bennett

Is it not a fact that of these eight different forms of nuclear propulsion machinery, two or possibly three were actually perfected and complete units and the others were no more than the skeleton of some future project? Is it not rather unfair to the people who can produce the completed units, and can do it to a fixed date, if they are held back so that their ideas become outmoded while others who have not yet thought it out get the advantage of the delay?

Mr. Galbraith

That is precisely one of the points which has to be assessed—the time scale—and another is the future potentialities of the various reactors for development. They may vary in different reactors.

Mr. Steele

Is it not true that the Committee of which the Civil Lord is chairman was set up for the purpose of arriving at this decision to select a reactor which could go ahead, so that we should then be able to get into manufacture and production? Now we are told that another Sub-Committee of this Committee has been set up. How many more sub-committees of the Sub-Committee will be necessary before a decision is actually reached?

Mr. Galbraith

I have already answered the hon. Gentleman's point.