HC Deb 24 May 1962 vol 660 cc665-7
Q1. Mr. Mason

asked the Prime Minister what information he now has about the length of the present series of United State nuclear tests; and what estimate has been made of the cost of United Kingdom participation.

The Prime Minister (Mr. Harold Macmillan)

As I said on 8th May, President Kennedy has stated that this test series will be concluded within two or three months of its inception, which was on 25th April. The total cost of United Kingdom participation is likely to be of the order of £350,000.

Mr. Mason

Would it not appear, therefore, that our costs in this enterprise will be very small compared with the return which we shall receive? If tests are to go on and are necessary, it would appear that this joint enterprise will be a laudable and profitable one to the Americans and to this country. Could not the right hon. Gentleman, therefore, emphasise a point which he hesitatingly made in the debate on 15th May—that because of the possible success of joint testing it may not be necessary for us again to test our weapons on our own?

The Prime Minister

Of course we all hope that the tests will be brought to an end. It is true, as the hon. Member pointed out, that compared with the small sums we are spending, chiefly on scientific instrumentation and personnel, we shall have an equal share in the scientific results.

Mr. A. Henderson

Has the Prime Minister's attention been called to a proposal made in Geneva by the Mexican Government delegate that the three neutral Governments should fix a date beyond which there would be no nuclear testing. The delegate proposed 1st January, 1963. Is that acceptable also to Her Majesty's Government?

The Prime Minister

No, Sir, not at the moment, but of course this and all other proposals will be considered, because it is our purpose, if we can, to try to find a method by which these tests can be brought to an end.

Q3. Mr. Mason

asked the Prime Minister what assessment has now been made of the likelihood of fall-out of strontium 90 from the Russian series of nuclear tests coinciding with the short-term fall-out of radio iodine from the present United States nuclear explosions; and what estimate has been made of the resultant effect on living organisms.

The Prime Minister

While it is possible that these two types of fall-out may reach this country simultaneously, the isotopes in question have such different characteristics that their coincidence would have little biological significance, and would not appreciably increase any risk to health which otherwise might be caused. As I stated in my replies of 8th May, there is no reason to suppose that either short-term or long-term fall-out will reach any serious level as a result of the American tests.

Mr. Mason

I am obliged to the Prime Minister for that relieving Answer. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that, since the Russians intend to go ahead with a fresh series of tests and the French have in mind continuing their tests as well, there is at least a possibility of coincidental fall-out from the tests conducted by the nuclear Powers, irrespective of Whether it be long-term or short-term fall-out? Will he, therefore, give an assurance that, even if the Russians blatantly go ahead ignoring these facts, the Western Powers, if they have to test again, will take this matter into consideration and plan their testing to reduce the hazard to a minimum?

The Prime Minister

This has not yet happened and, therefore, I cannot answer that question. To answer the Question on the Paper, which I was not able to answer when it was asked as a supplementary question, I have ascertained that the biological action of these two radioisotopes is so distinct that their coincidence is not of importance.

Mr. Emrys Hughes

Is the Prime Minister now taking the attitude that these tests are comparatively harmless? If so, why are not they held over America?

The Prime Minister

I am answering the Question on the Order Paper, which I was not able to answer When it was asked as a supplementary question, as to the precise effect of the coincidence of different types of isotopes. I hope that I have, after taking advice, satisfactorily answered that Question.

Sir C. Osborne

What are isotopes?

The Prime Minister

In answering that, I remind my hon. Friend of something equally important, that we release representative figures regularly of gross beta activity in air, and the figures of pico-curies per kilogram of air are, on the whole, satisfactory.