HC Deb 06 March 1963 vol 673 cc393-4
14. Mr. Bence

asked the Minister of Transport which of the Clyde shipbuilding firms are in a position to build the hull and machinery for propulsion of nuclear-powered ships; and whether he will now start consultations with a view to speeding up plans for the laying down of the proposed nuclear-powered ship.

Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett

The hulls could be built by any shipyards which are capable of building the corresponding conventional ships. Any shipbuilding firm which manufactures turbines would be able to build all the machinery except the reactors.

As for the second part of the Question, talks with the shipping and shipbuilding industries have already begun.

Mr. Bence

Is the Parliamentary Secretary aware that a report is circulating that no consultation was held with the Yarrow Admiralty Committee on the Clyde, a research organisation set up by the Galbraith Committee to examine marine propulsion, and that no consultation whatever has taken place? The situation is ridiculous when this institution on the Clyde has been established to consider nuclear propulsion but is never consulted when the Government decide to go in for nuclear-propelled ships.

Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett

This establishment—Y.A.R.D., as it is called—concerns itself chiefly with the lay-out of ships' engines and propelling machinery rather than design. It has done a lot of work on the suggested layout of nuclear-propelled ships with which we are fully familiar.

Mr. Pentland

Would not the Minister agree that the reactors which have been chosen for our first nuclear-propelled merchant ship exist only on the drawing board and might be subject to a good deal of modification before they are built? In view of the widespread controversy which has arisen in this matter, does not the hon. and gallant Gentleman think that a comprehensive statement should now be given to show why the Government prefer the nuclear reactor system of the Atomic Energy Authority rather than other systems? Surely, the Government must have a good reason for reaching this decision.

Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett

Any such detailed statement would fall within the responsibility of my noble Friend the Minister for Science. The reactor, however, goes a little beyond the drawing board stage. A certain amount of experimental work has been done on parts of it. In that respect, it is exactly the same as its rivals. The only reactors at present in existence are the types used in warships, which would be totally uneconomic for merchant vessels.