§ 36. Mr. J. H. Osborn
asked the Minister of Technology whether he is satisfied with the rate of progress of development of atomic reactors for marine propulsion of surface vessels and that sufficient manpower and resources are now being devoted to this; and if he will make a statement.
§ Mr. Cousins
The Joint Anglo-Belgian programme on the Vulcain reactor continues as planned and the experimental operation of a Vulcain-type core in the Belgian BR. 3 reactor is about to start. As my replies to the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. J. H. Osborn) on 7th July indicated, the effort on marine 207 reactor research and development has been diminishing for some time, pending a Government decision on a nuclear merchant ship. I am satisfied that the Authority was right to reduce its effort.
§ Mr. Wall
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that a considerable volume of professional opinion believes that no further technical advance can be obtained until a prototype ship is afloat? As the matter has been under consideration by the Government for some months, when can we expect a final decision on a prototype nuclear-propelled ship?
§ Mr. Cousins
I am aware that there are some views to the effect that there can be no further developments until they can be put into practical operation. But there are also views that it is useful to continue the programme envisaged for reactors in order to get information for purposes other than propulsion for nuclear ships. We are all conscious of the need for an early decision, and I hope that there will be an announcement before the Recess. I cannot go beyond that today.
§ Mr. Osborn
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the fact that he has reduced the number of people working on the subject, together with the expenditure, almost forces him to reach a decision quickly, otherwise we shall ask him "Why"?
§ Mr. Shinwell
Is my right hon. Friend aware that the United States Government are experiencing considerable difficulty in connection with their nuclear ship "Savannah", about which there was so much enthusiasm some time ago? Before the Government reach a decision, will they consider all the factors involved, including the cost, so as not to waste money?
§ Mr. Cousins
I do not want to anticipate the statement which, as I have said, will be given before the Recess. One must recognise that there are considerable differences of opinion about the value of nuclear propulsion for commercial shipping at this time. There are no successful examples of it in the world now, and there is little enthusiasm amongst the maritime nations to develop nuclear ships.