HC Deb 27 November 1968 vol 774 cc495-6
32. Mr. Wall

asked the Minister of Technology if he will make a statement on the development of a nuclear reactor for surface ships.

Mr. Fowler

I have nothing to add to the Answer my right hon. Friend, made in reply to a Question by the hon. Member on 14th October.—[Vol. 770, c. 4–5.]

Mr. Wall

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the Italians are now building a nuclear-powered naval auxiliary ship? Is it not time that this country, the leading maritime nation, should begin to get some experience of this new type of propulsion afloat? Will the Government con- hider building some sort of naval vessel to give us that experience?

Mr. Fowler

The hon. Gentleman asked about naval vessels. If he wants an answer on that subject he must address his question to the Secretary of State for Defence. We have two shipbuilders in touch with us about possible mintech support for a study of this and other projects, and we shall need to do some work on it. We are determined to go ahead with a prototype ship only if it can be justified in terms of the expected benefits to British industry, and if they are commensurate with the costs.

Mr. Small

Does my hon. Friend recognise that we are being leapfrogged in maritime reactor technology by Japan, West Germany, and Russia, and that active attention is urgently necessary?

Mr. Fowler

Much of the technology is quite familiar to us. My hon. Friend must accept from us that we are determined to do only what is commercial. We are not going to commit ourselves to a prestige project which is not commercial.

Sir H. Legge-Bourke

Is not the hon. Member aware that his reluctance to add to his statement of 14th October is a little odd in the light of the news which has since come to hand that Germany now proposes to build a second ship after the "Otto Hahn"? Should not we examine carefully the economics which led Germany to that conclusion?

Mr. Fowler

The hon. Member is aware that in terms of nuclear power technology we have a considerable lead over the Germans. It may be necessary for the Germans to do more research in this field than it would be necessary for us to do. I repeat that we shall go ahead with the project when it shows commercial viability