HC Deb 10 November 1969 vol 791 cc10-1
11. Mr. Wingfield Digby

asked the Minister of Technology what further consideration he has given to a scheme for the use of marine nuclear reactors in merchant ships and in particular for the third generation of container ships.

47. Mr. Wall

asked the Minister of Technology if he will make a statement on the progress of his consultations with the shipping industry about the construction of a prototype nuclear-powered merchant ship.

Mr. Benn

My Department's study of the cost and benefits of a nuclear ship project is continuing. It is too early yet to make any statement about it. Shipowners have been consulted in the course of this study which takes account of the development of container ships.

Mr. Digby

As four countries — Germany, Italy, the United States and Japan — have all got or are getting these ships, and as we are supposed to be a maritime nation, should not these studies be speeded up so that we are not left in the lurch?

Mr. Benn

Our evidence is that the four countries doing it are doing so at a loss. The question is whether we should do it as well at a loss and thus make five countries doing it at a loss. Our view of this, as in the case of a lot of other things, is that it should be looked at as an economic proposition. There is no doubt that with container ships, particularly with the fleet concept of container ships, the cost-benefit lines may alter in their favour. The problem is not any delay by the Government in studying this matter. The effect of the studies undertaken suggests that there may be a prestige case, but that as yet there is not an economic case for this development.

Mr. David Price

Is not the real point here that we must look at the possible uses of nuclear-powered vessels in terms of fleet operation and fleet operation only and not in isolation?

Mr. Benn

That is the point I tried to make. The systems approach to container ships as part of a systematic sea transport system might alter the economics, but the Government have no apology to make for having said, having studied it carefully, that the proposal on the present basis would not justify Government support.