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Nuclear Power

Volume 641: debated on Sunday 7 May 1961

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asked the Minister of Transport if he will now make a statement on the application of nuclear power to merchant shipping.


asked the Minister of Transport what decision he has made on the proposals to build a nuclear-powered tanker.


asked the Minister of Transport if he can now make a statement about the award of a contract for the construction of a nuclear-powered tanker.


asked the Minister of Transport whether he will now make a statement on the building of a nuclear-propelled merchant ship.

I regret that I am still not in a position to announce the Government's decisions in this difficult matter. I will make a full statement to the House as soon as possible.

Is the Minister aware that this Answer must be added to the growing list of Answers which have given something less than complete satisfaction to the House? Is he aware of the anxiety being caused at the mounting delay in this matter? Can he give a firmer indication when this statement will be made?

I am afraid that I cannot. It raises complex and very complicated issues. We want to make absolutely certain that we are using our limited resources to the best possible effect.

Is the Minister aware that the problem is not in designing a ship which might be most economical in use but in giving the British shipbuilding industry some experience of the technique of building ships capable of using a nuclear reactor? Is he aware that if we do not make progress soon British shipping will be even more backward than at present?

I cannot accept that from the hon. Gentleman. The matter was more clearly put in a leader in The Times which stated that the truth is that a truly promising reactor for merchant shipping has not yet been developed anywhere and that we ought to use our limited resources for developing one.

After all the steps have been taken with the contractors to get estimates and so on, is there really a possibility that no contract at all will be given? Is it a matter of delaying for a short time to see which contract should be given or whether the contract should be amended, or is there a possibility that no contract at all will be awarded by the Government?

Is not the important thing here not the question of building a ship but of designing a commercial nuclear-powered reactor which is suitable?

I agree with my hon. Friend, and that is one of the things which has been exercising my mind.

Is not the Minister aware that his inability to take a decision is disturbing the shipping and shipbuilding industries? May we assume from the fact that his hon. Friends have withdrawn their Questions from today and transferred them to next Wednesday that he will make a statement next Wednesday?

The hon. Gentleman must ask my hon. Friends about their intentions. I cannot tell him what they are. The real point in this matter is that we should make the correct decision, not necessarily a speedy decision.

May I ask my right hon. Friend to circulate in the OFFICIAL REPORT the number of occasions on which he has told us that he is going to give us an answer "quite shortly"? Can he define what he means by "quite shortly"? Why has he altered his technique and when will the answer be given?