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Nuclear Tests

Volume 655: debated on Tuesday 13 March 1962

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asked the Prime Minister what is the number of nuclear tests which he has agreed with the United States President will be conducted at Christmas Island; and what is the total amount of fall-out which it is estimated will result from this test series.

I am not prepared to disclose the details of the test programme; but the scale of the tests will be as limited as possible. As President Kennedy has said, they will be within limits that restrict the fall-out to an absolute minimum.

Are we to take it from the reply to the first part of my Question that the right hon. Gentleman does not know the number or that he will not tell? On the second part of the Question concerning the scale of the fall-out, even though the right hon. Gentleman says that it will be limited to the minimum, can he tell the House and the country the calculation made by the British and American Governments of the genetic effects of this series of tests? Exactly what calculations have been made in advance?

I see no reason at this stage why we should publish the programme of tests. The Russians did not do so with theirs. President Kennedy has made it clear that there will be the minimum possible fall-out, and that it is not expected to add seriously to any of the dangers to which the hon. Gentleman refers.

When the right hon. Gentleman says that he is not publishing the number of tests because the Russians would not reveal the number of theirs, are we to understand that the British and American Governments model themselves on the Russian Government in this matter? As the number of tests obviously affects the whole question as to whether the nation should approve of them or not, why does not the British Government make an effort to tell the public the truth about what is happening? Has not the public the right to know the facts so that it can judge for itself?

It would be unwise and quite wrong at this moment to publish the programme, which is not actually completely fixed at the moment.

Does the right hon. Gentleman remember that a few years ago it was accepted by our scientists that for every megaton of explosion we must expect approximately within a generation a thousand extra deaths from cancer of the bone and about a thousand extra deaths from leukemia? As well as the evil genetic effects of these explosions, will the right hon. Gentleman bear that factor in mind?

Yes, Sir. I would not accept the figures quoted by the hon. Gentleman and would like a specific question about them, since I do not carry them in my head. But I think he will remember that the general conclusion after the first alarm about milk, following the latest massive Russian tests, was rather reassuring.