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Friday, 16 March 2012
Page: 2053


Senator LUDLAM (Western Australia) (14:07): I rise to acknowledge that the world has just marked the first anniversary of the triple tragedy of earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster that took place at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Japan on 11 March 2011. If you have friends or family in Japan or if you took the time to watch the reporting, such as that from ABC's Japan correspondent Mark Willacy or the tragic BBC documentary called Children of the Tsunami, you would know that 19,000 Japanese people—men, women and children—are lost or missing. You would also know that the disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant is an ongoing environmental and health crisis, releasing more radioactive material into the water, the air and the food chain each day. You would know that it will take decades to fully decommission the plant—if this is even possible—with one private think tank saying it will cost $250 billion over the next 10 years. The latest edition of the Economist quotes another source as saying $623 billion. The fact is, nobody really knows the true cost of the open-ended liability of a full-scale nuclear disaster. You would know that 150,000 Japanese citizens have become radiation refugees and cannot return to their homes, and that three per cent of the land mass of Japan is now a sacrifice zone, which in time will come to resemble the abandoned wilds that now surround the dead city of Pripyat in the Ukraine.

As with all major nuclear disasters, on the anniversary we do not commemorate another year since the event. Rather, we mark another year of the disaster's unfolding, a year of ongoing trauma and uncertainty. Nuclear disasters have a precise date and time of commencement, but they do not have an end date. Every day in Fukushima City children are prevented from playing outside. Ambient radioiodine levels have stolen a measure of their childhoods, and brutal statistics tell us it will steal some of their lives.

Where did the iodine come from? We know where it came from: uranium from Kakadu and Central South Australia, shipped under humid Darwin skies, refined and loaded into Japanese nuclear reactors; uranium broken in fission reactors into isotopes previously unknown on the planet—caesium 137, iodine 131, strontium 90 and plutonium 29. These have now been released from containment in 12 heartbreaking months following full-core melt-through events at three reactors and hydrogen explosions that dismantled the outer containment structures.

We in Australia have a special responsibility. The Australian government took seven months to disclose that Australian uranium was in each of the reactors at Fukushima—Australian fission products poisoning the ocean, the food chain and the gene pool of Japan's Pacific coast. That is the worst nightmare of all for the Aboriginal elders and campaigners and their supporters, who have dedicated their lives to preventing precisely this kind of horror.

The stockpile of radioactive debris grows as clean-up operations continue to accumulate much more waste than they know what to do with. No municipality wants it—and why would they? Anything coming into contact with these materials becomes not merely contaminated but contaminating. Hot spots have arisen in the north of Tokyo, more than 200 kilometres away, and as far away as the island chain of Okinawa, well to the south of the country.

I pay tribute to members of the Japanese anti-nuclear movement, born of the atomic bombings in 1945, who have made their voices echo around the world since last March. All but two Japanese nuclear plants now stand closed. Tens of thousands rallied this 11 March to demand a new energy path for Japan, a country in which the nuclear industry has played the same malignant and paralysing political role as the coal industry plays here in Australia. The Japanese people have lost faith because their government and TEPCO, the utility, knew within 48 hours of the 14-metre tsunami that a meltdown had occurred at at least three of the plants and they failed to tell the public for more than two months. People could not protect them­selves, because they did not have the information and they were not told of the risks. Overnight in the affected area it was deemed by the government to be acceptable for a citizen to be exposed to the same radiation dose as a nuclear worker. The so-called acceptable dose rose 20-fold over­night. Women, children and infants were all exposed, non-consensually, to unregulated doses of ionising radiation.

The latest edition of the Economist makes a very powerful observation:

In the energy world, nuclear has found its place nourishing technophile establishments like the "nuclear village" of vendors, bureaucrats, regulators and utilities in Japan whose lack of transparency and accountability did much to pave the way for Fukushima and the distrust that has followed in its wake.

So what was the response from our Australian Uranium Association? Mr Michael Angwin used Fukushima's annivers­ary as a platform to hock his desperately unwanted product. He added insult to massive injury when he claimed that the industry is safer and more transparent as a result.

Toro Energy Managing Director Greg Hall, about whom I will have much more to say in coming months, was certainly transparent. Blind to the reality unfolding across Tohoku and broader Japan, Mr Hall is celebrating the prospect of Japan reopening its nuclear facilities because that will help boost uranium prices. This offensive boosterism has a desperate edge to it. In the case of Toro Energy we have a company that has no proven experience sitting on a small, low-grade deposit of calcrete, which is notoriously difficult to process, with high costs because it is so remote, and politically unpopular in a declining international market. With that fatal catalogue of downside risks, he is telling the ASX that the nuclear fuel market has a future. It does not. Fukushima is not fading; it is not going away. Nuclear disasters are with us forever.

On Sunday I was proud to launch the fourth edition of Nuclear,Let the Facts Speak, a copy of which I have shared with all senators in this place. It is not a work of analysis or opinion. It is a straightforward chronology of nuclear accidents, incompetence and disaster spanning seven decades. Everywhere this industry touches down it leaves an imprint of misery and injury, and everywhere it goes it is challenged and fought. I am proud to be a part of the campaign to bring the nuclear age to an end. I pay tribute to people all over the world but this week especially to those in Japan who are dedicating their lives to a world free of the curse of nuclear energy and nuclear weapons.

Senate adjourned at 14:14