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Monday, 23 February 1987
Page: 553


Mr MAHER(9.25) —The former member for Hughes, Mr Johnson, told me that many years ago when he was a young member of this Parliament a group of members went to the Northern Territory to inspect what I think was the Mary Kathleen mine.


Mr Braithwaite —No, that is in Queensland.


Mr MAHER —In Queensland. One of the managers of the mine said `There is nothing wrong with yellowcake, no matter what they say', and he plunged his arms into a big barrel of yellowcake and let it run down them. I remember Mr Johnson saying: `I wonder where he is now'. I hope that this Nuclear Non-Proliferation (Safeguards) Bill 1986 would do something about stopping such a performance because uranium, yellowcake and other nuclear materials are dangerous substances which can kill and which have enormous potential for evil. I hope that this legislation will control the handling of yellowcake and limit such demonstrations in future.

My attitude to this legislation is one of great hope. I am pleased that the Government is legislating to enshrine in an Act of this Parliament the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. For no other reason, I would say to the honourable member for Dawson (Mr Braithwaite) that the Government is also legalising and codifying the work and the role of the Australian Safeguards Office. I would also say to the honourable member that, while he may consider it essential or desirable that we have an extension of the uranium industry and a greater area of the nuclear fuel cycle in Australia, when the coalition was in government no action was taken to extend it. There was some talk of having a nuclear reactor at Nowra, but nothing proceeded.

The honourable member also talked about there being not much growth in the sales of uranium, but it is an industry in which I understand there is an oversupply of uranium. The Australian Science and Technology Council report, produced by Professor Slatyer, I think, in 1984 pointed out that there is an oversupply of uranium and that in no way can Roxby Downs be cranked up to sell uranium to solve our balance of payments problem. All this uranium would flood the market; the world price of uranium would fall; and we would have nothing to gain. The honourable member also touched on the issue of the brain drain from Australia. Having a wife who is a scientist, I can assure him that, if anything, our scientists are coming back to Australia. People who were attracted to the United States in the 1960s or 1970s are now trying to get back to Australia.

The exciting thing about it all is this codification in the Australian law of Article IV and Article VI of the Treaty, which says:

Each of the Parties to the Treaty-

133 separate states have ratified the Treaty-

undertakes to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race . . .

Unfortunately, the area of arms control and disarmament is not one in which the Treaty has been a great success to date. However, it has been successful in stopping the spread of nuclear weapons. That was the American and Russian idea when this Treaty came into being in 1970. The critics of the Treaty say: `Well, a lot of countries have not signed it'. Some countries have not signed it. Nevertheless, the Treaty has stopped the spread of nuclear weapons. No one really knows whether Israel, Pakistan or India have nuclear weapons. A smaller treaty covers the countries of South America. But Article IV of the Treaty requires that countries which have nuclear material such as uranium make that material available for peaceful purposes to countries that do not have it. In that sense it discourages countries from entering the nuclear fuel cycle. It encourages them to obtain supplies of uranium for use in nuclear power stations which are being operated for domestic purposes and for industry. These countries can obtain uranium from countries such as Australia or Canada. We have a legal obligation to supply uranium.

We know that nuclear weapons are disastrous and that they could destroy the earth with a destructive force which is quite unknown and almost unimaginable. Perhaps Chernobyl is an example of what could happen if there were a nuclear explosion. We hear talk of the possibility of a nuclear winter. People are frightened by talk about nuclear power. They mix up nuclear weapons with the domestic use of uranium for the generation of electricity. Last year I had the opportunity to visit Finland and for the first time in my life to visit a nuclear power station. I was able to see how it was run and directed and the security precautions that were taken. I visited the power station in January when it was extremely cold. It was minus 28 degrees outside. It is only when one is in a country such as Finland in the winter that one appreciates the demand for electricity and power in a European winter. Finland is a typical northern country in that it generates about 40 per cent of its power from nuclear fuel. It has four big power stations-two built by the Russians and two by the Swedes.

The Finns have appalling problems from acid rain produced by the coal-fired power stations to the south and to the west. The acid rain has killed their lakes. It has driven the fish out of the streams and is killing their trees. Acid rain is an environmental nightmare which is produced by the fossil fuel burning power stations, the type of power station that we have in Australia. But Australia is lucky. We have great quantities of coal on the mainland and Tasmania has water with which to generate hydroelectricity. We are also blessed in that we do not have severe winters.

The whole purpose of Article IV of this agreement is to allow the Government of this nation, legally by Act of Parliament, to make uranium available to nations which are signatories to it. Australia has 10 bilateral agreements on nuclear safeguards with Finland, the Philippines, Korea, the United States of America, the United Kingdom, France, Canada, Sweden, Japan and Euratom. Euratom covers a number of other countries-Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, the Federal Republic of Germany, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg and the Netherlands.

The Australian newspapers were full of criticism when last year the Government sold uranium to France as a result of a Budget decision. The Australian Government and the French Government have bilateral agreements. France, which is also part of Euratom, complies with the requirements of the international atomic energy authorities. The Australian uranium sales are quite significant in Europe. The report of the Australian Science and Technology Council has projected that there will be continuing amounts of uranium sold by Australia for use in electricity and power generating plants in countries throughout the world that have no fossil fuels.

I have looked at this whole question of the use of uranium for peaceful purposes. I know that uranium is a dangerous substance and one that does not break down easily as waste. The spent fuel rods have to be kept away from contact with human beings for years-perhaps hundreds or thousands of years. But many substances do not have even a half life. Uranium has a half life and eventually, in the fullness of time-not in our time-it will break down. But as I said, many substances do not have a half life. Europe has great problems in getting rid of its poisons-arsenic and all the residues from the production of plastics and chemicals. We in Australia have no conception of these problems. The Europeans also have the problem of storing nuclear waste. I was impressed with the safeguards that were adopted by the Finns in relation to the storage of spent fuel rods. The Finns told me that they use Australian uranium. Of course, they are one of the countries with which we have an agreement. In fact, much of Australia's high quality paper-probably some of the paper in front of me that I have written on-was made in Finland by companies that buy their power from the nuclear power stations.

I believe that the Government has acted very positively in legislating for the enactment of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. I feel that in general people in the community have a fair way to go in appreciating the differences between the production of uranium for use in military weapons, which the Government is doing everything to stop, wind down and discourage, and the use of uranium to generate electricity overseas.

The honourable member for Dawson touched on alleged problems with our allies in defence. I find it very hard even to conceptualise what he was talking about. Does he feel that an American warship visiting Garden Island in the middle of Sydney Harbour will suddenly offload nuclear armaments on to the wharf? Does he feel that nuclear armaments will be offloaded in the electorate of Wentworth opposite the Domain Baths where my children sometimes swim on a Sunday afternoon? It is silly to propose that some situation like that will happen. American forces are very welcome to come to our ports. The American Navy has always been welcome in Australia. Many streets in my electorate, at Five Dock, are named after the American Fleet that came out here at the turn of the century. The Australians have always welcomed our American allies. They are our major ally, our ANZUS partner, and I feel that many of the comments by the honourable member for Dawson were quite irrelevant.

I again commend the Government for legislating for this Treaty. I hope that the Department of the Minister for Resources and Energy (Senator Gareth Evans) will mount a public campaign to highlight the differences between use of uranium for nuclear weapons, which we oppose, and the use of uranium for peaceful purposes. Also, we should adopt a policy of conserving use of our fossil fuels. Fossil fuels have uses in pharmaceuticals and medicines. They have a lot of important uses but once they are mined they are gone forever. We will be in great trouble if Australia's resources continue to disappear at the rate they are approaching.

During the last election campaign I attended a meeting which was also attended by the Australian Democrats candidate and the Anti-Nuclear Party candidate, but not by the Liberal Party of Australia candidate. Everyone supported the Non-Proliferation Treaty but I was the only one who supported the sale of uranium for power generation. I said: `You have to support the sale of uranium if you support the Non-Proliferation Treaty because Article IV says so'. That is what the Treaty is all about-to stop countries taking up nuclear arms but to encourage and facilitate the sale of uranium and know-how for peaceful purposes. Article IV talks about peaceful purposes without discrimination. So one cannot pick and choose once one has an agreement. One has to sell the know-how or the yellowcake to countries that wish to proceed to use nuclear fuel for peaceful purposes for generating electricity.

I will not delay the House. I commend the Minister for Resources and Energy for bringing this legislation forward. I know that the only contact that most Australians have with nuclear matters is perhaps through a nuclear medicine department in a big public hospital. The uses of nuclear fuel are increasing and it is important at this time. I believe that the Australian Government has legislated to cover this field totally, particularly as we signed the agreement way back in 1973.