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Wednesday, 25 February 1987
Page: 743


Mr BARRY JONES (Minister for Science)(6.46) —in reply-I assure honourable members that I do not intend to take my full 20 minutes, but I wanted to thank the honourable members for Dawson (Mr Braithwaite), Lowe (Mr Maher), Warringah (Mr MacKellar), Eden-Monaro (Mr Snow), Macquarie (Mr Webster), Fraser (Mr Langmore), Mayo (Mr Downer), Bendigo (Mr Brumby) and Prospect (Dr Klugman) for their contributions on what truly could be regarded as a very wide ranging debate. To recapitulate, the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, which was occasionally mentioned in the debate, is the most successful and widely adhered to international nuclear arms control treaty. There are now 136 parties to the Treaty. It has made a major contribution to international peace and security. It also makes a major contribution to the security of Australia's region. All six ASEAN states and all members of the South Pacific Forum except Vanuatu are members of the Treaty. Some 30 years ago projections were that by the 1980s there would be between 20 and 30 nuclear weapon states. The NPT has been a major factor in halting such an horrific development. The Treaty has set a standard of responsible international nuclear behaviour which it is becoming politically more and more difficult to transgress.

It is a matter of very great regret that a very small group of countries with nuclear industries are apparently keeping open the nuclear option. Australia has consistently urged on them membership of the NPT, the acceptance of full scale safeguards, or the development of regional non-proliferation arrangements, such as nuclear free zones, to assure the international community and their neighbours of the peaceful intent of their nuclear activities. All NPT members have faithfully adhered to their obligations. It is not the fault of the Treaty that a small number of states have failed to adopt non-proliferation commitments which the overwhelming majority of the international community has been prepared to accept. The question should not be, not why has the Treaty failed to attract these countries, but why have these countries failed to conform to responsible international behaviour. The onus is on them.

Those who have remained outside the Treaty have criticised the NPT on grounds such as its recognition of the existence of any nuclear weapon states, or that the distinction between nuclear and non-nuclear weapon states which is to be found in the Treaty is inherently discriminatory. While such arguments are not without some basis, particularly granted the inability of the super-powers to put the lid on vertical proliferation, they fail completely to deal with the reality of the nuclear problem addressed in the NPT. They fail to accept the fact that control of nuclear energy, not denial, is the only safe course. To put it more bluntly and clearly, whatever flaws there may be in the NPT and within the current non-proliferation regime, it is equally clear that if the world community had failed to develop the NPT, then today's world would be a much different and assuredly a much more troubled and dangerous place than it is now. It would be a world characterised by these large numbers of nuclear weapons states which in today's unstable environment would put us in a much larger and much more turbulent powder keg-to mix the metaphors-than even our current less than satisfactory position.

There has not always been a tremendous degree of candour. We know about the atomic weapons in the United States of America, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, the United Kingdom, France, China and India, but there are a number of other countries which have indicated antagonism for the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. The fact that they are antagonistic in itself says much for the fundamental reality and significance of the Treaty. The Bill strengthens the Australian safeguards system by putting it on a sound legal basis, giving statutory authority to the Australian Safeguards Office.

There has been a strong degree of support for the Bill; so I do not need to restate all the arguments. I wish to take up one or two points. The honourable member for Eden-Monaro in his speech on Monday referred to the prospects for fusion as a possible energy source. Last October I visited the Lawrence Livermore Laboratories in California and saw one of their major projects, the mirror fusion test facility-the MFTF-B. It is a huge hollow linear magnetic fusion machine, 60 metres long, weighing 461 tonnes and planned to be used for generating plasma. The machine cost $242m to build and $150m in research and development costs to work up. I climbed into the chamber with trepidation, along with the Secretary of my Department. In February 1986 it ran for 24 hours, then the Department of Energy said: `Shut it down and moth-ball it'. The reason for this was that there had been a higher rate of success from a `closed' system at Princeton in a torus or doughnut-shaped fusion machine called the Tokamak.

So fusion may well be on the way, but I think not this side of the twenty-first century. Obviously there will need to be enormous investment before the Americans get it right. As I said, when the machine ran in February it had the coldest point in the solar system, 4 degrees Kelvin, and the hottest spot, 80 million degrees Kelvin, within 30 centimetres of each other. Magnetic fields are heat insulators. Lawrence Livermore Laboratories also have a huge laser excitation project for producing fusion. There was some discussion-it was raised by the honourable member for Macquarie-


Mr Peacock —What have they done with the MFTF-B?


Mr BARRY JONES —It is a memorial.


Mr Peacock —For your visit?


Mr BARRY JONES —Well, yes. I am sure the honourable member for Kooyong, who is Opposition spokesman for foreign affairs, would be very welcome to see it. It is a most extraordinary and awe-inspiring piece of engineering. But it indicates that there is no certainty as to the most effective way to bring about fusion and obviously billions and billions of dollars will be spent before the Americans work out the right way to do it, if indeed it is technologically feasible in the long term.

Some anxiety was expressed by the honourable member for Macquarie about the nuclear debate. He seems to be worried about the fact that debate existed at all. But one cannot deal with an issue which is disputed by suppression. One can only deal with it by proper analysis and close scrutiny of all the issues involved and, as the honourable member for Prospect said, we must make sure that we have access to proper information.

In all too many examples decisions in high scientific matters have been made in the past by governments in total ignorance. For example, the approval of Australia as a nuclear weapons site is a very good example. The Menzies Government was very poorly informed by the British about the dangers, including fall-out, of which it barely had any understanding. The Menzies Government simply did not care to ask. There should have been a wide-ranging parliamentary and public debate. As the honourable member for Prospect said, debate could be more rational but the problem is that where deeply held value systems are involved-as is the case with the prevailing fear about atomic weaponry or indeed about almost all large scale technology whether it be Chernobyl, the Challenger disaster or Bhopal-it is very hard to get that rational approach because people are carried away by fear which reduces their capacity to express rational arguments. Sometimes even parliamentarians are perhaps a little inhibited in the same way because of the sheer complexity of the issues involved. I thank honourable members for their contributions to the debate.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a second time.