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Thursday, 18 March 2010
Page: 2975

Mr TUCKEY (1:03 PM) —I suggest the member for Solomon stay in the chamber because I do have a couple of remarks to make regarding his speech. Prior to commencing my comments on the National Radioactive Waste Management Bill 2010, I wish to say that I have just left a luncheon in the Great Hall promoting research for type 1 diabetes in young children. Seated at my table were two young people from my electorate of O’Connor, Lauren Hope-Blythe and Rebecca Slater. They were sitting next to me when I had my finger-prick test and I am pleased to say that my sugar level was 5.3. These wonderfully brave young people are here to ask the government for additional funding for the promotion of diabetes research. I want it put on the record that I hope this parliament will unanimously decide to provide more grants for this issue. It is one of the outstanding opportunities to improve young people’s lives. The two youngsters sitting next to me got their meal a little earlier than the rest of us. Their meal was fish and chips. They were gloating over those chips because they are not allowed to eat them very often. One youngster had to turn up their insulin pump to be able to accommodate this treat. Anyway, the lunch was too good an opportunity to miss.

I will now speak on this bill. I was a bit disappointed that the member for Solomon chose to mention David Tollner and Senator Nigel Scullion. There is only one way he can justify those remarks and that is to call a division on this issue and have his vote recorded as being against it. Otherwise he is equal to them. I am sure that when the previous government proposed these matters they too had concerns. When you join this parliament, you do so with an obligation for the national interest.

As for the member for Solomon’s remark, ‘Why is it in my backyard?’ I can concur with that. It is so difficult to really substantiate the outcomes that are predicted around this issue and the associated issues relating to nuclear waste and I think that is why this campaign has created all the sadness and anger that it has. I wish to speak about some of those matters, but in referring to the dump—and let me return to my comments with the children—nuclear isotopes are, as you well know, Madam Deputy Speaker, created in a reactor in your electorate. They are transferred to hospitals all around Australia and injected into people’s veins. And people survive that injection. However, the syringe that is used and the rubber gloves that the doctor quite properly puts on before he commences the treatment are low-level radioactive waste. They are presently being stored in 44-gallon drums or cardboard boxes—you name it—in the cellars or other storerooms within the hospitals. It is silly, and it is probably not necessary to treat them as such; but that will take up a major amount of space in the proposed nuclear waste facility. It will not be glowing in the dark. In fact, with the exception of some of the waste that might be transferred from the Lucas Heights facility, there will be very little high-level waste that Australia has to accommodate at this time.

In my early period in this parliament, during the Fraser government, these issues became of note. I think Sir John Carrick was the relevant minister at the time. In my ignorance I asked him in conversation, ‘At the lower end of the radioactive scale, how thick a piece of concrete or lead would we need to protect other persons from this radiation?’ He said, ‘Wilson, how about a bit of cardboard?’ That was the level of the threat—you would be protected by a sheet of cardboard, according to his expert knowledge. So for goodness sake, let us take this legislation for what it is. We are talking about a relatively low-level facility, it is being located in a place where—with due respect to the remarks of the member for Solomon—no cattle will walk. There will be a buffer zone of probably millions of hectares, and I presume the fence might even be high enough to stop the kangaroos jumping in. It will not contaminate animals, and there is no more chance of it affecting our export market in that field than, for example, the contamination that a farm worker would pick up in a hospital where they go for health services before they then go back to their property in the Northern Territory. It is equally logical to argue that they might take that radiation back with them and then they might ride a horse and then that might somehow transfer to a cow.

I make this comment very seriously: it is time for this parliament to take a much more objective view about the whole nuclear issue. Let me say at this stage, as I have said publicly, I am not frightened of nuclear generators. However, it is my view, on a scale of one to 10, that there are less expensive options, per kilowatt hour, available to Australia and, if properly applied, there are renewables available within Australia: our sunlight. That is not utilising the roofs of the buildings in Melbourne but in our desert areas. As I said to some CSIRO people the other day, the sun actually takes close to 20 hours to traverse Australia. If we had strategically placed across the Nullarbor Plain a series of large—and I mean gigawatt size—solar generation units, we could be harvesting the sun throughout its journey. What do we need for that? What do we need to connect the low-emission resources of the Pilbara and the Kimberley in natural gas? What do we need to connect the huge tidal resources of the Kimberley? We need a transmission system, which has already been invented. It does not take $500 million, as proposed, to try to find a carbon capture and sequestration response for coal. For $5 billion an adequate transmission system can interconnect all of Australia and our deserts—which are a major source of energy—and our Kimberley tidal region to give us the electricity we need. That is the reason I do not think a nuclear power station is necessary in Australia. But I am not frightened of it and, if it were the best option to meet the various challenges that we face today, whatever they really are, then I would welcome it anywhere.

It got to the height of the ridiculous when, in the last election, the state Labor member in the town of Albany put out a press release to the effect that ‘Wilson Tuckey wants a nuclear power station in Albany’. Why wouldn’t I have a nuclear power station in Albany? It is a lousy place, from a technical perspective, to put it. Where are we going to send 70 per cent of the electricity—down to the penguins in Antarctica? Of course you would not put it there, and he is a fool for making such a silly comment. Western Australia uses only three gigawatts. When people make those silly remarks it does nothing for the debate we have got to have.

Let us think of that debate. Let us think of the legitimate concern about nuclear materials getting into the hands of terrorists or terrorist states. I do not have to mention the international concern over the behaviour of the Iranians. If you want to worry about how they might treat the rest of the world, just have a look at how they are presently treating their own people. It is a severe risk. People are comfortable—many not very comfortable—with, by international standards, the huge uranium resources of Australia being exported as yellowcake. It is the cheapest stage of the whole system and after we export it, wherever it goes, we virtually say ‘Goodbye’ and promises after promises are made, including in my state of Western Australia, that we will not take anything back. What does that tell us? Somewhere in the world, that uranium, as it is converted to fuel rods, might get into the hands of a rogue state or a terrorist individual. Is that a good idea? Should it not be more closely monitored?

I ask the question rather than make the statement, but I have thought very seriously about it: if we have this wonderful resource and if the French, for instance—I do not know whether they have any major resources of their own, but something like 60 or 70 per cent of their power generation is nuclear—want uranium, why do we not turn it into fuel rods in Australia and lease it to them? Yes, the spent fuel rods would be returned in due course and, under those lease conditions, we could have requirements that within their facilities we would have reputable Australians monitoring what they were doing so that, as we say with beef and other things, there is total traceability. Why would we not do that in the interests of ensuring, or certainly improving the prospects, that none of that nuclear product ever gets into the wrong hands? And why do we not in that process open up a huge industry for Australia? What would we be taking back? We would be taking back the very product we first exported—in a concentrated form, admittedly.

I am not saying that the locality which is presently being proposed is the right repository for those rods and I am not saying that this should be a policy of the Liberal Party. What I am challenging this parliament with is whether it would be better to know where our uranium is throughout its lifespan rather than export it as yellowcake, with a relatively low financial return to Australia, than not know where it is and maybe have a little arrive-back at the head of a rocket? That is just a challenge. Why should we not talk about it and why should silly people put up the argument, ‘Not in my backyard’? There are parts of Australia that are recognised as having the best geological capacity to store such waste—I have not raised the question of anybody else’s waste—and, according to my understanding, Australia is the only such continent which also has the political stability necessary to protect the world, were there to be a repository of some significance in it.

These are international issues. What is Australia’s responsibility in all of this? Were the government of the day to bring to this parliament an idea of total processing—never selling, only leasing and maintaining control of our nuclear products throughout their life span—I would think that would be in the world’s interests and certainly in Australia’s interests.

Let me just frighten the place no end by reminding everyone that, when I went to live in the town of Carnarvon, we had a magnificent river. It has demonstrated time and time again its capacity to carry enough water to fill Sydney Harbour in four hours. Throughout its course, the country is as flat as the desk that is in front of me. There are practically no mountains or valleys where we could build a dam. Furthermore, we discovered that, with 10 inches of rain falling in the catchment, the floods came to the doorstep of my hotel and were 10 miles wide. A year later, we had 20 inches of rain and we panicked. We said, ‘If 10 inches comes to this point in the town, then 20 has to be up there.’ So we evacuated the town. What happened? I stayed. All my assets and my life were situated there and, if they were going to be washed away, the flood might as well have taken me with them. I got up throughout the night, as the floods crept in towards my hotel, to check where the water was against the beer bottles I had put on the road to show how much the flood had advanced. In the early hours of the morning, I went out and it had gone backwards. Why? Because in this flat country it had found another route. It was 30 miles wide at the sea but never any higher than last time.

Having given you that evidence, how would you store the water? There is an amazing mini-industry up there—the most efficient in Australia in the returns it provides per litre of water used. There is this huge quantity of water arguably going to waste. I have read papers about how that could be corrected by the American Plowshare program—a program which, in my living memory, was quite well accepted. In this arrangement you went off the riverbed, and there was a technology to reduce the amount of debris. You drilled a hole 1,500 feet deep and eight inches in diameter—so less than a third of a metre in diameter—and you were then able to lower a nuclear device down that 1,500-foot deep hole, pack it up and let it off and you were left with a 600-foot deep reservoir, the bottom of which was 1,800 foot above where the actual explosion occurred.

I thought that was a pretty good idea. I gave an interview to the ABC, and a state member of parliament said, ‘For goodness sake; we might end up with radioactive cabbages.’ But the funny thing was that Charles Court, who was then the minister for the north west, turned up in town with an eight millimetre movie of the Russians doing just that in one of their remote rivers. Of course, they did not hold a popularity poll or have any consultation, but they did that and they were standing within filming distance using an old-style eight-millimetre camera.

We have got a water problem—but nobody likes dams. I wonder how they would like a few holes in the ground. I want to say to this parliament that, when we have got the guts, we will talk about all these things and we will belittle those who put forward foolish arguments. Yes, the scientists might say, ‘That would give you radioactive water’—but the Russians had people swimming in it days after the job. But the point I make is that we cast all this aside when there may be great benefits for society. (Time expired)