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Thursday, 31 May 1984
Page: 2294


Senator Sir JOHN CARRICK(9.42) —In Estimates committee hearings the question of what was happening at Lucas Heights with regard to uranium enrichment was raised. I then drew attention to the Uranium Enrichment Group of Australia. I do so now. UEGA indicated some months ago that it was forced to cease its activities because it needed for its next and final step the co-operation of the Government in ensuring that the Government would unlock confidential information from other governments in the discussions on commerce and technology. To remind the Committee of the situation I point out that UEGA, consisting of four companies, was set up to make investigations as to whether there should be a uranium enrichment plant in Australia. It made a series of reports.

The first report said that it had investigated the question of a market for enriched uranium and had decided that there would be a significant market from 1990 onwards. Subsequently that became clear and indeed the Japanese were contemplating building their own enrichment plant for the 1990s. Thus the first question was answered; there would be a market and a significant one. The second question was whether Australia would be capable of undertaking the technology and whether the enrichment industry would be the type of industry which would be suitable for Australia. The answer came back very clearly that Australia was quite capable of the technology, that the industry was labour intensive, particularly in its ancillary aspect, and would be an attractive industry to Australia and not a dangerous industry. Because the uranium enrichment is a chemical process and not a radioactive process the enrichment process is in fact less radioactive than yellowcake itself.

The third and real question concerned the preferred technology if Australia decided to develop an enrichment industry. A great study was done around the world and the answer was that there were three forms of technology, being gaseous diffusion, centrifuge, and chemical exchange or chemex. Chemical exchange is only in its laboratory stage. Not enough is known about it at the moment. Gaseous diffusion requires massive amounts of electric power. Those who have seen southern France, the Provence, will know that four reactors there are supplying the power for the gaseous diffusion enrichment plant. The Enrichment Group then concluded that centrifuge would be the logical technique or technology.

It went away to decide what centrifuge would be the best. There was the Urenco- Centec technology, that is the British-Dutch-German technology. There was the American technology and the possible Japanese technology. The Urenco-Centec was what one might call moderate sized centrifuge. The American method was bigger, better and brighter. The Enrichment Group came back and said: 'We would prefer Urenco-Centec. We are contemplating some kind of co-partnership with Urenco by which, operating together, we could share world markets. But to do that we would need to bring new markets into the situation and the Japanese market is the logical one. We would like to go ahead. We would like to have discussions'.

At that point the investigation by the Uranium Enrichment Group had advanced a considerable way. What was needed was the authority of the government of the day to ask other governments to release confidential information to UEGA and allow it to act in an official capacity. The tragedy is that that was refused. The further tragedy is that it is quite clear that, quite apart from the market for yellowcake for unenriched uranium, there is a separate market for enriched uranium, one that is very important to Australia.

The Australian Science and Technology Council committee, chaired by Professor Slatyer, today released its report on Australia's role in the nuclear fuel cycle . The Slatyer report says that it is very important for non-proliferation in this world to prevent uranium and fissile material getting into the wrong hands, and that it is very important that Australia embark upon more of the process of the nuclear cycle because the more that we do of the world's share the more we can control rigidly and the less danger there is. The fundamental report today was that Australia should do this and that we should therefore play a very significant part in ensuring the monitoring of the non-proliferation situation in this world.

That being so, I ask the Minister whether, in light of the Slatyer report, he will urgently reconsider the whole program of research which is being wound down at the Lucas Heights establishment. I refer specifically to the fact that what was to have happened under the Fraser Government-a centrifuge cascade was to be developed-is now being stopped. I ask the Minister whether he will now set in train investigations so that without delay the Government can reconsider the situation and reverse its decision so that Lucas Heights can have a meaningful role in terms of the Slatyer committee. I remind the Senate that the research laboratories and reactor at Lucas Heights would be fundamental to Australia doing the kind of non-proliferation monitoring that the Slatyer committee envisages. In the light of the ASTEC report, will the Minister ask his Government and his Cabinet as a matter of urgency to look again at the UEGA situation and to look to offer UEGA the good offices of this Government to allow it to get on with its job quickly?