Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard   

Previous Fragment    
Tuesday, 12 June 1984
Page: 2876

Senator Walsh —On 3 April 1984 (Hansard, pages 1086-7) Senator Chipp asked me the following question without notice:

Has the Minister forgotten-Senator Mason drew his attention to it last year- that the United States Energy Research and Development Administration officially confirmed on 4 August 1977 that the United States of America had constructed and exploded a nuclear bomb made from reactor grade plutonium. Will the Minister correct his statement which, although no doubt made in good faith, was a stark case of misleading the Senate?

The answer to the honourable senator's question is as follows:

I can assure the honourable senator that I have not misled the Senate on this matter. My original answer had concerned the production of weapons grade plutonium from power reactors. 'Weapons grade' plutonium is normally regarded as having a Pu-240 content of no more that 5 per cent, that is being derived from very low burn-up fuel. For weapons purposes, the Pu-240 content must be kept to a minimum as Pu-240 spontaneously fissions and thus can cause premature detonation. As I noted in my answer, spent fuel from the normal operation of a power reactor has a high burn-up. The Pu-240 content of such fuel would commonly be around 20-30 per cent.

The honourable senator's question does not indicate any inconsistency with my earlier answer, but addresses a somewhat different point, namely, can an explosive device be produced from reactor grade plutonium. Although the Energy Research and Development Administration stated on 4 August 1977 that the US has detonated such a device (apparently in 1962), it is difficult to evaluate this claim as the isotopic composition of the plutonium used and the yield of the detonation have never been revealed. Below is set out an extract on this subject from briefing prepared by the United States Lawrence Livermore Laboratory in November 1976.

While it appears feasible under certain circumstances, using highly sophisticated technology, to produce an explosion from reactor grade plutonium, I am advised that this is technically difficult and would not result in a practical weapon. Production of a weapon, as distinct from an explosion, involves factors such as reliability, size of yield, and deliverability.

There are therefore sound practical reasons why those countries which have produced nuclear weapons have not used dedicated power reactors for this purpose .


1. Q-When did the event occur and was it announced? A-In 1962. The event was not announced at that time.

2. Q-Did the device produce a nuclear yield? A-Yes.

3. Q-What was the yield? A-The yield was quite low; however, the actual number is classified.

4. Q-What laboratory conducted the test? A-The test was conducted by LASL at the Nevada Test Site.

4a. Q-What is reactor grade plutonium? A-Reactor grade Pu is defined as containing more that 8 per cent Pu-240.

4b. Q-How is reactor grade plutonium made? A-Reactor grade plutonium is extracted from spent reactor fuel by a complex chemical recovery process under highly controlled conditions because of the radiation hazards involved.

5. Q-What was the percentage of Pu-240 in the device? A-The exact isotopic composition is classified.

6. Q-Has there been more than one test of a device using reactor grade plutonium? A-This is the only test of this nature that has been conducted by the United States.

7. Q-Is reactor grade Pu used in any stockpile weapons? A-The isotopic composition of Pu used in a stockpile weapon is classified.

8. Q-Are additional tests using reactor grade plutonium planned? A-No additional tests are planned.

WNP-33A: The fact that a nuclear test was conducted using reactor grade Pu and that it successfully produced a nuclear yield is unclassified.


Senator Walsh —On 4 April 1984 (Hansard page 1188) Senator Jack Evans asked me, as Minister representing the Treasurer, a question without notice regarding interest rates and a supplementary question concerning the steps that the Government would take to protect home buyers from the effects of future possible increases in interest rates. The Treasurer has provided the following information in answer to the honourable senator's supplementary question:

There has been a marked decline in home loan interest rates since the Government assumed office. This has provided significant relief to existing home buyers and has given a substantial boost to the housing industry. The Government would, of course, like to see further permanent reductions in the level of interest rates including those on home loans.

Accordingly, the Government's economic policies will continue to be directed towards the achievement of sustained and stable economic growth in a context of declining inflation.

Such a policy is the only realistic approach to encouraging long term interest rate reductions.

No government can guarantee that interest rates will not rise-there are many factors involved in determining the level of interest rates and not all of these are amenable to direct influence by the authorities. However, the Government recognises the special importance of interest rates to home buyers and, as the honourable senator would be well aware, the Government has extended considerable direct assistance to home buyers.

At the same time, the Government has moved to increase the ability of the banking system to attract more funds for lending to home buyers and for other purposes.

The vast majority of Australians-including home buyers-will obtain very real benefits from these changes.


Senator Walsh —On 4 May 1984 (Hansard, page 1607) Senator Robert Ray asked me, as Minister representing the Treasurer, a question without notice concerning the consumer price index (CPI). In the course of my answer I undertook to consult the Treasurer regarding certain points.

The Treasurer has provided the following advice regarding those points:

I am advised that the OECD has not expressed reservations regarding the way in which the Australian CPI is determined; and

The construction of the CPI is the responsibility of the Australian Statistician. The CPI weights and regimen are reviewed regularly (once every four or five years) by the Statistician. The latest review was completed in mid- 1982 and the new (10th series) CPI was released with the publication, at the end of July 1982, of the June quarter 1982 CPI index numbers. The next review is due in 1986 and will be conducted with regard to the results of the 1984 household expenditure survey, currently under way.


Senator Walsh —On 31 May 1984 (Hansard, page 2231) Senator Hearn asked me, as Minister representing the Treasurer, the following question without notice:

In view of the nature of this important survey (the household expenditure survey), and the concern of constituents, I ask the Minister: Will he make a further statement of reassurance to members of the public as to the purpose of this survey?

The Treasurer has provided the following supplementary information in answer to the honourable senator's question:

The household expenditure survey is a major national survey of the income and spending patterns of private households throughout Australia. It is designed to show how households of different size, composition and income spend their money and on what types of goods and services. In particular, the survey will enable comparisons to be made between the income and expenditure patterns of special groups (for example, pensioners, single-parent families, et cetera) and those of the rest of the community. Statistics from the survey will also be used for a wide range of social welfare policy work and will provide up to date data for reviewing the weighting in the consumer price index.

The survey itself is subject to stringent safeguards on confidentiality. Particulars relating to individual persons are seen only by authorised ABS officers who are required, under the Census and Statistics Act 1905, to observe strict secrecy in the handling of information supplied for statistical purposes. Only coded information, which does not include names and addresses, is entered into the computer records from which statistical aggregates are compiled.