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Wednesday, 13 June 1984
Page: 2921

Senator CHANEY —My question is to the Minister for Resources and Energy and follows the answer he gave to Senator Crichton-Browne. Does he agree with the Prime Minister that the supply of uranium for peaceful purposes must not be confused with the question of nuclear weapons? I refer to a number of statements by the Prime Minister, one of which was in Perth, just before Easter, at the University of Western Australia. I ask the Minister: Is he aware of the claim by the 28 senators and members who signed the letter of protest over Mr Hawke's arms control statement that Australian Labor Party policy draws an integral link between alleged peaceful use of nuclear power and nuclear weapons proliferation? I ask the Minister: Is that claim correct? I further ask: What steps has he taken to ensure that Labor's uranium policy reflects the views of the Prime Minister, the report of the Slatyer committee and the Ambassador for Disarmament , all of whom agree that Australia can best contribute to nuclear non- proliferation and world peace by being actively involved in the supply of uranium for power generation purposes?

Senator WALSH —I do not know what the purpose of Senator Chaney's asking this question really is. He asked whether I agree with the Prime Minister's statement that the supply of uranium for peaceful purposes, that is for power reactors, should not be confused with nuclear weapons. The answer is yes. Indeed, it is a statement I have made on many occasions. It is a distinction which I believe ought to be drawn, not only because of the question of intent or stated intent but also because of more fundamental technical reasons. Power reactors operated in a way to optimise the production of electricity will produce plutonium of a grade which cannot be made into efficient weapons. Regardless of the intent of whoever may be operating the reactor, it is a technical reality that efficient weapons cannot be produced from fuel rods irradiated in a way that maximises the output and minimises the cost of electricity produced from a nuclear power plant .

However, the Government-this is a statement which has been made by Mr Hayden, by me, I think by the Prime Minister and probably by a number of other people-is nevertheless concerned to maximise the degree of surveillance and control over Australian uranium and the uses to which it is put in other countries. I am currently discussing with Mr Hayden a proposal to strengthen the intensity of surveillance of nuclear power plants by officers of the International Atomic Energy Agency. I am not able to say at this stage how productive that discussion is likely to be. The idea that there should be far more intensive or perhaps even continuous inspection of those plants by accredited officers of the IAEA seems to me to be worth following up.

Senator CHANEY —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I welcome the answer so far as it went and thank the Minister for it. What steps has he taken to ensure that the uranium policy generally reflects the view that we should be involved in the supply of uranium for power generation purposes?

Senator WALSH —Again, it is a matter of public record and has been for some time that I have circulated a draft platform for the National Conference of the Labor Party which I think incorporates that view. Obviously, I am not in a position to state with any certainty at this stage whether that draft, in its original form, slightly amended or more significantly amended will be the policy that finally emerges from that Conference as the Labor Party's platform.