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Monday, 8 October 1984
Page: 1359

Senator MASON —Did the Minister for Resources and Energy see a letter in the Australian Financial Review of 4 October from Mr D. G. Hill, as Acting Director of the Australian Conservation Foundation which dealt with the connection between nuclear weapons and nuclear power? Did the Minister note especially the comment quoted in that letter from the official weekly review of Electricit'e de France, which clearly stated that the plutonium produced in the new Superphenix nuclear power generator will be used to produce nuclear weapons? Will the Government consider the implications of that, and indeed also reports that the United States Government is preparing to use plutonium from nuclear power generators to produce nuclear weapons? In view of the growing evidence available to show that plutonium produced from nuclear power generators is being used, and will continue to be used, for the production of nuclear weapons, how can the Government justify the continued mining, milling and export of Australian uranium?

Senator WALSH —The final part of the question asked by Senator Mason contained the assertion that there was evidence available to show that plutonium produced from nuclear power generators is being used, and will continue to be used, for the production of nuclear weapons. I am aware of no such evidence. I am aware of a number of assertions to that effect, including an assertion in the letter to which Senator Mason referred.

Perhaps I should say that Senator Mason was good enough, at about 12.30 p.m. today, to give my office notice of the fact that he intended to ask this question. In that limited time I have not been able to check out all the details . For example, I have not been able to check out the identity or status of L. Lammers, nor have I been able to check out the reference in that Lammers letter to the Congressional Record of the United States showing that the Reagan Administration has plans to divert eight tonnes, I think, of plutonium derived from both British and United States civil nuclear industries. The fact, assuming it is a fact, that such a reference appears in the Congressional Record is no guarantee of its accuracy. What appears in the Congressional Record is, firstly what any congressman or woman says, and, secondly, voluminous amount of material which a congressman or woman may have incorporated into that record, which is not necessarily authentic.

Leaving aside the inability to check out the authenticity or credibility of the two comments or allegations or assertions made in Mr Hill's letter, I will outline the things which I am able to answer and which are relevant. Australian uranium will not be supplied to France, of course, at least for the time being. That has already been stated on many occasions by me and by other people representing the Government and the Australian Labor Party. Therefore, Australian uranium would not be used for that purpose even if the French did intend to produce from fast breeder reactors weapons grade plutonium. Moreover, I am advised that the Euratom arrangement would prevent Australian uranium being used for that purpose, even if it were being supplied to France.

In regard to the United States, that country-irrespective of whether there is any substance at all in Mr Hill's second or third hand claim-could not use Australian uranium for that purpose unless it clearly breached the bilateral safeguards agreements between the two countries.

On the final part of the question-and I shall endeavour to obtain more technical information on this-as to the potential or the greater potential, if any, of fast breeder reactors to produce weapons grade plutonium as against either Magnox reactors or enriched uranium reactors in any configuration, I am not sure about the technical position and I shall endeavour to find out.

Senator MASON —I ask a supplementary question, Mr President. Can I take it from the Minister's reply that the Government is at least doing some active monitoring of the situation, or is it leaving it entirely to the other instrumentalities to do the monitoring? What would the Government's reaction be if it found that Australian uranium was being used in nuclear weapons?

Senator WALSH —I am not sure what Senator Mason means by monitoring. I might say that, at least as far as I am concerned, the Australian Conservation Foundation is not regarded as the most reliable source of information on this matter or, for that matter, on a number of other matters. Yes, the Government continues to monitor, insofar as it is able to, what is going on in the nuclear industry world wide, in particular in those countries to which Australia has supplied in the past or will continue to supply uranium in the future. No, I had not read the letter to which Senator Mason referred and which was published last Thursday -I had one or two other things to do last week-until he gave notice of asking this question but, its having been brought to my attention now, I have already indicated that as far as both the assertions and the underlying technical implications are concerned I will endeavour to get whatever information it is possible to get.