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Wednesday, 27 March 1985
Page: 879

Senator McINTOSH —My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Foreign Affairs. I refer to a report in the Age newspaper of 23 March in which the Director-General of the Australian Natural Disasters Organisation disputed a claim based on United States military documents obtained under freedom of information provisions that security procedures established by the Pentagon to clean up after a nuclear accident in foreign countries would exclude local authorities. Can the Minister inform the Senate whether procedures for cleaning up after a nuclear accident involving United States nuclear armed and/or powered vessels in Australian ports have been agreed to by Australian and American authorities; whether local authorities are to be involved in these clean up procedures; and whether local authorities in cities visited by United States warships currently have detailed plans for dealing with such accidents or emergencies?

Senator GARETH EVANS —I will give Senator McIntosh such information as I possess, which is not much. On the first point, the United States has accepted absolute liability for any nuclear damage which might result from a nuclear incident involving the reactor of a United States warship. Australia expects that this will involve full co-operation in assisting with clean-up procedures, including assistance with radiation monitoring and decontamination. Australia would expect similar assistance in the event of a nuclear weapons accident. These matters are the subject of continuing dialogue with the United States. I add, of course, that this is contingency planning of the highest order and no one anticipates that any such accident will occur.

On the question of local authorities' involvement, the situation is that State authorities would co-ordinate responses to nuclear accidents. However, the Commonwealth Government would provide assistance in the form of capabilities for radiation monitoring, decontamination and related clean-up activities. As to the question about local authorities' current plans for dealing with such accidents, the situation again is that safety planning for foreign ship visits or anything of that kind is the responsibility of State and Territory governments rather than the Commonwealth. Within those jurisdictions, organisations have developed specific plans to cover nuclear reactor accidents. It is my understanding, as briefed by the relevant Minister, that nuclear weapons accidents are covered in general State and Territory plans for emergencies and disasters. I believe that is an answer to Senator McIntosh's question, but if there are any further and better particulars that I can give him about the nature of such plans, I will make further inquiries and see what I can do.