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Wednesday, 3 December 1986
Page: 3286


Senator MASON(5.30) —This huge report entitled `Disarmament and Arms Control' from the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence well repays study. It is quite difficult to encompass it or to comment on all aspects of it but I was greatly impressed with the thoroughness with which the Committee had done its work. I do not agree with all its conclusions or the emphasis that it puts on facts and I propose to deal with a few of those today. As honourable senators would know, for some years I have stressed the dangers of horizontal proliferation, by which I mean the acquisition of nuclear weapons by nations beyond the present nuclear five-that is, the Soviet Union, the United States of America, France, China and Britain. Earlier this year I had occasion to discuss this problem, which I believe to be intimately associated with the development of nuclear power, with quite a few eminent scientists and political leaders in Europe and the Middle East. I was interested to note that even the nuclear power enthusiasts are beginning to share the concerns that I have expressed on this matter for a year or two now. In fact, most of them are seeing it now as a front level matter of consideration-a matter which has to have the urgent attention of the world. I have no evidence yet that the Australian Government has any desire to look at it in that way. At that level of scientific expertise, which is certainly far beyond my knowledge, the danger of so-called peaceful nuclear technologies developing which will make it possible for virtually any determined group, even a group of terrorists, to make nuclear weapons-by that I mean fission weapons of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki type-is now well recognised. That is something to which I think the world ought to give serious attention.

There are two technologies which are seen as presenting the greatest risk. The first is the fast breeder reactor which produces nuclear fissionable plutonium 239 in huge quantities. Most of the Western powers have, I think, quite responsibly abandoned that technology and the United States has decided not to proceed with it. The only country which is proceeding with it is France. France has the world's biggest fast breeder reactor in the form of the Superphenix in the Rhone Valley. The significance of breeder reactor is that it takes what one would call the inert part of uranium 238, that which is left after the fissionable U235 is taken from it, and breeds that in a blanket which is placed round the outside of the reactor. Over a fairly lengthy period it actually breeds plutonium 239. The excuse that has been made for it is that it is economic. It uses all the uranium and turns it into another material-PU239-which can be used to fuel nuclear reactors.

If that were the only thing it did possibly that would be acceptable. I will not canvass all the other problems of nuclear power at this stage because they are not relevant to this debate. But the point that relates to this debate is that the PU239 is also a highly efficient and commonly used material for bomb fuel. By going ahead with fast breeder reactor technology not only do we make it possible but also we guarantee that huge quantities of plutonium-I am speaking of hundredweight and tonne lots-will be available around the world. It will also be available for piracy, stealing and any illegal taking by terrorist groups that want to make weapons. It is a fact already that the inventories of plutonium in the United States are lacking considerably. Plutonium has been lost again and again and it has not been possible to establish what actually happened to it. We do not know what has happened in the Soviet Union and in other places, such as France. Their information close-down on the nuclear power process is so great that we will never know.

The other technology seen as presenting the greatest risk is the laser method of enriching uranium. This method uses a laser beam to separate the two isotopes U235 and U238. The word `separate' is significant because this is not a long, slow, expensive process of enriching the U235 gradually. It is an actual separation process which, if it is developed fully, will quite quickly, quite cheaply and economically provide a very easily concealable process which will not take very much space and which will allow any group that so wishes to obtain bomb lots of U235. If those bombs were ever made they would be relatively crude weapons but not in the sense that they will not work. They will be crude in two senses: Firstly, their yield will be impossible to estimate, except that they will be very destructive. As we all know, a bomb of the type that I have mentioned destroyed Hiroshima. Secondly, they will also be dirty in the sense that there will be a very high fall-out. With every bomb that is used in the world environment the fall-out will increase and so will the world toll of spontaneous abortions, cancer and genetic malformation. That is not the kind of world that we want. I am concerned that this matter has not been sufficiently addressed in this report. As I recall, there is a mention of this on page 143 of the report. The report states:

Any recovery of demand for nuclear power could place greater pressure on the non-proliferation regime.

The report begins to approach this matter. The report, on the same page, further states:

Also, some States not party to the NPT may soon be able to export a fairly comprehensive range of nuclear goods and services including natural and enriched uranium, research reactors, components of power reactors, fuel cycle technology and training services. Control over the supply of nuclear materials and technologies is complicated further by the need to identify and restrict `dual-use' items-items that can be used in nuclear and non-nuclear industrial applications-and by the absence of a general `full scope' safeguards regime.

I think I can at least give the Committee credit by saying that it has recognised the problem although in the recommendations in its report it has not made this sufficiently obvious. Only someone who is prepared to delve into the centre of this huge volume of nearly 800 pages will dig out these points-which is what I have tried to do in the brief time available to me.

I turn now to page 162 of the report because that raises the second major point that I wanted to discuss. That section of the report deals with whether Australia would be a nuclear target in time of war. The Committee took a wide range of evidence on this matter, including evidence from a large number of well-informed people. Anybody could read in the report their statements that Australia would be likely to be a nuclear target in time of war. But on page 162--


Senator Crichton-Browne —It is not going to be a target in a nuclear war.


Senator MASON —The honourable senator should speak after me in this debate and not interrupt my line of thought so that I can deal with this matter. On page 163 the Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr Hayden) is quoted. The report states:

. . . the Foreign Minister, Mr Hayden, argued that regardless of the presence of the joint facilities, Australia could not escape the consequences of nuclear war. He argued that once a nuclear exchange began, the superpowers may seek to eliminate countries such as Australia `for the simple reason that they would not wish to leave any immune areas which could be built up as enclaves for the regroupment of their opponent'.

I think that is an unduly pessimistic and reactionary point of view in the sense that it is a reaction to the easiest course of action. Yet it is not an argument for Australia actually going ahead and presenting itself as a nuclear target. If that argument were to be taken we might as well fill the place up with cruise missiles. We might as well arm to the teeth and tell the Russians that we--


Senator MacGibbon —Come on, don't be silly.


Senator MASON —It is a fact. For the benefit of the honourable senator I will again read what the Foreign Minister said:

. . . regardless of the presence of the joint facilities, Australia could not escape the consequences of nuclear war.

This depressing scenario is by no means the last word on the subject. It is far too convenient and it is too large a generalisation for my liking. The fact is that even in conditions of major war nuclear submarines, for instance, would be hardly likely to return to ports in Australia-I suppose what is indicated is that they would be the only things that could reach Australia in the circumstances that the Minister has mentioned-until their weapons had been used. It seems to me that the main volume of attack would reason- ably be attracted by the perceived enemies of the time. We could well see a world in which Europe, the Soviet Union and the United States to all intents and purposes would disappear. It seems more likely to me that remote parts of the world, such as Australia and New Zealand in that context, would avoid direct attack if they had done nothing to attract it. The more reasonable point is that if weapons are detached to attack three bases in Australia other targets in the same place are more likely to be targeted for the simple reason that these weapons have multiple independently targetable re-entry vehicle capability. They are multi-weaponed; they are not just simple things. As for the nuclear winter, it is likely enough. But I think Australia, with its degree of decentralisation, its reasonably hot climate in much of the territory and its sheer size is likely to avoid the worst effects of a nuclear winter.

I am concerned deeply that the Committee has not carried out its work satisfactorily in this regard in not taking this area seriously enough. It deserves further study and examination.