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Tuesday, 17 February 1987
Page: 113


Senator VALLENTINE(9.54) —In spite of my reservations about the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation Bill 1985, I must commend the Government for removing the draconian security provisions of the old Act and for explicitly prohibiting ANSTO from undertaking any research or development into the design or production of nuclear weapons or other explosive devices. I want to make just a couple of concluding remarks about the ANSTO legislation. I must agree with one thing that Senator Durack has just said and that is to reiterate his call for increased education about the nuclear industry. What he has just said demonstrates very clearly that that need is urgent. The reports that he referred to have all been conducted by people who have a vested interest to serve in promoting the nuclear industry. When the people have the information before them, when the shrouds of secrecy are lifted about the nuclear industry, as happens on rare occasions, the people decide for themselves very clearly that nuclear technology is inappropriate and it is not something to which Australia should be moving towards.

I reiterate that the ANSTO legislation seems to lack clear and specific direction and purpose. It is regrettable that the amendments suggested this evening concerning positive research aspects for ANSTO and also the amendments concerning regulation and monitoring have been rejected. They would have made the legislation a little more palatable. There is no mention in the legislation of whether ANSTO will be involved in any non-nuclear energy research with, for example, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation and what liaison CSIRO and ANSTO would have under this new Bill. I am also very concerned about the secrecy surrounding the nuclear industry. It is to be hoped that the new body will not be as secretive as its predecessor although I have my doubts about that. I doubt that there will be full public accountability particularly with regard to leaks of radioactive material from the aging reactors at Lucas Heights. I sincerely hope that when the Government decides to shut down Lucas Heights any future plan for Australia's participation in the nuclear industry is openly and fully debated in the community. I think the people of Australia deserve that.

I cannot agree with comments made by members of the coalition and the Government that Australia should proceed along the nuclear technology path albeit for so-called peaceful purposes. There can be no guarantee of safety in any aspect of a nuclear fuel cycle particularly with regard to food irradiation which we do not need. We should not be jumping on to that particular technological band-wagon which potentially is very dangerous indeed. What we should be researching in the nuclear field are the effects of radiation on human, animal and plant life. This significant omission means that we continue to rely on overseas research in areas where we should be conducting our own. This seems even more imperative in the light of the McClelland Royal Commission into British Nuclear Tests in Australia which clearly showed that there were, and continue to be, victims of the British nuclear testing program in the 1950s. We should also be researching the long term effects of low level radiation following warnings from overseas scientists about the permanent damage being done right now to the world's genetic pool.

Lucas Heights now carries out environments research. However, I believe that ANSTO's role in this important area should be considerably expanded. There are numerous examples of damage to the Australian environment from uranium mining, for example, at the Rum Jungle site in the Northern Territory and at the Ranger mine. The management at Ranger continues to be plagued with problems associated with waste disposal, such as frequent leakages of contaminated water into the Magela Creek. Roxby Downs also poses its own set of environmental problems with its acute shortage of water.

In conclusion, I think it is vital that ANSTO directs its research activities towards protecting our environment and our people from the effects of nuclear radiation. Unfortunately, I fear that the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation Bill 1985, the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (Transitional Provisions) Bill 1985 and the Atomic Energy Amendment Bill 1985 will not give ANSTO and the Nuclear Safety Bureau the sense of purpose and appropriate tasks they should nor do I feel that they are sufficiently independent so that we can rely on them.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bills read a third time.