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Wednesday, 25 March 1987
Page: 1324


Senator MASON(5.13) —I move:

That the Senate take note of the papers.

We are considering a large number of treaties-some 16-which have been signed or ratified by Australia or which require some further treaty action by us. The ones to which I want to address myself particularly are those concerning the notification of nuclear accidents and radiological emergencies. As I understand it, those treaties have attracted very little comment so far, although it is interesting that in a Press statement on 11 May the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr Hayden, identified the main gaps in them as the absence of an effective early warning system and multilateral emergency assistance arrangements.

The treaties, of course, relate to the early notification of nuclear accidents and assistance in the case of nuclear accidents or radiological emergencies. They are a direct result of the Chernobyl disaster. In this context, it is worth noting today's report of the uneven spread of the Chernobyl fallout cloud, the worst consequences being in those countries in which it rained while the fallout was overhead. Hence, of a thousand deaths from cancer expected over the next 50 years in Europe, 700 are expected in southern Germany and northern Italy, with high figures also in the north of the United Kingdom.

In the notification treaty before us there are some quite disturbing factors which deserve to be looked at. One is clause 3 of Article 5, which imposes a right for the notifying power to provide information on a confidential basis. I suppose that some sort of defence arguments can be made for this, but it is really part of the disturbing attitude of governments everywhere in the world to keep their people in ignorance of major nuclear accidents. To that extent, I think the fact that we have contributed to that situation is quite disturbing, and it affects the value of this particular treaty. Disclosures of nuclear accidents should be as public as possible.

Another problem area is clause 3 of Article 11, which comes very close to making the treaty a quite useless piece of paper. It allows the states, simply by declaration, to opt out of the decisions of the International Court of Justice in the event of disputes arising under this treaty.

The treaties are also inadequate in that they do not state clearly enough that avoidance of nuclear accidents should have the top priority, and they do not attempt in any way to apply any kind of sanctions or penalties whatsoever on offending states. That, I agree, would be a difficult thing to do, but I think it is something that will have to be addressed by the world in the very near future, because it really is the crunch point. This should be an important next step.

Australians might see this treaty as rather remote because we do not have close neighbours with nuclear power. However, we do have regular visits from warships of allied powers which have nuclear reactors and weapons on board. It is crucial to note that this treaty specifically excludes notification of accidents with nuclear weapons, although it does apply to reactor accidents, presumably including military reactor accidents. I think that is something that the Government ought to make clear in some sort of comment on this paper. As far as accidents with weapons on visiting ships are concerned, it is worth noting that 32 serious accidents in either the carriage or use of nuclear weapons were reported by the United States Department of Defense between 1950 and 1980. That figure applies to major accidents, not minor ones. They were caused in most cases by fire or mid-air collisions. Those are the main causes, and these are the sorts of things that could happen in a crowded harbour such as Sydney harbour.

It is worth saying that, according to the November 1986 edition of Nuclear News, all five of the nuclear weapons states have given a voluntary undertaking to include early notification of any accidents at military installations, although it is noted by Nuclear News that `such facilities were excluded from the formal convention at the drafting stage'. However, it is a less than satisfactory situation, and one to which our Government ought to address itself plainly in the national interest.