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Wednesday, 25 March 1987
Page: 1325


Senator COLEMAN(5.17) —I want to speak very briefly on two of the treaties before us. One is the Convention on Early Notification of a Nuclear Accident, which was signed in Vienna on 26 September 1986 and which Senator Mason has just mentioned. I am sure that the majority of honourable senators are aware of my continuing interest in the safety of the nuclear industry and of the fact that from my office a number of books have been published on this very subject. Whilst I have doubts as great as ever over the suitability of nuclear power as an energy source and completely abhor the existence of nuclear weapons, I welcome any new measures to minimise the effects of nuclear accidents if and when they occur. The most recent one, as Senator Mason said, occurred at Chernobyl. In fact, it took that tragedy for this Convention to come into effect. We are told by the experts that tens of thousands of people will die as a result of the accident and that there will be long term effects on further tens of thousands of people. But I believe that that accident at least shocked the nuclear power community into accepting that it has to act in a responsible manner and into making new efforts to ensure that the majority of countries took notice.

This Convention was brought about largely by the recognition of the fact that radioactive material recognises absolutely no boundaries at all, and if, as has been put forward, the Kerguelen Islands are to be used by the French for their future testing, the people who are resident in Western Australia will know only too well very quickly that radioactive material respects no boundaries. The Kerguelen Islands are only 3,500 kilometres off the coast of Western Australia. We are told by the experts that the prevailing winds-the Roaring Forties and the intemperate fifties-that frequently come up against our shores will bring the radioactive material, after testing at Kerguelen, to Western Australia within a matter of hours-perhaps days, but nevertheless, it will come to Western Australia.

In general, I suppose, I have to support international initiatives which show that the nuclear industry is accepting some responsibility, but there are, of course, other opportunities and other ways for it to evidence that responsibility. If we look, for instance, at the third paper that is before us-the Convention on Assistance in the case of a Nuclear Accident or Radiological Emergency, which was also signed at Vienna on 26 September-I suppose we in Australia would like to think that the most relevant aspect of this Convention would be the provision of assistance by Australian authorities in the event of our near neighbours suffering a nuclear accident. When we take a hard look at the extent of nuclear-related activities in this country, we see that this is not an accurate perception.

Australia is actively involved in the nuclear industry in a number of ways. Most importantly, we have uranium mining, processing and transportation, on which I have spoken in this place many times. There are a number of locations throughout the country which will cause concern. Of course, most recently there was a radioactive leak at Lucas Heights. It may well be said that that was a minor accident and something that we should not really worry about. I am prepared to accept the reassurance of the authorities that the leak was minimal, but that is all I will accept. It was nevertheless an accident that occurred. We must be more conscious that in the age in which we are living we will constantly come up against this type of accident. We have to be ready, as our neighbours have to be ready, as our whole community has to be ready, following the question that I asked the Minister for Resources and Energy (Senator Gareth Evans) at Question Time today, to take into our own hands actions and activities in the event of accidents that might happen in areas that are close to us.


The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Order! The honourable senator's time has expired.