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Tuesday, 27 March 1973
Page: 730


Mr MacKELLAR (Warringah) - -It has been a tradition that debate on an Appropriation Bill gives individual members the opportunity to canvass a wide range of subjects. Tonight I would like to deal with a question which is exercising the minds of many people in Australia at present - nuclear testing in the atmosphere. I would like to discuss a couple of the aspects of atmospherio nuclear testing. I want to begin my speech by quoting from the draft report of the Scientific Committee on the effects of atomic radiation to the General Assembly of the United Nations. The report, which was presented on 6th March 1972, said:

Man has been continuously exposed to natural radiation since his appearance on earth and, until less than a century ago, was exposed to natural radiation only. Even now despite the widening use of radiation producing devices, the widespread radioactive contamination from nuclear weapon tests and the Increasing applications of nuclear energy and radio isotopes, natural sources are the main contributors to the average radiation exposure of human populations-

This is important - and are likely to remain so in the foreseeable future.

I think it is important to remember this even if only because a large segment of the population knows little or nothing about naturally occurring radiation and has the mistaken idea that radiation occurs only as the result of nuclear explosions. It is also important because any discussions about levels of radiation following a nuclear explosion should take place bearing in mind the naturally occurring radiation levels. Other people more knowledgable than myself know the precise details, extent and sources of some of the effects of exposure to radiation. But suffice it to say that natural radiation is of 2 origins - terrestial and extraterrestial. Man-made sources of radiation include mining for radioactive material, medical use of radioactive material both for diagnostic and treatment purposes, nuclear power production, miscellaneous sources such as electronic tubes emitting X-rays, but not designed for that purpose and, of course, nuclear explosions for both peaceful and non-peaceful purposes.

Extraterrestial radiation originates in outer space. As a result the earth is exposed to secondary cosmic rays. Typical values at sea level in temperate latitudes are around 30 millirads per year. This figure increases with altitude, the dose rate approximately doubling every 1,500 metres, up to a few kilometres above earth. This is particularly important to Parliamentarians who travel frequently in aeroplanes because passengers and crews of high altitude aircraft are thus exposed to higher levels of radiation than are people at ground level.

Terrestial sources are radio-active nuclides present in varying amounts in all rocks and soils. They are also transmitted through food chains or are inhaled and lodge in the tissues of the body. Most of the world's population receives about 50 millirads of radiation a year from external sources and 20 millirads a year from internal sources. These all add up to about 100 millirads a person a year from natural sources of radiation, both terrestial and extraterrestial.

The radioactivity concerning us originates from nuclear explosions - specifically atmospheric nuclear explosions associated with the testing of nuclear devices. It is well to remember that nuclear weapon testing has declined in rate over the past few years. Those tests carried out before 1963 still represent by far the largest series of events leading to global radioactive contamination. The United Nations report that I have already mentioned goes on to say that the debris injected into the atmosphere by these tests have now almost entirely been deposited onto the earth's surface, so that most of the residual radioactivity from earlier tests is now present in soil, crops and animal tissues from which it is steadily removed by a number of different factors.

The fallout from nuclear testing of most concern is that which results from longer life particles of radio-active material. Leaving aside the technical details, the most dangerous radioactive isotopes resulting from nuclear explosions are strontium 90, cesium 137 and iodine 131. Strontium 90 is absorbed into the body and lodges in the long skeletal bones and may interfere with that most important of substances, bone marrow. Cesium lodges in the muscles and body fluids, and its effects can include genetic mutations; iodine with a short half-life of 8 days, concentrates in the thyroid and can upset the metabolic rate of the system.

There are 2 common methods whereby such radioactive nuclides may be absorbed by man. The first has become known as the foragemilkman way and the second is called the soil route pathway. The first is important because comparatively short lived fallout such as iodine 131 finds its way to the human population in the milk they drink. The second pathway is important when one is dealing with the longer living radio-nuclides. I believe it is interesting to know that the United Nations Committee found that intake of strontium 90 is now lower than it was in the past because comparatively small amounts of it are absorbed from the soil by plants used particularly as foodstuffs or animal feed.

The Committee concluded that the mean per capita annual doses to be received from strontium 90 and cesium 137, between 1955 and 2000 by the whole world population amount to one thirtieth of those received from natural sources. However iodine 131 in milk has been reported in populated areas of Australia, Polynesia, South Africa and South America and other places after the French tests of 1970 and 1971 at levels that may have given doses to infants equivalent to that received from natural sources. In recognition of this, Australia has instituted monitoring programs, one operating since 1957 monitoring the levels of long lived radioisotopes in fallout, particularly strontium 90 and cesium 137, the other being instituted because it is considered that fallout from a particular test or tests may reach Australia and dealing with the short lived radioisotopes, particularly iodine 131.

I believe that we should look at the results from the 26 monitoring stations around Australia. The Atomic Weapons Test Safety Committee Report No. 3, presented to the Federal Parliament on 13th April 1972, gave details of the fallout on Australia resulting from the 1971 French tests in the Pacific. It took about 16 days from the date of the first explosion for fresh fission products to reach Australia. They were monitored from late June until late November 1971, when the levels became so low as to make no further contribution to the radiation doses. The report concluded that the levels of radioactivity remained very very low and that the radiation doses were of the order of 0.1 to 2.2 millirads. These correspond to about 1.2 per cent and 2.2 per cent of the average annual background radiation from natural sources.

With respect to idoine 131, the report tells that the Australian National Radiation Advisory Committee, in line with recommendations issued by the United Kingdom Medical Research Council, adopted a safety level of 840 millirads per year for iodine 131. This means that provided a child did not consume more than 840 millirads of iodine 131 per year in its milk its health would not be endangered. Tests were taken in 9 major population centres, covering about 75 per cent of the total Australian population, following the French tests, and the results indicated that the radiation doses to thyroids of young children consuming fresh cow's milk ranged from 4 to 62 millirads per year, and this is, of course, well below the safety limits. In fact, the total radiation doses from fresh fallout over Australia in 1971 were lower than those received from the 1966 series of French tests and comparable to those of 1968 and 1970. The 1972 tests resulted in fallout levels about one hundredth of earlier tests.

I think it is good for us to reflect that the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, when resuming tests in 1961 and during subsequent tests by that country and the United States in 1962, injected more radio-active debris into the atmosphere than all previous tests. The levels of strontium 90 and cesium 137 fallout have been falling steadily since 1965. France and China are the only 2 countries currently testing nuclear weapons in the atmosphere and thus contributing to nuclear fallout.

The medical effects of irradiation are not for me to debate tonight, except to say that the chief fears are of increased cancers of all types and of genetic abnormalities either from gene mutation or from chromosomal aberration. At the levels of fallout registered in Australia it would seem to be unnecessarily alarmist, in my view, to suggest that they constituted a serious health hazard. Whipping up public fear will not solve the problem presented by atmospheric nuclear testing. This may lead honourable members to think that 1 do not believe we should protest about the French continuing atmospheric nuclear testing. Nothing could be further from the truth. I believe that we were quite right in protesting and in continuing to protest over the years and that we should take whatever responsible action we can to mobilise world opinion against those who continue to conduct atmospheric nuclear tests. When I say that I definitely include the People's Republic of China.

I have said we were right in protesting and continuing to protest. We were right because any addition to background radiation should be minimised. Whilst Australia has less cause to protest than other countries in terms of actual fallout on its territory, we are in a position of some influence in the Pacific and we can assist the protests of smaller Pacific nations whose real concern when expressed individually, may not be accorded much weight. But we should not be confined to the Pacific. We are also a part of the world community and our concern should properly extend to all regions of the world. If we adopt that view, the actions of the Chinese must be of importance to us also. In fact Australia has protested about the French tests in the Pacific ever since they were commenced. These protests became progressively stronger. On 29th March last year the then Minister for Foreign Affairs released a statement saying that the Australian Government remained opposed to all nuclear tests particularly in the Pacific. The Department of Foreign Affairs had delivered a note to the French authorities expressing our opposition and our concern. He went on to say that the note recalled our past opposition to such tests in the Pacific. It re-affirmed our interest, as a party to the Partial Nuclear Test Ban Treaty of 1963, in seeing the Treaty universally applied and supported. It reiterated our community of interest with the nations and the peoples of the Pacific and emphasised the deep concern of these people at the continuation of the tests. It finished with a re-statement of our opposition.

We continued to make our opposition known and at the Stockholm Conference on the Human Environment we sought to promote a form of resolution which would mobilise the greatest number of delegations in opposing atmospheric nuclear tests. This principle is already endorsed in the Partial Test Ban Treaty of 1963, banning testing in the atmosphere, outer space and under the water. We are a signatory whilst neither France nor China has signed this treaty. We felt that the Conference was not the appropriate forum to attempt to extend international obligations in the field of disarmament and therefore we tried to amend the New Zealand and Peruvian resolution. When this was not acceptable to the movers we abstained at the committee level vote, along with 13 other countries including the United States of America, the United Kingdom, Canada, Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia, because we disagreed with the details of the wording. We reiterated our strong opposition to the tests and voted for the resolution at the plenary session, once again making our opposition clear and unequivocal.

On 1st August last year we announced at the fourth session of the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of the Seabed and Ocean Floor, that, with 11 other countries, we would be sponsoring a resolution declaring that no further nuclear weapons tests likely to contribute to the contamination of the marine environment should be carried out. We requested the Chairman of the Committee to forward the resolution to the Secretary General for referral to other bodies including the Conference of the Committee of Disarmament. Our protests continued to escalate, culminating with our cosponsoring of a resolution with 12 other sponsors inviting the General Assembly of the United Nations to declare itself in favour of 2 main objectives: Firstly, a halt to all atmospheric testing of nuclear weapons in the Pacific region or anywhere else in the world, and universal support for the Partial Test Ban Treaty of 1963; and secondly, the suspension of all nuclear weapons tests in all environments and the negotiation of a treaty banning all such tests.

In his address to the Assembly on 27th September 1972 the Australian Foreign Minister said:

Australia would particularly like to see the negotiation of a comprehensive treaty with effective provisions for verification and control to prohibit the conduct of nuclear weapons testing in all environments in all states. The first step towards that objective should be, in our view, the universal acceptance and Application of the existing treaty banning nuclear weapons testing in the atmosphere. But we still do not have universal acceptance of this treaty and there is still no halt to nuclear weapon testing in the atmosphere.

Our resolution was subsequently passed with a large majority. I mention this because, contrary to some popular opinion, it shows a consistent, long term opposition to atmospheric nuclear testing, exhibited by the previous Government over very many years. This opposition increased in intensity and culminated in our successful resolution to the General Assembly of the United Nations. Our opposition was not only to the French tests but to all testing - atmospheric testing particularly.

There are now only 2 countries testing nuclear devices in the atmosphere - China and France. Both test sites are about the same distance from Australia. Tests at both sites result in some fallout on Australia - much less than on other parts of the world, but nevertheless measurable. It is absolutely ridiculous for the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) to say, as he did in answer to a question in this House on 13th March:

The physical features which give Australia that option of approaching the International Court of Justice against the Frencn tests are not applicable against the Chinese tests.

That is sheer nonsense. We do have fallout from Chinese nuclear testing on Australia. Whilst in physical terms Australia is fortunate because the fallout here is so slight, nevertheless we have an obligation particularly to the smaller nations of our Pacific region to act in their interest and add weight to their concern. It would be completely wrong for Australia not be be seen as acting to protect these smaller nations as well as speaking on her own behalf. But we must be consistent. We must make the strongest protests to the French - and also to the Chinese.

While diplomatic relations were not established with the Mainland Chinese we could protest only in general terms through the United Nations. This we did, following up on general protests with a specific note handed to the French authorities. Now that the new Government has established diplomatic relations with the People's Republic of China, similar channels for specific protests are open to it. If atmospheric nuclear tests are contemplated by the Chinese then we are duty bound to protest to them in similar vein to our protests to the French. We would be hypocritical and cowardly if we did not.

The most effective form of protest is open to debate. The Government speaks of taking the French to the World Court. This has several potential drawbacks, the first one being that the French may argue that matters of national security are involved and that the World Court had no jurisdiction in such a case. On the other hand it could be that the French would welcome such an opportunity to state their case and may even call Australian experts to substantiate their proposition that their tests are 'cleaner' than any before and well within internationally accepted safety limits. Should they win the case Australia's position would be immeasurably weakened. In any case the World Court has no power to enforce its injunctions unless the Security Council decides to support it. This is not a possibility because both France and China would veto any Security Council action.

If we cut off diplomatic relations we will be in the same position as we were with China and will be able to make only general appeals to the United Nations without direct communication with the French Government. No good could come of that. Additionally scientific and technological exchange of great significance to Australia would be lost. If we imposed trade sanctions we would hurt ourselves much more than we would hurt France - and trade sanctions are not particularly effective anyway. The balance of trade between Frauce and Australia is substantially in our favour and we could end up putting Australians out of work with no real results being achieved. It may be that the Prime Minister knows that an appeal to the World Court is not a goer and that he is encouraging Senator Murphy in his ambitions to argue the case before that body in the knowledge that, on the one hand, no effective result would be achieved and, on the other hand, Senator Murphy may be humiliated. In any case, if and when action is taken against the French, a believable and honest Australian Government would have to make similar protests against the Chinese. It it does not do so, it is guilty not only of cowardice but of deceit and dishonesty as well.







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