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Tuesday, 30 November 1976

Mr CHIPP (Hotham) - I should like to move an amendment to the motion before the House. I believe that I have been given the opportunity to do so by the fact that the Opposition has not moved an amendment to the motion. I move:

That the following words be added to the motion: and that the House is of the opinion that there should be a two year moratorium on the mining and exporting of uranium as mentioned in the Fox report to allow sufficient time for public debate as recommended by the Fox Committee and for further research into the risks involved and possible alternative energy sources'.

If this means voting against the Government and against my Party, so be it. I mention in passing that it will be the first time in 1 6 years in this Parliament that I have done so. I say this after having read the Fox report thoroughly on at least 4 occasions. The question posed to me is: Should Australia mine and mill its uranium deposits? I believe that this is the most important subject discussed in this Parliament since the Vietnam war.

Mr JusticeFox says that it is one of the most important things discussed by this Parliament. As I speak, Mr Deputy Speaker, Mr Speaker is not in the Chair, the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) is not in the House, the Leader of the Opposition (Mr E. G. Whitlam) is not in the House, Cabinet is meeting, only 2 Ministers are in the House and since this debate began on something which I believe is the most important subject since the Vietnam war the attendance of members of Parliament in the chamber has ranged from eleven to nineteen. Indeed, there are only 5 representatives of the Press in the Press Gallery at this time. Not for the first time, my judgment of what is an important issue facing Australia is wrong. I should have thought that uranium is a very special metal. It contains fissile atoms. It is used or misused in 3 main ways. Firstly, it is used to produce heat to generate electricity; secondly, it is used in the field of medical therapy; and thirdly, it is used to produce nuclear bombs.

I begin by quoting one of the principal findings of the Fox report. Its starkness and clarity of language need no embellishment. On page 185 under the heading 'Findings and Recommendations ', the report states:

The nuclear power industry is unintentionally contributing to an increased risk of nuclear war.

Before examining future risks the report reminds us on page 25 of the current situation. Nineteen countries now have nuclear power stations. Another 7 countries have power reactors under construction and another 6 countries have them on order. The discussion tonight then is about the future. The question is: Is it safe, is it prudent and is it responsible for this Parliament, such as it is assembled now, to respond to the challenge given directly in the Fox report by agreeing to allow Australia's uranium to be used at this stage to add to the world's nuclear proliferation?

Let me make it perfectly clear that I am not saying that uranium should never be mined or that nations of the world should never use nuclear energy. What I am saying is that this time man's knowledge, or lack of knowledge, of the proper regulation and control of the production of uranium and the hideous dangers inherent in its use or misuse is such that we as a Parliament should follow the advice of such expert commissions as the Fox inquiry in Australia and the Flowers Royal Commission in the United Kingdom. After reading the findings contained in those reports, the answer is that we should wait. The very last words contained in the Fox report state its oft repeated plea that no decision should be taken until a reasonable time has elapsed. This leads us to ask: What is a reasonable time? A heavy suggestion for a 2 year delay is contained at pages 1 80 and 1 8 1 of the report.

I must say that I find it almost incredible that the Government took only 14 days from the issue of the Fox report to decide that it would honour existing contracts totalling 9000 tonnes from Mary Kathleen. My dismay at that announcement was deepened by the pathetic decision of the Labor Party 6 days later which was almost identical to the decision of the Government. The magnitude of the problem that this Parliament is now discussing cannot be compared to the possible pollution that can be produced by a Newport power station or the possible environmental destruction of a Fraser Island. I say quite deliberately, after having tried to choose words that are not tainted by melodrama or exaggeration, that the problem being discussed tonight could have some bearing on the future of this planet and on the survival of life on it. These are strong words but, I believe, words which can be justified by the evidence before us.

There have been very few, if any, previous occasions in my time in this Parliament when it could be said that a debate in this isolated, relatively non-influential, obscure national Parliament of Australia could have an effect on the rest of the world. But tonight it is true. Firstly, Australia has 25 per cent of the world's known reserves of uranium. That is significant in itself. What is even more important is that Australia has 70 per cent of the western world's uncommitted reserves. Therefore, in terms of quantity alone, a decision of this Parliament is important to the world's future course in using or not using nuclear energy as opposed to other forms of energy. But our importance goes even further than that. Any nation that wants to buy uranium, enrich it, use it or sell it must indulge in a massive capital outlay.

The cost of producing electricity from nuclear power is now only marginally cheaper, if at all cheaper, than the production of electricity from fossil fuels. If Australia withheld, even temporarily, its reserves, world prices of uranium would escalate and influence nations to opt for cheaper sources of power. As the Fox report mentions, a more intensive search would be undertaken to harness the safest and cleanest source of energysolar power. Secondly, for a nation to involve itself in the high capital cost of building enrichment plants or nuclear reactors, it would need a source of supply from a country such as Australia because of Australia's stable political background. It would not contemplate establishing an industry where the source of its raw materials came from a banana republic or a country with an uncertain political future. Therefore, what we do with our uranium could have and probably will have a direct effect on the course of the world 's nuclear proliferation.

I want to emphasise this point because there are many people who might agree with the clear dangers and reservations expressed by Mr Justice Fox and by the Flowers Royal Commission but who say resignedly: 'What is the use? If we do not sell our uranium someone else will sell theirs. ' This argument cannot be sustained by the known facts and logical assumptions. I now list some of the dangers, risks and future possibilities of nuclear proliferation as documented not by me but by the Fox report. With regard to the dangers of radiation, the report states at pages 108 and 109:

Apart from rapidly fatal effects (within days) of high doses the major consequences of radiation are cancer, which may occur some years after the individual has been exposed and gene mutations which may occur in subsequent generations.

At page 109, referring to waste products, the report states:

Tailings contain radio-active materials which will remain harmful for over 100 000 years.

When referring to the danger of serious accidents, the report states on the same page:

The conclusion with regard to thermal reactors is that there is a very small but finite probability of a serious accident with release of highly dangerous radio-active material. The numerous accidents involving faulty function that have occurred in nuclear power stations, together with serious accidents known to have occurred in military installations, give no grounds for complacency.

Mr Deputy Speaker,I seek leave of the House to incorporate in Hansard 2 pages supplied by the Defence, Science and Technology Group of the Legislative Research Service of the Parliamentary Library concerning the dangers of nuclear accidents.

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