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Tuesday, 30 November 1976


Mr COTTER (Kalgoorlie) -Today we are faced with one of the most difficult decisions ever to be made by the Parliament, because upon this decision will rest the welfare of millions of people. Indeed, the welfare and standard of living of a vast majority of the people on earth could rest upon this decision. But the fact that this decision is difficult does not mean that we should flinch from making it- quite the contrary. We should make a firm, well thought-out decision as early as possible so that everybody may know it, understand it and understand the rationale behind it. I state that we should mine and sell uranium. We have heard a lot about the dangers of mining and processing uranium. We have been inundated with alarmist calls about the dangers of using uranium for the generation of power. We have been subjected to the most frightening stories about the storage of nuclear waste. I know there are some dangers but if stringent safeguards are implemented the dangers will be minimised. The scaremongering forebodings are not substantiated by facts.

The truth is that the mining of the relatively low grade deposits of uranium in Australia, principally by open pit mining methods, by safety conscious people is no more dangerous than any other mining operation and is far less injurious to health than the underground mining of many other minerals. In fact there exists adequate medical evidence which strongly links underground mining in poor conditions to all sorts of respiratory diseases and skin complaints. This has nothing to do with uranium. Because of the specific care which will be exercised in mining uranium and because it appears that the known deposits will be mined by open pit mining methods, the incidence of mining illness will be considerably less than in the mining of other materials. The method of concentration to produce a salable yellow cake are not unlike any other mineral chemical leaching process and are certainly no more dangerous. The amount of radiation in the mining and concentration stages is negligible, but the benefits to Australia and Australians are immense.

A study paper prepared by the brilliant Mr William Wright and Mr John Silver of the Australian Atomic Energy Commission has stated that the immediate setting up of a uranium industry, with the aid of scientists, could result in earnings of $3,000m a year by 1985. The paper, published in the Commission's monthly digest, Atomic Energy, says that such an industry could directly employ 3500 people with another 3000 in indirect projects. It would need an investment of $ 1,750m over the next 9 years, most of which would be spent in Australia and would provide employment and growth. Those figures would be even greater today. The paper was prepared with the full knowledge of Mr Wright and Mr Silver. In the report the director of the unit claims that by the mid or late 1 980s uranium could be one of Australia's most important mineral exports in terms of overseas earnings and could be earning considerably more than the wheat or wool industries. By 1985 the industry could provide employment for 8000 to 10 000 people. The report argues against withholding Australia's resources from development, saying that our influence on the international market is not great enough to affect the Western world. Australia has about 19 per cent of the West's reasonably assured lowgrade low-cost resources of uranium. Although it makes little difference to the rest of the world if Australia exports its uranium, it could deny Australia real benefits in foreign currency earnings, employment and national development if we do not do so. The alternative policy of development of resources would make it financially beneficial to install plants immediately for the conversion of yellowcake into enriched uranium.

The use of uranium in nuclear reactors is the safest method of generating power at a reasonable cost. It is far safer than the generation of power from coal. Almost daily people are dying from the effects of coal-fired power stations, but no one is getting emotional over coal. That is to say nothing of the dangers and deaths that are occurring in the actual mining of coal as well as its processing to the point where it can be used for power generation. The long term dangers from coal-fired power stations continually spewing out large amounts of CO are diluting the earth's atmosphere to the extent that radiation from the sun 's rays is a real threat to life on earth. The dangers from uranium-fuelled reactors is minimal. I quote no less an eminent authority than Professor Titterton. He quotes figures that show that after 20 years' generation of nuclear power there have been no deaths from any accidents in nuclear power plants, including nuclear powered ships. He compares that with deaths resulting from various causes such as deaths resulting from motor car accidents, being struck by lightning and so on. But the deaths resulting from nuclear reactor plants are less than one in 300 million. Professional critics of nuclear power imply that a core meltdown would release fission products and produce a catastrophic accident. This is not true. Such accidents require a failure of the coolant circuit of the reactor followed by an immediate failure of the emergency core coolant arrangements. Even then the melted core would have to burn its way through the pressure vessel and then through a 10 foot concrete shield into the reactor hull. This is designed to be radioactively tight and it would be about 30 hours after the accident before any radioactivity escaped to the outside world, giving ample time for evacuation of nearby populations- human and animal. What would actually eventuate depends mainly on 3 factors, namely, how much radioactivity is actually released to the environment; the weather conditions outside- wind directions, rain, snow, etc.; and the number of people in the path of radiation.

A very significant table that I have illustrates that the number of likely fatalities from a core melt down would be minimal indeed. The fatalities would be less than one; injuries would be less than one; latent fatalities would be less than one; thyroid nodules would be about four; genetic defects would be less than one; and property damage outside the immediate plant area would be approximately $100,000. These figures and data have implications for the safety of nuclear powered ships entering harbours. Reactors are shut down after arrival until departure so the danger is zero. The information which I have goes on to illustrate the safety aspects of using uranium.

It is significant that the main opponents of the mining of uranium in Australia and its export are being mobilised and financed by sources and people who are communist-inspired and some of those sit opposite in this House. This emotional and misleading opposition is not by accident. It is designed to put fear into the hearts of men and women who do not fully understand the facts. Those responsible play on people's fears but the motives are designed to interfere with our way of life. We live in a democratic system but it is our way of life that these people are hell bent to destroy. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr Uren), who spoke tonight, even advocated taking the decision-making away from the elected Parliament and placing it outside in the hands of some unnamed and unknown group. He would have rule by fear and ignorance without reference to this Parliament.

If we do not mine and sell our uranium do honourable members think that this decision will have any effect on the world 's generation of nuclear power? This is not likely. If uranium cannot be gained from this source it can always be obtained from sea water. It we do not mine and export uranium for the world market subject to the most stringent conditions possible the users will get their supplies elsewhere. We are not the only country in the world that has uranium. We do not have the only uranium deposits that can be mined viably. We will only penalise the Australian people and Australia as a country if we do not utilise this immense wealth and our immense resources of uranium.

There has already been at least 2 years' public debate on this matter and it is now time for the elected Parliament to make its decision. I would like to quote one part of the Ranger Uranium Environmental Inquiry Report which the honourable member for Blaxland (Mr Keating) was not game to quote. The honourable member quoted from paragraph 3 on page 185 of the report. However, he did not quote fully what the Commissioner said, namely:

We suggest that the questions involved are of such importance that they be resolved by Parliament.

It is easy to quote these things out of context, but they ought to be quoted fully. I also quote what the Commissioners had to say on page 1 76. They stated:

It was not contended that, if properly regulated and controlled, hazards associated only with the mining and milling of uranium were of such a magnitude that those operations should not be allowed. These may nevertheless be quite natural concern that there may be a risk to health from releases of radioactivity in the course of those activities or after they have ceased. The topic has been dealt with in detail in Chapter 10. We are quite satisfied that, if properly regulated and controlled according to known standards, those operations do not constitute any health hazard which is greater in degree than those commonly accepted in everyday industrial activities.

Therefore a lot of nonsense is being spoken about uranium at the present time. Under the heading 'Radioactive wastes' the Commissioners stated:

The matter of wastes involves some different considerations. Low-level and intermediate-level wastes are being disposed of in ways that seem to us to be reasonably satisfactory from the point of view of people in the countries concerned, and constitute no problem likely to affect Australia.

These are the sorts of recommendations and facts that the Fox inquiry has seen fit to put into its report. On page 179 under the heading 'Permanent refusal to supply' the Commissioners stated:

We mentioned earlier an argument that Australia should permanently refuse to supply uranium, or should at least postpone supply, with a view to persuading other countries, by our example, from entering upon or further developing nuclear power production. Although the argument probably finds its strongest support from considerations of proliferation, it can be supported by reference to all the hazards and problems of the industry.

A total renunciation of intention to supply designed to bring an end to all nuclear power industries or all further development of them would in our view be likely to fail totally in its purpose. If the purpose were simply to draw international attention to the dangers of and associated with the industry, that purpose might be achieved, but it is most unlikely that any worthwhile action would result. On the other hand there are positive reasons against adopting such a course. Apart from financial considerations, which are not to be neglected, there are considerations to which we referred when dealing with the topic of proliferation. A total refusal to supply would place Australia in clear breach of Article IV of the NPT and could adversely affect its relation to countries which are parties to the NPT. These matters might not have been of any concern at all had we not advanced our preparations for uranium mining to the stage they have now reached, so that our readiness and ability to supply within a few years are now obvious. We are of the view that total renunciation of intention to supply is undesirable.

I also make a small quote from page 180. The Commissioners stated:

On the evidence available to us no country with an expressed intention to buy Australian uranium will in the meantime be dependent on Australia, in the sense that supplies at reasonable cost could not be obtained elsewhere.

It is nonsense to think that any action which we in Australia might take in the mining and export of uranium will have any significant effect on the world's nuclear power generating stations. It is quite clear to me that the people who have been stirring up emotions over this issue during the last two or three years- this debate has gone on for at least two or three years- and who advocate another two or three years of debate are speaking absolute nonsense. To do so is to be weak. It is to put back the day when the elected Parliament of Australia must make a decision. The decision must be made by the Parliament. It should not be made by people outside this House who have only part of the knowledge which we, as a total Parliament, are able to muster. The forces which are advocating this course of action are working against our democratic way of life in Australia. They would like to see the destruction of our very government. Fortunately, most of the people advocating this action will not be in power in Australia in the foreseeable future. I ask honourable members to think about a situation when the Australian Labor Party comes to power. Members of the Labor Party have said that a Labor government will not honour any agreement already made by the LiberalNational Country Party Government. That is absolute nonsense because the Labor Party is not likely to be in office to affect a decision taken by this Government, anyway.







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