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Tuesday, 30 November 1976


Mr HAYDEN (Oxley) -Unlike previous speakers in this debate I make no claim to expertise on this subject. Nonetheless, my views, probably as a reflection of the views of many people in the community, may be of some interest. I ought to point out first of all that in common with many people in the community I once felt and expressed the view that we should mine and export uranium. It is a view I fairly firmly held until I read the Fox report. I am not greatly concerned in the longer term about the problems of waste disposal and the other problems which arise and are associated with the peaceful use of nuclear energy. I believe that on balance they will prove to be no greater than the problems generally facing heavy industry. I realise that they seem difficult to solve at this point but I believe that technology has the capacity to conquer those problems.

If nuclear weapons were not associated inextricably with the production of nuclear power I would have no worry, but nuclear weapons are inextricably associated with the production of nuclear power and I find myself quite uneasy about proposals to mine and export uranium and about the use of uranium energy in the world. I find that the view which I earner held I can no longer confidently assert. In common with the view of my Party, and it is a view I argued in my Party room, I believe that we have as a matter of honour an obligation to discharge our commitments to existing contracts because we have firmly given our undertakings in the past. However, I believe that no new mines should be opened and to the extent that there is any shortfall between our contractual obligations and the capacity of existing mines to meet those contractual obligations other arrangements ought to be made. I also believe that if in government the Labor Party is satisfied that the hazards associated with nuclear power can be eliminated and satisfactory methods of waste disposal developed the question of uranium mining could be reconsidered in the context of full public debate. It was necessary for me to say those things first.

My uneasiness focuses on three or four main issues. First of all it is clear that nuclear byproducts can be stolen and misused. Secondly, it is equally clear that a diversion of nuclear byproducts can occur and that the most adequate monitoring systems can fail to observe that diversion. Furthermore the diverted products can be used to manufacture nuclear weapons. Thirdly, I am concerned that the international treaties, contrary to what I understood as a layman, are seriously defective. Fourthly, but not important by itself, the economic benefits to the community seem to be extremely limited. The last factor is important only in the context that it rebuts many of the rather exaggerated assertions about the Eldorado that uranium is supposed to represent for Australia.

Let me start with the first proposition that I put- the capacity to thieve and misuse nuclear by-products. I will quote from page 152 of the report. I will quote quite frequently. I repeat that I speak as a layman and I believe I speak as many people will in the community who are not persuaded by the extreme positions adopted either by the anti-nuclear lobby in the community or the pro-mining lobby in the community- people who nevertheless when presented with rational argument can feel concerned about the implications. Page 152 of the report states: the Commission does not feel confident that nuclear facilities would currently withstand determined assaults by terrorist organisations, lt seems doubtful whether, as the number of facilities increases, it will be possible to provide sufficient defences to render every installation safe against attack by even small numbers of well-armed, trained men.

It might be argued that in Australia's case we will mine and mill for export uranium but will do not much more than that. Accordingly this limits the opportunity for this sort of theft of nuclear by-products. But I put what I believe is an even more powerful case to the House. I refer to the moral obligation we have. We are part of the world order. We are locked into that and should not retreat from it. Let me draw an analogy. On occasions this country has grown and processed opium poppy. We could produce morphine and heroin and release them onto the world market if we wished indifferent as to the consequences or the sources which they reached. But we do not do that because we have a very proper moral commitment about what might happen if that were done. Accordingly we adhere tenaciously to international commitments on that score.

I move now to the worry I have about the possible diversion of nuclear by-products for the manufacture of weapons. In this case I quote from pages 116 and 117 of the report which read:

This makes reactor grade plutonium a less satisfactory material for bombs so far as a nation wishing to develop a nuclear arsenal is concerned, but it may be quite adequate for terrorist purposes . . . Such a weapon could also be of strategic significance in areas of the world without sophisticated nuclear armaments.

So a real problem is potentially involved in our association with commercial sales of uranium. In a few seconds when I talk about the weaknesses of the international treaties I think that the justification for that concern will become apparent. The report makes it clear that the international treaties are seriously defective. They can all be abrogated by unilateral action. For instance, the non-proliferation treaty can be abrogated by unilateral action after 3 months expiration of the declaration that a signatory intends to abrogate the treaty. The International Atomic Energy Agency can similarly be abrogated after 6 months. I suggest that we ought to take the opportunity to ensure that no unilateral withdrawal can take place from these sorts of international treaties, that there are adequate safeguards to ensure that countries once signing them are bound to that commitment and that there is sufficient supervision to guarantee that diversion of the by-products cannot take place. On that score I refer to page 1 34 which states: it might be possible for a country using such a process change to hide repeated diversions of small amounts of plutonium. Such an approach to diversion could only be attempted by a government having a high degree of technical competence at its command, because of the difficulty of introducing new technology into a reprocessing plant.

Page 135 of the report shows that the Commission has been told that a nuclear bomb could be made within 10 days. I must say that that sent a tremor of fear through me. The report states:

The Commission has been told that a nuclear bomb could be made within ten days of acquiring the nuclear material. It is concluded that a country with a large reprocessing industry could make many nuclear weapons before being formally detected by accountancy procedures.

Furthermore it states:

The Agency acknowledges that, should sensitive equipment (enrichment facilities or reprocessing plant) be supplied more widely, as is proposed in relation to Brazil and Pakistan, the potential for diversion, particularly if full fuel cycle safeguards are not being applied, will be increased.

In those circumstances I think any reasonable person is justified in expressing caution about our commitment to anything that smacks of wholesale mining and export of uranium. I repeat that we are committed to honouring contracts which have already been entered into. I have indicated the limitations which we place on that. I believe they are very proper limitations. My commitment to that policy is one that is not easily made. It is made solely because it is a matter of discharging an undertaking of honour. But I do not want to see us go beyond that. I sincerely trust that the debate in this community will proceed with some restraint. I happen to believe that most people, regardless of which position they take in the debate, do so with honest intent. I remind honourable members how, as a result of reading this report, my own position has changed. The position I held before was one honestly and honourably undertaken on the basis of the information that I had been able to search out. My position has changed in the face of what I regard as more profound and worrying information which is submitted by this report.

Let me quote some of the conclusions which are adumbrated at page 147. The particular section of the report is headed: Weaknesses of the NPT and of the Safeguards System. I think that honourable members could well meditate on this before rushing off and suggesting, as did the honourable member for Kennedy (Mr Katter) that people are disloyal or wanting in patriotism for feeling uneasy about proposals for the wholesale extraction and export of uranium. The relevant part reads:

The main limitations and weaknesses of the present safeguards arrangements can be summarised as follows: the failure of many states to become parties to the NPT -

That is the non-proliferation treaty- the inability of safeguards to prevent the transfer of nuclear technology from nuclear power production to the acquisition of nuclear weapons competence; the fact that many nuclear facilities are covered by no safeguards; the existence of a number of loopholes in safeguards agreements regarding their application to peaceful nuclear explosions, to materials intended for non-explosive military uses, and to the retransfer of materials to a third state; the absence, in practice, of safeguards for source materials; the practical problems of maintaining effective checks on nuclear inventories; the ease with which states can withdraw from the NPT and from most non-NPT safeguards agreements; deficiencies in accounting and warning procedures; and the absence of reliable sanctions to deter diversion of safeguarded material.

The Commission recognises that these defects, taken together, are so serious that existing safeguards may provide only an illusion of protection.

In relation to the so-called social and economic benefits of uranium mining the report makes it clear that no more than 250 people would be employed at any time in a mining project. It goes on to point out that in the case of the Ranger project over the period 1976-77 to 1989-90 the return in real current terms will be no more than $197m and that uranium exports will add no more than 4 per cent to the national income. So while there is substantial return to the investors in this field the contribution to the nation is relatively small. I suggest that we ought to use that commitment we make to existing contracts as part of our role in international affairs to exert to the extent that we can influence internationally to get much more effective safeguards than we have so far. I am concerned that countries like Japan and Sweden which are highly industrialised and do not have their own fuel reserves need adequate fuel reserves. There are serious problems in providing that. Japan currently provides 4 per cent of her fuel production from nuclear power. The figure will rise to 8 per cent by 1980 and about 20 per cent by the turn of the century. I recognise our obligations but we also have concurrent obligations about the morality of what we are doing. We need to have safeguards for future generations.

Debate interrupted.







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