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Shipment of high level nuclear waste

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Joint Statement Hon Laurie Brereton Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs

Hon Dr Carmen Lawrence Shadow Minister for Environment

19 February 1997


The Federal Opposition today called on the Howard Government to commission a comprehensive interdisciplinary scientific review of the environmental risks of shipments of high level nuclear waste through the South-Pacific Region.

In a joint statement, Shadow Foreign Affairs Minister Laurie Brereton and Shadow Environment Minister Carmen Lawrence said today that the Howard Government should not dismiss the concerns of South Pacific nations on this issue and should ensure safety and environmental risks of shipments such as the Pacific Teal are rigorously investigated.

"Shipments of nuclear waste pose an environmental risk to our Region and demand a similar level of community concern and scientific scrutiny to that applied to French nuclear testing," Dr Lawrence said.

"In 1995 the Federal Labor Government commissioned a panel of Australian scientists to assess the impacts of nuclear testing at Muroroa and convened a meeting of the South Pacific Environment Ministers which called for independent scientific access to the French test sites. The Government should establish a similar process to assess these shipments," Mr Brereton said.

"Australia has received assurances from the Japanese, French and British governments that the radiological protection and safety arrangements for the Pacific Teal meet international standards for such shipments. It is a matter of public record that similar

assurances were given to and accepted by the former Government in regard to a shipment in February-March 1995. However, in light of the concerns about long-term environmental consequences raised by the scientific investigation of nuclear tests at Mururoa, Australia should conduct a similar comprehensive scientific review of the safety and environmental aspects of high level nuclear waste shipments through the Pacific," they said

"It may be that such shipments are subject to stringent safety measures and that risks of any release of nuclear waste are low but it is also the case that the environmental impacts of any accident. particularly the long term consequences, are highly uncertain and should be subject to rigorous interdisciplinary investigation.

"The Government should call on Japan to suspend all high level nuclear waste shipments in the Pacific pending the outcome the panel's inquiry and a report should be submitted to this year's meeting of the South Pacific Forum," they said.

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Mr Brereton said Senator Hill's statement on the 10 February that the Howard

Government was unconcerned about the transportation of high level nuclear waste through the Southern Ocean and South Pacific to Japan because the route taken by the vessel Pacific Teal was 'a long distance' from Australia, sends another message of disinterest and neglect to our neighbours in the South-Pacific.

"This cavalier remark was unfortunate and insensitive," Mr Brereton said.

The Government's of New Zealand, the Cook Islands, Fiji and Malaysia have all expressed concern about the transport of high level nuclear waste from France to Japan. On 15 January 1997 New Zealand Foreign Minister Don McKinnon expressed extreme disappointment that the Pacific Teal would pass though the South-Pacific, adding that the 'Japanese Government can be under no illusion that it will do so against the wishes of the people of the South Pacific'.

"The environmental risks these shipments represent to our Region require the Australian Government to take a more active role in assessing the safety of the operations," they said.

Contacts -Laurie Brereton's Office : Philip Dorling (02) 93479 6007 or 0418 203 058 Carmen Lawrence's Office: Caroline Tumour (06) 277 4181 or 0419 963 486