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Report of Senate Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade says visits by nuclear powered ships should cease in all ports other than in WA because of inadequate contingency plans

PETER THOMPSON: In Canberra, a Federal Parliamentary Committee has recommended that visits by nuclear powered ships be suspended in all Australian States, except Western Australia. The report tabled in the Senate last night, recommends that visits be stopped because of the danger of a nuclear accident. It says adequate evacuation plans are needed in Hobart, Brisbane and Darwin, and that nuclear powered ships should be banned altogether from the Macquarie Wharf in Hobart because of the nearby public hospital. A short time ago, the Chairman of the Committee, Senator Graham Maguire, spoke to AM's Michael Brissenden.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Senator Maguire, how much danger is posed by nuclear powered ships?

GRAHAM MAGUIRE: Well, our report suggests that nuclear powered ships are somewhat more dangerous than nuclear armed ones - reactors are dynamic systems; they're continuous power systems - and so that was the assessment we made.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: How is this going to affect our relationship - defence relationship - with the United States?

GRAHAM MAGUIRE: Well, that's not for me to say. I mean, this report was carried out within terms of reference laid down by the Senate three years ago, and we were asked to look at safety questions and contingency planning for the accidental release of radiation, and that's what we did. But going beyond that, is beyond the terms of reference of this Committee.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Should there be a ban on nuclear powered ships as suggested by Senator Irina Dunn?

GRAHAM MAGUIRE: Well, Senator Dunn is talking about different things from a committee - the main Committee report. This report, as I say, was carried out within terms of reference laid down for it by the Parliament. I think Senator Dunn's agenda is wider than that and goes to questions about whether ships should come here or not.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Our ports here are inadequate to cope with any accident that happens on a nuclear powered ship: how inadequate are they?

GRAHAM MAGUIRE: Well, I wouldn't say that as a sweeping statement. I mean, the Western Australian State plan was clearly the best we looked at, and we don't make a lot of recommendations about Western Australia. The Hobart plan was inadequate, for example, Royal Hobart Hospital is within 900 metres of the designated berth, and there's no way, in the Committee's assessment, that patients in that hospital could be evacuated in time if there was an accident. So, that was the worst one. But we're also saying in regard to Brisbane and Darwin particularly, and to a lesser extent Townsville and Port Adelaide, that there have to be further examinations of the berths, particularly in Brisbane and Darwin. There have to be evacuation plans laid down under the State emergency plans to deal with these accidents.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: What about ships carrying nuclear warheads - any recommendations there?

GRAHAM MAGUIRE: Yes, the Committee makes three recommendations. I might say that in the course of this inquiry, we looked at over 1,300 sources of information. We've looked at everything on the public record that we can find. We haven't been able to find any other country overseas that actually plans for accidental weapons accidents in ports, and we do make three recommendations however. For example, in regard to dry-docking of vessels which might be nuclear armed and, of course, we don't know whether they're nuclear armed or not when they come into our ports, we're certainly tightening up on dry-docking for example.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Well, how can you tighten up on dry-docking if the US won't tell you whether their ships are nuclear armed or not?

GRAHAM MAGUIRE: Well, it has to be based on assurances at a government level. I mean, there are assurances between the United States Government and the Commonwealth Government of Australia about such matters.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: And you expect the US Government will comply with that?

GRAHAM MAGUIRE: Well, no doubt they will. I mean, there are official assurances between the governments about such matters.

PETER THOMPSON: Senator Graham Maguire, the Chairman of the Senate Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade.