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Thursday, 25 August 1994
Page: 372

Senator MARGETTS —My question is addressed to the Minister for Foreign Affairs. I refer the minister to a recent article in Contemporary Review by Elizabeth Clegg from the Centre of Defence Studies at the University of Aberdeen which states:

. . . the infrastructure required for the development of a nuclear weapons potential is best created under cover of a well established civilian nuclear industry . . .

I refer also to the cover article in the latest issue of Time Australia magazine entitled, `Nuclear Terror For Sale'. In light of those comments I ask: given the recent concerns about the ineffectiveness of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty and the International Atomic Energy Agency, how can the Australian government be assured that the export of Australian uranium and nuclear technology services is not able to be diverted for the development of nuclear weapons?

Senator GARETH EVANS —The key international framework for preventing the spread of nuclear weapons is, and has to be, that constituted by the NPT and by the International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards. The NPT, with its current membership of 165 countries, has been very successful in establishing an international norm against nuclear weapons proliferation. Countries—and there are very few of them now—choosing to remain outside the NPT are finding themselves increasingly isolated. There is very strong pressure on them to come in.

  Since the revelations of Iraq's clandestine nuclear weapons program after the Gulf War, a lot has been done to increase further the capability, the capacity, of the IAEA safeguards to detect undeclared nuclear activity. Traditional IAEA safeguards were designed to detect diversion of nuclear material from declared nuclear activity into non-civil or military use. Iraq did not attempt to divert significant amounts of material under safeguards, but what it did do was to pursue, as I said, a separate clandestine nuclear weapons program. The new measures that have been introduced to strengthen the safeguards system are designed to produce greater assurance about such clandestine activity.

  The effectiveness of this strengthened safeguards system has been demonstrated in the recent period by alerting the international community to the possible existence of a clandestine nuclear weapons program in the DPRK—North Korea. The non-proliferation regime has to continually adapt to proliferation pressures. It is amenable to continual improvement. We are not complacent in that regard. In fact, we are very active internationally in seeking to further strengthen the regime.

  We are particularly concerned, as no doubt Senator Margetts and other senators are, about the recent seizures in Germany of smuggled high-grade nuclear material of allegedly Russian origin. The safe and secure custody of this kind of sensitive nuclear material has been the subject of a lot of international attention and cooperation since the collapse of the former Soviet Union.

  Measures taken so far in this respect include these: international assistance through the IAEA in strengthening the control, accountability and physical protection of fissile material in these states; bilateral agreements between the US and Russia about arrangements for the control and inspection of excess stocks of fissile material in former military use; and US agreements with Russia to purchase highly enriched uranium from dismantled weapons for eventual civil use. We contributed to some of those efforts and we will continue to do so in areas where we have appropriate expertise.

  The 1995 NPT Review and Extension Conference, which honourable senators would be aware of and which begins in April next year, is another opportunity to thoroughly review the operation of the NPT and the IAEA safeguards system. As to the effectiveness of these controls on Australian uranium exports, we have in place, as honourable senators ought to know well by now, a stringent safeguard system for Australian uranium and other nuclear material and technology to ensure that they are only used for peaceful, non-explosive purposes. Our uranium is only sold to selected countries which are parties to the NPT, with IAEA safeguards agreements in place and with whom we also have a bilateral safeguard agreement stipulating conditions for the import and use of Australian uranium. We reserve the right to very careful selection of our bilateral safeguards partners. In addition to IAEA verifications, that Australian material remains in peaceful use, all Australian obligated uranium is fully accounted for under these bilateral safeguard agreements by the Australian Safeguards Office, now in my department, which tracks the movement of Australian uranium within and between approved countries.

Senator MARGETTS —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Given the countries to whom we sell, including Japan, which has already secreted enough plutonium to make at least 10 nuclear bombs, and given that ALP policy specifically calls for the IAEA to be stripped of its nuclear promotion function, what action is the Australian government taking to fulfil its own policies and avoid this increasingly dangerous conflict of interests?

Senator GARETH EVANS —It is absolute nonsense to suggest that Japan has secreted some amount of plutonium that would be capable of producing bombs. That is just a wildly inaccurate way of referring to the fact that there has been some uranium which has been separately accounted for, which was, as I recall, caught up in the so-called glove box facilities in the nuclear establishments. There has been no question seriously made by anybody that Japan has not been otherwise in complete and full adherence to its nuclear obligations.

  As to the nuclear promotion of the IAEA, to make that point is to completely misunderstand the nature of the bargain, in effect, that was entered into at the commencement of the NPT between the nuclear weapons states and the non-nuclear weapons states in order to secure universal cooperation in the existence and maintenance of the NPT. The non-nuclear weapons states had to feel they had some benefit from the deal in getting access to technology, and the promotion of effective use of that technology was one of the things they demanded as the price for participating in what has been a very successful non-proliferation regime.