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Wednesday, 24 August 1994
Page: 245

Senator MARGETTS (4.24 p.m.) —I must point out at the beginning that the Labor three-mine policy was actually designed as a no mines policy. It was originally on the back of contracts that had been signed by the coalition government which, for legal reasons, the Labor government decided to remain.

Senator Ian Macdonald —What about Roxby Downs?

Senator MARGETTS —Originally, I said. What we have so far is a debate on semantics. Labor has scrupulously avoided the real issues, as has the coalition. I am pleased that Senator Coulter has raised this matter of urgency for debate today because it is indeed a critical issue for this nation. Unfortunately, the decision on whether this nation eliminates the current restrictions on uranium mining and export, that is, it goes from a bad policy to a worse policy, will be made by the men—and I use that word deliberately—who pull the strings in the ALP factional disputes. I am sure that yet again some cynical deal will be done that takes no cognisance of the concerns of the majority of the Australian population, who are extremely worried about the safety, health and security implications of mining and exporting this mineral.

  This is not just another mining development issue. Uranium is a dangerous mineral which can be used for horribly destructive purposes and which also has enormous and yet insoluble problems associated with waste storage and disposal. The debate on this issue should examine all aspects of the nuclear cycle—from mining, to its use in nuclear reactors, to reprocessing and/or storage, and ultimately to its use in nuclear weapons. There are enormous problems associated with all aspects of the nuclear cycle—including economic, environmental, security, public health and occupational health concerns. In my brief time I will concentrate largely on the defence and security implications—although, as an economist, I cannot resist the opportunity to make some comments in passing on the economic stupidity of pursuing a nuclear option.

  Amory Lovins from the Rocky Mountains Institute in Colorado sums up the economic arguments succinctly. On ABC radio in 1991, he stated:

Round the world, nuclear power has been dying of an incurable attack of market forces and at most, by the year 2000, it will have just a few percent of the global capacity that it was then officially predicted to have. The basic reasons for this are rather clear—the first, that it is a terribly expensive technology. In the United States, for example, nuclear power is producing only a fourth as much electricity as you could save, at only a seventh the cost of running a nuclear plant, even if building it cost nothing. And after something like half a trillion dollars of investment, our civilian nuclear sector is now producing a good deal less delivered energy than wood. I can't think of any case in history where so much has been spent by so many, for so little.

In the Australian context, this economic madness is also evident. Since the early 1950s, when the Australian Atomic Energy Commission commenced operations under ANSTO until recently, the Australian taxpayer has committed in excess of $2.5 billion, in 1991 dollars, on nuclear technology. That figure does not include any allowance for the decommissioning costs at Lucas Heights. The total return on that investment has been approximately $110 million. If we are talking about jobs, here are the real figures. If the renewable energy technology sector, which received less than $50 million from the Australian government over the same period, had achieved similar appalling returns on the investment, the programs would undoubtedly have been scrapped. Why are we not doing the same for the nuclear industry in this country?

  From a defence perspective, there is no denying that there is a direct connection between the civilian use of nuclear power and technology and the potential for nuclear weapons. Elizabeth Clegg, from the Centre of Defence Studies of the University of Aberdeen, in an article in Contemporary Review entitled `Building the bomb: how states go nuclear', recently stated:

In conclusion, then, it can be seen that the infrastructure required for the development of a nuclear weapons potential is best created under cover of a well established civilian nuclear industry; in all of the above cases the military option was made possible by the existence of a civilian programme.

While some naive analysts may claim that the post-Cold War period has provided renewed stability in international relations, this is patently not the case, as even a cursory examination of any newspaper will confirm. In the current unstable political climate in many regions of the world, the added threat of an expanding number of nations with nuclear weapons capability is horrendous. As Elizabeth Clegg indicates, if we continue to support and supply so-called civilian nuclear operations, we are potentially adding to international nuclear weapons capacity. For the record, the Greens (WA) do not support the current three mines policy. We support a real no mines policy for uranium mining. (Time expired)