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Thursday, 19 September 1974
Page: 1260

Debate resumed.

Senator CARRICK(New South Wales)Senator Scott has rightly drawn the attention of the Senate to the fact that the use of uranium in orthodox reactors or other reactors may well have a limited duration of perhaps 2 decades, and that therefore when looking at the uses of coal and uranium in terms of Australia one should look at the whole of the likely uses of energy in the next 3 decades both here and in the world. Australia is blessed with some 400 years of known reserves of black steaming coal capable of generating electric power at the pit head. So there is not a national hunger for what is otherwise an acutely short resource throughout the world. If the rest of the world could produce the tonnages of black steaming coal that Australia has as cheaply as Australia can, it would not be seeking to build nuclear reactors. But Australia has the reserves, and of course we should use them wisely. Of course we should conserve them and of course we should have an export policy which will alleviate the problems of Europe and Japan. If those problems are not mitigated, they will destroy the capacity of those nations to trade with Australia and will produce in this country a depressed economy. Our self interest taken in its crudest terms lies today in parallel with the self interest of our trading partners. I put it further than that. I think we are our brothers' keeper in the energy crisis around the world. We should have and we have not got an energy policy stated by the Government.

We have another situation in relation to uranium. These regulations seek to add controls. It is believed by the best scientific knowledge we can get that nuclear fusion as distinct from nuclear fission may be a commercial proposition within 20, 25 or 30 years. It is believed that this process is bedevilled with technical complexities but that it would eventuate in approximately that period of time. When it eventuates, as I understand Senator Scott was virtually forecasting, the need for uranium ceases in that capacity. There may be other uses for uranium of course, but nuclear fusion depends upon heavy water. It depends upon the hydrogen atoms from heavy water. Heavy water is available in the seas of this world to the extent, I understand, of 10,000 years on present predictions of future use. In that time one would expect that solar energy would at least have broken through and that the taking of the direct hydrogen element from the sun and converting it to power energy in this country and elsewhere would have occurred. But where is the thought process on this? Where is the paper on the question of breeder reactors? Where is the Government's statement of policy on nuclear fusion? Where is the Government's statement of policy on coal for steaming power or for coking use?

Mention has been made of uranium enrichment. During the time that the present uranium reactors are in use there will be a demand in the world for enriched fuel for the obvious reason that enriched uranium uses and gives birth to far more energy than the cruder form. But where is the Government's paper on the question of enriched uranium? Here we are talking about a uranium policy. Is it our policy to search for uranium? What is that policy? Is it our policy to export uranium? What is that policy? Is it our policy to enrich the uranium before we export it? If so, what is the policy?

In the Press there have been headlines about the possibility of establishing a uranium enrichment plant in Australia. Where is the paper from the Australian Atomic Energy Commission or anywhere else on this matter? Does the Government have any conceivable idea of the complexities, the difficulties and the pollution problems associated with such a plant? Let me just describe to honourable senators one complexity. If the centrifuge process is used for enriched uranium, we must talk in terms of a plant that has no fewer than 500,000 individual centrifuges. There are 500,000 electric motors, 500 whirling centrifuges in a plant which is highly complex and the cost of which would be beyond the capability of Australia at the present time of finance. Where has the Government brought forward a paper on this question?

Let us consider the economics of the enrichment plant proposal. At the present time America has a sufficient output of enriched uranium to take the world into the 1980s. In the meantime Japan is building an enrichment plant. We made some overtures to Japan. There was no sweetheart agreement, because Mr Connor came forward with no details at all. An enrichment plant is being built in Europe. The general feeling is that by the time America extends her enrichment facilities, by the time Japan completes its plant and by the time Europe builds its plant there will be in the world a glut of capacity to refine uranium, and that if we had such a plant in Australia its capital cost and our own high cost of operations would result in the production of enriched uranium at a price which would price us out of the world market. I do not say that that is so and I do not assert it; I am merely arguing on the basis of the best technical advice that I can find on this subject. But the important point is that, except for casual talk, nobody has come forward with any details about this matter.

We have as our main trading partners Japan, Europe and America. Europe and Japan are today at a point of enormous economic crisis with the quadrupling of the price of oil from the Middle East and the foreshadowing of further price rises. If those price rises occur there may be a severe debasement of living standards in those countries. Japan must, of course, seek alternative energy sources. Japan gets 90 per cent of its oil from the Middle East across the Indian Ocean and through the Straits of Malacca. Japan, therefore, is facing the situation that her economy is threatened by an energy crisis. She will be buildingas she is- nuclear reactors at as fast a pace as she can. She will be seeking to use electric power as an alternative to fossil fuel. The same thing is happening in Europe. What, if any, are the crash programs coming forward from this Government to help Europe, Japan and other countries out of the difficulties with which they are confronted?

We talk as though we have a foreign policy. Is it realised that this kind of ostrich act, this kind of negative reaction is likely to drive Japan into a trading and foreign affairs relationship away from the Western world and towards either Russia or China or both of those countries? We talk about our national interests. Where are our national interests if our greatest trading partner is forced by an energy crisis to turn elsewhere? It is myopic in the extreme to suggest that we ought not to be looking to the interests of other countries in terms of energy, that that is not our national self-interest. I rose merely to refer to the fact that we have a unique currency crisis in the world today. Some of the best brains in the monetary world cannot see any immediate solution to the problem because of the domination of the whole money market by a small group of nations that have a common purpose. That in itself is one problem. But the problem of nations facing soaring costs and therefore declining living standards and a declining ability to trade with each other and with us is a vitally important matter to us because we are one of the great trading nations. If we take it on a per capita basis, America, despite its size, it one of the relatively small trading nations, but it can waterproof itself in this matter. But Australia is in a crisis if trade falls.

I rose basically to ask the Minister for Agriculture (Senator Wriedt) to draw our attention, when he replies to this debate, to sources from which we can get a picture of the facts concerning the energy crisis on the world scene, the impact of that crisis on Australia, and the energy policies of the Government in regard to exploration, conservation, refinement, development and export. Specifically we want to know the facts concerning the energy policies of the Government in regard to uranium, and even more specifically we want to know the facts concerning the feasibility study on uranium enrichment. If none of those answers can be given, we, as a nation, have abdicated the control and supervision of our own resources, and we, as a nation, have abdicated not only our narrow selfinterest but also our responsibility on the world scene.

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