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Thursday, 8 November 1973
Page: 1675

Senator CARRICK (New South Wales) - The Opposition does not oppose this Bill and commends its passage. The Bill is straightforward. Its purpose, of course, is to abolish the full time position of executive member of the Australian Atomic Energy Commission and to substitute the part-time position of member. I do not wish to delay the business of the Senate nor to make a major debate on this matter but as we are referring to the Australian Atomic Energy Commission I wish to make some brief remarks. I believe that we are dealing with a body whose work in the immediate months ahead and the immediate years ahead will be of growing and intense significance to Australia and I commend to the Government the fullest possible use and development of the Commission. I do so not in any patronising fashion but to point out that uniquely at the moment the world is confronted by an energy crisis, a crisis which is a growing one. It is a crisis which relates to a resource which unlike other resources is not capable of being recycled. Therefore the world is moving into a problem, a new problem of resources diplomacy which could in itself create confrontation and could even create conflict. But above all, unless we resolve by technology as well as diplomacy the problem of the energy crisis we could in fact confront lower living standards.

I draw attention very quickly to the fact that there we are as a world at this moment consuming oil as fossil fuel at a staggering rate of 2,500 million tons a year. That rate which cannot be kept up. It may have only a few decades of life. The immediate crisis lies in a decade or 2 decades ahead. What we want to know from our specialists, from the first class people of the Commission and from the people whom the Commission seeks as advisers is the order of priorities. Alongside the search for natural gas and for oil we must be asking ourselves these things: Should we, in fact, be conserving our coal or should we be using it? We have, in terms of steaming coal, at least reserves for some 400 years stored underground at this moment. Should it be used? What should we be doing at this moment about a uranium enrichment plant? Should we be selling our uranium without too much constraint on the world markets? Should we put constraints upon that sale? Should we be refining it in Australia? If we do refine it will we have markets and will it be profitable for us to do so?

The problem of a feasibility study into a uranium enrichment plant is involving literally thousands of millions of dollars. I urge upon the Government that all available information be given to this Parliament and to the people as soon as possible because the people are entitled to know. For example, they are entitled to know the complexity of these things and of the developments of this technology throughout the world. What is the possibility of the South African process? Will it be a breakthrough? Will the diffusion process as we know it be surpassed? Is the centrifuge process, as we know it, the right idea? What should we do? But, above all, in terms of technology- the Commission itself can attempt the answer- how long will it be before the next step in the generation of energy, which is the fusion process of the atom as distinct from the fission process? Those who ought to know will place it at something like a gap of 30 years. If that is so, and if we can understand this, the need for uranium as a fuel will have a whole life of 30 years because the fusion process does not depend upon uranium. It depends upon heavy water from the sea and from rain from the atmosphere. As I understand it, on conservative estimates, the volume of heavy water will be available to the world for about 10,000 years.

When we are dealing with energy and an energy crisis what we need to know is how best we should handle the resources which we have. When will the fusion process be available? In the process of it, what about solar energy? But above all, because I am talking about the Australian Atomic Energy Commission I pose this question and we need to have some very accurate answers in the months and years ahead if we are to make the right judgments: Will we have to use our uranium either sparingly because we have to conserve it or freely because we do not have to conserve it? Should we go into uranium enrichment because that would be good or should we put it aside because it would be unnecessary. We need to know very accurately and to follow the whole of the development of the fusion process because this would be an apparently unlimited source of energy. In a world in which the conservation of resources is now focussing heavily these kinds of answers must be given. I believe that as a parliament and as a people we are singularly uninformed by this Government on the existing energy crisis. I urge the Government to compensate by providing to this Parliament as much information as possible. I particularly urge that the relationship between the Commission and the Government should be the closest possible. There should be the closest association by the Government to urge the Commission to bring about the best possible advice for this Parliament and the people.

I shall sound one critical note. I do not mean it to be contentious. There is a tendency by this Government to recruit special advisers and people of that nature, tending to by-pass the bodies which normally should be available for information. My instinct is that in the case of the Commission this Government is not using it enough. I commend the Commission. Its members are first rate people, both scientifically and administratively. I commend the Australian nuclear scientists who are of world class- the Baxters, the Tittertons, and people of that nature. I urge the Government to use to the full the kind of knowledge which is available so that as a nation and as part of the whole world we can benefit. In conclusion I say- and this is the reason I rose- that in an energy crisis we cannot be neutral. The problem is not merely that we as a nation need each year only 28 million tons of the 2,500 million tons of oil which is consumed annually and that we produce about 70 per cent ourselves. We are essentially vulnerable in the short term. Resources diplomacy is a euphemism for the political bludgeon or the military bludgeon which shall be a weapon of the world. We have oil. More will be found. We have natural gas. More will be found. Unlike most nations we have coal in very large quantities underground. Unlike many nations we have a great deal of uranium. I say none of this in a contentious way but I believe that it is of vital importance. Apart from commending the Bill I call upon the Government in terms of the energy crisis to use to the full the magnificent resources of the Atomic Energy Commission.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a second time, and passed through its remaining stages without amendment or debate.

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