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Tuesday, 17 September 1985
Page: 626

Senator CHILDS —I direct my question to the Minister representing the Minister for Foreign Affairs. With regard to the proposed further nuclear testing on Mururoa Atoll, is the Minister aware of reports that Mururoa is holed like a Swiss cheese and, therefore, likely to leak radioactive materials into the Pacific Ocean in the future? Does the Minister consider that there is any danger of prevailing winds and currents bringing radioactive materials into the Australian fishing grounds or coast? What monitoring facilities exist to check for radioactive materials in our waters?

Senator GARETH EVANS —The Government has noted with concern reports that Mururoa Atoll is crumbling under the strain of repeated French underground nuclear tests, but it has to be said that these reports are not supported by evidence now available to the Government, as was stated by the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr Hayden, in the House of Representatives yesterday. The Government's opposition to the tests is well known, and, particularly in light of the South Pacific nuclear-free zone agreement recently signed at Rarotonga, we, of course, continue to deplore France's demonstration of its nuclear capability in the Pacific region. The Government's concern about the potential environmental effects of the French testing program was the reason it agreed in 1983 to a French invitation to South Pacific Forum countries to send a scientific team to visit Mururoa. This enabled a group of scientists from Australia, Papua New Guinea and New Zealand to inspect the French nuclear testing site at the atoll in October-November 1983. In releasing the group's report, as Mr Hayden did publicly on 9 July 1984, he noted with concern the report's conclusion that leakage could occur from the detonation chambers in the long term, and that the structural integrity of the coral limestones on the upper section of Mururoa Atoll had already been impaired. While the environmental and health effects of nuclear testing are important, the Government's dominant concern is that nuclear testing should not take place by any state in any environment.

As to the specific question about winds and currents, Mr Hayden advises me that he would need technical advice before being able to state whether winds and currents would bring any radioactive leakage into Australian fishing grounds. But there is nothing in the report from which I have just quoted to suggest that this is so, although it is not conclusive on that point and further research may well be justified. Regarding monitoring facilities for checking radioactive material in our sea water, I have not, as yet, had time to check this out thoroughly, but I am confident that such bodies as the Australian Atomic Energy Commission and the Australian Ionising Radiation Advisory Council could meet such a requirement.

The net result of all that is that although there are grounds for continuing concern about the environmental impact of the French tests on Mururoa Atoll, it has to be acknowledged that some of the more extravagant concerns that have been expressed are not well based in fact. But that does not alter the legitimacy of a continuing concern by us, in common with all countries in the region, about what continues to take place there.