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Friday, 6 December 1985
Page: 3171


Senator TOWNLEY —Does the Minister for Resources and Energy acknowledge that fast breeder reactors produce considerably more plutonium than the more standard nuclear power reactors? Does he agree that if countries cannot be guaranteed a reasonable supply of uranium, they will be forced to consider building fast breeder reactors, experimental models of which are now operating in several countries including Russia, India and France? Does the Minister agree that it is therefore in the interests of the world for Australia to become a reliable supplier of nuclear fuel?


Senator GARETH EVANS —It is my understanding that fast breeder reactors do produce more plutonium than other forms of power generation sources and that there is an argument current to the effect that if uranium supplies dry up, that would be an incentive to develop such reactors in a greater scale than would otherwise be the case. It is also my understanding that fast breeder reactors operate effectively only as part of a cycle of energy production in which they operate closely in conjunction with conventional nuclear reactors and, as such, there could reasonably be expected to be, even in the context of the development of fast breeder reactors, a significant continuing demand for uranium.

I am not sure that the premise on which the question is founded is in fact accurate, but insofar as the thrust of the question is to suggest that Australia should abandon its present cautious policy on the supply of uranium to the world, and get in there helter-skelter in order to avoid the miscellany of gloomy results of the kind that Senator Townley paints, might I suggest to him there is simply no foundation for that. At the moment, the supply of uranium around the world well and truly exceeds the available demand. That situation is likely to change to some extent by the mid 1990s, but by that time it is fully expected, of course, that as far as the Australian uranium is concerned, the Roxby Downs or Olympic Dam mine will be in full production and will create a situation in which Australia will be producing--


Senator MacGibbon —That is good.


Senator Chipp —Aren't you worried that he is agreeing with you?


Senator GARETH EVANS —That does give me considerable cause for pause. There are occasions when, given enough monkeys typing on enough typewriters, they can produce a sonnet. I suspect that the law of averages does produce some odd conjunctions.

The reality of the matter is that Australia's present uranium policy will ensure that Australia becomes a significant supplier on the world stage. That, of course, is appropriate in turn because Australia runs a much tighter and more comprehensive safeguards regime in relation to its supply of uranium than just about anyone else around the world. As such, by contributing to the world's needs which will undoubtedly exist for uranium, by our supplying it rather than anyone else, we will be contributing far more to securing a nuclear safe future than would be the case if we shoved our head in the sand.