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Thursday, 25 November 1993
Page: 3754


Senator MARGETTS (5.34 p.m.) —I wish to speak on treaty Nos. 14 and 15 together. They refer to exchange of notes constituting an implementing arrangement concerning plutonium transfers to the agreement with the European Atomic Energy Community—EURATOM; and, exchange of notes consisting an implementing arrangement concerning international obligation exchanges to the agreement with the European Atomic Energy Community.

  The two agreements between Australia and the European Atomic Energy Community, or EURATOM, relate to safety and safeguard measures associated with Australian sourced radioactive material. The agreement associated with plutonium appears to tighten up deficiencies concerning arrangements associated with the retransfer of plutonium. This plutonium is recovered from spent fuel reprocessed at La Hague and Sellafield in England.

  It would appear that the plutonium agreement changes the concept of advanced generic consent to advanced consent on the retransfer of consignments of plutonium from Europe to Japan. The agreement now makes it necessary for advance consent to be given for specific shipments of plutonium. Previous plutonium could be simply retransferred, based on arrangements contained within earlier agreements. The lack of consent over specific shipments technically prevented Australia from stepping in at any particular point and stopping the retransfer of plutonium to Japan unless it had good cause to suspect that the safeguard obligations were not being fulfilled.

  Whilst the agreement tightens up certain aspects of plutonium transfers, it does nothing to stop this trade. I understand that the Japanese are currently storing the last shipment of plutonium that they took receipt of. It has not gone for immediate use in the Minju fast breeder reactor.

  The fact that Japan has moved into the plutonium economy and that it is currently storing its plutonium creates alarming signals within the region. This is creating significant regional instability. The accumulation of plutonium by Japan is being used in part as an excuse by north Korea not to allow full safeguard inspections. North Korea appears to be saying that it is hypocritical to concentrate on its facilities whilst at the same time condoning Japan's plutonium accumulation.

  It would appear that the plutonium agreement has been precipitated by the possibility that the next shipment to Japan will contain plutonium originated from the use of Australian uranium. Australia supplies 15 per cent of Japan's uranium. In essence, this means that Australian uranium may well end up as plutonium stockpiled in Japan. We are, in effect, contributing to the instability of northern Asia.

  On top of the security risk, the movement of highly radioactive spent fuel from Japan to Europe and back again as plutonium puts a large percentage of the world at risk from a serious accident. No agreement will eliminate the enormous risk to regional security or eliminate the hazards associated with the shipment of highly radioactive material. The best way that Australia can contribute to reducing these risks is to stop selling uranium and to encourage other nations to develop a future based on renewable and environmentally benign sources of energy.