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Wednesday, 21 August 1996
Page: 2870

(Question No. 110)

Senator Margetts asked the Minister representing the Minister for Foreign Affairs, upon notice, on 25 June 1996:

(1) (a) Is the Government aware of attempts by members of the United States (US) Congress to dissuade the US Government from planning hydronuclear tests at the Nevada test site; and (b) can these reports be confirmed.

(2) (a) Can the effects of hydronuclear and sophisticated virtual testing on future nuclear weapons development be detailed; and (b) does the Government believe that tests of this type, carried out by the US, France and Russia have the ability to negate the intent of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty; if not, why not.

(3) Will the Australian Government make representations to the US Government that it should abandon its program of `subcritical tests'; if not, why not.

Senator Hill —The Minister for Foreign Affairs has provided the following answer to the honourable senator's question:

(1) I am aware of a debate in the United States (US) Senate on 4 August 1995 concerning an amount of US$50 million authorised for preparation for hydronuclear testing in the 1995-96 fiscal year Defense Authorisation Bill. In the event, however, these funds were not called on by the US Administration following its declaration of support on 11 August 1995 for a zero-threshold Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). The US has explicitly stated that its support for a "true zero-yield" CTBT precludes the conducting of hydronuclear tests.

However, it is worth clarifying, for the purpose of answering the honourable senator's questions, that the types of activities which the United States has foreshadowed for its Nevada test site are known as hydrodynamic or subcritical experiments. Unlike hydronuclear tests, such experiments do not produce a nuclear explosive yield and are consistent with a zero-yield CTBT.

(2) (a) Australia, as a non-nuclear weapon state, does not have access to the details of nuclear weapons stockpile stewardship techniques.

Hydronuclear, hydrodynamic, subcritical and `virtual' (I take this to be a reference to computer simulation) procedures could each contribute to ensuring the safety and reliability of nuclear weapons as well as to making minor modifications to existing weapon systems. It is my understanding, however, that none of these would enable the development of new generations of nuclear weapon systems. Hydronuclear tests will be banned under a CTBT.

(b) Because hydronuclear tests produce some (usually very small) nuclear explosive yield, any party to a CTBT would be in violation if they conducted such a test. The other types of procedures referred to above would be consistent with a true zero-yield CTBT.

(3) No. The Australian Government recognises that, in conducting subcritical experiments, the US is not acting inconsistently with its commitment—which we have welcomed—to the earliest conclusion of a true zero-yield CTBT. The Government will continue to work with the US and others on a practical and realistic approach to nuclear disarmament.