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Tuesday, 26 February 1980
Page: 359


Mr O'KEEFE (Paterson) - I rise to support the Atomic Energy Amendment Bill (No. 2). The purpose of this legislation is to provide, among other things, for State consent prior to a Commonwealth authority mining uranium and prescribed substances in that State. It will overcome certain difficulties and doubts which were inherent in the Atomic Energy Act 1953 following amendments which came into force in 1978. I think that the Government is wise to bring in these amendments which become necessary in the atomic energy field from time to time.

As the Atomic Energy Act stands at present the Commonwealth has very wide control over the mining of uranium. In regard to uranium mining, operations in relation to substances that are closely connected are also embraced by the legislation. Great doubt existed whether it would be possible for the Government to authorise or undertake uranium mining without regard to the wishes of a State. Problems arise because of the strategic nature of uranium and other prescribed substances. This makes it very necessary that there should be close government controls. This, of course, does not mean that actual mining operations should be conducted by or on behalf of a government. Circumstances could arise in which there would be a conflict of interests between a State and the Commonwealth. This can be readily recognised by all those who are interested in uranium and operation of the nuclear industry. Development and exploitation of mineral resources generally is a State matter. The Bill makes it clear that Commonwealth authority to mine prescribed substances will be subject to the approval of the State concerned unless ministerial authority is given only for the purposes of the defence of the Commonwealth.

In his second reading speech the then Minister for National Development made it quite clear that the amendment would not apply to the Northern Territory other than to the Ranger development project. In relation to the security provisions of the Atomic Energy Act it is the

Government's policy that penal provisions, which were largely enacted for defence purposes will not be applied to ordinary commercial undertakings. This was made clear in the debate on the Atomic Energy Amendment Bill (No. 1) in 1 978. The Government has decided to examine further the penal provisions of Part IV of the Act having regard to their application to ordinary commercial undertakings, to restrict their operation in accordance with Government policy. The review of the penal provisions is currently under way. However, it has been decided that in the meantime several amendments could be made to the penal provisions.

Clauses 4 and 5 of the Bill repeal sections 54 and 58 of the principal Act which provide respectively that no action can be taken against the Commonwealth in the event of unlawful arrest, detention, search or seizure and that the doing of an act preparatory to the commission of an offence is, in itself, an offence. Clause 6 repeals section 60 of the principal Act, which applies the stringent provisions of" the Approved Defence Projects Protection Act 1947 to all works of the Australian Atomic Energy Commission, including commercial undertakings. The clause substitutes a provision which requires that a notice be published in the Australian Government Gazette by the Minister if the Approved Defence Projects Protection Act is to apply to a work of the Australian Atomic Energy Commission. The amendments provided for in the Bill were formulated following receipt of a number of representations from the various State governments in Australia and from other parties who are interested in the development of uranium. They do not affect in any way the powers provided by the Atomic Energy Act 1978 enabling the Commonwealth to implement nuclear non-proliferation safeguards in Australia pursuant to the Government's international obligations.

The Opposition is dead set on eliminating the Atomic Energy Commission- this was made quite clear in the debate on 9 May 1978- and is apparently keen to set up a nuclear commission in its place. We should be mining, milling and marketing the yellowcake we produce in Australia. Unfortunately, it seems to me that members on the opposite side of the House are intent on doing all they can to stop this nuclear industry getting under way. Australia is a fortunate country in that it has 25 per cent of the world 's known yellowcake, and possibly many more fields of yellowcake in Australia are yet to be discovered. Yellowcake in its present form is not dangerous when it is mined and we have markets for it all over the world- in the United

States, Canada, Great Britain, Germany, South Africa, Japan, France, and many other countries. We should be taking advantage of this market or it will pass us by as the years go on and this would be dangerous economically for Australia.

With the shortage of petroleum products in this country it is quite evident that as time goes on we will need to import huge quantities of petroleum products from overseas, and this could give us a very adverse balance of trade. However, the mining, milling and marketing of our yellowcake would provide us with a source of income which would take care of the imbalance that would be created by such action. We are a fortunate country in this regard, and in the foreseeable future we have no need to construct a nuclear reactor. This could be attempted in the years that lie ahead, but at the present time all we have to do is get on with the joh of exporting our uranium. It is pleasing to see that Mary Kathleen Uranium Ltd at Mount Isa is already doing this. At present it is the only exporter in this country. The Opposition seems to be intent on stopping the country from taking this action, and it is very difficult to understand why it is adopting this attitude. As I have said, mining, milling and marketing of uranium is already under way at Mary Kathleen in Queensland. Let us hope that in the very near future other enterprises will get under way and bring export income into this country.

Certainly, when yellowcake is mixed with chemicals it becomes dangerous, and it is used in atomic power stations throughout the world. Let us consider the safety features of the nuclear industry. The American Navy has been nuclear powered for some 23 years but there has not been one incident or one life lost. There are atomic power stations in Great Britain and America, and in those countries atomic power is providing 1 5 per cent of the nation 's needs. Last year it was a privilege for me to travel to Japan and to see the atomic power station at Yokohama Bay. On the day we were there the spent fuel was being taken out of the reactor and replaced by new fuel. Atomic power in Japan is providing about 1 5 per cent to 20 per cent of the power needed in that country. It was interesting to note that the spent fuel was being placed in cylinders and sent to Great Britain for treatment. We then visited South Korea, where the development in the nuclear power industry was a revelation. There are two very big nuclear power stations there, and we saw two further Westinghouse power stations under construction adjacent to them.

We are in the nuclear age, whether we like it or not, and we should be taking advantage of it. We know that last year there were problems at Harrisburg in the United States, and great concern was expressed about them. However, I think the extent of nuclear knowhow became apparent when the technicians were able to avert any fatalities or serious results. There is no doubt that the technical knowhow in this field today is absolutely first-class. Let us get on with the job of mining our yellowcake and exporting it for the economic benefit of Australia. It is a pleasure for me to support this Bill. One does not mind amendments being made to Acts when they are beneficial amendments. I believe that the amendments to which I referred in my opening remarks will be beneficial to the industry and to Australia as a whole. I support the legislation and oppose the amendment that has been moved by the Opposition.







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