Nuclear-free is best option

Nuclear-free is best option
The Canberra Times
August 2, 2010
Bill Williams and Jim Green

The Medical Association for Prevention of War and Friends of the Earth have produced a ”Choose Nuclear Free” policy scorecard and analysis ahead of the August 21 federal election. The two striking features of our analysis are the long list of broken promises and backflips by the Labor Government, and the unwillingness of the Opposition to oppose.

The major difference between the parties is that the ALP opposes the introduction of nuclear power in Australia while Coalition policy is that Australia ”should not reject the possibility of adding nuclear power to our long-term energy mix” and a Coalition Government will ”remove Commonwealth legislative impediments to a nuclear industry”.

Tony Abbott said earlier this year that ”it is not our policy to build nuclear power stations”. But if that is the case, does he still intend to remove the legislative impediments and will he clarify the contradiction between his statement and Coalition policy before the August 21 election, as he should?

On uranium mining, the major difference is Labor’s policy of prohibiting uranium exports to countries that have not ratified the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. The Coalition held the same policy until August 2007.

The Labor Government has a disappointing track record of broken promises and backflips since it was elected in 2007. The Government has not implemented binding policy to ensure that ”world’s best practice” standards are applied at uranium mines in Australia. An example is the failure to insist on an Environmental Impact Assessment for the Beverley Four Mile uranium mine in South Australia.

The Government promised the establishment of a National Radiation Dose Register for uranium mine workers by the end of 2009, but the register is not operational and is now being developed within ”yet to be agreed timeframes”. Don’t hold your breath.

The Government has failed to implement its commitment to strengthen the nuclear safeguards system. Indeed safeguards have been weakened by the Government’s decision to permit uranium sales to Russia despite revelations that not a single facility in Russia has been inspected by the International Atomic Energy Agency since 2001.

Parliament’s Treaties Committee recommended against uranium sales to Russia until safeguards inspections are implemented at Russian facilities − a modest recommendation, but it was ignored by the Government.

The Government has failed to uphold Labor policy of ”limiting the processing of weapon usable material (separation of plutonium and high enriched uranium in civilian programs)”. Instead, the Government has provided open-ended approval for the separation of plutonium from spent nuclear fuel, even when it results in plutonium stockpiling (as it does in Japan and some western European countries).

The Government has also failed to pursue its policy of supporting ”exploration of potential legal frameworks for the abolition of nuclear weapons, including negotiation of a Nuclear Weapons Convention that would ban nuclear weapons and provide a global framework for the elimination of existing arsenals”.

Many countries support a Nuclear Weapons Convention. In Australia, a 2009 Parliamentary Inquiry into Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament issued a unanimous, cross-party recommendation ”that the Australian Government make clear in international fora its support for the adoption of a Nuclear Weapons Convention.” But the Government has conspicuously failed to promote a Nuclear Weapons Convention in international fora such as the 2010 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference in New York.

Our policy analysis also reveals a surprising unwillingness by the Opposition to oppose Government policy, no matter how blatant the contradiction between the Government’s actions and its policies and promises, and even when there would seem to be obvious political gain in mounting a critique of the Government.

Many of the above-mentioned issues such as the decision on uranium sales to Russia, and the vacillation regarding a Nuclear Weapons Convention, illustrate the point. Another key example is the National Radioactive Waste Management Bill 2010, which overrides the Aboriginal Heritage Act, the Aboriginal Land Rights Act, and all state/territory legislation. The Bill also curtails procedural fairness and appeal rights, and upholds the contested nomination of Muckaty in the Northern Territory as a potential dump site.

The Government has failed to implement its policy of addressing radioactive waste management issues in a manner which is ”scientific, transparent, accountable and fair” − Muckaty did not even make the short-list when scientific and environmental criteria informed a site-selection process in the 1990s. And the Government has failed to uphold its policy of ensuring ”full community consultation in radioactive waste decision-making processes” − consultation has been selective and Muckaty Traditional Owners have launched a legal challenge in the Federal Court.

Yet there has been no opposition from the Opposition.

Dr Bill Williams is President of the Medical Association for Prevention of War. Dr Jim Green is Friends of the Earth’s national nuclear campaigner.