Tuesday, 2 September 2014
Sometime in the next 48 hours the Australian Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, will, we understand, sign a uranium export deal with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. I have very high regard for the Australian safeguards negotiators and those like Dr Robert Floyd, who will have spent the last few months making this safeguards agreement as watertight as possible. Nonetheless I want to draw the Senate's attention to the basic futility of attempting to keep Australian uranium out of the so-called 'wrong hands' and draw the Senate's attention to a quote by K Subramanian, who is a former head of the Indian National Security Advisory Board. He said:
… it is to India's advantage to categorise as many power reactors as possible as civilian ones to be refuelled by imported uranium and conserve our native uranium fuel for weapons-grade plutonium production.
I put to our Prime Minister and to those who believe that this trade deal is good for Australia that no safeguards agreement in the world can protect you from a government that is bringing in foreign sources of uranium for domestic nuclear power so that it can quarantine its own domestic sources to fuel an atomic arms race with its neighbours. That is what we are getting ourselves into.
What probably will not cross the Prime Minister's radar is the grievous safety record of the Indian nuclear industry, and I ask those senators in this place to think this is a good idea to ponder carefully whether they are their families would be happy to live next door to an Indian nuclear power station. If you are, I ask you again to do a brief amount of research on the safety record of the Indian civil nuclear power industry, because it is not very good reading.
I have two quick examples from the public record. One thing we are fortunate in more so than in the instance of China is that India does have a raucous and very opinionated free press, and we do have a bit of a sense of where the nuclear industry has gone wrong in the past. In March 1993 at the Narora Atomic Power Station, two blades of the turbine in unit 1 broke off and, effectively, one of the turbines disintegrated, causing a huge fire in the turbine hall. It caught onto leaked oil and spread through the turbine building. The smoke sensors did not detect the fire, and workers had to raise the alarm when they saw the fire. The secondary cooling systems shut down. They lost power for 17 hours. This is a workforce that was then forced, effectively in the dark, to manually open valves to try to prevent the reactor from blowing itself all over the landscape. The fact of their success and their sacrifice in copping huge radiation doses is the reason that I would suspect that nobody in this chamber tonight has ever heard of the fire at the Narora Atomic Power Station
In May 1994 the inner surface of the container dome of unit 1 of the Kaiga Atomic Power Station in Karnataka collapsed. The authorities at the time suggested it was a delamination event. 'Collapse' is a word that will suffice for now. One hundred and thirty tonnes of concrete from the inner containment vessel fell to the floor. Can you imagine the catastrophe that would have occurred had the reactor been live at that time?
These are just two very quick examples. I suspect the eyes of those sitting opposite have probably glazed over by now, but this is the industry we are getting ourselves into, and there is really no way at all of guaranteeing the future safety of these power stations. That is why you would understand tens of thousands of people demonstrated during the construction and commissioning of the Koodankulam reactor complex on the south cost of Tamil Nadu. Ask yourself again: would you want to live next door to this facility, which was in the impact area of the 2004 tsunami, not too dissimilar from the natural disaster that wiped out the Fukushima plant on Japan's Pacific coast—but perhaps I am getting ahead of myself. If you would not want to live next door to that facility, why are we selling uranium to fuel it and enabling that industry to get on its feet?
I think it is significant that it is the Russian nuclear industry, an industry that is in crisis around the world, that has constructed those two plants at Koodankulam in Tamil Nadu. I received quite a respectful answer on this issue at question time today. It is unusual to actually get information out of question time that you are not already aware of—this afternoon it was not just pantomime. The answer was that we are not currently selling uranium into the Russian Federation and that the Australian government, to paraphrase Senator Abetz, has halted consideration of such exchanges until the volatile situation in eastern Ukraine is resolved one way or the other. I congratulate the government unreservedly for taking that step, for not considering exchanges of this material with the Russian Federation.
I also draw the attention of senators opposite to the September 2008 report of the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties. It might have been the first one of those reports that I signed onto myself. Senator Birmingham, I suspect you were actually a member of that committee at the time. If I recall correctly, without reservation or a minority report from anybody, the committee unanimously suggested that those sales should not go ahead until a very long list of preconditions had been met. I can see you searching your memory there, Senator Birmingham. I will correct the record if I am wrong, but I can remember it being a very strong report that coalition and crossbench senators played a very strong part in. The then Labor government went ahead and overrode the terms of that treaty and went ahead to sign an export deal with the Russian Federation.
Let us fast-forward to 29 August 2014. Russian President Vladimir Putin, arguably in open violation of international legal norms and having effectively, it appears, invaded the eastern part of the Ukraine, stated to a domestic audience:
It is best not to mess with us. I want to remind you that Russia is one of the leading nuclear powers.
That is the trip-wire that we appear to be walking through—the apparent escalation of an already violent and unpredictable conflict to the implied use of nuclear weapons. Why the hell would we have anything to do with a government that would abuse this trade in this way?
So, as I said, I congratulate the government for halting any future shipment of this material or, at least—not to overegg what Senator Abetz provided us with this afternoon—until that situation de-escalates. The reason that you would do that is because this is a strategic mineral. This is not like gold exports or copper exports. This stuff is bomb fuel, and the enrichment plants or the reprocessing plants that you feed this stuff into are identical at the civil end and at the military end. That is how this industry has operated since the very beginning.
The people around the world who know this the best and who have been hit very hard by both ends of the nuclear fuel chain are the Japanese. I was honoured last week to host former Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan to this place. He visited the Australian parliament and came to a very well-attended meeting featuring MPs and staff from right across all parties in this parliament. He was the Prime Minister of Japan between 2010 and 2011, so he was the Prime Minister when the great Tokyo earthquake struck the Pacific coast, killing upwards of 16,000 or 17,000 people and causing the catastrophic failure of the Fukushima nuclear complex. He was briefed by his national security officials when TEPCO management in Tokyo were proposing to withdraw their workforce because of the radiation doses that they were absorbing in an effort to keep the plant under control. He was then briefed on the worst-case scenario and was informed that it would require the evacuation of a radius of 250 kilometres from the complex, encompassing the city of greater Tokyo, and would necessitate the evacuation of more than 50 million people.
He now believes—and it was the reason for his tour—that humankind cannot coexist with nuclear technology. That is a view that I strongly agree with. That is why, whether in India, Russia, Japan or the outback of Australia the future is not radioactive; it is renewable. That is why I pay my respects in here tonight to everyone around the world, over more than three generations, who has stood up to this industry, be it the Prime Minister of Japan, who has seen up close the damage this industry can cause, or those who stood on the beach at Koodankulam to try to prevent those Russian reactors from being created or those right here in Australia who have stood against this nightmare since it first touched down in this continent.