Nuclear Royal Commission losing further credibility

Media Release

24 April 2015

Friends of the Earth, Australia has today written to Kevin Scarce, head of the SA government's Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission, asking him to revisit his decision not to include weapons proliferation risks in the Royal Commission's issues paper dealing with uranium mining.

Dr Jim Green, national nuclear campaigner with Friends of the Earth, Australia, said:

"Day by day, the Royal Commission is losing further credibility. Last week, we learned that the expert advisory panel is stacked with three nuclear advocates, with just one token critic. Kevin Scarce's claim to be running a 'balanced Royal Commission' is demonstrably false.

"Now we learn that the Royal Commission wants to ignore weapons proliferation, the single greatest risk associated with uranium mining. The Terms of Reference for the Royal Commission clearly instruct Kevin Scarce to consider the risks associated with uranium mining yet he apparently wants to ignore weapons proliferation, the single greatest risk associated with the industry. He needs to rethink that decision."

The letter sent to Kevin Scarce is copied below.

Contact: Jim Green 0417 318 368

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24 April 2015

 

Dear Rear Admiral Scarce,

 

I am writing to ask you to revisit your decision not to include proliferation-related issues and risks (esp. safeguards) in the 13 sets of questions listed in the NFCRC's first Issues Paper.

 

The Terms of Reference for the NFCRC ask you to consider the "risks and opportunities created by expanding the level of exploration, extraction and milling" of radioactive minerals.

 

Clearly WMD proliferation is an important risk associated with uranium mining. It is the most serious hazard associated with uranium mining and nuclear power. This problem has long been acknowledged, e.g. the Fox Report (Ranger uranium inquiry) in the 1970s stated: "The nuclear power industry is unintentionally contributing to an increased risk of nuclear war. This is the most serious hazard associated with the industry."

 

It might be argued that safeguards and other such matters are federal government responsibilities. However the federal government is failing in its duties in this respect.

 

Here are two examples:

 

Firstly, the federal government is proposing a major weakening of safeguards / tracking standards under the Australia−India Nuclear Cooperation Agreement, and that will have spill-over effects with other uranium customers countries (and other nuclear/uranium exporting countries will be encouraged to weaken their standards). In its current form the Nuclear Cooperation Agreement has been strongly opposed by, among others, John Carlson, former Director-General of the Australian Safeguards and Non-Proliferation Office (ASNO) and a member of the NFCRC's expert panel; Ron Walker, former Chair of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Board of Governors; Prof. Lawrence Scheinman, former Assistant Director of the US Arms Control and Disarmament Agency; Princeton University physicist Dr M.V. Ramana; and Australian nuclear arms control expert Crispin Rovere.1 Previously, former Defence Department Secretary Paul Barratt has raised concerns.

 

Secondly, in 2008, ASNO and other government agencies told federal parliament's treaties committee that "strict safeguards" would "ensure" peaceful use of Australian uranium in Russia. When the committee learned that it had been misled and that IAEA safeguards inspections in Russia are very nearly non-existent, it recommended that the agreement should not be ratified until "IAEA inspections are implemented for Russian facilities that will handle" Australian uranium and its byproducts.2 The federal government ignored/rejected that recommendation (with Opposition support) and ratified the agreement with Russia.

 

In those and other respects, the federal government is failing in its responsibilities and thus it is irresponsible for state governments to ignore the problems and likewise it would be irresponsible for the NFCRC to ignore the problems and risks. The Terms of Reference ask you to consider the risks associated with uranium mining and thus the NFCRC has a duty to consider the proliferation risks associated with uranium mining.

 

Safeguards and export policy have traditionally been federal government responsibilities but there is no reason why the SA government could not play a constructive role in strengthening the safeguards system and opposing efforts to weaken the system.

 

Mr Carlson noted in a submission to the federal treaties committee: "Bipartisan support for, and public acceptance of, uranium exports is based on Australia's safeguards conditions, such as peaceful use obligations and consent rights over reprocessing, high enrichment and retransfers, and the assurance that Australia is able to track our material and determine that our conditions are being met."3

 

Thus the erosion of safeguards standards is not in the interests of the uranium mining industry. The erosion of standards is certainly not in the national interest.

 

Even before the Australia−India Nuclear Cooperation Agreement, there were strong reasons for concern. During his tenure as Director-General of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Dr. Mohamed El Baradei noted in articles and speeches that the IAEA's safeguards system suffers from "vulnerabilities", that efforts to improve the system have been "half-hearted", and that the safeguards system operates on a "shoestring budget ... comparable to that of a local police department ".

 

The NFCRC should examine:

1. The strengths and weaknesses of nuclear safeguards, and practical measures that the SA government could implement to strengthen safeguards.

2. Uranium export policies including:

− Whether or not uranium sales should be permitted to nuclear weapons states generally; nuclear weapons states with no intention of fulfilling their NPT obligations to seriously pursue disarmament; countries refusing to sign or ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty; and repressive, authoritarian states.

− The gradual erosion of safeguards policy in relation to plutonium separation and stockpiling.

− The indefensible secrecy that shrouds Australia's uranium exports4 and practical measures the SA government could take to lift that veil of secrecy.

 

If you are not prepared to consider proliferation-related issues in the NFCRC, could you please explain your reasoning and how you reconcile that decision with the requirement in the Terms of Reference for you to consider the risks associated with uranium mining.

 

Yours sincerely,

--------------------------------------------
Jim Green B.Med.Sci.(Hons.), PhD
National nuclear campaigner − Friends of the Earth, Australia
0417 318 368
jim.green@foe.org.au
PO Box 222, Fitzroy, Victoria, 3065

 

1. www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/Joint/Treaties/28_October_2014/Submissions

2. www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/House_of_Representatives_Committees?url=/jsct/14may2008/report1/fullreport.pdf

3. www.aph.gov.au/DocumentStore.ashx?id=79a1a29e-5691-4299-8923-06e633780d4b&subId=301365

4. www.choosenuclearfree.net/wp-content/uploads/2010/11/cnf-safeguards-web.pdf