The myth of the peaceful atom – debunking the misinformation peddled by the nuclear industry and its supporters

Jim Green, Nuclear Monitor #804,  May 2015, www.wiseinternational.org/nuclear-monitor/804/myth-peaceful-atom

The greatest risks associated with the nuclear fuel cycle are weapons proliferation and related risks such as military strikes on nuclear plants. The nuclear industry and its supporters have developed an elaborate set of tactics and myths to trivialize the proliferation risks.

1. Ignore the proliferation problem.

Often, nuclear proponents simply ignore the proliferation problem. For example, academics Barry Brook and Corey Bradshaw, writing in the Conservation Biology journal last year, rank power sources according to seven criteria: greenhouse emissions, cost, dispatchability, land use, safety, solid waste, and radiotoxic waste.[1] Nuclear weapons proliferation is excluded from the analysis.

2. Define the problem out of existence.

Academic Andrew O’Neil states: “There is simply no historical evidence to support the proposition that civilian nuclear reactor programs fuel weapons proliferation. … All nuclear weapons states acquired their arsenals through purpose-built military facilities, not as a by-product of civilian reactors.”[2]

Numerous examples illustrating the fallacy of O’Neil’s claims are listed below. Suffice it here to note one example:

  • India’s first nuclear weapon test used plutonium produced in the CIRUS research reactor;
  • the plutonium produced in CIRUS was ostensibly separated for India’s fast breeder nuclear power program[3]; and
  • India refuses to place numerous reactors under International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards and there can be only one explanation: India uses (or plans to use) those reactors to produce materials for nuclear weapons.

O’Neil reduces the debate to a reductio ad absurdum: all facilities and materials used in military programs are, by definition, military facilities and materials; and anyone suggesting otherwise is, by definition, indulging in anti-nuclear scuttlebutt. Q.E.D.

3. Trivialize the proliferation problem.

According to Ian Hore-Lacy from the World Nuclear Association: “Happily, proliferation is only a fraction of what had been feared when the NPT was set up …”[4] The ‘nuclearradiophobia’ blog states that “37 countries that have the infrastructure and capability to build nuclear weapons if they wanted” but “only nine of these countries have nuclear weapons”.[5] There are a “mere nine nuclear weapons states” according to Andrew O’Neil.[6]

However proliferation is a huge problem. The 16,000 (or so) weapons held by weapons states have the potential to kill billions of people. Moreover, even a limited exchange of some dozens of weapons could cause catastrophic climate change.[7] Academic Alan Robock wrote in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists: “As recent work … has shown, we now understand that the atmospheric effects of a nuclear war would last for at least a decade − more than proving the nuclear winter theory of the 1980s correct. By our calculations, a regional nuclear war between India and Pakistan using less than 0.3% of the current global arsenal would produce climate change unprecedented in recorded human history and global ozone depletion equal in size to the current hole in the ozone, only spread out globally.”[8]

The ‘modernization’ programs of the nuclear weapons states pose major risks (and opportunity costs) and weaken the disarmament/non-proliferation regime.[9]

The number of nuclear weapons-armed states has increased from five to nine since the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) was established. The eroding disarmament/non-proliferation regime coupled with (slowly) expanding nuclear capacity (from civil nuclear programs) creates the potential for significant horizontal proliferation. The UN Secretary-General’s High Level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change noted in 2004: “We are approaching a point at which the erosion of the non-proliferation regime could become irreversible and result in a cascade of proliferation.”[10]

Nuclear advocate Geoff Russell states that we have been 100% successful at preventing further use of nuclear weapons since World War II and that a “rational person would conclude that preventing nuclear wars and nuclear weapons proliferation is actually pretty easy, otherwise we wouldn’t have been so good at it.” He further notes that “ladders are more dangerous than nuclear electricity plants, and cars are more dangerous than ladders.”[11]

So perhaps ladders and cars should be classified as Weapons of Mass Destruction? Nuclear weapons are unique in their destructive potential − even more destructive than ladders. As former US Defense Secretary Robert MacNamara said: “In conventional war, mistakes cost lives, sometimes thousands of lives. However, if mistakes were to affect decisions relating to the use of nuclear forces, there would be no learning curve. They would result in the destruction of nations.”[12]

Russell states: “The proliferation argument isn’t actually an argument at all. It’s just a trigger word, brilliantly branded to evoke fear and trump rational discussion.” One of the rabidly anti-nuclear organisations evoking fear and trumping rational discussion is the US State Department, which noted in a 2008 report that the “rise in nuclear power worldwide … inevitably increases the risks of proliferation”.[13] And the anti-nuclear ideologues at the US National Intelligence Council argued in a 2008 report that the “spread of nuclear technologies and expertise is generating concerns about the potential emergence of new nuclear weapon states and the acquisition of nuclear materials by terrorist groups.”[14]

An honorary mention for trivializing nuclear weapons goes to French diplomat Jacques Le Blanc, who said, when justifying weapons tests in the Pacific in 1995: “I do not like this word bomb. It is not a bomb; it is a device which is exploding.”[15]

And an honorary mention goes to the Indian government, which insisted that its 1974 ‘Smiling Buddha’ bomb test was a ‘peaceful nuclear explosive’.

4. Pay lip service to proliferation problems.

Often nuclear proponents pay lip service to the problems of proliferation and the contribution of civil programs to proliferation risks.

For example, US President Obama cautioned at the 2012 Nuclear Security Summit in Seoul: “We simply can’t go on accumulating huge amounts of the very material, like separated plutonium, that we’re trying to keep away from terrorists.”[16]

So what’s being done about the problem of growing stockpiles of separated plutonium? Nothing. All that would need to be done to address the problem of growing stockpiles of separated/unirradiated plutonium would be to slow or suspend reprocessing until the stockpile is drawn down.

The US could (but doesn’t) take concrete steps to curb the separation and stockpiling of plutonium − it has the authority to disallow separation and stockpiling of US-obligated plutonium, i.e. plutonium produced from nuclear materials originally mined or processed in the US.

5. Warped priorities.

The April 2010 Nuclear Security Summit in Washington issued a communiqué expressing the resolve of the 47 participating nations to strengthen nuclear security and thus reduce the risk of nuclear terrorism. But there’s a caveat in the communiqué. It calls on nations to “support the implementation of strong nuclear security practices that will not infringe upon the rights of States to develop and utilize nuclear energy for peaceful purposes …”[17]

The Nuclear Security Summit got it the wrong way around: surely preventing nuclear terrorism comes first and peaceful nuclear development is a subordinate right − assuming it’s a right at all.

The NPT has a similar caveat: “Nothing in this Treaty shall be interpreted as affecting the inalienable right of all the Parties to the Treaty to develop research, production and use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes without discrimination …”[18]

Current priorities need to be reversed. Victor Gilinsky, a former member of the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission, states: “Security should come first − not as an afterthought. We should support as much nuclear power as is consistent with international security; not as much security as the spread of nuclear power will allow.”[19]

6. Fissile material is scarce?

Academic nincompoops Haydon Manning and Andrew O’Neil state that “the core ingredients of weapons-grade fissile material (i.e. highly enriched uranium and plutonium) are scarce internationally …”[20]

A May 2015 report written by Zia Mian and Alexander Glaser for the International Panel on Fissile Materials provides details on stockpiles of fissile materials as of the end of 2013:

  • Highly enriched uranium (HEU): 1,345 tons (936 tons military; 290 tons naval; 57 tons ‘excess’; 61 tons civilian) − enough for 89,700 weapons (assuming 15 kg HEU/weapon).
  • Plutonium: 498 tons (142 tons military; 89 tons ‘excess’; 267 tons civilian) − enough for 129,700 weapons (assuming 3 kg of weapon grade plutonium or 5 kg of reactor grade plutonium per weapon).[21]

Mian and Glaser state that the global stockpile of fissile material contains more than 200,000 weapon-equivalents (219,400 using the above figures). The civilian stockpiles contain 57,070 weapons-equivalents: 61 tons of highly enriched uranium (4,070 weapons), and 267 tons of (separated) plutonium (53,000 weapons).

The figures are greater if plutonium in spent fuel is included. A 2005 report by the Institute for Science and International Security found that nuclear stockpiles contained over 300,000 weapon-equivalents:

  • 1,830 tonnes of plutonium in 35 countries at the end of 2003, enough to make 225,000 nuclear bombs (assuming 8 kg/weapon), with civil plutonium stockpiles increasing by 70 tonnes per year. The figure for power and research reactor programs was 1,570 tonnes or 196,250 weapon-equivalents.
  • 1,900 tonnes highly enriched uranium in more than 50 countries, enough for over 75,000 weapons (assuming 25 kg/weapon).
  • more than 140 tonnes of neptunium-237 and americium in 32 countries, enough for 5,000 weapons.[22]

7. Nuclear power is not a proliferation problem?

Academic ‘Research Fellow’ Martin Boland states: “Historically, if a country wants to produce a nuclear bomb, they build reactors especially for the job of making plutonium, and ignore civilian power stations.”[23]

John Carlson, former head of the Australian Safeguards and Non-proliferation Office, states: “I have pointed out on numerous occasions that nuclear power as such is not a proliferation problem – rather the problem is with the spread of enrichment and reprocessing technologies …”[24]

Such arguments are false and disingenuous, for several reasons.

Firstly, power reactors have been used directly in weapons programs:

  • India refuses to place numerous power reactors under safeguards[25] and presumably uses (or plans to use) them for weapons production.
  • The US has long used a power reactor to produce tritium for use in nuclear weapons.[26] And proponents of a ‘Safe Modular Underground Reactor’ proposed for South Carolina were kindly offering the reactor to produce tritium for weapons.[27]
  • The 1962 test of sub-weapon-grade plutonium by the US may have used plutonium from a power reactor.
  • The US operated at least one dual-use reactor (the Hanford ‘N’ reactor) to generate power and to produce plutonium for weapons.[28]
  • Russia operated dual-use reactors to generate power and to produce plutonium for weapons.[29]
  • Magnox reactors in the UK were used to generate power and to produce plutonium for weapons.[30]
  • In France, the military and civilian uses of nuclear energy are “intimately linked”.[31] France used the Phénix fast neutron power reactor to produce plutonium for weapons[32] and possibly other power reactors for the same purpose.
  • North Korea has tested weapons using plutonium produced in its ‘Experimental Power Reactor’.
  • Pakistan may be using power reactor/s in support of its nuclear weapons program.

Secondly, separating enrichment and reprocessing on the one hand, and reactors on the other, misses the point that the purpose of enrichment is to produce fuel for reactors, and reactors are the only source of materials for reprocessing plants. Nuclear power programs provide cover and legitimacy for the acquisition of enrichment and reprocessing technology.

Similarly, one of the main justifications for the development of research and training reactors is, as the name suggests, research and training towards the development of nuclear power. Research reactors have been the plutonium source for weapons in India and Israel. Small amounts of plutonium have been produced in research reactors then separated from irradiated materials in a number of countries suspected of or known to be interested in the development of a nuclear weapons capability − including Iraq, Iran, South Korea, North Korea, Taiwan, Yugoslavia, and possibly Romania.[33] There is little pretence that Pakistan’s unsafeguarded Khushab reactors are anything other than military reactors, but the 50 MWt Khushab reactor has been described as a ‘multipurpose’ reactor.[34]

Nuclear power programs can facilitate weapons programs even if power reactors are not actually built. Iraq provides a clear illustration of this point. While Iraq’s nuclear research program provided much cover for the weapons program from the 1970s until 1991, stated interest in developing nuclear power was also significant. Iraq pursued a ‘shop till you drop’ program of acquiring dual-use technology, with much of the shopping done openly and justified by nuclear power ambitions.[35]

According to Khidhir Hamza, a senior nuclear scientist involved in Iraq’s weapons program: “Acquiring nuclear technology within the IAEA safeguards system was the first step in establishing the infrastructure necessary to develop nuclear weapons. In 1973, we decided to acquire a 40-megawatt research reactor, a fuel manufacturing plant, and nuclear fuel reprocessing facilities, all under cover of acquiring the expertise needed to eventually build and operate nuclear power plants and produce and recycle nuclear fuel. Our hidden agenda was to clandestinely develop the expertise and infrastructure needed to produce weapon-grade plutonium.”[36]

In addition to material contributions for weapons programs, civil nuclear programs can provide the necessary expertise. Ian Jackson discusses the overlap: “The physics of nuclear weapons is really a specialized sub-set of general nuclear physics, and there are many theoretical overlaps between reactor and weapon design. … Indeed, when I myself changed career from working at Britain’s civilian Atomic Energy Research Establishment (Harwell) to inspecting the military AWE Aldermaston nearly a decade later, I was surprised at the technical similarity of energy and bomb research. The career transition was relatively straightforward, perhaps signalling the intellectual difficulty of separating nuclear energy technology from that of nuclear weapons.”[37]

Civil nuclear programs can provide political impetus for weapons programs. In Australia, for example, the most influential proponent of the push for nuclear weapons in the 1960s was Philip Baxter, head of the Australian Atomic Energy Commission.[38]

Alternatively, the military can co-opt civil nuclear programs. Academic Saleem Ali discusses the case of Pakistan: “Nuclear capability seems to have a seductive appeal towards weaponization in countries that exist in conflict zones. Aspiring nuclear power states should consider this danger of the military co-opting any nuclear agenda, as happened in Pakistan despite the pioneering work of well-intentioned scientists and nuclear energy advocates like Salam.”[39]

8. In some weapons states, nuclear power is insignificant or non-existent.

John Carlson, then head of the Australian Safeguards and Non-Proliferation Office, claimed that “… in some of the countries having nuclear weapons, nuclear power remains insignificant or non-existent.”[40]

This attempt to absolve nuclear power from proliferation problems ignores the direct use of power reactors to produce material for weapons, and the use of power programs to justify development of other facilities used in weapons programs (enrichment and reprocessing plants, and research and training reactors).

Of the 10 states that have produced nuclear weapons, eight have power reactors and North Korea has an ‘Experimental Power Reactor’. The nine current weapons states account for 59% of the world’s ‘operable’ reactors as of May 2015 (257/437).[41]

9. Weapons first, power later.

Academic ‘Research Fellow’ Martin Boland claims that “no country has developed indigenous nuclear weapons after deploying civilian nuclear power stations.[42] Likewise, John Carlson says: “If we look to the history of nuclear weapons development, we can see that those countries with nuclear weapons developed them before they developed nuclear power programs.”[43]

Those claims are partly true, partly false and partly misleading. In some cases, reactors preceded weapons. India had three power reactors operating before its 1974 weapons test.[44] Pakistan had one power reactor operating before it developed weapons.[45] North Korea’s ‘Experimental Power Reactor’ preceded its weapons program − and has been used to produce plutonium for weapons.

In some other countries, weapons programs did indeed predate the development of nuclear power − but power programs have still contributed to weapons production. Examples include the operation of dual-use power/plutonium reactors in the UK, US, France and Russia (see #7 above).

10. Weapons proliferation is a problem with or without nuclear power.

Academics Brook and Bradshaw state: “Nuclear weapons proliferation is a complex political issue, with or without commercial nuclear power plants …”[46]

True, but civil nuclear programs are a significant part of the proliferation. Five of the 10 states that have built weapons did so with significant technical and material input and/or political cover from civil programs (or ostensibly civil programs) − South Africa, Pakistan, India, Israel and North Korea.

The use of civil nuclear facilities and materials for weapons research or weapons programs has been commonplace. It has occurred in the following countries: Algeria, Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Egypt, France, India, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Libya, North Korea, Norway, Pakistan, Poland, Romania, Russia, South Africa, South Korea, Sweden, Switzerland, Syria, Taiwan, UK, US, and Yugoslavia.[47]

Overall, civil nuclear facilities and materials have been used for weapons R&D in over one-third of all the countries with a nuclear industry of any significance, i.e. with power and/or research reactors. The Institute for Science and International Security collates information on nuclear programs and concludes that about 30 countries have sought nuclear weapons and 10 succeeded – a similar strike rate of one-in-three.[48]

Former IAEA Director-General Mohamed El Baradei noted: “If a country with a full nuclear fuel cycle decides to break away from its non-proliferation commitments, a nuclear weapon could be only months away. In such cases, we are only as secure as the outbreak of the next major crisis. In today’s environment, this margin of security is simply untenable.”[49]

11. Climate change is more important than nuclear weapons proliferation?

Even if we accept the proposition that climate change is a graver threat than nuclear weapons proliferation, that’s hardly an argument for ignoring weapons proliferation. In any case, both problems are profound. And the problems are linked because of the potential for nuclear warfare to cause catastrophic climate change (see #3 above).

Academic Mark Diesendorf states: “On top of the perennial challenges of global poverty and injustice, the two biggest threats facing human civilisation in the 21st century are climate change and nuclear war. It would be absurd to respond to one by increasing the risks of the other. Yet that is what nuclear power does.”[50]

Likewise, former US Vice President Al Gore said: “For eight years in the White House, every weapons-proliferation problem we dealt with was connected to a civilian reactor program. And if we ever got to the point where we wanted to use nuclear reactors to back out a lot of coal … then we’d have to put them in so many places we’d run that proliferation risk right off the reasonability scale.”[51]

A 2010 editorial in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists noted: “As we see it, however, the world is not now safe for a rapid global expansion of nuclear energy. Such an expansion carries with it a high risk of misusing uranium enrichment plants and separated plutonium to create bombs. The use of nuclear devices is still a very dangerous possibility in a world where Russian and U.S. ballistic missiles are on hair trigger and long-standing conflicts between countries and among peoples too often escalate into military actions. As two of our board members have pointed out, ‘Nuclear war is a terrible trade for slowing the pace of climate change.'”[52]

12. Nuclear capable countries account for a large majority of greenhouse emissions.

Academics Brook and Bradshaw state that countries with nuclear power reactors account 80% of global greenhouse gas emissions, and the figure rises to over 90% including those nations that are actively planning nuclear deployment or already have research reactors. They conclude: “As a consequence, displacement of fossil fuels by an expanding nuclear-energy sector would not lead to a large increase in the number of countries with access to nuclear resources and expertise.”[53]

Likewise, Geoff Russell argues: “Over 90 percent of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions come from countries which already have nuclear reactors. So these are the countries where the most reactors are needed. How is having more reactors, particularly electricity reactors, going to make any of these countries more likely to build nuclear weapons? It isn’t.”[54]

The premise is correct − countries operating reactors account for a large majority of greenhouse emissions. But even by the most expansive estimate − Brook’s[55] − less than one-third of all countries have some sort of weapons capability (they possess weapons, are allied to a weapons state, or they operate power and/or research reactors). So Brook and Bradshaw’s conclusion − that nuclear power expansion “would not lead to a large increase in the number of countries with access to nuclear resources and expertise” − is nonsense.

There is another thread to the Brook/Bradshaw argument. It is true that the expansion of nuclear power in countries which already operate reactors is of little of no proliferation significance. It is of still less significance in countries with both nuclear power and weapons. Incremental growth of nuclear power in the US, for example, is of no proliferation significance. That said, US civil nuclear policies can (and do) have profound proliferation significance. The US-led push to allow nuclear trade with India has dealt a cruel blow to the global non-proliferation and disarmament architecture and to the NPT in particular. And the US government’s willingness to conclude bilateral nuclear trade agreements without prohibitions on the development of enrichment and reprocessing is problematic (and conversely, the agreement with the United Arab Emirates, which does prohibit enrichment and reprocessing in the UAE, is helpful).

13. The weapons genie is out of the bottle.

Some nuclear advocates claim that the weapons ‘genie is out of the bottle’ and that we therefore need not concern ourselves about the proliferation risks associated with an expansion of nuclear power.[56]

However, of the world’s 194 countries, 10 have produced weapons − just under 5%.

About 45 countries (about one-quarter of all nations) have the capacity to produce significant quantities of fissile material for nuclear weapons − they have power reactors, medium- to large-sized research reactors, enrichment and/or reprocessing technology.

The weapons genie is only part way out of the bottle. And a large majority of the countries that have the capacity to produce significant quantities of fissile material have that capacity from their civil programs −  so the ‘genie’ argument is circular and disingenuous.

14. Reactor grade plutonium can’t be used for weapons?

Some nuclear advocates claim that the ‘reactor grade’ plutonium routinely produced in power reactors cannot be used in weapons. For example Barry Brook claims that “plutonium that comes out of reactors … is contaminated with different isotopes of plutonium which means that even if you had all of the facilities available to you that the Manhattan bomb designers had, you still wouldn’t be able to use it to create a nuclear bomb.”[57]

In fact, the ‘reactor grade’ plutonium produced during routine operation of a power reactor is not ideal for weapons, but can be used nonetheless.[58]

The US government has acknowledged that a successful test using reactor grade plutonium was carried out at the Nevada Test Site in 1962. The exact isotopic composition of the plutonium used in the 1962 test remains classified. It has been suggested that because of changing classification systems, the plutonium may have been fuel grade plutonium using current classifications; in any case it was certainly sub-weapon grade.

India Today reported that one or more of the 1998 tests in India used reactor grade plutonium[59] and the UK and North Korea may have tested bombs using reactor grade or fuel grade plutonium.[60]

The problem is exacerbated by the separation and stockpiling of plutonium produced in power reactors, such that it can be used directly in weapons. Stockpiles of separated civil plutonium amounted to 267 tons as of the end of 2013.[61]

Moreover it is possible to operate power reactors on a short cycle to produce weapon grade plutonium. A typical reactor (1,000 MWe) could produce around 200 kg of weapon grade plutonium annually − enough for 50 weapons.[62]

15. Specious parallels with other dual-use materials.

Nuclear proponents sometimes downplay the significance of the dual-use capabilities of nuclear facilities and materials by noting the dual-use capabilities of many non-nuclear materials. For example, steel has a myriad of military and civil uses, and planes can be used as missiles.

Such arguments overlook the problem that nuclear weapons are unique in their destructive potential.

Such arguments ignore the fact that there are typically a myriad of pathways to the production of conventional, chemical and biological weapons, whereas for nuclear weapons the are just a couple of fundamental choices − pursuit of highly-enriched uranium and/or plutonium, and the choice between a dedicated (sometimes secret) weapons program or the pursuit of weapons under cover of a peaceful program.

There is also a ‘straw man’ character to the arguments. Banning steel because of its military uses would be impossible, it would result in nothing more than the substitution of other metals (or materials) to replace steel, and overall it would do far more harm than good. Banning planes because of their potential use as missiles would be just as silly.

Another ‘straw man’ element to the argument is the assumption that nuclear power must either be supported or banned. That assumption ignores the potential to reduce proliferation risks in a myriad of ways (see #16 below).

16. Determined proliferators can’t be stopped … so there’s no point trying.

Nuclear weapons proliferation can be stopped or curbed by the following means (among others):

  • Bilateral (e.g. Argentina-Brazil), multilateral (e.g. weapons free zones) and international agreements (e.g. the NPT).
  • The detection of a weapons program (by the IAEA or others) followed by action to stop the program.
  • Preventing the spread of ‘sensitive nuclear technologies’ (enrichment and reprocessing) and tightening control of existing enrichment and reprocessing plants.
  • Replacing highly enriched uranium fuel or targets with low-enriched uranium in research reactors.
  • Technology choices (e.g. preventing or prohibiting the development of laser enrichment technology).
  • Security assurances.
  • Unilateral pressure (e.g. the US has pressured a number of countries to stop their pursuit of a weapons capability, e.g. Taiwan and South Korea).

Weapons proliferation can also be reversed:

  • South Africa dismantled its nuclear weapons.
  • Three ex-Soviet states gave up their weapons in the aftermath of the collapse of the Soviet Union − Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine.
  • Many countries have gone some way down the path towards developing a nuclear weapons capability but have abandoned those efforts.[63]

17. Strict safeguards prevent the misuse of the peaceful atom?

Ian Hore-Lacy from the World Nuclear Association states: “The international safeguards regime is perhaps the main success story of UN Agencies …”[64]

But there are countless problems with the safeguards system.[65] In articles and speeches during his tenure as IAEA Director General from 1997− 2009, Dr. Mohamed El Baradei said that the Agency’s basic rights of inspection are “fairly limited”, that the safeguards system suffers from “vulnerabilities” and “clearly needs reinforcement”, 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”.

Nuclear advocates sometimes imagine that a robust safeguards system exists and conflate their imagination with reality. Brook and Bradshaw claim that nuclear weapons proliferation “is under strong international oversight”.[66] Strangely, they cite a book by Tom Blees in support of that statement.[67] But Blees doesn’t argue that the nuclear industry is subject to strong international oversight − he argues that “fissile material should all be subject to rigorous international oversight” (emphasis added).[68] He argues for the establishment of an international strike force on full standby to attend promptly to attempts to misuse or divert nuclear materials, and he argues for radical social engineering to accommodate nuclear power including international control and a ban on private sector involvement in the nuclear fuel cycle.[69]

Imagining a rigorous safeguards system and radical social engineering is one thing; bringing it into existence is quite another.

Problems with safeguards include:

  • Chronic under-resourcing. El Baradei told the IAEA Board of Governors in 2009: “I would be misleading world public opinion to create an impression that we are doing what we are supposed to do, when we know that we don’t have the money to do it.”[70]
  • Issues relating to national sovereignty and commercial confidentiality adversely impact on safeguards.
  • the inevitability of accounting discrepancies.
  • Incorrect/outdated assumptions about the amount of fissile material required to build a weapon.
  • The fact that, the IAEA has no mandate to prevent the misuse of civil nuclear facilities and materials − at best it can detect misuse/diversion and handball the problem to the UN Security Council. As the IAEA states: “It is clear that no international safeguards system can physically prevent diversion or the setting up of an undeclared or clandestine nuclear programme.”[71]
  • The resolution of suspected misuse/diversion is secretive and protracted, and double-standards are evident in responses to suspected breaches;
  • Countries that have breached their safeguards obligations can simply withdraw from the NPT and pursue a weapons program, as North Korea has done;
  • Safeguards are shrouded in secrecy − for example the IAEA used to publish aggregate data on the number of inspections in India, Israel and Pakistan, but even that nearly worthless information is no longer publicly available.

A very different take on the argument comes from Manning and O’Neil.[72] They argue that the NPT is in “terminal decline” and isn’t worth preserving. That argument is used to justify further weakening the NPT by opening up nuclear trade with India, a weapons state outside the NPT.

So the safeguards / non-proliferation regime is robust and we should therefore support nuclear power; or the regime is bust and we should therefore support nuclear power. Take your pick.

18. New reactors types are proliferation-proof?

Advocates of every conceivable type of reactor claim that their preferred reactor type is proliferation-proof or proliferation-resistant.

For example, a thorium enthusiast claims that thorium is “thoroughly useless for making nuclear weapons.”[73] But the proliferation risks associated with thorium fuel cycles can be as bad as − or worse than − the risks associated with conventional uranium reactor technology.[74]

An enthusiast of integral fast reactors (IFR) claims they “cannot be used to generate weapons-grade material.”[75] But IFRs can be used to produce plutonium for weapons.[76] Dr George Stanford, who worked on an IFR R&D program in the US, notes that proliferators “could do [with IFRs] what they could do with any other reactor − operate it on a special cycle to produce good quality weapons material.”[77]

Nuclear advocates frequently make statements which are true, but misleading. For example, thorium itself is not a proliferation risk, but the uranium-233 that is produced when thorium is irradiated can be (and has been) used in weapons. And strictly speaking, it is true that IFRs “cannot be used to generate weapons-grade material” − because IFRs don’t exist. And neither new or old reactor types can produce weapon grade plutonium or weapons-useable plutonium in the sense that plutonium cannot be used in weapons until it is separated from materials irradiated in a reactor, by reprocessing.

Fusion illustrates how difficult it is to disentangle the peaceful atom from its siamese twin, the military atom. Fusion has yet to generate a single Watt of useful electricity but it has already contributed to proliferation problems. According to Khidhir Hamza, a senior nuclear scientist involved in Iraq’s weapons program in the 1980s: “Iraq took full advantage of the IAEA’s recommendation in the mid 1980s to start a plasma physics program for “peaceful” fusion research. We thought that buying a plasma focus device … would provide an excellent cover for buying and learning about fast electronics technology, which could be used to trigger atomic bombs.”[78]

All existing and proposed reactor types and nuclear fuel cycles pose proliferation risks. The UK Royal Society notes: “There is no proliferation proof nuclear fuel cycle. The dual use risk of nuclear materials and technology and in civil and military applications cannot be eliminated.”[79]

Likewise, John Carlson, former Director-General of the Australian Safeguards and Non-Proliferation Office, notes that “no presently known nuclear fuel cycle is completely proliferation proof”.[80]

Proponents of new reactor types claim that proliferation-resistance is an important driver of technological innovation. There is no evidence to support the claim. Moreover, precious few nuclear industry insiders or nuclear advocates show the slightest concern about proliferation problems such as growing stockpiles of separated civil plutonium, or the inadequate safeguards system, or the troubling implications of opening up civil nuclear trade with non-NPT states such as India.

Climate scientist James Hansen states: “Nuclear reactors can also be made more resistant to weapons proliferation than today’s reactors.”[81] But are new reactors being made more resistant to weapons proliferation than today’s reactors? In a word: No.

Hansen claims that “modern nuclear technology can reduce proliferation risks and solve the waste disposal problem by burning current waste and using fuel more efficiently.”[82] That’s absolutely true. And it’s equally true that modern (Generation IV) technology could worsen proliferation problems. For example, India plans to produce weapons-grade plutonium in fast breeder reactors for use as driver fuel in thorium reactors.[83] Compared to conventional uranium reactors, India’s plan is far worse on both proliferation and security grounds.

In a 2013 article, Pushker Kharecha and James Hansen wave away the proliferation problem with the assertion that they have “discussed it in some detail elsewhere”.[84] But the paper they cite[85] barely touches upon the proliferation problem and what it does say is mostly rubbish:

  • It falsely claim that thorium-based fuel cycles are “inherently proliferation-resistant”.
  • It claims that integral fast reactors “could be inherently free from the risk of proliferation”. At best, integral fast reactors could reduce proliferation risks; they could never be “inherently free” from proliferation risks.
  • And it states that if “designed properly”, breeder reactors would generate “nothing suitable for weapons”. India’s Prototype Fast Breeder Reactor will be the next fast neutron reactor to begin operation (scheduled for September 2015). It will be ideal for producing weapon grade plutonium for India’s weapons program, and it will likely be used for that purpose since India is refusing to place it under safeguards.[86]

Hansen and his colleagues argue that “modern nuclear technology can reduce proliferation risks”.[87] India’s Prototype Fast Breeder Reactor is modern − but it will exacerbate, not reduce, proliferation risks.

References


[1] B. Brook, and C. Bradshaw, 2014, ‘Key role for nuclear energy in global biodiversity conservation’, Conservation Biology, http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/cobi.12433

[2] Andrew O’Neil, 18 Sep 2010, ‘Nuclear power plants are not bomb factories’, The Australian, www.theaustralian.com.au/news/opinion/nuclear-power-plants-are-not-bomb-factories/story-e6frg6zo-1225925594625

[3] International Panel on Fissile Materials, 2010, ‘Fast Breeder Reactor Programs: History and Status’, www.ipfmlibrary.org/rr08.pdf

[4] Ian Hore-Lacy, 2000, “The Future of Nuclear Energy”, paper presented at the Royal College of Physicians Conference, Adelaide, 4 May 2000, available from jim.green@foe.org.au

[5] ‘Nuclear Proliferation’, http://nuclearradiophobia.blogspot.com.au/p/nuclear-proliferation.html

[6] Andrew O’Neil, 18 Sep 2010, ‘Nuclear power plants are not bomb factories’, The Australian, www.theaustralian.com.au/news/opinion/nuclear-power-plants-are-not-bomb-factories/story-e6frg6zo-1225925594625

[7] www.nucleardarkness.org/index2.php

[8] Alan Robock, 14 Aug 2008, ‘We should really worry about nuclear winter’, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, http://thebulletin.org/has-time-come-geoengineering/we-should-really-worry-about-nuclear-winter

See also: Alan Robock, et al., 2007, ‘Climatic consequences of regional nuclear conflicts’, Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics, 7, pp.2003–2012, www.atmos-chem-phys.net/7/2003/2007/acp-7-2003-2007.pdf

[9] John Mecklin, 24 March 2015, ‘Disarm and Modernize’, https://foreignpolicy.com/2015/03/24/disarm-and-modernize-nuclear-weapons-warheads/

[10] UN High-Level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change, 30 Nov 2004, ‘A more secure world: Our shared responsibility. Report to the Secretary-General’, p.39, www.un.org/en/peacebuilding/pdf/historical/hlp_more_secure_world.pdf

[11] Geoff Russell, 2014, ‘GreenJacked! The misdirection of environmental action on climate change’, chapter 14, ISBN: 9-780980-656114

[12] Robert MacNamara, Oct 2009, ‘Apocalypse Soon’, http://foreignpolicy.com/2009/10/21/apocalypse-soon/

[13] Quoted in Sue Wareham, 6 Aug 2009, ‘The terror of Hiroshima’, www.onlineopinion.com.au/view.asp?article=9269&page=0

[14] US National Intelligence Council, 2008, “Global Trends 2025 – a Transformed World”, http://web.archive.org/web/20081126005323/http://www.dni.gov/nic/PDF_2025/2025_Global_Trends_Final_Report.pdf

[15] 1 Aug 2004, New Internationalist, http://newint.org/columns/speechmarks/2004/08/01/jacques-le-blanc/

[16] 26 Mar 2012, ‘Remarks by President Obama at Hankuk University’, www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2012/03/26/remarks-president-obama-hankuk-university

[17] 13 April 2010, ‘Communiqué of the Washington Nuclear Security Summit’, www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/communiqu-washington-nuclear-security-summit

[18] www.un.org/disarmament/WMD/Nuclear/NPTtext.shtml

[19] Victor Gilinsky, ‘A call to resist the nuclear revival’, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 27 Jan 2009, http://thebulletin.org/call-resist-nuclear-revival-0

[20] Haydon Manning and Andrew O’Neil, 2007, ‘Australia’s Nuclear Horizon: Moving Beyond the Drumbeat of Risk Inflation’, Australian Journal of Political Science, 42:4, 563-578, http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/10361140701595767 or www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/10361140701595767

[21] Zia Mian and Alexander Glaser, 2015, ‘Global Fissile Material Report 2015: Nuclear Weapon and Fissile Material Stockpiles and Production’, International Panel on Fissile Materials, http://fissilematerials.org/library/ipfm15.pdf

[22] Institute for Science and International Security, 1 Jan 2005, ‘Global Stocks of Nuclear Explosive Material – End 2003 (Updated 2005)’, Chapters I and II, http://isis-online.org/isis-reports/detail/global-stocks-of-nuclear-explosive-materials/17

Rob Edwards, 7 Sep 2005, ‘Nuclear stockpiles could create 300,000 bombs’, New Scientist, www.robedwards.info/2005/09/nuclear_stockpi.html

[23] Martin Boland, 30 Dec 2013, ‘Debunking myths on nuclear power (it’s not for making bombs)’, http://theconversation.com/debunking-myths-on-nuclear-power-its-not-for-making-bombs-20013

[24] John Carlson, 27 Nov 2006, supplementary submission 30.2 to the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties, Inquiry into Uranium Sales To China, www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/House_of_Representatives_Committees?url=jsct/8august2006/subs2/sub30_2.pdf

[25] John Carlson, 15 April 2015, submission to Joint Standing Committee on Treaties, Parliament of Australia, www.aph.gov.au/DocumentStore.ashx?id=8c00f0a2-c00e-4885-99cb-a2894564d3f6&subId=301365

[26] US Government Accountability Office, Oct 2010, ‘National Nuclear Security Administration Needs to Ensure Continued Availability of Tritium for the Weapons Stockpile’, www.gao.gov/products/GAO-11-100

[27] Thomas Clements, 2012, ‘Documents Reveal Time-line and Plans for “Small Modular Reactors” (SMRs) at the Savannah River Site (SRS) Unrealistic and Promise no Funding’, http://aikenleader.villagesoup.com/p/documents-reveal-time-line-and-plans-for-small-modular-reactors-smrs-at-the-savannah-river-site-sr/840884

[28] Patrick Marshall, 4 Feb 2014, ‘Hanford’s N Reactor’, HistoryLink.org Essay 10702, www.historylink.org/index.cfm?DisplayPage=output.cfm&file_id=10702

[29] Mark A. Prelas and Michael Peck, 12 Jan 2005, ‘Nonproliferation Issues For Weapons of Mass Destruction’, CRC Press, pp.88-89,

https://books.google.com.au/books?id=QmmZoVTyAKwC

https://books.google.com.au/books?id=QmmZoVTyAKwC&pg=PA88&lpg=PA89

[30] ‘Magnox’, accessed 24 May 2015, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Magnox#Reactors_built

[31] Patrice Bouveret, Bruno Barrillot, and Dominique Lalanne, Jan/Feb 2013, ‘Nuclear chromosomes: The national security implications of a French nuclear exit’, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 69: 11-17, http://bos.sagepub.com/content/69/1/11.full

[32] Mycle Schneider, 2009, ‘Fast Breeder Reactors in France’, Science and Global Security, 17:36–53, www.princeton.edu/sgs/publications/sgs/archive/17-1-Schneider-FBR-France.pdf

[33] Friends of the Earth, Australia, ‘Research reactors and weapons proliferation’, https://nuclear.foe.org.au/research-reactors-nuclear-weapons/

[34] World Nuclear Association, ‘Nuclear Power in Pakistan’, Updated April 2015, www.world-nuclear.org/info/Country-Profiles/Countries-O-S/Pakistan/

[35] David Albright and Mark Hibbs, April 1992, ‘Iraq’s shop-yill-you-drop nuclear program’, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Vol. 48, No. 3, www.iraqwatch.org/perspectives/bas-iraqshop-nuke-4-92.htm

[36] Khidhir Hamza, Sep/Oct 1998, ‘Inside Saddam’s Secret Nuclear Program’, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Vol. 54, No. 5, www.iraqwatch.org/perspectives/bas-hamza-iraqnuke-10-98.htm

[37] Ian Jackson, 2009, ‘Nuclear energy and proliferation risks: myths and realities in the Persian Gulf’, International Affairs, 85:6, pp.1157–1172, www.chathamhouse.org/publications/ia/archive/view/163055 or http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1468-2346.2009.00855.x/full

[38] Friends of the Earth, Australia, ‘The push for nuclear weapons in Australia 1950s-1970s’, https://nuclear.foe.org.au/the-push-for-nuclear-weapons-in-australia-1950s-1970s-2/

[39] Saleem Ali, 18 May 2015, ‘Power and peace: how nations can go nuclear without weapons’, https://theconversation.com/power-and-peace-how-nations-can-go-nuclear-without-weapons-41462

[40] Carlson, John, 2000, “Nuclear Energy and Non-proliferation – Issues and Challenges: An Australian Perspective”, Paper prepared for JAIF Symposium on Peaceful Uses of Nuclear Energy and Non-Proliferation, Tokyo, 9-10 March 2000.

[41] www.world-nuclear.org/info/Facts-and-Figures/World-Nuclear-Power-Reactors-and-Uranium-Requirements/

[42] Martin Boland, 30 Dec 2013, ‘Debunking myths on nuclear power (it’s not for making bombs)’, http://theconversation.com/debunking-myths-on-nuclear-power-its-not-for-making-bombs-20013

[43] John Carlson, 2000, “Nuclear Energy and Non-proliferation – Issues and Challenges: An Australian Perspective”, Paper prepared for JAIF Symposium on Peaceful Uses of Nuclear Energy and Non-Proliferation, Tokyo, 9-10 March 2000.

[44] http://world-nuclear.org/nucleardatabase/advanced.aspx

[45] http://world-nuclear.org/nucleardatabase/advanced.aspx

[46] B. Brook, and C. Bradshaw, 2014, ‘Key role for nuclear energy in global biodiversity conservation’, Conservation Biology, http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/cobi.12433

[47] Friends of the Earth, Australia, ‘Case Studies: Civil Nuclear Programs and Weapons Proliferation’, https://nuclear.foe.org.au/wp-content/uploads/CivMil-CaseStudies2010.pdf

[48] Institute for Science and International Security, ‘Nuclear Weapons Programs Worldwide: An Historical Overview’, accessed 26 May 2015, http://isis-online.org/nuclear-weapons-programs/

[49] Mohamed El Baradei, 6 Dec 2005, ‘Reflections on Nuclear Challenges Today’, www.iaea.org/newscenter/statements/reflections-nuclear-challenges-today

[50] Mark Diesendorf, 14 Oct 2009, ‘Need energy? Forget nuclear and go natural’, www.theage.com.au/opinion/society-and-culture/need-energy-forget-nuclear-and-go-natural-20091014-gvzo.html)

[51] Quoted in David Roberts, 9 May 2006, ‘An interview with accidental movie star Al Gore’, http://grist.org/article/roberts2/

[52] Editorial − Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 14 Jan 2010, ‘It is 6 minutes to midnight’, http://thebulletin.org/press-release/it-6-minutes-midnight

[53] B. Brook, and C. Bradshaw, 2014, ‘Key role for nuclear energy in global biodiversity conservation’, Conservation Biology, http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/cobi.12433

[54] Geoff Russell, 2014, ‘GreenJacked! The misdirection of environmental action on climate change’, chapter 14, ISBN: 9-780980-656114

[55] Barry Brook, 6 Nov 2009, ‘Carbon emissions and nuclear capable countries’, http://bravenewclimate.com/2009/11/06/carbon-emissions-nuclear-capable-countries/

[56] Barry Brook, 6 Nov 2009, ‘Carbon emissions and nuclear capable countries’, http://bravenewclimate.com/2009/11/06/carbon-emissions-nuclear-capable-countries/

[57] ABC, 17 May 2010, ‘Does Being Green mean Going Nuclear?’, www.abc.net.au/rn/counterpoint/stories/2010/2901393.htm

[58] ‘Can ‘reactor grade’ plutonium be used in nuclear weapons?’, 6 June 2014, Nuclear Monitor #787, www.wiseinternational.org/node/4247

[59] Anon., October 10, 1998, “The H-Bomb”, India Today.

[60] Jackson, Ian, 2009, ‘Nuclear energy and proliferation risks: myths and realities in the Persian Gulf’, International Affairs 85:6, pp.1157–1172, www.chathamhouse.org/publications/ia/archive/view/163055 or http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1468-2346.2009.00855.x/full

[61] Zia Mian and Alexander Glaser, 2015, ‘Global Fissile Material Report 2015: Nuclear Weapon and Fissile Material Stockpiles and Production’, International Panel on Fissile Materials, http://fissilematerials.org/library/ipfm15.pdf

[62] Victor Gilinsky with Marvin Miller and Harmon Hubbard, 22 Oct 2004, ‘A Fresh Examination of the Proliferation Dangers of Light Water Reactors’, www.npolicy.org/article.php?aid=172

See also Zia Mian and M. V. Ramana, Jan/Feb 2006, ‘Wrong Ends, Means, and Needs: Behind the U.S. Nuclear Deal With India’, Arms Control Today, www.armscontrol.org/act/2006_01-02/JANFEB-IndiaFeature

[63] Friends of the Earth, Australia, ‘Case Studies: Civil Nuclear Programs and Weapons Proliferation’, https://nuclear.foe.org.au/wp-content/uploads/CivMil-CaseStudies2010.pdf

[64] Ian Hore-Lacy, 2000, “The Future of Nuclear Energy”, paper presented at the Royal College of Physicians Conference, Adelaide, 4 May 2000, available from jim.green@foe.org.au

[65] For information on safeguards see the papers listed at www.nuclear.foe.org.au/safeguards

[66] B. Brook, and C. Bradshaw, 2014, ‘Key role for nuclear energy in global biodiversity conservation’, Conservation Biology, http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/cobi.12433

[67] Tom Blees, ‘Prescription for the Planet’, http://prescriptionfortheplanet.com/

[68] http://bravenewclimate.com/2009/02/21/response-to-an-integral-fast-reactor-ifr-critique/

[69] Tom Blees, ‘Prescription for the Planet’, http://prescriptionfortheplanet.com/

[70] Mohamed El Baradei, 16 June 2009, ‘Director General’s Intervention on Budget at IAEA Board of Governors’, www.iaea.org/newscenter/statements/director-generals-intervention-budget-iaea-board-governors

[71] IAEA, 1993, Against the Spread of Nuclear Weapons: IAEA Safeguards in the 1990s.

[72] Haydon Manning and Andrew O’Neil, 26 May 2006, ‘Smart moves’, www.onlineopinion.com.au/view.asp?article=4504

[73] Tim Dean, 16 March 2011, ‘The greener nuclear alternative’, www.abc.net.au/unleashed/45178.html

[74] ‘Thor-bores and uro-sceptics: thorium’s friendly fire’, Nuclear Monitor #801, 9 April 2015, www.wiseinternational.org/nuclear-monitor/801/thor-bores-and-uro-sceptics-thoriums-friendly-fire

[75] Barry Brook, 9 June 2009, ‘An inconvenient solution’, The Australian, http://bravenewclimate.com/2009/06/11/an-inconvenient-solution/

[76] Friends of the Earth, Australia, ‘Nuclear Weapons and ‘Generation 4′ Reactors’, https://nuclear.foe.org.au/nuclear-weapons-and-generation-4-reactors/

[77] George Stanford, 18 Sep 2010, ‘IFR FaD 7 – Q&A on Integral Fast Reactors’, http://bravenewclimate.com/2010/09/18/ifr-fad-7/

[78] Khidhir Hamza, Sep/Oct 1998, ‘Inside Saddam’s Secret Nuclear Program’, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Vol. 54, No. 5, www.iraqwatch.org/perspectives/bas-hamza-iraqnuke-10-98.htm

[79] UK Royal Society, 13 Oct 2011, ‘Fuel cycle stewardship in a nuclear renaissance’, http://royalsociety.org/policy/projects/nuclear-non-proliferation/report

[81] James Hansen, 7 June 2014, ‘Scientists can help in planet’s carbon cut’, http://usa.chinadaily.com.cn/opinion/2014-06/07/content_17570035.htm

[82] 3 Nov 2013, ‘Top climate change scientists’ letter to policy influencers’, http://edition.cnn.com/2013/11/03/world/nuclear-energy-climate-change-scientists-letter/index.html

[83] John Carlson, 2014, submission to Joint Standing Committee on Treaties, Parliament of Australia, www.aph.gov.au/DocumentStore.ashx?id=79a1a29e-5691-4299-8923-06e633780d4b&subId=301365

[84] Pushker Kharecha and James Hansen, March 2013, ‘Prevented Mortality and Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Historical and Projected Nuclear Power’, Environment, Science and Technology, http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/es3051197

[85] P. Kharecha et al., 2010, ‘Options for near-term phaseout of CO2 emissions from coal use in the United States’, Environmental Science & Technology, 44, 4050-4062, http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/es903884a

[86] John Carlson, 2015, first supplementary submission to Joint Standing Committee on Treaties, Parliament of Australia, www.aph.gov.au/DocumentStore.ashx?id=cd70cb45-f71e-4d95-a2f5-dab0f986c0a3&subId=301365

[87] K. Caldeira, K. Emanuel, J. Hansen, and T. Wigley, 3 Nov 2013, ‘Top climate change scientists’ letter to policy influencers’, http://edition.cnn.com/2013/11/03/world/nuclear-energy-climate-change-scientists-letter/index.html

 

Bike rides against uranium mining

Peter Hayes

From its inception [in the 1970s], Friends of the Earth activists were strongly bicycle-oriented. Most rode bicycles to and from the office, wherever they were living. FoE provided a lot of support for bicycle actions for important initiatives such as Alan Parker’s Bicycle Institute of Victoria. This included periodic bicycle demonstrations in the Melbourne CBD. I am not sure how many drivers supported these actions − I am sure a lot were upset to be held up by the bicycle rabble. But we were tired of being killed and maimed on the roads and felt it was time for riders to push back against drivers.

I can’t remember who dreamed up the May 1975 bike ride against uranium mining and export. I am pretty sure it was Neil Barrett who came up with the idea. At any rate, it was a perfect concept for FoE. It was staged just after the Radical Ecology Conference held at Melbourne University over the Easter break.

Back at FoE, we had been organizing the first bike ride against uranium mining for many months. Organizing scores of riders was a huge logistical task given that we had almost no administrative infrastructure, but somehow, we managed. I joined the ride as it passed up Royal Parade heading north for the Hume Highway. Although I was fit, I began to really feel the pedals pushing back after about four or five hours. By the end of the second day, I was totally buggered.

But with each day that passed, we got stronger and used to the long riding hours. We’d pull into a small town and arrive at a local hall or church that had been sequestered somehow for the riders to doss down. A truck carried our gear and we’d lay down our sleeping bags, do bike repairs, and after a meal produced somehow by the support team, we’d “retire” to the local pub, then catch some sleep.

The Melbourne riders converged with the Adelaide ride in Yass. The next day was a short ride into Canberra. We struck our tents on the lawn opposite old Parliament House and began to seek meeting with the pollies. We also sent small groups of bicycles around Canberra to protest at various sites. I remember a bunch of us crowding into a lift with our bikes at a minerals and energy departmental office and the reaction of the office workers as we zipped around their building. It ranged from perplexed to bemused but not hostile. I am pretty sure we also rode en masse around Parliament House seeking to levitate it, but it stayed put.

Inside Parliament House, FoE Canberra activists were already walking the corridors. We spent a lot of time in the office of [environment minister] Moss Cass − I think some of us may have even slept in the outer office. In later years, the security services got wise, but that first year, we were fresh and new, and pretty much had the run of the town.

I don’t remember how we all got back to Melbourne with our bikes. The scariest moment on the ride for me was crossing a bridge where the Hume became two lanes only and some red-necks decided to drive their Holden ute at high speed down our side (their wrong side) of the highway forcing people up against the bridge wall. No-one was hurt badly on the ride, although we did have at least one prang when a rider came off and broke his collar bone.

This article is extracted from a history of the early years of FoE Australia: Peter Hayes, 2015, ‘Founding Friends of the Earth Australia: the Early Years’, http://friendsearthaustraliahistory.blogspot.com.au

Videos about the bike rides against uranium are posted at: www.australianmap.net/french-island/

From Chain Reaction #123, April 2015, national magazine of Friends of the Earth, Australia, www.foe.org.au/chain-reaction/

 

Opposing uranium mining in Brisbane, 1976–78

Jessica Harrison

The mid-1970s was an inspiring time to be active against nuclear madness. As well as the formation of grassroots organisations calling for a moratorium on uranium mining, there were protests, strikes and direct action by unionists. In 1976 in Townsville, a railway worker was sacked after he refused to couple carriages heading to the Mary Kathleen uranium mine. After walk-offs across northern Queensland, he was reinstated. A 24-hour strike by Melbourne wharfies closed the port after police on horses attacked a protest against a ship carrying uranium exports.

In 1976, Friends of the Earth (FoE) Brisbane moved office to the Learning Exchange in Boundary St, West End. I lived and worked there, so I jumped head first into the anti-uranium campaign. Mary Kathleen uranium mine near Mt Isa had re-opened in 1974, and uranium was transported in shipping containers down the east coast railway line. At the Learning Exchange, we started getting calls from railway workers, warning us that uranium was heading south to the Brisbane wharves. A small radioactive symbol was the only marking on the shipping containers carrying uranium.

Our first rally was on the railway line where we blocked the uranium containers from entering the wharf gate. We were roughly dragged off by the cops and the train went in.

Next time, we needed better tactics to delay the export. Peter T and I rode his motorbike to the outer suburbs of Brisbane and hid beside the railway line. After we spotted the containers coming though, we headed to a shunting yard to find out about container movements. It was 3am when we walked into the canteen − we were welcomed with “you must be from Friends of the Earth!” Then the railway workers told us the most likely timing and route for the containers.

Meanwhile, the wharfies let us know that once we were on the wharves, all work would stop for health and safety reasons. But how to get onto the wharves at short notice? I had noticed a stormwater drain near the fence. One night, with a storm brewing, two of us crawled along the drain. It was so narrow that I could only move one knee at a time. As stormwater dribbled along the bottom of the drain, we hoped it would not suddenly increase due to the storm. Then disappointment − the wharf end of the drain was cemented shut!

Ah well, we had other ideas. We camped along the fence, prepared with padlocks to lock the gates against the cops driving in, while we pre-planned our access – over, under, or through holes in the wharf fence. Some people hid in the wharfies’ toilets. The new plan worked well – plenty of people ran in and hid on the wharves, amongst the containers. I climbed up between two container stacks and spent a boring few hours waiting to be found. Only when I joined another activist for a chat did we both get arrested and shoved into a cop van. We rocked the van enthusiastically until the cops threatened us.

About 12 people were arrested and fined for this action – the cops found an obscure charge for me – “being found unlawfully in an enclosed space”.

The Special Branch cops were so arrogant that they swapped around their court appearances at their whim. Their favourite technique for unnerving us was to greet us by name when we arrived at demos, then follow us home or try to provoke another excuse for arrest. Returning from a postering and graffiti run, we found the cops parked diagonally in the street, checking the front door of the Learning Exchange without getting out of their car. The anti-uranium action at the wharf was later dramatised by the cops – we were said to have swum the river to launch our “assault”!

Bjelke-Peterson and his National Party cronies would not allow any delays of uranium export, so in September 1977 we were told: “don’t bother applying for permits to march – you won’t get them”. The subsequent civil liberties campaign took over our lives and led to many more arrests − more than 1800 during 17 Brisbane marches. On 22 October 1977, I was one of 418 “right-to-march” demonstrators arrested – but that’s another story.

The Ranger uranium mine in the Northern Territory also concerned us, in solidarity with the Aboriginal communities threatened with the mine on their ancestral land. The same year, around Christmas time, we occupied the Rio Tinto office and presented them with an Australian-shaped ‘yellowcake’ – the faces of the office workers blanched as we arrived, singing one of our many anti-uranium songs (to the tune of ‘Hernando’s Hideway’)

The people up in Arnhem Land

Are threatened to lose all their land

The miners they are right on hand – be damned, it’s not their &*^%$ land – olé

Dollars, dollars, dollars and cents – we’ll sell uranium to France and Uncle Sam

Dollars, dollars, dollars and cents – just one question and the answer isn’t clear – how to store the waste for half a million years.

After moving to the UK in the 1980s, Peter and I climbed the ‘Old Man of Coniston’, a Cumbrian mountain above the Windscale/Sellafield nuclear plant. It was a sobering thought that Australian uranium could be powering this risky nuclear power plant, the scene of many radioactive pollution ‘incidents’.

The direct action tactics we used in Brisbane in the 1970s are just as useful today – after all, we all live in Blocadia.

From Chain Reaction #123, April 2015, national magazine of Friends of the Earth, Australia, www.foe.org.au/chain-reaction

FoE exposes uranium cartel in 1976

Wieslaw Lichacz

A huge jump in the uranium price occurred in the mid-1970s, thanks to a cartel known as the Uranium Club. The cartel was exposed by Friends of the Earth (FoE). It was disbanded and out of court settlements resulted in some club members paying about $800 million in penalties.

FoE had grappled with the Ranger Uranium Environmental Inquiry since September 1975 in a David and Goliath battle against highly-paid lawyers, company officials, senior government department representatives and corporate public relations consultants.

At the time, Chain Reaction carried generic appeals from FoE’s ‘Leak Bureau’ asking corporate or governmental whistle-blowers to provide information. In the dying days of the Ranger Inquiry we received a phone call from someone who had just flown from Melbourne to Sydney. We were asked to come to a secret location in a terrace house near the Oxford Street Police Station to see some important ‘luggage’ he had brought from Melbourne. We were told not to tell anyone where we were going.

When we got there, we were confronted with a large box full of original files and documents leaked to FoE from the offices of Mary Kathleen Uranium Mining Pty Ltd.

The leaked company files had evidence of:

  • shoddy environmental practices
  • close surveillance of environmental organisations
  • the close relationship between ACTU president Bob Hawke and the chair of Conzinc Riotinto Australia (CRA), Sir Roderick Carnegie
  • the complicity of Australian government officials in providing advice to mining companies on how to avoid important nuclear non-proliferation safeguards treaties to sell uranium to places like Taiwan (which was not a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty) via “Toll Processing” in the US.

The Uranium Club

The files also revealed a uranium producers’ group called the “Uranium Club”. It consisted of the key Australian and other non-US uranium producers. The Club appeared to have been established with the primary aim of artificially increasing the price of uranium from about US$7 per pound to a lofty US$45−50 per pound from 1972 to 1974 in order to squeeze nuclear power producers and US uranium suppliers.

John Proud of Peko-Wallsend (one of the original joint venturers of the Ranger Uranium Mining Company Pty Ltd with the federal government before the government sold its share) was coordinator of the club at the March 1976 meeting of companies and government bureaucrats. The notes of that meeting finish with the statement: “Mr Proud stressed the need for extreme secrecy”.

FoE planned to simultaneously release these documents around the world. We knew that we would need multiple copies. The NSW Environment Centre in Broadway, Sydney, had three photocopiers and we were going like gangbusters. We burnt out one older copier in a puff of smoke! But we kept going with the remaining machines as the bright orange sunrise burnt through the narrow windows over the top of our lone desk in the far corner of the environment centre.

The original documents now had to be re-stapled back into their original state to submit to the Ranger Inquiry as primary evidence.

The first set of copies, wrapped up in brown paper as personal luggage, were immediately taken to the airport, to be hand-delivered to the Californian Energy Commission in San Francisco. The Commission was primed to pass on the documents to the US Justice Department and the US media.

Back-up copies were placed in a locker at Central Railway Station across the road from the Ranger Inquiry, with the key given to one of our office workers with whistle-blowing instructions if something went wrong with our plans. The other set was on the back of a pushbike peddled by an intrepid FoE activist, always on the move – a veritable moving target for the authorities!

We took a big box of the original documents to the Ranger Inquiry. But we had to get through the filter of the inquiry counsel assisting, John Cummins QC. During the gruelling two years or so of the Inquiry from September 1975 to 1977, the counsel assisting the inquiry went out of his way to preclude evidence presented by environmentalists as ‘inadmissible’.

We were in the corridor of the Old Gas Light Building waiting for the counsel assisting to consider the documents behind closed doors. The wall clock was stuck on 3:33 for the duration of the inquiry – for a moment time had stopped for us too! Our lawyers became very worried with the time the counsel assisting was taking and we had visions of NSW Special Branch and ASIO officers marching down the corridors with handcuffs jingling and no escape for us. We would be thrown into Katingal maximum security prison, the keys thrown away and we would never see the sun ever again!

I hammered on the counsel assisting’s door, pushing it open with my shoulder to see what he was doing. Inside some of the documents were spread over his desk. He was on the phone and looked very embarrassed and hung up quickly. He told us in no uncertain terms that to admit these documents now would mean re-opening the inquiry for another nine months and re-calling witnesses. He would not allow that as the government had given the order for the inquiry to wind up. No more extensions of time, he insisted.

Counsel assisting the inquiry rejected our case to admit the documents as exhibits during the final submission hearings. It is quite likely that the commissioners and their advisers never saw this critical primary evidentiary material.

This is only the beginning of a much bigger story that ran on for many years right into the mid-1980s and beyond. Many of the details are covered in books (listed below) written by former Australian Trade Practices Commissioner George Venturini.

Cartel shut down

The cartel story was published in The National Times in its August 16–21 1976 edition, causing serious embarrassment to the government and the uranium cartel members that included RTZ, RioAlgom, CRA, Mary Kathleen Uranium Mining (the only company producing uranium in Australia at the time), Electrolytic Zinc, Peko-Wallsend, Pancontinental, Noranda Uranium Mining and Queensland Mines.

On August 30, once the Californian Energy Commission released the documents in San Francisco, the story broke internationally, and it was splashed across the front pages of major financial papers and dailies around the world over the next few days.

The scheduled Uranium Club meetings in New York were immediately cancelled. The US Justice Department had issued subpoenas for the company executives who were named in the documents and other members of the cartel to appear before a Grand Jury any time they set foot in US. Future meetings scheduled for Paris were also cancelled and the Uranium Club was disbanded.

A person purporting to represent Westinghouse tried unsuccessfully to bribe FoE to get the documents, stating that “price was no object” and that through Westinghouse’s contacts in the Marcos regime, a Filipino environmentalist on death row would be recommended for a pardon by President Marcos.

Through our carefully laid out plan, many of the documents were ultimately placed on the US Congressional Record for all to see despite the Australian inquiry counsel refusing to admit them.

Litigation by Westinghouse and General Electric against the members of the cartel picked up momentum in the US courts and eventually flowed into Australian courts. The conservative Fraser government passed legislation in November 1976 – the Foreign Proceedings (Prohibition of Certain Evidence) Act 1976 – to prevent FoE or anyone else from providing any further documentary evidence against the uranium mining companies from Australia. The Act was described in a Chain Reaction editorial as “one of the most corrupt pieces of legislation to go on to the Australian statutes”.

Westinghouse finally settled out of court with the uranium cartel participants for damages in excess of US$800 million to make up for its losses due to the artificially inflated price of uranium supplied over four years and some punitive damages for breaching the US Sherman Antitrust Act.

Meanwhile, the Ranger Inquiry concluded that the nuclear power industry was unintentionally leading to an increased risk of nuclear war. The Inquiry recommended caution and consultation, but its findings were misrepresented by the government as a green light for uranium mining. John Howard was promoted to Minister for Special Trade Negotiations and was responsible for using uranium trade as a lever to gain better access to European markets. Then in 1980, Bob Hawke switched from being a pro-uranium trade union leader to a pro-uranium politician. And the rest is history …

Wieslaw Lichacz was a foundation member of FoE in NSW and continued with activist work that included Ambassador of the Atom Free Embassy for 18 months outside Lucas Heights. He represented FoE at the Ranger Inquiry for two years. He is now working on international climate change issues.

More information:

− Stannard, Bruce, The National Times, 16−21 August 1976, pp 1, 3−4, 44.

− Venturini, George, 1980, “Malpractice − The Administration of the Murphy Trade practices Act”, Sydney: Non Mollare. Discussed at tinyurl.com/u-howard

− Venturini, George, 1982, “Partners in Ecocide: Australia’s complicity in the uranium cartel”, Victoria: Rigamarole Books. Reviewed by Evan Jones at tinyurl.com/u-cartel

− Senz, Deborah and Hilary Charlesworth, “Building Blocks: Australia’s Response to Foreign Extraterritorial Legislation”, http://beta.austlii.edu.au/au/journals/MelbJIL/2001/3.html

− Dalton, Les, May 2006, “The Fox Inquiry: Public Policy Making in Open Forum”, Labour History, Vol.90, tinyurl.com/u-dalton

− Finch, James, 2006, “Is This Uranium Bull Market For Real?”, tinyurl.com/u-finch. (Note: The author is incorrect in his assertion that FoE “offered Westinghouse additional documents if the nuclear power plant manufacturer would help the environmental group release jailed members in the Philippines”.)

− Lichacz, Wieslaw, 2006, Submission to the UMPNER Inquiry, tinyurl.com/wl-sub

− Lichacz, Wieslaw, 2004, Submission #82 to the Senate Inquiry into Environmental Regulation of Uranium Mining, tinyurl.com/wl-sub-u

From Chain Reaction #123, April 2015, national magazine of Friends of the Earth, Australia, www.foe.org.au/chain-reaction

Response to Barry Brook / Corey Bradshaw’s ‘open letter to environmentalists’

Nuclear power and biodiversity – don’t forget WMD proliferation!

Jim Green, 18 Dec 2014, The Ecologist

http://www.theecologist.org/News/news_analysis/2680005/nuclear_power_and_biodiversity_dont_forget_wmd_proliferation.html

Nuclear energy is essential to preserve the world’s biodiversity, according to 69 conservation scientists. But there’s a mysterious omission in their analysis, writes Jim Green: nuclear weapons proliferation. And after a major exchange of nuclear bombs, and the ‘nuclear winter’ that would follow, exactly how much biodiversity would survive?

A group of conservation scientists has published an open letter urging environmentalists to reconsider their opposition to nuclear power. The letter is an initiative of Australian academics Barry Brook and Corey Bradshaw. The co-signatories from 14 countries “support the broad conclusions drawn in the article ‘Key role for nuclear energy in global biodiversity conservation’, published in Conservation Biology.”

The open letter states: “Brook and Bradshaw argue that the full gamut of electricity-generation sources – including nuclear power – must be deployed to replace the burning of fossil fuels, if we are to have any chance of mitigating severe climate change.”

So, here’s my open letter in response to the open letter initiated by Brook and Bradshaw:

Dear conservation scientists …

If you want environmentalists to support nuclear power, get off your backsides and do something about the all-too-obvious problems associated with the technology. Start with the proliferation problem since the multifaceted and repeatedly-demonstrated links between the ‘peaceful atom’ and nuclear weapons proliferation pose profound risks and greatly trouble environmentalists and many others besides.

The Brook / Bradshaw journal article emphasises the importance of biodiversity – but even a relatively modest exchange of some dozens of nuclear weapons could profoundly effect biodiversity, and large-scale nuclear warfare undoubtedly would.

The Brook / Bradshaw article ranks power sources according to seven criteria: greenhouse gas emissions, cost, dispatchability, land use, safety (fatalities), solid waste, and radiotoxic waste. WMD proliferation is excluded. By all means ignore lesser concerns to avoid a book-length analysis, but to ignore the link between nuclear power and weapons is disingenuous and the comparative analysis of power sources is a case of rubbish in, rubbish out.

Integral fast reactors

While Brook and Bradshaw exclude WMD proliferation from their comparative assessment of power sources, their journal article does address the topic. They promote the ‘integral fast reactor‘ (IFR) that was the subject of R&D in the US until was abandoned in the 1990s. If they existed, IFRs would be metal-fuelled, sodium-cooled, fast neutron reactors.

Brook and Bradshaw write: “The IFR technology in particular also counters one of the principal concerns regarding nuclear expansion – the proliferation of nuclear weapons – because its electrorefining-based fuel-recycling system cannot separate weapons-grade fissile material.”

However Brook’s claim that IFRs “cannot be used to generate weapons-grade material” is false. George Stanford, who worked on an IFR research program in the US, states: “If not properly safeguarded, [countries] could do [with IFRs] what they could do with any other reactor – operate it on a special cycle to produce good quality weapons material.” IFR advocate Tom Blees notes that: “IFRs are certainly not the panacea that removes all threat of proliferation, and extracting plutonium from it would require the same sort of techniques as extracting it from spent fuel from light water reactors.”

Brook and Bradshaw argue that “the large-scale deployment of fast reactor technology would result in all of the nuclear waste and depleted uranium stockpiles generated over the last 50 years being consumed as fuel.” Seriously? An infinitely more likely outcome would be some fast reactors consuming waste and weapons-useable material, while other fast reactors and conventional uranium reactors continue to produce such materials.

The reality of fast reactor technology

The Brook/Bradshaw article ignores the sad reality of fast reactor technology: over US$50 billion invested, unreliable reactors, numerous fires and other accidents, and one after another country abandoning the technology.

Moreover, fast reactors have worsened, not lessened, proliferation problems. John Carlson, former Director-General of the Australian Safeguards and Non-proliferation Office, discusses a topical example: “India has a plan to produce such [weapon grade] plutonium in fast breeder reactors for use as driver fuel in thorium reactors. This is problematic on non-proliferation and nuclear security grounds. Pakistan believes the real purpose of the fast breeder program is to produce plutonium for weapons (so this plan raises tensions between the two countries); and transport and use of weapons-grade plutonium in civil reactors presents a serious terrorism risk (weapons-grade material would be a priority target for seizure by terrorists).”

The fast reactor techno-utopia presented by Brook and Bradshaw is theoretically attractive. Back in the real world, there’s much more about fast reactors to oppose than to support.

Creative accounting

Brook and Bradshaw also counter proliferation concerns with the following argument: “Nuclear power is deployed commercially in countries whose joint energy intensity is such that they collectively constitute 80% of global greenhouse-gas emissions. If one adds to this tally those nations that are actively planning nuclear deployment or already have scientific or medical research reactors, this figure rises to over 90%. As a consequence, displacement of fossil fuels by an expanding nuclear-energy sector would not lead to a large increase in the number of countries with access to nuclear resources and expertise.”

The premise is correct − countries operating reactors account for a large majority of greenhouse emissions. But even by the most expansive estimate − Brook’s − less than one-third of all countries have some sort of weapons capability, either through the operation of reactors or an alliance with a nuclear weapons state. So the conclusion − that nuclear power expansion “would not lead to a large increase in the number of countries with access to nuclear resources and expertise” − is nonsense and one wonders how such jiggery-pokery could find its way into a peer-reviewed journal.

The power-weapons conundrum is neatly summarised by former US Vice-President Al Gore: “For eight years in the White House, every weapons-proliferation problem we dealt with was connected to a civilian reactor program. And if we ever got to the point where we wanted to use nuclear reactors to back out a lot of coal … then we’d have to put them in so many places we’d run that proliferation risk right off the reasonability scale.”

Safeguards

The Brook / Bradshaw article adds one further comment about proliferation: “Nuclear weapons proliferation is a complex political issue, with or without commercial nuclear power plants, and is under strong international oversight.”

They cite a book by the committed IFR advocate Tom Blees in support of that statement. But Blees argues for the establishment of an international strike force on full standby to attend promptly to any detected attempts to misuse or to divert nuclear materials. That is a far cry from the International Atomic Energy Agency’s safeguards system. In articles and speeches during his tenure as the Director General of the IAEA from 1997-2009, Dr Mohamed ElBaradei said that the Agency’s basic rights of inspection are “fairly limited”. The safeguards system suffers from “vulnerabilities” and “clearly needs reinforcement”, he went on, while efforts to improve the system had been “half-hearted”, and the safeguards system operated on a “shoestring budget … comparable to that of a local police department”.

Blees doesn’t argue that the nuclear industry is subject to strong international oversight – he argues that “fissile material should all be subject to rigorous international oversight” (emphasis added). This conflation between reality and wishful thinking is a recurring feature of Barry Brook’s nuclear advocacy.

Strengthening safeguards

Of course, the flaws in the nuclear safeguards system are not set in stone. And this gets me back to my original point: if nuclear lobbyists want environmentalists to support nuclear power, they need to get off their backsides and do something about the all-too-obvious problems such as the inadequate safeguards system.

Environmentalists have a long record of working on these problems and the lack of support from nuclear lobbyists has not gone unnoticed.

To give an example of a topical point of intervention, Canada has agreed to supply uranium and nuclear technology to India with greatly reduced safeguards and non-proliferation standards, and Australia seems likely to follow suit. Those precedents will likely lead to a broader weakening of international safeguards – and make it that much more difficult for nuclear lobbyists to win support from environmentalists and others. The seriousness of the problem has been acknowledged by, among others, a former Chair of the IAEA Board of Governors and a former Director-General of the Australian Safeguards and Non-proliferation Office. It is a live debate in numerous nuclear exporting countries and there isn’t a moment to lose.

To mention just one more point of intervention, the separation and stockpiling of plutonium from power reactor spent fuel increases proliferation risks. There is virtually no demand for the uranium or plutonium separated at reprocessing plants, and no repositories for the high-level waste stream. Yet reprocessing continues, the global stockpile of separated plutonium increases year after year and now stands at around 260 tons. It’s a problem that needs to be solved; it’s a problem that can be solved.

Endorsing the wishful thinking and misinformation presented in the Brook / Bradshaw journal article is no substitute for an honest acknowledgement of the proliferation problems associated with nuclear power, coupled with serious, sustained efforts to solve those problems.


Conservation, Proliferation and Responsible Science

No2NuclearPower

nuClear news No.70, January 2015

www.no2nuclearpower.org.uk/nuclearnews/NuClearNewsNo70.pdf

A group of academics have argued that nuclear power is essential to save the planet from climate change, and preserve the world’s biodiversity. But there’s a mysterious omission in their analysis, writes Jim Green of Friends of the Earth Australia: nuclear weapons proliferation. And after a major exchange of nuclear bombs, and the ‘nuclear winter’ that would follow, exactly how much biodiversity would survive? (1)

Dr Green also attacks the paper for endorsing fast breeder reactor technology as the solution to climate change. He says that the “fast reactor techno-utopia presented by Brook and Bradshaw is theoretically attractive”, but has already been tried unsuccessfully, and cannot be made to work in the real world. (2)

Greenpeace UK chief scientist Dr Doug Parr commenting on the plea from the academics for environmentalists to support nuclear power said: “The ‘next generation’ of nuclear reactors are always clean, safe, cheap and just over the horizon. But, mysteriously, the reactors that get built are always the exact opposite. By contrast, photovoltaics are clean, safe, getting cheaper by the day and available now. They can be installed in heavily populated cities, on dual-use agricultural land and even in shallow water. And no-one will lie awake at night worrying about terrorists getting access to a solar panels or wind farms.” (3)

Put very simply, says David Elliott, Emeritus Professor of Technology Policy at the Open University, the academics argue that nuclear has lower land-use per unit of energy produced than renewables and so will leave more space for biodiversity. This assessment, like some of the other analysis in the paper, is debatable. It’s true that some renewables are land-hungry, biomass especially, but that is not the case for offshore wind, wave and tidal stream or roof-top solar. And although onshore wind farm sites may be relatively large, the land around the wind turbines can be farmed or left wild. It has also been claimed that solar farm arrays on land can actually increase local biodiversity – protecting the area from other uses. By contrast with nuclear, it is not just the area of the plants and their security zones that has to be considered, but also the impact of uranium mining and fuel production and waste disposal activities. These activities and the operation of nuclear plants also have impacts beyond just land-use. The release of radioactive materials has a significant potential for long term damage to cellular and possibly genetic material and to the health of ecosystems. That is not the case with renewables. (4)

Norwich Green Party point out (5) that according to recent research published by Stanford University greenhouse gas emissions from the nuclear cycle can be up to 25 times higher per unit than wind power. (6) While Ian Ralls of Cambridge FoE says 70 per cent of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions is not produced by electricity so nuclear power wouldn’t make much difference. How about universal free household insulation for example, or proper integrated public transport? Both much cheaper, more effective and would have a greater positive impact on people’s lives.

1. Ecologist 18th Dec 2014 http://www.theecologist.org/News/news_analysis/2680005/nuclear_power_and_biodiversity_dont_forget_wmd_proliferation.html

2. Climate News Network 26th Dec 2014 http://www.climatenewsnetwork.net/professors-plead-greens-accept-nuclear-power/

3. Edie 6th Jan 2015 http://www.edie.net/news/6/Nuclear-power-good-or-bad-for-the-environment-UK-report-2015/

4. ResponsibleSci blog, 9 January 2015 http://www.sgr.org.uk/resources/nuclear-power-still-not-good-bet

5. Independent on Sunday, 11 January 2015 http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/letters/ios-letters-emails–online-postings-11-january-2015-9970239.html

6. See http://www.mng.org.uk/gh/nn.htm#CO2

If irradiated food is glowingly good – why not label it?

Robin Taubenfeld

From Chain Reaction #122, Nov 2014, www.foe.org.au/chain-reaction

Over the past two years Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) has supported a push to significantly expand the list of foods allowed to be irradiated in Australia and New Zealand. At the same time, irradiation proponents have been embarking on a cynical marketing strategy to reduce consumer resistance to irradiated food, namely, the removal of mandatory labelling requirements.

The Ministerial Forum on Food Regulation (FoFR) has now asked FSANZ to undertake a “review” of mandatory labelling requirements for irradiated food. In correspondence to Senator Nick Xenophon, Health Minister Fiona Nash states the purpose of the review is to “assess whether there are better ways to communicate the safety and benefits of irradiated food to consumers.”

In December 2013 correspondence with Food Irradiation Watch, Victorian Minister for Agriculture and Food Safety Peter Walsh stated: “The review has been requested to assess whether this is a more effective approach to communicate the safety and benefits of irradiation to consumers. The FoFR noted that improving consumer confidence in irradiation will reduce disincentives for increased uptake and broader application of the technology by industry.”

The words are telling. Since the lifting of a hard-won 10-year moratorium on irradiation that lasted until 1999, FSANZ has been taking up the gauntlet as an irradiation promoter rather than a non-biased adjudicator. Now, labelling has been identified as an impediment to “uptake” of the technology.

Despite FSANZ’s support, however, numerous scientific reports question the safety or wholesomeness of irradiated food. At best, scientific opinion around irradiation remains divided. There is no data to support the claim that irradiated food has been proven safe, as no long-term studies of human consumption of irradiated food have been carried out.

The Australian and New Zealand public have demonstrable, known and legitimate concerns about irradiation. In recent polling in New Zealand − where irradiated Australian produce is being marketed – 72% of respondents expressed concern.1 Since the lifting of the moratorium in 1999, Australians − and their counterparts overseas – have shown ongoing resistance to irradiated food which has been expressed by opposition to food irradiation applications, rejection by informed consumers of irradiated foods on the market, community campaigns to close irradiation plants, and community campaigns to support local and organic agriculture.

Research commissioned by irradiation supporters reveals little public awareness about irradiation and consumer hesitation to support it. An overview of some of the issues appeared in The Land on July 31. It clearly articulates retailers concerns about consumer perception of irradiation.

The article reveals market research into inaccurate or deceptive statements such as “cold sterilisation” which would make irradiation more palatable to the consumer. Survey results showed that even when informed, irradiation was not the preferred treatment method among consumers. The market research also found that retailers have expressed concern over public resistance to the very term ‘irradiation’ and a consumer backlash against irradiated products.

Paul Harker from Woolworths is quoted in The Land article: “It’s going to be an extremely emotional product and we are not going to stand alone trying to convince Australian consumers that there is nothing wrong with irradiation. We’ve communicated that back to industry and we said unless there is a concerted campaign that is led not only by the people peddling irradiation as an alternative, but unless the government and everyone else is involved in actually talking to the customer about it, the last thing I am going to do is plonk it on my shelf because I can tell you that fresh produce sales will die. People won’t shop there.”

The demand for irradiated products should be driven by consumers making informed and intentional decisions to purchase such products. Irradiators who are confident that their products are wholesome, healthy and desirable should be proud to label their products irradiated and let the market play out.

With Australia and New Zealand set to dramatically increase the amount of irradiated foods available on the market and in people’s diets, the push to remove mandatory labelling and signage requirements is unacceptable and must be stopped.

To find out what you can do, please visit: www.foodirradiationwatch.org

References:

1. www.nzherald.co.nz/opinion/news/article.cfm?c_id=466&objectid=10892295

2. www.theland.com.au/news/agriculture/horticulture/general-news/irradiation-pros-and-cons/2665981.aspx?storypage=0

Small Modular Reactors

Exposing ‘small modular reactor’ economic misinformation from Ben Heard and other nuclear lobbyists (June 2020 article in RenewEconomy)

Small modular reactors and the nuclear culture wars, Aug. 2019, article in RenewEconomy

Sept. 2019 – Australian environment groups’ submission to federal nuclear power inquiry (lots on nuclear economics, ‘generation IV’ concepts, small modular reactors etc).

Aug. 2019 – 65-page Friends of the Earth submission to federal nuclear inquiry, specifcally on ‘small modular reactors’

2019 Nuclear Monitor feature on SMRs:

Small modular reactors: an introduction and an obituary

Small reactors: past and present ‒ Why the hype? ‒ Skepticism ‒ The SMR ‘hype cycle’ ‒ An obituary

The forgotten history of small nuclear reactors

SMR economics: an overview

Fundamental problems ‒ Market size ‒ Costs per MWh ‒ Learning curve ‒ SMRs as ‘affordable luxuries’, diseconomies of scale ‒ Standardized modular rhetoric

SMR cost estimates, and costs of SMRs under construction

No-one wants to pay for SMRs: US and UK case studies

Are thousands of new nuclear generators in Canada’s future?

Small modular reactors and nuclear weapons proliferation

Power/weapons connections ‒ The military origins of SMR programs ‒ Small reactors and proliferation ‒ SMRs as the proliferator’s technology of choice ‒ The proliferation risks associated with different SMR designs ‒ Uranium enrichment ‒ Plutonium reactors ‒ Safeguards and security

A military bromance: SMRs to support and cross-subsidize the UK nuclear weapons program

SMRs to power military installations and forward bases in the United States

SMR safety issues

Generation IV nuclear waste claims debunked

mPower: an obituary

High-temperature, gas-cooled zombie SMRs


The future of nuclear power in the US is bleak

M.V. Ramana, 23 June 2018
http://thehill.com/opinion/energy-environment/393717-the-future-of-nuclear-power-in-the-us-is-bleak

Presumably as a way to fulfill election promises, President Trump has ordered the use of emergency federal powers designed for war-time crises to financially prop up coal and nuclear power plants.

Nuclear power that was once advertised as being “too cheap to meter” has evidently become too costly for electric utilities to buy. Apart from two 1,000 megawatt reactors being constructed in Georgia at enormous expense to ratepayers (even after subsidies from tax payers), there are no immediate prospects for new nuclear power plants in the United States. What of the longer-term future?

One possibility for new nuclear reactor construction comes from what are called the Small Modular Reactors (SMRs). One SMR design called NuScale is slowly making its way to potential construction. Developed by a company based in Oregon, a single NuScale reactor is designed to generate just 50 megawatts of power.

Earlier this spring, the NuScale design cleared the first phase of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s certification process. A group of electrical utilities called the Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems has expressed an interest in purchasing a power plant, which consists of 12 NuScale reactors. The Tennessee Valley Authority also has applied for a permit to develop a site that could host an SMR.

Why SMRs? According to promoters of these scaled-down reactors, they could solve the multiple challenges faced by nuclear power. SMR developers promise lowered costs, decreased production of radioactive waste, reduction or even elimination of the risk of severe accidents, and no contribution to nuclear proliferation. Dozens of companies claim to be developing their own SMR designs, and many have received funding from wealthy private investors and the U.S. Department of Energy.

However, there is little to suggest SMRs will somehow magically remedy all that ails the nuclear industry. SMRs, as the name suggests, produce relatively small amounts of electricity in comparison with currently operational reactors. This puts them at a disadvantage.

One known way to reduce the cost of nuclear electricity has been to build larger reactors because the expenses associated with constructing and operating a reactor do not increase in direct proportion to the power generated. SMRs will, therefore, cost more than large reactors for each unit of generation capacity. Most of the small reactors built in the United States shut down early because they couldn’t compete economically.

SMR proponents argue that they can compensate by savings through mass manufacture in factories and learning how to hold down costs from the experience of constructing lots of reactors. This is a dubious assumption: In both the United States and France, the two countries with the highest numbers of nuclear plants, costs went up, not down, with construction experience.

Even if one were to assume that such “learning” actually occurs, SMRs have to be manufactured by the thousands to achieve meaningful savings. There is simply no market for so many reactors.

Even Westinghouse, the company that has directly or indirectly designed the majority of the world’s nuclear reactors, has realized that there is no market. For a decade or more, Westinghouse pursued a SMR design. But, in 2014, the company abandoned that effort. Its CEO explained: “The problem I have with SMRs is not the technology, it’s not the deployment — it’s that there’s no customers.” Few or no customers means no one would, or should, want to build a factory to construct the modules constituting these SMRs.

What of the claims about safety and nuclear waste? The problem is that the technical demands posed by these different goals conflict with one another, forcing reactor designers to make impossible choices.

For example, safety can be improved by making reactors smaller. But, a smaller reactor, at least the water-cooled reactors that are most likely to be built earliest, will produce more, not less, nuclear waste per unit of electricity they generate because of lower efficiencies. With no long-term solution in sight for nuclear waste, accumulating more radioactive spent fuel aggravates the storage problem.

The poor economic outlook for SMRs also affects safety. Companies that market SMRs propose placing multiple reactors in close proximity to save on costs of associated infrastructure. But this would increase the risk of accidents or the impact of potential accidents on the surrounding population.

At Japan’s Fukushima nuclear complex, explosions at one reactor damaged the spent fuel pool in a co-located reactor. Radiation leaks from one unit made it difficult for emergency workers to approach the other units.

The future of nuclear power in the United States, and indeed in much of the world, is bleak. Small modular reactors will not change that prognosis. There is no point in wasting public money on promoting them.

V. Ramana is the Simons chairman in Disarmament, Global and Human Security at the School of Public Policy and Global Affairs, University of British Columbia and the author of “The Power of Promise: Examining Nuclear Energy in India.”


Small-is-beautiful nuclear rhetoric fading fast

Jim Green

Chain Reaction #122, Nov 2014, www.foe.org.au/chain-reaction

There’s an Alice in Wonderland flavour to the nuclear power debate with lobbyists promoting all sorts of non-existent reactor types − an implicit acknowledgement that conventional uranium-fuelled reactors aren’t all they’re cracked up to be. Some favour non-existent Integral Fast Reactors, others favour non-existent Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactors, others favour non-existent Pebble Bed Modular Reactors, others favour non-existent fusion reactors, and on it goes.

Two to three decades ago, the nuclear industry promised a new generation of gee-whiz ‘Generation IV’ reactors in two to three decades. That’s what they’re still saying now, and that’s what they’ll be saying two to three decades from now. The Generation IV International Forum website states: “It will take at least two or three decades before the deployment of commercial Gen IV systems. In the meantime, a number of prototypes will need to be built and operated. The Gen IV concepts currently under investigation are not all on the same timeline and some might not even reach the stage of commercial exploitation.”

Integral Fast Reactors

Integral Fast Reactors (IFRs) are a case in point. According to the lobbyists they are ready to roll, will be cheap to build and operate, couldn’t be used to feed WMD proliferation, etc.

The UK and US governments have been analysing the potential of IFRs. The UK government found that the facilities have not been industrially demonstrated; waste disposal issues remain unresolved and could be further complicated if it is deemed necessary to remove sodium from spent fuel to facilitate disposal; and little could be ascertained about cost since General Electric Hitachi refuses to release estimates of capital and operating costs, saying they are “commercially sensitive”.

The US government has considered the use of IFRs (which it calls Advanced Disposition Reactors − ADR) to manage US plutonium stockpiles and concluded that the ADR approach would be more than twice as expensive as all the other options under consideration; that it would take 18 years to construct an ADR and associated facilities; and that the ADR option is associated with “significant technical risk”.

Unsurprisingly, the IFR rhetoric doesn’t match the sober assessments of the UK and US governments. As nuclear engineer Dave Lochbaum from the Union of Concerned Scientists puts it: “The IFR looks good on paper. So good, in fact, that we should leave it on paper. For it only gets ugly in moving from blueprint to backyard.”

Small Modular Reactors

In any case, IFRs are yesterday’s news. Now it’s all about Small Modular Reactors (SMRs). The Energy Green Paper recently released by the Australian government is typical of the small-is-beautiful rhetoric: “The main development in technology since 2006 has been further work on Small Modular Reactors (SMRs). SMRs have the potential to be flexibly deployed, as they are a simpler ‘plug-in’ technology that does not require the same level of operating skills and access to water as traditional, large reactors.”

The rhetoric doesn’t match reality. Interest in SMRs is on the wane. Thus Thomas W. Overton, associate editor of POWER magazine, wrote in a recent article: “At the graveyard wherein resides the “nuclear renaissance” of the 2000s, a new occupant appears to be moving in: the small modular reactor (SMR). … Over the past year, the SMR industry has been bumping up against an uncomfortable and not-entirely-unpredictable problem: It appears that no one actually wants to buy one.”

Overton notes that in 2013, MidAmerican Energy scuttled plans to build an SMR-based plant in Iowa. This year, Babcock & Wilcox scaled back much of its SMR program and sacked 100 workers in its SMR division. Westinghouse has abandoned its SMR program.

Overton explains: “The problem has really been lurking in the idea behind SMRs all along. The reason conventional nuclear plants are built so large is the economies of scale: Big plants can produce power less expensively per kilowatt-hour than smaller ones. The SMR concept disdains those economies of scale in favor of others: large-scale standardized manufacturing that will churn out dozens, if not hundreds, of identical plants, each of which would ultimately produce cheaper kilowatt-hours than large one-off designs. It’s an attractive idea. But it’s also one that depends on someone building that massive supply chain, since none of it currently exists. … That money would presumably come from customer orders − if there were any. Unfortunately, the SMR “market” doesn’t exist in a vacuum. SMRs must compete with cheap natural gas, renewables that continue to decline in cost, and storage options that are rapidly becoming competitive. Worse, those options are available for delivery now, not at the end of a long, uncertain process that still lacks [US Nuclear Regulatory Commission] approval.”

Dr Mark Cooper, Senior Fellow for Economic Analysis at the Institute for Energy and the Environment, Vermont Law School, points to some economic constraints: “SMR technology will suffer disproportionately from material cost increases because they use more material per MW of capacity. Higher costs will result from: lost economies of scale; higher operating costs; and higher decommissioning costs. Cost estimates that assume quick design approval and deployment are certain to prove to be wildly optimistic.”

Westinghouse CEO Danny Roderick said in January: “The problem I have with SMRs is not the technology, it’s not the deployment − it’s that there’s no customers.” Westinghouse is looking to triple its decommissioning business. “We see this as a $1 billion-per-year business for us,” Roderick said. With the world’s fleet of mostly middle-aged reactors inexorably becoming a fleet of mostly ageing, decrepit reactors, Westinghouse is getting ahead of the game.

Academics M.V. Ramana and Zia Mian state in their detailed analysis of SMRs: “Proponents of the development and large scale deployment of small modular reactors suggest that this approach to nuclear power technology and fuel cycles can resolve the four key problems facing nuclear power today: costs, safety, waste, and proliferation. Nuclear developers and vendors seek to encode as many if not all of these priorities into the designs of their specific nuclear reactor. The technical reality, however, is that each of these priorities can drive the requirements on the reactor design in different, sometimes opposing, directions. Of the different major SMR designs under development, it seems none meets all four of these challenges simultaneously. In most, if not all designs, it is likely that addressing one of the four problems will involve choices that make one or more of the other problems worse.”

Likewise, Kennette Benedict, Executive Director of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, states: “Small modular nuclear reactors may be attractive, but they will not, in themselves, offer satisfactory solutions to the most pressing problems of nuclear energy: high cost, safety, and weapons proliferation.”

The writing is on the wall

Some SMR R&D work continues but it all seems to be leading to the conclusions mentioned above. Argentina is ahead of the rest, with construction underway on a 27 MWe reactor − but the cost equates to an astronomical US$15.2 billion per 1000 MWe. Argentina’s expertise with reactor technology stems from its covert weapons program from the 1960s to the early 1980s.

And while the ‘small is beautiful’ approach is faltering, so too is the ‘bigger is better’ mantra. The  1,600 MW Olkiluoto-3 European Pressurized Reactor (EPR) under construction in Finland is nine years behind schedule (and counting) and US$6.9 billion over-budget (and counting). The UK is embarking on a hotly-contested plan to build two 1,600 MW EPRs at Hinkley Point with a capital cost of US$26 billion and mind-boggling public subsidies. Economic consulting firm Liberum Capital said Hinkley Point will be “both the most expensive power station in the world and also the plant with the longest construction period.”

Jim Green is the national nuclear campaigner with Friends of the Earth, Australia.

Vale Eileen Wani Wingfield, 1920-2014

From Chain Reaction #122, Nov 2014, www.foe.org.au/chain-reaction

After an amazing life fighting for country and culture Kokatha Elder Eileen Wani Wingfield passed away at her home in Port Augusta on August 8, 2014. Mrs Wingfield will be widely remembered and acknowledged for her contribution to the nuclear-free and peace movements in Australia and worldwide.

Living her life in the South Australian desert, Mrs Wingfield experienced first-hand the effects of the British military’s nuclear weapons tests at Emu Fields and Maralinga during the 1950s and 1960s. Motivated by this injustice, she dedicated her life to protecting her country and future generations from the effects of the nuclear industry. In the early 1980s Mrs Wingfield lay down in front of bulldozers at Cane Grass Swamp in opposition to the Olympic Dam uranium mine’s construction.

Joining other senior desert women in the early 1990s, Mrs Wingfield played a leading role in the Kupa Piti Kungka Tjuta who fought and won a fight against the federal government’s plan to build a nuclear waste dump in the SA desert. Feeling disempowered by broken promises and the general lack of respect, Mrs Wingfield co-wrote to government officials working on the government nuclear waste dump “consultation” process that “it’s just like our words went in the wind”.

Ensuring that their voices were heard, Mrs Wingfield and the Kunga Tjuta wrote to “greenies” and shortly after travelled to Melbourne to attend the Global Survival and Indigenous Rights conference hosted by Friends of the Earth Melbourne in 1998. Here a strong alliance between environmentalist, particularly non-Aboriginal women and the Kunga Tjuta was formed. What followed was years of travel and campaign commitments that raised the profile of the issue and ultimately created a political wedge between the South Australian government and its federal counterparts. Throughout the Kunga Tjuta reiterated the message that “We’ve got the story of the land.”

Not one to mince words, Mrs Wingfield was both an advocate for her desert Country, espousing the life and culture it contained and resisting the view of it as a barren and lifeless. But the changes to her Country weighed heavy. She once stated “I think everything is ruined. I think the (ground) water level would have dropped. There’s very few bush tucker now. I think it’s the bomb and dynamites going off and everything. The country’s not the same.”

The worry for country, the concern for her children and future generations and the risk that practices handed down from her ancestors could be broken, kept Mrs Wingfield active. “We learned from the bedside of our Kokatha and Arabunna Old People. This is what we want to pass on to our younger generations – to keep the culture and the land alive and to keep them alive themselves”. Her role in protecting Country was recognised in 2003 when Mrs Wingfield was co-recipient of the International Goldman Award for the ‘protection of environment’. This prestigious prize has been dubbed the “greenie Nobel Prize” and is awarded annually to “grass-roots environmental heroes” from six geographic regions. Despite ill-health and extensive cultural and family commitments, Mrs Wingfield travelled to San Francisco to attend the official award ceremony and completed a 10-day tour in the US attending news conferences, media briefings and high-level meetings.

Mrs Wingfield continued her anti-nuclear work long after the nuclear waste dump was scrapped for South Australia. She was a regular guest on Friends of the Earth’s annual Radioactive Exposure Tour and often travelled with family to sit by the campfire to retell her stories once again to aspiring greenies and long-term activist colleagues. It was here she often handed over a big bucket of prized Irmangka Irmangka − a bush medicine ointment that anti-nuclear campaigners would take back to Melbourne, divide and sell as a fundraiser. It was practical and generous donation that continued for many years.

Mrs Wingfield was a formative member of the Alliance against Uranium which later became the Australian Nuclear Free Alliance (ANFA). In 2009 she became the honorary president. Mrs Wingfield stood in solidarity with communities from Northern Territory in their incredible efforts to stop nuclear waste being dumped in their lands and with many other Aboriginal people also facing the results or prospect of uranium mining. “It’s all for the wellbeing of the land; its against uranium and the radioactive dump.” Her contribution to ANFA’s meetings over many years helped grow and shape the alliance and she will be dearly missed.

Mrs Wingfield was a mother to 13 children, beloved grandmother of 51 grandchildren, great grandmother of 64 and great-great grandmother of 19. Alongside these extensive family and cultural responsibilities, Mrs Wingfield tirelessly spent her life travelling to attend forums and events; lobbying politicians and addressing students, tour groups and the general public. She worked within her local community and with numerous environmental groups from around Australia. She was cofounder of several committees and corporations, including the Kokatha Mula Aboriginal Corporation which was party to recent Native Title determinations in the Gawler Ranges and the Roxby Downs Area. Mrs Wingfield received many awards for her efforts, was featured in documentaries and was the author of three books. She was as an amazing artist who enjoyed painting and of course a committed activist. Her resilience, passion and dedication remains an inspiration to everyone that met her.

Mrs Wingfield was laid to rest in Port Augusta on August 29. Family, friends and environmentalists travelled from afar to pay respects and say goodbye. A vibrant anti-nuclear flag flew strong in the gentle wind over the hundreds of mourners gathered in the cemetery. It was a colourful reminder of her life’s work and the future we can all aspire to. Rest in Peace.

Former safeguards office director John Carlson attacks Australia-India uranium agreement

Two articles below by John Carlson, a Fellow at the Lowy Institute who was Director-General of the Australian Safeguards and Non-Proliferation Office from 1989 to 2010.

Carlson’s insights make for a sharp contrast with the disgraceful, dangerous propaganda peddled by Lowy Institute staffer Rory Medcalf.

Update – Nov 2014: to read Mr Carlson’s submissions (and other submissions) to the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties click here.


Is the Abbott Government abandoning Australia’s nuclear safeguards standards for India?

John Carlson, 1 October 2014

http://www.lowyinterpreter.org/post/2014/10/01/Is-the-Abbott-Government-abandoning-Australias-nuclear-safeguards-standards-for-India.aspx

The signing last month of a civil nuclear cooperation agreement between Australia and India has been greeted as an important step towards closer relations between the two countries, as well as bringing India into the global nuclear energy mainstream. These are worthy objectives, but not at any cost.

Now that the text of the agreement has been quietly made public, some substantial departures from Australia’s current safeguards conditions are evident. These suggest, disturbingly, that Australia may be unable to keep track of what happens to uranium supplied to India.

In this post I will explain what is wrong with the Australia-India nuclear cooperation agreement and why it appears that the Abbott Government may be abandoning Australia’s longstanding safeguards requirements for India. In a subsequent post I will explain what can and should be done about it.

Negotiations for the agreement began under the Gillard Government in 2012, after Labor came around to an in-principle acceptance of uranium exports to India provided they were properly safeguarded. This was always going to be contentious, primarily because of Australia’s longstanding policy against supplying uranium to countries outside the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

It is short-sighted and self-defeating to make the agreement even more contentious by compromising Australia’s safeguards standards. This will jeopardise bipartisan support for the agreement, raising the prospect of future governments suspending exports under it. It will also expose the agreement to potential legal challenge under the 1987 Safeguards Act, and it risks re-opening the wider uranium debate in Australia. None of this is in the interests of the Australian or Indian governments or of the nuclear industry in either country.

Two documents are critically important here. First, let’s look more closely at the agreement itself. It departs in the following ways from Australia’s standard requirements on countries receiving our uranium:

Consent to reprocessing – reprocessing, involving separation of plutonium from spent fuel, is the most sensitive stage of the nuclear fuel cycle. To date Australia’s consent to reprocessing has been limited to the EU and Japan, and has been given on what is called a programmatic basis, i.e. Australia has approved the specific ‘downstream’ facilities using separated plutonium and the purposes involved. In this agreement, however, Australia has effectively given consent in advance for India to reprocess in accordance with an ‘arrangements and procedures’ document India concluded with the US in 2010. This covers safeguards at two reprocessing plants which India plans to build, but includes only a vague reference to management of plutonium, and nothing corresponding to programmatic consent;

Right of return – Australia’s standard conditions include a right for Australia to require the return of material and items if there is a breach of an agreement. This agreement contains no such provision;

Fallback safeguards – Australia’s standard condition is that, if for any reason IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) safeguards cease to apply, the parties are to establish safeguards arrangements that conform with IAEA safeguards principles and procedures and provide equivalent assurance. This agreement requires only that the parties consult and agree on ‘appropriate verification measures’, a vague term readily open to differing interpretations;

Settlement of disputes – Australia’s standard requirement is for negotiation, backed by an arbitration process. This agreement refers only to negotiation, with no mechanism for resolving deadlock.

Even more consequential than the agreement itself may be a second, follow-on text that the public may never get to see, a so-called ‘administrative arrangement’ which sets out the working procedures for the agreement. Officials are presumably working on this at present. The key question here is, will this administrative arrangement enable Australia to track and account for the nuclear material that is subject to the agreement with India?

The administrative arrangement should set out detailed procedures for identifying and accounting for the specific nuclear material to which the agreement applies. This includes not only the initially-supplied Australian uranium, but all subsequent generations of material derived from it, especially plutonium. If it is not possible to apply the agreement’s provisions to specific material, the agreement will be meaningless.

To be effective, these procedures need to include a requirement for regular reports to Australia showing the flow of material under the agreement through the nuclear fuel cycle in India. Australia needs to be able to track and account for this ‘Australian-obligated nuclear material’. This is both a proper public expectation and a legal requirement under section 51 of the Safeguards Act.

Bipartisan support for, and public acceptance of, uranium exports is based on the assurance that Australia is able to track our material and determine that our conditions are being met. Australia’s safeguards requirements were developed by the Fraser Government, are in line with international standards, and have been applied under all our safeguards agreements ever since – today we have 22 agreements covering 40 countries.

Disturbingly, it is reported that Indian officials will not provide Australia with reports accounting for material under the agreement, and that the Abbott Government seems prepared to waive this requirement for India. The same issue has arisen under India’s arrangements with the US and Canada. In response, Washington has held firm: the US-India administrative arrangement has been outstanding for several years; reportedly the US is insisting on receiving tracking information and India is refusing.

In the case of Canada, the Harper Government gave in to India, an outcome described as the ‘meltdown of Canadian non-proliferation policy‘. The Canadian Government refuses to reveal the details of its arrangement. If Australia follows Canada down this path, it will put the wrong kind of pressure on the US, the EU and Japan in their own dealings with India.

Apparently India considers that its acceptance of IAEA safeguards should be good enough. But India’s refusal to provide reports on Australian supplied material calls into question whether India will in fact identify and account for this material, as required by the agreement. If India will account for this material, the additional effort in providing reports to Australia should cause India no problem. However if it will not account for the material, India will be in breach of the agreement.

Why is India being so difficult on this issue? India has an expanding nuclear weapon program. It has not fully separated its military and civilian nuclear programs and some facilities are still dual-purpose. India’s safeguards agreement with the IAEA does not impose the same restrictions as bilateral agreements in areas such as reprocessing, higher enrichment, retransfers to third countries, research and development or the production of tritium (which has uses in nuclear weapons).

If India succeeds in delinking foreign-obligated nuclear material from individual bilateral agreements, making it impossible to identify which batch of material is covered by which agreement, then India could work a ‘pea and thimble’ trick in which no supplier could tell whether their material was being used contrary to bilateral conditions. The mere possibility of this is sufficient to call into question India’s commitment to observing bilateral agreements.

Without proper reporting, Australia has no way of knowing whether India is in reality meeting its obligations to identify and account for all the material that is subject to the agreement, and to apply Australia’s safeguards conditions to this material. It is not good enough to simply say that we trust India because it has an ‘impeccable’ non-proliferation record (and India’s record in any case is not ‘impeccable’).The reporting procedures are not optional; they are fundamental to Australia’s ability to confirm that our safeguards conditions are being met. They have long applied to close and trusted partners such as the US, the EU, Japan and South Korea. There is absolutely no case to waive them for India.

John Carlson AM is a Nonresident Fellow at the Lowy Institute. He was Director General of the Australian Safeguards and Non-Proliferation Office and its predecessor the Australian Safeguards Office from 1989 to 2010.


Australia-India nuclear deal: The need for full parliamentary scrutiny

John Carlson, 1 October 2014

http://www.lowyinterpreter.org/post/2014/10/01/Australia-India-nuclear-deal-The-need-for-full-parliamentary-scrutiny.aspx

In a previous post, I pointed out how the Australia-India nuclear cooperation agreement departs from Australia’s longstanding safeguards requirements. In particular, there is a risk that the follow-on ‘administrative arrangement’ could deprive Australia of the ability to track and account for Australian uranium supplied to India.

It is not too late to address this problem in a way that ensures the agreement is meaningful and can command bipartisan support in Australia. There will be a crucial role here for the Australian Parliament’s Joint Standing Committee on Treaties (JSCOT), which will have the opportunity to scrutinise the agreement and to ask the necessary and difficult questions about the administrative arrangement.

Here there are two practical issues: the administrative arrangement has not yet, as far as we know, been negotiated, so it will not be available when JSCOT commences its review of the agreement; and in any case it is the usual practice to treat administrative arrangements as being confidential.

The Abbott Government should proceed no further with the agreement unless it can give an assurance that all of Australia’s longstanding safeguards requirements will be met. Of course, the Government may try to dismiss any discussion of the administrative arrangement as being merely speculation. The problem is that, in considering the potential impact of such a confidential document, the public and the Parliament may never know the facts. Yet, a way needs to be found to ensure that a confidential document does not negate the effective operation of a treaty-level agreement.

Therefore, when the agreement is brought to JSCOT for review, the Committee should insist on examining the terms of the proposed administrative arrangement. If necessary, given the sensitivities, this can be done in a closed session. The key question for JSCOT will be whether the terms of the administrative arrangement will enable Australia to confirm that its safeguards conditions are fully met and that Australian uranium and other nuclear material subject to the India agreement is properly accounted for.

This may take some time. The Committee may need to withhold its final conclusions on the agreement until the text of the administrative arrangement is available. It would help if the Government were to make the text publicly available.

Both major parties in Australian politics now support the principle that Australia should be able to sell uranium to India to help it meet its energy needs, subject to proper safeguards. However, a nuclear agreement with India should be on the same conditions Australia applies to our other partners, not terms dictated by India.

Even some supporters of closer Australia-India ties have made the point that safeguards should discriminate neither against India nor for it. Australia has demonstrated good faith to India by reversing our longstanding policy with respect to the NPT and signing a civil nuclear agreement. It is up to India to demonstrate good faith by accepting the same safeguards arrangements as all our other nuclear partners.

John Carlson AM is a Nonresident Fellow at the Lowy Institute. He was Director General of the Australian Safeguards and Non-Proliferation Office and its predecessor the Australian Safeguards Office from 1989 to 2010.


Australia’s uranium agreement with India under attack

Jim Green, Online Opinion, 8 Oct 2014

www.onlineopinion.com.au/view.asp?article=16752&page=0

The federal government’s plan to permit uranium sales to India has been subjected to a strong critique by the former Director-General of the Australian Safeguards and Non-Proliferation Office (ASNO), John Carlson.

Others to have raised concerns include former Defence Department Secretary Paul Barratt, and Ron Walker, former Chair of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Board of Governors. But Carlson’s critique carries particular weight given his 21 years experience as the head of Australia’s safeguards office.

Carlson notes that the civil nuclear cooperation agreement signed by Australia and India in September contains “substantial departures from Australia’s current safeguards conditions” which suggest “that Australia may be unable to keep track of what happens to uranium supplied to India.”

Carlson writes: “Disturbingly, it is reported that Indian officials will not provide Australia with reports accounting for material under the agreement, and that the Abbott Government seems prepared to waive this requirement for India. … The reporting procedures are not optional; they are fundamental to Australia’s ability to confirm that our safeguards conditions are being met. They have long applied to close and trusted partners such as the US, the EU, Japan and South Korea. There is absolutely no case to waive them for India.”

The failure to provide regular reports “will also expose the agreement to potential legal challenge under the 1987 Safeguards Act”, Carlson writes. (Another problem, not mentioned, is that nuclear material could be diverted and reports falsified. There is little likelihood that the falsification of reports would be detected.)

Carlson notes that provisions for ‘fallback safeguards’ in the event of IAEA safeguards ceasing to apply are vague and open to differing interpretations.

There are many concerns other than those noted by Carlson. The IAEA−India safeguards agreement is on the public record, if only because it was leaked, and it is clear from the agreement that safeguards inspections are few and far between. A leaked IAEA document states that the IAEA “will not mechanistically or systematically seek to verify” information obtained from India.

Underpinning this entire debate is an infuriating secrecy. For example, it seems reasonable that we should be able to find out how often IAEA safeguards inspections are carried out in India, which facilities have been inspected, and whether any accounting discrepancies were detected. But national governments refuse to supply that information and the IAEA itself only releases aggregate information on the number of inspections carried out across three countries − India, Pakistan and Israel.

Carlson notes that the ‘administrative arrangement’ which will append the nuclear cooperation agreement may be “even more consequential than the agreement itself” as it sets out the working procedures for the agreement. But the Australian public will never get to see the administrative arrangement. And the Australian public will never be able to find out any information about the separation and stockpiling of weapons-useable plutonium in India; or nuclear accounting discrepancies (‘Material Unaccounted For’); or even the quantity of Australian uranium (and its by-products) held in India.

Even if strict safeguards were in place, uranium sales to India would create an intractable problem: uranium exports freeing up India’s domestic reserves for weapons production. K. Subrahmanyam, former head of the India’s National Security Advisory Board, has said that: “Given India’s uranium ore crunch and the need to build up our minimum credible nuclear deterrent arsenal as fast as possible, 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.”

And even if strict safeguards were in place, uranium sales to India would create another intractable problem: we are setting a poor precedent by selling uranium to a country that is expanding its nuclear weapons arsenal and its missile capabilities, and refuses to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) or the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT).

Ron Walker, former Chair of the IAEA Board of Governors, wrote in a 2007 paper: “India is a democracy and yes we want to be in their good books, but that is no reason to drop our principles and our interests. To make an exception for them would be crass cronyism. If you make exceptions to your rules for your mates, you weaken your ability to apply them to everyone else. How could we be harder on Japan and South Korea if they acquired nuclear weapons? Could we say Israel is less of a mate than India?”

US-led efforts to open up international nuclear trade with India have already weakened the global non-proliferation and disarmament regime − for example, it has encouraged China to openly and actively support the nuclear program of Pakistan, another nuclear weapons state that has not signed the NPT or the CTBT.

India’s Public Accounts Committee said in a report last year that the country’s nuclear safety regime is “fraught with grave risks” and that the nuclear regulator is weak and under-resourced. In 2012, India’s Auditor-General found that 60 per cent of safety inspections for operating nuclear power plants were either delayed or not undertaken at all.

The pay-off for going down this dangerous path will be negligible. Claims of mega-profits from uranium exports to India ignore readily-available facts. According to the World Nuclear Association, India’s uranium demand this year will amount to just 913 tonnes – just 1.4 per cent of world demand. If Australia supplies 20 per cent of that demand, uranium export revenue will increase by 3 per cent.

Likewise, claims that the nuclear cooperation agreement will indirectly boost bilateral trade by fostering trust and goodwill ignore readily-available facts. Bilateral trade grew from $3.3 billion at the turn of the century to more than $20 billion in 2011, despite Australia’s ban on uranium exports to India and other countries that have not signed the NPT. Since the uranium policy was overturned in 2011, bilateral trade has gone backwards and now stands at $15 billion.

The nuclear cooperation agreement will be scrutinised by federal parliament’s Joint Standing Committee on Treaties. The Committee may rubber-stamp the agreement, but that is not certain. The Committee rejected a similar agreement to sell uranium to Russia when it learnt that IAEA safeguards inspections in Russia are nearly non-existent. The Committee said it is “essential that actual physical inspection by the IAEA occurs at any Russian sites that may handle” Australian uranium and that uranium exports “should be contingent upon such inspections being carried out.” That doesn’t seem much to ask yet the Labor government − with Coalition support − ignored the Committee’s recommendations.

Jim Green is the national nuclear campaigner with Friends of the Earth, Australia.

FoE articles on uranium sales to India

Uranium Sales to India

Jim Green, Chain Reaction #122, Nov 2014, www.foe.org.au/chain-reaction

The federal government’s plan to permit uranium sales to India has been subjected to a strong critique by the former Director-General of the Australian Safeguards and Non-Proliferation Office (ASNO), John Carlson. Others to have raised concerns include former Defence Department Secretary Paul Barratt, and Ron Walker, former Chair of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Board of Governors. But Carlson’s critique carries particular weight given his 21 years experience as the head of Australia’s safeguards office.

Carlson notes that the civil nuclear cooperation agreement signed by Australia and India in September contains “substantial departures from Australia’s current safeguards conditions” which suggest “that Australia may be unable to keep track of what happens to uranium supplied to India.”

Carlson writes: “Disturbingly, it is reported that Indian officials will not provide Australia with reports accounting for material under the agreement, and that the Abbott Government seems prepared to waive this requirement for India. … The reporting procedures are not optional; they are fundamental to Australia’s ability to confirm that our safeguards conditions are being met. They have long applied to close and trusted partners such as the US, the EU, Japan and South Korea. There is absolutely no case to waive them for India.”

The failure to provide regular reports “will also expose the agreement to potential legal challenge under the 1987 Safeguards Act”, Carlson writes. (Another problem, not mentioned, is that nuclear material could be diverted and reports falsified. There is little likelihood that the falsification of reports would be detected.)

Carlson notes that provisions for ‘fallback safeguards’ in the event of IAEA safeguards ceasing to apply are vague and open to differing interpretations.

There are many concerns other than those noted by Carlson. The IAEA−India safeguards agreement is on the public record, if only because it was leaked, and it is clear from the agreement that safeguards inspections are few and far between. A leaked IAEA document states that the IAEA “will not mechanistically or systematically seek to verify” information obtained from India.

Carlson notes that the ‘administrative arrangement’ which will append the nuclear cooperation agreement may be “even more consequential than the agreement itself” as it sets out the working procedures for the agreement. But the Australian public will never get to see the administrative arrangement. And the Australian public will never be able to find out any information about the separation and stockpiling of weapons-useable plutonium in India; or nuclear accounting discrepancies (‘Material Unaccounted For’); or even the quantity of Australian uranium (and its by-products) held in India.


Race to export uranium to India only has a booby prize

Jim Green, The Courier-Mail, 8 Sept 2014

http://www.couriermail.com.au/news/opinion/opinion-race-to-export-uranium-to-india-only-has-a-booby-prize/story-fnihsr9v-1227050580065

CLAIMS about the potential economic benefits of uranium sales to India are laughable.

Michael Angwin from the Australian Uranium Association claimed that Australia could sell 2500 tonnes of uranium annually to India by 2030, generating export sales of $300 million. A 2011 report in the Fairfax press claimed that uranium sales to India could generate $1.7 billion in annual exports.

Such claims ignore readily available facts. According to the World Nuclear Association, India’s uranium demand this year will amount to just 913 tonnes – just 1.4 per cent of world demand. If Australia supplies 20 per cent of that demand, uranium export revenue will increase by 3 per cent.

Vanessa Guthrie from Adelaide-based uranium explorer Toro Energy, who is accompanying Prime Minister Tony Abbott on his trip to India, claims that by 2018-19 the uranium industry could generate 10,000 jobs. But according to the most generous estimate, that of the World Nuclear Association, uranium mining and exploration account for just 1700 jobs in Australia – that’s 0.015 per cent of all jobs. So Guthrie anticipates a sixfold expansion in just five years, at a time when global nuclear power capacity is stagnant? That’s laughable. Mr Abbott may struggle to keep a straight face as Guthrie dishes up this nonsense in India.

But there’s nothing funny about other aspects of the proposal to sell uranium to India. It is foolish and dangerous to sell uranium to a country that is actively expanding its nuclear weapons arsenal and refuses to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty or the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.

And there’s nothing funny about brutal state repression of many thousands of Indian citizens protesting against nuclear projects, including the murder of at least five people.

The hopeless mismanagement of India’s nuclear industry would be funny if it wasn’t so serious. India’s Public Accounts Committee said in a report last year that the country’s nuclear safety regime is “fraught with grave risks” and that the nuclear regulator is weak and under-resourced. In 2012, India’s Auditor-General found that 60 per cent of safety inspections for operating nuclear power plants were either delayed or not undertaken at all.

And there’s nothing funny about the risks arising from domestic and regional political tensions in India. To give just one example, transport of uranium to the Uranium Corporation of India Ltd processing plant was suspended in May after an ore-laden truck was torched by Maoists.

Prime Minister Abbott is promising “suitable safeguards” to ensure that Australian uranium remains in peaceful use in India. But Australia has no authority or capacity to carry out safeguard inspections in India – we are entirely reliant on the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). The IAEA−India safeguards agreement is on the public record, if only because it was leaked, and it is clear from the agreement that inspections will be few and far between, if indeed there are any inspections at all.

Even if IAEA inspections do occur in India, another problem looms: uranium exports freeing up India’s domestic reserves for weapons production. K. Subrahmanyam, former head of the India’s National Security Advisory Board, has said that: “Given India’s uranium ore crunch and the need to build up our minimum credible nuclear deterrent arsenal as fast as possible, 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.”

Directly or indirectly, Australia will be fuelling a nuclear arms race in South Asia … for a pittance in return.


Gillard’s uranium sales push will have dangerous fall-out

Canberra Times, 15 Nov 2011

http://www.canberratimes.com.au/federal-politics/editorial/gillards-uranium-sales-push-will-have-dangerous-fallout-20111115-1v1g0.html
Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s arguments in favour of uranium sales to India are dangerous and dishonest. She fails to even acknowledge the crucial problem – India’s refusal to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. The NPT is the main international nuclear treaty and is routinely described by Australian political leaders as the ”cornerstone” of the non-proliferation system. The NPT has its flaws, not least the failure of the nuclear weapons states to take seriously their disarmament obligations, but that is no reason to junk the treaty or to disregard it.
On the contrary, the NPT needs much greater support. The least we should expect is that Australia maintains its policy of requiring uranium customer countries to be NPT signatories and to take seriously their NPT obligations.
The United States and some other countries have opened up nuclear trade with India in recent years. Thus the NPT has already been damaged and weakened. But that is no justification for Australia to weaken it further. According to the nuclear lobby, Australia is now isolated in its stance. Nothing could be further from the truth – only a minority of countries support the opening up of nuclear trade with countries that refuse to sign the NPT. The 118 countries of the Non-aligned Movement voiced strong objections during the NPT Review Conference in New York last year.
The events set in train by the opening up of nuclear trade with India have been disastrous from a non-proliferation standpoint. They have led to an escalating nuclear arms race between India and Pakistan, and a weakening of the global non-proliferation and disarmament regime which others are now exploiting (e.g. China’s plan to supply reactors to Pakistan).
Another serious problem is that the precedent set by nuclear trade with India increases the risk of other countries pulling out of the NPT and building nuclear weapons with the expectation that nuclear trade would continue. As former Australian ambassador Professor Richard Broinowski notes: ”The sale of Australian uranium to India would signal to some of our major uranium customers, such as Japan and South Korea, that we do not take too seriously their own adherence to the NPT. They may as a result walk away from the NPT and develop nuclear weapons without necessarily fearing a cut-off of Australian supplies.”
Prime Minister Gillard argues that ”we must, of course, expect of India the same standards we do of all countries for uranium export – strict adherence to International Atomic Energy Agency arrangements and strong bilateral undertakings and transparency measures that will provide assurances our uranium will only be used for peaceful purposes.”
Such claims are uninformed or dishonest. The International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards agreement with India does not provide for comprehensive or full-scope safeguards. Safeguards apply only to that part of the nuclear program that India considers surplus to military ”requirements”. IAEA safeguards inspections in India will at best be tokenistic and will most likely be non-existent (as they are in Russia – another of Australia’s uranium customer countries). Moreover, even if a rigorous safeguards regime was in place in India (and it most certainly is not), that would in no way undo the damage done to the NPT by opening up nuclear trade with countries that refuse to sign and abide by the treaty.
Prime Minister Gillard argues that ”as in other areas, broadening our [uranium] markets will increase jobs”. However, if Australia supplied one-fifth of India’s current demand, uranium exports would increase by a measly 1.8per cent. Even if all reactors under construction or planned in India come on line, Australia’s uranium exports would increase by just 10per cent. That level of uranium exports might – might – support one very small, additional uranium mine employing a few dozen people. Much more likely, exports would come from existing mines and no additional jobs would be created.
Uranium exports will do nothing to reduce greenhouse emissions in India, twice over. Firstly, because uranium supply is no constraint to nuclear power expansion in India. Secondly, because renewables and energy efficiency could very easily substitute for India’s nuclear program.
Australia has uranium export agreements with nuclear weapons states flouting their NPT disarmament obligations; countries with a history of secret nuclear weapons research; countries that refuse to sign and ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty; countries blocking progress on the proposed Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty; and undemocratic, secretive states with appalling human rights records. Now the Prime Minister proposes ditching the requirement for uranium customer countries to be NPT signatories.
Delegates to the ALP national conference in December should stop the rot and take a principled stand. Media reports assume that the Right faction of the Labor Party will fall in behind the Prime Minister. But the Labor Right has a history of splitting on uranium debates.
Indeed one of the most outspoken MPs opposing a change of policy with respect to uranium exports to India has been Kelvin Thomson from the Right.


Promises and U-turns of the nuclear kind

ABC Opinion 18 Nov 2011

http://www.abc.net.au/news/2011-11-18/green-promises-and-u-turns/3680602

The nuclear lobby has been softening us up for years to the idea of selling uranium to nuclear-armed India. They’ve promised the world – and delivered nothing.
This con-job began with the US-India nuclear cooperation agreement concluded in 2008. Proponents of the agreement promised non-proliferation and disarmament concessions from India but the opposite occurred. India did not commit to nuclear weapons disarmament or even to a process that would – or might – lead to disarmament in the long term. India did not commit to sign and ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). India has not stopped producing fissile (explosive) material for nuclear weapons nor has it committed to doing so.
There is no restraint on India building new, unsafeguarded reactors or other facilities for its weapons program. India did not commit to comprehensive safeguards inspections. India is able to divert more of its own uranium to weapons and the net result of the US-India agreement has been to boost India’s capacity to produce fissile material for weapons.
Proponents of the US-India agreement resorted – and continue to resort – to dishonest arguments. These include the claim that India’s ‘moratorium’ on nuclear tests is a victory although it was in place before the US-India negotiations (and before India’s 1998 weapons tests!) and is clearly no substitute for signing and ratifying the CTBT.
India’s willingness to separate its peaceful and military programs is portrayed as a successful outcome, but it does not constrain India’s nuclear weapons program in any way and is part of a process which legitimises India’s weapons program and facilitates its expansion.
The mantra that India has a good track record on nuclear non-proliferation beggars belief. India is a nuclear weapons state, tested weapons in 1974 and 1998, violated its pledge not to use a Canadian-supplied research reactor to produce plutonium for weapons, refuses to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) or the CTBT, has a history of illicit nuclear procurement and inadequate nuclear export controls, and continues to expand its nuclear weapons and missile capabilities. Could India possibly have a worse record?
The events set in train by the opening up of nuclear trade with India have been disastrous from a non-proliferation standpoint. They have led to an escalating nuclear arms race between India and Pakistan, and a weakening of the global non-proliferation and disarmament regime which others are now exploiting – an important example being China’s plan to supply reactors to Pakistan in the wake of the US-India agreement.
As Opposition Leader in 2007, Kevin Rudd argued against uranium sales to India with the prescient warning that: “No-one in Australia wants a nuclear arms race aided by us in the Indian sub-continent or between India and China because we’ve failed to properly ensure the upholding of the NPT and the [International Atomic Energy Agency] safeguards regime under it.”
Another serious problem is that the precedent set by nuclear trade with India increases the risk of other countries pulling out of the NPT, and building nuclear weapons with the expectation that civil nuclear trade would continue.
What steps could Australia take to extricate us from the current mess – the South Asian nuclear arms race, and the broader problem of nuclear proliferation?
Option #1 is to leave uranium in the ground. It’s not as radical an idea as it might sound. Uranium accounts for a paltry 0.3 per cent of national export revenue and 0.03 per cent of Australian jobs. Few would notice if the industry vanished and still fewer would miss it.
Option #2 is to apply current government policy – restricting supply to countries that have signed the NPT. A variation of that option would be to restrict supply to NPT signatories that are serious about their non-proliferation and disarmament obligations – that would require a rethink of supply to, for example, the US and China since they have not ratified the CTBT.
Option #3 would be to insist on meaningful concessions from India as a condition of uranium supply.
One condition would be an immediate, verified cessation of the production of fissile material for weapons and agreement that uranium supply would cease immediately if India resumed the production of fissile material for weapons.
A second, important condition would be for India to sign and ratify the CTBT along with a bilateral treaty provision making it clear that uranium supply would cease if India resumed weapons testing. (By way of stark contrast, the US-India agreement contains mind-boggling clauses about the steps to be taken to ensure ongoing nuclear trade even if India does resume weapons testing.)
A third condition would be an end to India’s development and testing of nuclear-capable missiles. Julia Gillard didn’t forewarn Kevin Rudd about her announcement on Wednesday but it’s likely that India was forewarned – and duly celebrated by testing an intermediate-range missile.
Option #4 is to sell uranium to India with no meaningful conditions whatsoever. That is the path that Gillard and Rudd are set upon. There will be some theatre but the intention is to pursue the one and only option that is completely irresponsible and indefensible.
The theatre show will have two parts. Firstly, the ‘robust’ debate at the ALP national conference in Sydney next month. Can’t wait. (By the way, have you heard what Peter Garrett said in response to the Prime Minister’s statement about uranium sales to India? No? Neither have I.)
The second part of the theatre show will be the intrigue as to whether India will agree to the ‘strict’ bilateral conditions that Australia requires of uranium customer countries. The gullible media will follow this in detail without waking up to underlying realpolitik. Rumours of Indian intrasigence will be leaked – just for show. Foreign Minister Rudd, or Prime Minister Gillard, or Prime Minister Rudd, will ride in on a white horse and save the day. India will agree to the bilateral conditions.
Of course India will agree to the bilateral conditions – they aren’t worth the paper they are written on. We insist on prior Australian consent before plutonium is separated from spent fuel arising from Australian uranium. Great – but Australia has never once refused permission to separate plutonium, even when there is a compelling case to do so. We insist on prior Australian consent before enriching uranium beyond 20 per cent uranium-235. Great – but no country has ever asked permission to enrich beyond 20 per cent, and most likely no country would be refused if they did ask.
Of course India will agree to the bilateral conditions – after a bit of theatre.
Precious few Australians would expect anything other than duplicity and deceit from the major parties but we have also been let down by the media. An ABC TV news anchor, for example, asserted as fact that strict safeguards inspections would apply to uranium supplied to India. In truth, International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards will be tokenistic or non-existent – the IAEA has neither the resources nor the inclination to seriously apply safeguards in nuclear weapons states. Senior Fairfax journalists have remained silent on the serious issues – including the very, very serious issue of nuclear proliferation in South Asia – while pumping out a load of ephemeral hoo-ha about internal ALP political machinations.
A bit more thought from the think tanks would also be welcome. The Lowy Institute, for example, has for years been promoting a raft of non-proliferation concessions that could be won in the context of a uranium supply agreement with India. But in the past few days the institute has been enthusiastically promoting uranium sales to India with no mention whatsoever of winning any concessions.
The Institute’s Rory Medcalf promotes uranium sales to India on the grounds that ”Australia has to be more actively engaged in the civil nuclear energy revival globally if we are going to be a credible player in the non-proliferation environment.”
In other words, undermining the NPT − the cornerstone of the non-proliferation regime − is a necessary step towards strengthening that regime. Go figure.


Safeguarding uranium exports to India

Online Opinion, 2 Dec 2011

http://www.onlineopinion.com.au/view.asp?article=12965&page=0
A big part of the PR pitch for uranium sales to nuclear-armed India is the assertion that ‘strict’ safeguards will ‘ensure’ peaceful use of Australian uranium. Sadly, it’s just PR.
The claim sits uncomfortably with the reality that safeguards are based on occasional inspections of some nuclear plants by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). The claim sits even more uncomfortably with the observations of recently-retired IAEA chief Mohamed El Baradei that the Agency’s basic rights of inspection are “fairly limited”, the safeguards system suffers from “vulnerabilities” and efforts to improve it have been “half-hearted”, and the system operates on a “shoestring budget…comparable to a local police department”.
To give an illustration of the contrast between reality and rhetoric, the Gillard Government takes credit for insisting that all of Australia’s uranium customer countries must have an ‘Additional Protocol’ in place with the IAEA – an agreement which provides for expanded inspection rights. The genesis of that policy is revealing. Australia waited until all of Australia’s uranium customer countries had an Additional Protocol in place before announcing that it was a requirement for all customer countries. We weren’t driving improvements in the international safeguards regime but merely indulging in a cynical, retrospective PR exercise.
What about safeguards in India? Australia has no capacity for independent monitoring and verification. We are entirely reliant on the IAEA. The safeguards agreement between the IAEA and India is on the public record and it certainly doesn’t provide for strict safeguards. It provides for safeguards that will be tokenistic or non-existent.
Arms Control Today thoroughly dissected the IAEA-India safeguards agreement and noted that: “Reporting provisions…not contained in India’s agreement cover information such as nuclear fuel-cycle-related research and development, nuclear-related imports, and uranium mining. The Indian additional protocol also does not include any complementary access provisions, which provide the IAEA with the potential authority to inspect undeclared facilities.”
A leaked 2009 IAEA document states that the IAEA “will not mechanistically or systematically seek to verify” information obtained from India. It makes another statement of relevance to uranium suppliers: “The verification activities in question are not linked to quantitative yardsticks such as inventories of nuclear materials.”
The IAEA document also states: “The frequency and intensity of IAEA inspections shall be kept to the minimum consistent with the aim of improving safeguards.” That is standard diplomatic jargon – it means that safeguards will be infrequent or non-existent except in circumstances where the IAEA wants to test novel safeguards technologies or procedures and India agrees to take part.
Proponents of nuclear trade with India argue that it will bring 65 per cent (14 out of 22) of India’s reactors under safeguards. But it does not curtail India’s nuclear weapons program by 65 per cent − it does not curtail India’s weapons program at all. Nuclear trade will do more to facilitate India’s nuclear weapons program than to curtail it. Safeguards apply only to that part of the nuclear program that India considers surplus to military ‘requirements’. India is free to build new, unsafeguarded reactors or other facilities for its weapons program. The opening up of nuclear trade with India has clearly escalated the South Asian nuclear arms race.
Will safeguards in India be tokenistic or non-existent? No point asking the IAEA or the Australian safeguards office – both organisations are notorious for their secrecy and for failing to respond to questions. What little information is on the public record seems designed to confuse rather than to clarify – specifically, the IAEA provides some aggregate data on the number of inspections carried out in India, Israel and Pakistan but no India-specific information. From 2005-09, 44–50 safeguards inspections were carried out each year in those three countries, but the figure increased to 67 last year. So perhaps safeguards in India will be tokenistic rather than non-existent?
Even if a credible safeguards regime were established to ensure peaceful use of Australian uranium in India – and it won’t – that would in no way undo the damage done to the nuclear non-proliferation regime by permitting uranium sales to countries refusing to sign the Non-Proliferation Treaty.
Nor would a rigorous safeguards regime address another key problem: uranium exports to India freeing up domestic reserves for weapons production. K. Subrahmanyam, former head of the India’s National Security Advisory Board, has said that: “Given India’s uranium ore crunch and the need to build up our minimum credible nuclear deterrent arsenal as fast as possible, it is to India’s advantage to categorize as many power reactors as possible as civilian ones to be refueled by imported uranium and conserve our native uranium fuel for weapons grade plutonium production.”
Which leaves advocates of uranium sales to India with the drug-dealer’s defence: some other countries have abandoned the principle that nuclear trade should be restricted to Non-Proliferation Treaty signatories so Australia might as well follow suit. Yet, as Ron Walker, former Chair of the IAEA Board of Governors, argued last week: “India is a democracy and yes we want to be in their good books, but that is no reason to drop our principles and our interests. To make an exception for them would be crass cronyism. If you make exceptions to your rules for your mates, you weaken your ability to apply them to everyone else. How could we be harder on Japan and South Korea if they acquired nuclear weapons? Could we say Israel is less of a mate than India?”
The alternative course for Australia is to side with the large majority of the world’s countries who want to re-establish and reinforce the principle that nuclear trade should be restricted to countries that have signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty and take seriously their non-proliferation and disarmament commitments.
We could take a principled rather than an unprincipled approach. We could lead rather than follow.


Australia’s bargain basement Boxing Day special on uranium

Online Opinion, 9 Dec 2011

http://www.onlineopinion.com.au/view.asp?article=12991&page=0
How low can Australia go with uranium export policy? Can we match the bargain-basement Boxing Day specials? You bet we can. We now have uranium export agreements with all of the ‘declared’ nuclear weapons states – the U.S., U.K., China, France, Russia – although not one of them takes seriously its obligation under the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) to pursue disarmament in good faith. That weakness, among others, is now being used to justify disregarding the NPT altogether with sales to India. Selling uranium to countries in breach of nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament norms violates Australian government policy and binding Labor platform policy. That’s pretty low.
We claim to have championed the adoption of ‘Additional Protocols’, agreements that provide the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) with somewhat greater powers to uncover covert weapons programs. But we waited until all of our customer countries had an Additional Protocol in place before making it a condition of uranium sales, that’s not leveraging improvements in the safeguards regime, it’s low-brow PR.
We claim to be working to discourage countries from producing fissile (explosive) material for nuclear bombs, yet we export uranium to countries blocking progress on the proposed Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty. And we give Japan permission to separate and stockpile plutonium although that stockpiling has fanned regional proliferation risks and tensions in North-East Asia for many years.
In 1993, cables from the U.S. Ambassador in Tokyo posed these questions: “Can Japan expect that if it embarks on a massive plutonium recycling program that Korea and other nations would not press ahead with reprocessing programs? Would not the perception of Japan’s being awash in plutonium and possessing leading edge rocket technology create anxiety in the region?”
Australia’s response? We have weakened the previous policy of requiring case-by-case permission to separate and stockpile plutonium, and we now give Japan open-ended permission. That’s pretty low. In theory, Australia has a relatively ‘strict’ policy of requiring Australian consent to separate and stockpile plutonium produced from Australian uranium. In practice we have failed when put to the test and permission to separate plutonium has never once been refused.
We sell uranium to countries with a recent history of weapons-related research. In 2004, South Korea disclosed information about a range of weapons-related R&D over the preceding 20 years. Australia has supplied South Korea with uranium since 1986. We don’t know whether Australian uranium or its by-products were used in any of the illicit research in South Korea. The attitude from the Howard government and its safeguards office was ‘see no evil, hear no evil’.
The 2006 approval to sell uranium to China set another new low: uranium sales to an undemocratic, secretive state with an appalling human rights record (such as jailing nuclear whistle-blowers). That precedent was reinforced with the subsequent approval of uranium sales to Russia (another undemocratic nuclear weapons state, though Russia prefers to deal with dissidents by poisoning them with radioactive polonium).
The Russian agreement set a new low: uranium sales to a country that is very rarely visited by International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards inspectors – just two inspections over the past decade. Federal parliament’s treaties committee recommended against uranium sales to Russia until some sort of safeguards system was put in place, only to have its recommendation ignored.
Another new low with the Russian agreement: we granted permission to Russia to process Australian uranium at a nuclear plant that is entirely beyond the scope of IAEA inspections. The IAEA has no authority to inspect the plant even if it had the resources and the inclination to do so.
The decision to sell to India sets a new low: uranium sales to a country which is outside the NPT altogether and is not subject to the requirement of the ‘declared’ weapons states to pursue nuclear disarmament in good faith. As former Defence Department Secretary Paul Barratt recently said: “The discrimination is in India’s favour, not against it.”
And another low: India would be the only one of Australia’s uranium customers that is definitely continuing to produce fissile material for weapons (China may also be doing so).
And another low: we take pride in Australia’s ‘leadership’ role in the development of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty yet we sell uranium to countries that have signed but not ratified the CTBT (the U.S and China) and the government now plans to sell uranium to India, which has neither signed nor ratified the CTBT. The CTBT remains in limbo because those three countries, and a few others, refuse to ratify it.
And another low: if uranium sales to India proceed, it will be the first time since the Cold War that we have sold uranium to a country which is engaged in a nuclear arms race. India and Pakistan have increased the size of their nuclear weapons arsenals by 25-35 per cent over the past year alone. Both continue to develop nuclear-capable missiles. Both are expanding their capacity to produce fissile material. Both refuse to sign or ratify the CTBT.
The India decision marks a low-point in Australia’s international diplomacy. To permit uranium sales with no meaningful commitment by India to curb its weapons program, and to de-escalate the South Asian nuclear arms race, is spineless, irresponsible, dangerous sycophancy.
How low can we go? Plans are in train to sell uranium to the United Arab Emirates, probably followed by other undemocratic state in the Middle East. We were planning uranium sales to the Shah of Iran months before his overthrow in 1979. The Middle East has been (and remains) a nuclear hot-spot with numerous covert nuclear weapons programs – successful, aborted, destroyed or ongoing. The Middle East has also seen numerous conventional military strikes and attempted strikes on nuclear plants, in Iraq (several times), Iran, Israel, and most recently Israel’s strike on a suspected reactor site in Syria.
Short of selling uranium deliberately and specifically for weapons production – as we did after World War II – I don’t think its possible for Australian uranium export policy to sink any lower. I suppose we can take some comfort from that. Sort of. Not really.