Updates, articles and media releases about ASNO.

In this file:

* Some updates on ASNO’s activities

* Article in The Age about ASNO’s false and misleading evidence to the treaties committee’s inquiry into the Howard/Putin agreement.

* Opinion piece by Prof. Broinowski and Assoc. Prof. Tilman Ruff.

* FoE media release about ASNO accepting award from pro-nuclear lobby group.

* Crikey article by Assoc. Prof. Tilman Ruff


A 2002 AFR article about ASNO/safeguards + follow-up letters is posted at this archived webpage:



April 2008 – Ian Biggs from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) refuses a request to provide a substantive, written response to the detailed EnergyScience critique of ASNO.

September 2008 – Most of ASNO’s evidence to the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties inquiry into the Howard/Putin deal is rejected by the Committee. For example, the Committee concludes that uranium sales should be contingent on the conduct of IAEA safeguards whereas ASNO argues that (non-existent) safeguards will “ensure” that Australian uranium remains in peaceful use.

John Carlson/ASNO and Ian Biggs/DFAT conspicuously failed to inform the Committee that there has not been a single IAEA safeguards inspection in Russia since 2001 although that information was surely available to them. To be precise, Carlson acknowledged that point in verbal evidence to the Committee but only after the information had already been provided to the Committee by an NGO.

September 2008 – Ian Biggs (DFAT) and John Carlson (ASNO) appointed to advisory/secretariat roles with the Rudd government’s International Commission on Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament.

October 2008 – The Australian Nuclear Association, a pro-nuclear lobby group, presents an ASNO representative with the annual ANA award, in recognition of ASNO’s “outstanding contributions to progressing safeguards and non-proliferation on behalf of Australia over many years.” It is inappropriate for a statutory office holder to accept an award from a lobby group.

January 2010. Evidently John Carlson is leaving ASNO – his Director General job has been advertised.

2011. Wikileaks revelations regarding ASNO Director-General John Carlson’s lobbying within the UN/IAEA to oust IAEA Director-General Mohamed El Baradei. (Carlson is no longer with ASNO – he does some work for the Lowy Institute.)

Nuclear watchdog feels the heat over Russia deal

William Birnbauer
October 5, 2008

AUSTRALIA’S nuclear safeguard agency has been accused of incompetence and providing false evidence to MPs who were assessing the merits of a proposed $1 billion uranium export deal with Russia.

Protest groups, which have been critical of the Australian Safeguards and Non-Proliferation Office (ASNO) for many years, celebrated recently when the joint parliamentary committee on treaties recommended against proceeding with the Russian deal.

The committee’s majority report rebuffed most of ASNO’s arguments in favour of a nuclear agreement, citing serious doubts about the checks and balances on Russia’s nuclear facilities.

Friends of the Earth has lodged a complaint with the treaty committee about the evidence ASNO officials gave to the committee earlier this year and may ask Parliament’s privileges committee to investigate.

The $1 billion uranium deal, forged by former prime minister John Howard and Russia’s then-president Vladimir Putin in September last year, would have helped Russia realise its plan to build another 40 nuclear power plants by 2020. It already has 31.

Australia, with almost 30% of the world’s uranium reserves, is the second-largest uranium producer after Canada.

In a major embarrassment to ASNO, the Labor-dominated committee rejected its assurances that Russia was taking steps to separate its civil and military sectors and that civil reactors would be inspected by International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) officials.

“While the committee notes ASNO’s assurances, the committee also notes that … IAEA safeguards failed to discover the efforts of Iraq and Libya to develop nuclear weapons,” the committee said.

It heard that the agency had not conducted safeguards inspections in Russia since 2001. “The supply of uranium to Russia should be contingent upon such inspections being carried out.”

ASNO officials also told the committee that Russia had taken steps to secure its nuclear sites, but the committee said questions remained about the smuggling of nuclear material within Russia.

It recommended the Federal Government consult the US, Britain, the European Union, Canada and Japan on whether the theft of nuclear material in Russia had been addressed.

The committee also rejected ASNO’s assurances that safeguards would prevent Australian uranium from being used in nuclear weapons. “The committee considers it is important to recognise that the material and capacity to produce nuclear power intrinsically involves the capacity to produce fissile material usable for nuclear weapons,” it said.

Liberal committee members produced a dissenting report which backed ASNO’s position.

Committee chairman Kelvin Thomson declined to criticise ASNO but told The Sunday Age that its evidence was “vigorously contested by non-government groups”.

Anti-nuclear, environment and medical groups called on the Federal Government to reform ASNO, urging its removal from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade due to conflicts with the department’s role in trade promotion.

Australian Conservation Foundation spokesman David Noonan said ASNO did not reflect the Rudd Government’s policies on strengthening nuclear safeguards.

He said it was incompatible for the Government to be launching an international commission on non-proliferation and disarmament while a key government agency was proposing to sell uranium to Russia, which recently threatened to use nuclear weapons against Poland.

Friends of the Earth nuclear campaigner Jim Green recently wrote to the joint standing committee on treaties complaining about false statements made by ASNO and federal Coalition members. He said ASNO “falsely asserted” that IAEA safeguards would “ensure” Australian uranium was used only for peaceful purposes. But there was no requirement in the Howard-Putin deal for any IAEA inspections.

The president of the Medical Association for Prevention of War, Dr Sue Wareham, said ASNO’s evidence was not credible.

ASNO’s director-general, John Carlson, was unavailable for comment.



Prof. Richard Broinowski and Assoc. Prof. Tilman Ruff
Herald Sun
September 03, 2007

THE agency dealing with Australia’s uranium exports is making an absurd claim. The Australian Safeguards and Non-Proliferation Office says Australia sells uranium only to countries with “impeccable” non-proliferation credentials.

In fact, Australia has uranium export agreements with nuclear weapon states that are failing to fulfil their disarmament obligations under the Non-Proliferation Treaty. Australia is also dealing with states with a history of covert nuclear weapons research based on their “civil” nuclear programs. The Australian Government permits uranium sales to countries, including the United States, which are blocking progress on the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and the proposed Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty.

This is supported by the Safeguards Office and the Government proposes allowing uranium sales to India, which is not a signatory to the Non-Proliferation Treaty. This is a serious blow to the international non-proliferation regime, yet has been met with silence from the Safeguards Office.

Last year’s debate on uranium sales to China showed the Safeguards Office at its worst. The Safeguards Office did not know the number of nuclear facilities in China, nor which of these would process uranium and its by-products. The Safeguards Office was dismissive of China having the worst record of exports of proliferation-sensitive materials and know-how of any of the nuclear weapon states.

The Safeguards Office claims that all nuclear materials derived from Australia’s uranium exports are “fully accounted for”. But that claim is false. There are frequent accounting discrepancies involving Australia’s nuclear exports. What the Safeguards Office means when it says that nuclear material is “fully accounted for” is that it has accepted all the explanations provided by uranium customer countries for accounting discrepancies, however fanciful those explanations may be.

Perhaps the most misleading of the claims made by the Safeguards Office is its repeated assertion that nuclear power does not present a weapons proliferation risk. In fact, power reactors have been used directly in weapons programs. Some examples include India, which is reserving eight out of 22 power reactors for weapons production.

The inevitable conclusion arising from our detailed critique of the Safeguards Office is that, at best, it is ineffectual. At worst, the Safeguards Office serves the commercial interests of the nuclear industry and the political interests of those who promote it. It contributes more to the problem of nuclear weapons proliferation than to the solutions.

We call on the Federal Government to establish an independent public inquiry to review all aspects of the Safeguards Office. The inquiry should be adequately resourced, and should have powers similar to those of a royal commission.

Prof RICHARD BROINOWSKI is a former Australian ambassador and Assoc Prof TILMAN RUFF is the Australian chair of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons.

Detailed report: <www.energyscience.org.au>


Friends of the Earth
Media Release – October 24, 2008

The Australian Safeguards and Non-proliferation Office (ASNO) is today bringing itself into further disrepute by accepting an award from a pro-nuclear lobby group, the Australian Nuclear Association (ANA).
Friends of the Earth nuclear campaigner Dr Jim Green said: “ASNO is an independent statutory office and should not be accepting an award from a lobby group. Yesterday, ASNO claimed in Senate Estimates that the ANA is not a lobby group but an industry group. But the ANA is a lobby group – its constitution includes the aim of ‘promoting … the use of nuclear science and technology’. And ASNO is clearly accepting an award from the industry it purports to regulate.
“The credibility of ASNO is already under serious challenge as its false and misleading evidence was comprehensively rejected by the parliamentary treaties committee’s recent inquiry into the Howard/Putin uranium deal. For example, ASNO misled the committee with false claims that safeguards would “ensure” that Australian uranium does not end up in Putin’s weapons, but research by Friends of the Earth revealed that there have been no IAEA inspections in Russia since 2001.”
Friends of the Earth has lodged a complaint (available on request) with the Parliamentary Privileges Committee regarding ASNO’s false ‘evidence’ to the treaties committee.
“ASNO is notorious for peddling false claims, such as its claims that nuclear power does not pose a WMD proliferation risk, that Australia only sells uranium to countries with ‘impeccable’ non-proliferation credentials, and that all of Australia’s uranium is ‘fully accounted for’,” Dr Green concluded.


Crikey.com.au article

Assoc. Prof Tilman Ruff, Australian chair of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, writes:

On 3 September, the Herald Sun published an opinion piece by myself and retired diplomat Prof. Richard Broinowski on the failings of the Australian Safeguards and Non-Proliferation Office (ASNO), the Canberra-based government organisation which is meant to minimise the risk of Australian uranium being diverted to nuclear weapons production.

Our opinion piece summarised a detailed paper which we sent to Foreign Minister Alexander Downer. We asked him to respond to our recommendation for an independent, public inquiry into the operations of ASNO. We were rather astonished to find that Mr Downer asked ASNO to respond on his behalf! Talk about putting the fox in charge of the chicken coop.

Not surprisingly, the ASNO response fails to respond to any of the substantive issues we raised – indeed our original paper noted ASNO’s “conspicuous failure” to address substantive criticisms.

The ASNO response also repeats the lie that safeguards “ensure” that Australian uranium will not contribute to the proliferation of nuclear weapons. Australia relies on the International Atomic Energy Agency to safeguard our nuclear exports, yet the head of the Agency concedes that its safeguards system suffers from “vulnerabilities” and that efforts to improve it have been “half-hearted”.

It may be expedient for the government to have a safeguards office which asserts that “nuclear power is not a proliferation risk”, but basing public policy on a tissue of lies hardly makes for good policy and is all the more lamentable when it involves the proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction.