Antinuclear

Australian news, and some related international items

Australia’s nuclear research reactor was always intended as the first step towards the nuclear bomb

The push for an Aussie bomb   It took former PM John Gorton almost three decades to finally come clean on his ambitions for Australia to have a nuclear bomb. THE AUSTRALIAN, By TOM GILLING  30 Aug 19,

In December 9, 1966, the Australian Government signed a public agreement with the US to build what both countries described as a “Joint Defence Space Research Facility” at Pine Gap, just outside Alice Springs. The carefully misleading agreement expressed the two countries’ mutual desire “to co-operate further in effective defence and for the preservation of peace and security”.

Officially, Pine Gap was a collaboration between the Australian Department of Defence and the Pentagon’s Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency, but the latter was a red herring meant to conceal the real power at Pine Gap: the Central Intelligence Agency….the truth was that the Joint Defence Space Research Facility was joint in name only and its purpose was not (and never would be) “research”. It was a spy station designed to collect signals from US surveillance satellites in geosynchronous orbit over the equator. ……

The building of an experimental reactor at Lucas Heights in Sydney’s south was supposed to be the first step in a nuclear program that within a decade would see the development of full-scale nuclear power reactors. ……

During the 1950s Australian defence chiefs ­lobbied vigorously for an Australian bomb. When it became clear that the prime minister, Robert Menzies, had reservations, they went behind his back. Menzies did agree, however, to let Britain test its nuclear weapons in Australia — a decision, according to historian Jacques Hymans, taken “almost single-handedly… without consulting his Cabinet and without requesting any quid pro quo, not even access to technical data necessary for the Australian government to assess the effects of the tests on humans and the environment”……….

Gorton’s political reservations about the non-proliferation treaty masked a deeper fear: that signing the treaty might cause Australia’s ­nascent atomic energy industry to be “frozen in a primitive state”. Gorton and the head of Australia’s Atomic Energy Commission, Philip Baxter, were both committed to pursuing the development of an Australian bomb. Scientists at the AEC worked with government officials to draw up cost and time estimates for atomic and hydrogen bomb programs. According to the historian Hymans, they outlined two possible programs: a power reactor program capable of producing enough weapons- grade plutonium for 30 fission weapons (A-bombs) per year; and a uranium enrichment program capable of producing enough uranium-235 for at least 10 thermonuclear weapons (H-bombs)  per year. The A-bomb plan was costed at what was considered to be an “affordable” $144 million and was thought to be feasible in no more than seven to 10 years. The H-bomb plan was costed at $184 million over a similar period.

Aware of opposition to any talk of an “Aussie bomb”, ­Gorton carefully played down the military aspect and argued instead for the economic benefits of a nuclear power program. ………

a US ­mission did visit Canberra at the end of April 1968.   Officials from the AEC had impressed the US visitors with “the confidence of their ability to manufacture a nuclear weapon and desire to be in a position to do so on very short notice”.  

The Australian officials, they said, had “studied the draft NPT [non-proliferation treaty] most thoroughly… the political rationalisation of these officials was that Australia needed to be in a position to manufacture nuclear weapons rapidly if India and Japan were to go nuclear… the Australian officials indicated they could not even contemplate signing the NPT if it were not for an interpretation which would enable the deployment of nuclear weapons belonging to an ally on Australian soil.”

Eighteen months after Rusk’s fractious visit to Canberra, Gorton called a general election. He declared his commitment to a nuclear-powered (if not a nuclear-armed) Australia, announcing that “the time for this nation to enter the atomic age has now arrived” and laying out his scheme for a 500-megawatt nuclear power plant to be built at Jervis Bay, on NSW’s south coast. While the defence benefits of such a reactor were unspoken, there was no mistaking the military potential of the plutonium it would be producing.

The Jervis Bay reactor never got off the drawing board, although planning reached an advanced stage. Detailed specifications were put out to tender and there was broad agreement over a British bid to build a heavy-water reactor. A Cabinet submission was in the pipeline when Gorton lost the confidence of the party room and was replaced by William McMahon, a nuclear sceptic who moved quickly to defer the project.

It would be another 28 years before Gorton finally came clean on the link between the reactor and his ambition for Australia to have nuclear weapons.  . In 1999 he told a Sydney newspaper that “we were interested in this thing because it could provide electricity to everybody and… if you decided later on, it could make an atomic bomb”. Gorton did not identify who he meant by “we” (although Philip Baxter was almost certainly among them) but Gorton and those who shared his nuclear ambitions were unable to win over the doubters in his own government.

Australia signed the non-proliferation treaty in 1970 but even as it did so it was clear that Gorton had no intention of ratifying the treaty. Australia would not ratify it until 1973, and then only after McMahon’s Coalition government had lost power to Gough Whitlam’s Labor Party. As well as ratifying the treaty, the Whitlam government cancelled the Jervis Bay project that had been in limbo since McMahon became prime minister. And with that, Whitlam effectively ended Australia’s quixotic bid to become a nuclear power.

Australia never got its own bomb, although as late as 1984  the foreign minister, Bill Hayden, could still speak about Australian nuclear research providing the country with the potential for nuclear weapons. The Morrison Government is unlikely to let the nuclear genie out of the bottle, with a spokesperson from the Department of Defence telling The Weekend Australian Magazine that “Australia stands by its Non-Proliferation Treaty pledge, as a non-nuclear weapon state, not to acquire or develop nuclear weapons”.  …..    https://www.theaustralian.com.au/weekend-australian-magazine/gorton-and-the-bomb-australias-nuclear-ambitions/news-story/00787e322a41d2ff37a146c86a739f02 

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August 31, 2019 - Posted by | AUSTRALIA - NATIONAL, history, politics, secrets and lies, weapons and war

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