Australian news, and some related international items

Alarm on nuclear waste transport

Clare Peddie, Sunday Mail 31 July 2022, Rural 1st Edition p.22

A DECISION to exclude the risks of shipping and trucking intermediate-level radioactive waste from the environmental impact assessment of the planned Kimba nuclear waste dump has riled MPs, experts and Whyalla locals.

Independent environment campaigner and consultant David Noonan said Whyalla was the only port in the region with the infrastructure to take the 110-tonne casks the waste would be shipped in.

Mr Noonan wrote to the federal government in June demanding an explanation for excluding shipping and transport of ‘waste residues from reprocessing spent research reactor fuel’ from the EIS.

‘It is nonsensical and contrary to the public interest,’ he said. ‘It is just not credible to claim a later separate referral and assessment can somehow cover (it) … after the dump has been pushed through.’

Environment Department assistant secretary Kylie Calhoun said separating the transport issue would result in a ‘better-informed assessment of (it) at a future point in time.’

South Australian Greens senator Barbara Pocock said that was an ‘unacceptable’ position.

State Giles MP Eddie Hughes called for a ‘round-table dialogue about the responsible long-term disposal of our domestic long-lived intermediate waste, not moving it from one interim site to another’, given it ultimately required ‘deep geological disposal’.

Nuclear industry expert and author Ian Lowe, an adjunct professor at Flinders University, said the ‘serious’ transport risks deserved proper scrutiny and consultation.

Whyalla resident Andrew Williams has raised his concerns with the council.

Mr Williams said he firmly believed the transport routes should be publicly disclosed and subject to extensive consultation.

July 31, 2022 Posted by | AUSTRALIA - NATIONAL, Federal nuclear waste dump | Leave a comment

Australia urged to prove it is a safe nuclear custodian as Aukus comes under scrutiny at UN.

Non-nuclear state Australia’s handling of nuclear-powered submarines will have to be ‘impeccable’, Australia Institute says Tory Shepherd, Mon 1 Aug 2022

Australia needs to step up in the fight to stop nuclear conflict, and to prove to the world it is a safe nuclear custodian, a new report argues.

The report by the Australia Institute comes ahead of a major global conference that starts on Monday in New York, where Australia’s Aukus submarine deal will come under scrutiny.

The report argues it is time to revive the UN non-proliferation treaty, which was struck after the Cuban missile crisis and in the midst of the cold war, and aims to stop the spread of nuclear weapons and to achieve complete disarmament.

Allan Behm, the Australia Institute’s director of international and security affairs, said the treaty was “in trouble”. It was not just the “nuclear pariah states” and the nuclear threats from the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, in the context of the war in Ukraine, he said, but also the threat of a domino effect if the mainstream nuclear powers see no option but to follow other countries in nuclear expansion.

Australia should “play a truly constructive role in highly uncertain times”, Behm argued, and work with other countries on “verifiable disarmament”.

Separately, the UN has set up a taskforce to ensure Australia’s plan to buy nuclear powered submarines from either the US or the UK will not breach the treaty.

Aukus was formed in part to counter China’s rise in the region, and China has been fiercely critical of it. Now, two thinktanks linked to the Chinese government have accused Australia of harbouring a desire for nuclear weapons, and declared Aukus will trigger a nuclear arms race and violate the treaty because it will likely use weapons-grade uranium to power the boats.

A Dangerous Conspiracy: The nuclear proliferation risk of the nuclear-powered submarines collaboration in the context of Aukus was released by the China Arms Control and Disarmament Association and the China Institute of Nuclear Industry Strategy.

“The Aukus nuclear-powered submarines collaboration is a serious violation of the object and purpose of the NPT, sets a dangerous precedent for the illegal transfer of weapons-grade nuclear materials from nuclear-weapon states to a non-nuclear-weapon state, and thus constitutes a blatant act of nuclear proliferation,” the report states.

China will attend the UN’s Tenth Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons alongside a 16-strong Australian delegation.

In disrupted times, with the treaty under pressure, a shoring up of the rules-based order is needed to avoid chaos, Behm said.

“This is nowhere truer than in the domain of nuclear arms control and disarmament, where the existential threat of humanity’s nuclear annihilation runs in parallel with the threats from global warming and pandemics,” he said.

“And in the case of nuclear disarmament and global warming, the major treaty that underpins global efforts has been undermined by the constant shift of the ‘middle ground’ away from high aspiration towards the lowest common denominator as key players erode the substance of earlier agreements.”

Australia is a non-nuclear state, but will acquire a fleet of submarines with nuclear reactors on board. The very nature of a reactor on a military vehicle makes it harder to monitor. The monitoring of all nuclear assets is critical to ensure enriched uranium is not diverted to weapons manufacturing.

If Australia gets the green light, other nations could use that precedent to argue for their own hard-to-monitor nuclear reactors (Iran already has).

This is why Australia’s handling of the situation will have to be “impeccable”, Behm said.

Australia has to let its diplomats function effectively and set policy targets to “regain the momentum on arms control and disarmament diplomacy that Australia displayed in previous decades”, he said.

“If it proceeds, Australia’s decision to acquire nuclear-powered submarines under the auspices of the [Aukus] will require impeccable non-proliferation credentials on Australia’s part.”

Australia can help work towards disarmament via the comprehensive test ban treaty (which bans all nuclear weapons testing), a fissile material cut-off treaty (to reduce national stockpiles of enriched uranium or plutonium), a no first use declaration (don’t be first to pull the trigger) and negotiations to reduce arsenals and delivery systems.

Sixteen Australian officials will take part in the treaty conference, led by the Labor senator Tim Ayres. Australia’s arms control and counter-proliferation ambassador, Ian Biggs, will also be there, and it is understood that the test ban and fissile material treaties will be priorities.

“Australia’s delegation to the Tenth Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) will work over the four weeks of the meeting to address pressing nuclear proliferation challenges and advocate for practical steps towards nuclear disarmament,” a spokesperson from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said.

July 31, 2022 Posted by | AUSTRALIA - NATIONAL, politics international, weapons and war | Leave a comment