Introduction and Recommendation
The Australian Greens acknowledge the work and analysis in the Committee report on the Agreement between the Government of Australia and the Government of Ukraine on Cooperation in the Peaceful Uses of Nuclear Energy (the Agreement), and the findings that the Agreement does not contain a suitable contingency plan to ensure the security and control of Australian Obligated Nuclear Material (AONM).
At the outset, it is important to premise the below additional comments by noting that the Australian Greens do not support the mining and export of uranium, and believe these practices should cease. Therefore, the Australian Greens do not believe under any circumstances that binding treaty action should be taken to implement this Agreement.
Recommendation 1: No binding treaty action be taken regarding the Agreement between the Government of Australia and the Government of Ukraine on Cooperation in the Peaceful Uses of Nuclear Energy.
The Australian Greens note that there are a number of serious flaws and factors which should preclude any ratification of treaty action. These include:
Increasing security threats to Ukraine nuclear facilities and nuclear material;
Safety concerns surrounding Ukraine’s ageing nuclear reactor fleet and life extension program; and
The fact that the Agreement does not meet the national interest test.
In addition, the Australian Greens would like to show our deep concern that past JSCOT reports and recommendations in relation to proposed nuclear actions have been ignored by the Government. Agreements have been fast-tracked before any action has been taken to address pre-conditions and deficiencies. This should not be allowed to be replicated with the Ukraine Agreement.
Lack of regulatory control of Australian nuclear material due to war, civil unrest and corruption
The Australian Greens agree with the conclusion of the JSCOT majority report, which clearly states that “the repatriation provision in the Agreement is not in the Committee’s view sufficient to ensure Australian nuclear material can be safely removed from Ukraine in the event that regulatory control is threatened.”
The ongoing conflict between Ukraine and Russia presents a clear demonstration of the risks of exporting uranium to Ukraine. Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea, for example, led to the loss of control of multiple nuclear facilities and associated nuclear material in Ukraine. There is not sufficient evidence to suggest that the IAEA has the safeguards control or capacity to continue to regulate those facilities or the associated nuclear material. The lack of regulatory control that exist in Ukraine would make it extremely difficult, if not impossible, to repatriate AONM, should a situation arise where its security has become compromised.
JSCOT has clearly demonstrated that “war, civil unrest and corruption are not mitigated by safeguards inspections and security agreements”. The conflict not only represents a threat to control of nuclear material but to security of entire nuclear facilities.
Senior Government Regulators of Ukraine have warned:
“Given the current state of warfare, I cannot say what could be done to completely protect installations from attack, except to build them on Mars.” – Sergiy Bozhko, Chair of the State Nuclear Regulatory Inspectorate of Ukraine – May 2015.
Alexander Odoevskiy of the Russian Embassy said in December 2014:
“Given the Ukraine’s current geopolitical situation, can it provide enough security for this nuclear industry and safeguards so [uranium] doesn’t fall into the wrong hands? I’m not sure about whether the government institutions in Ukraine are capable of providing these stringent controls.”
The ongoing unrest and conflict in Ukraine, with the continuing Russian military presence and mobilisation on the Eastern border of Ukraine, coupled with numerous security incidents at reactors, are a forewarning that Ukraine nuclear facilities remain a security risk and military target.
The Committee states that “Australian nuclear material should never be placed in a situation where there is a risk that regulatory control of material will be lost”, and makes clear that The Agreement does not have sufficient mechanisms to ensure that control over AONM would be maintained.
To pursue this agreement without sufficient mechanisms in place would:
Breach Australia’s safeguards and security regime;
Further weaken Australia’s efforts on nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation;
Undermine Australia’s commitment to nuclear and radiation safety; and
Place AONM in a conflict zone with no mechanism to secure or repatriate that material in the event control over AONM was lost.
We recommend that the Executive accept the findings and recommendation of the JSCOT report and ensure that no AONM is transferred to Ukraine.
Safety of Ukrainian nuclear facilities
12 out of 15 operating reactors in Ukraine were designed to close by 2020. Extensions have now been granted for six reactors – allowing them to operate for up to two decades longer than they were designed for. It is anticipated that another six reactors will also receive life extension licenses. Safety breaches and minor accidents increase at aging reactors, as reported by Nuclear Engineering International in August 2016.
Although Ukraine engages with the IAEA, international financial institutions and foreign governments on nuclear co-operation, in practice it has not demonstrated compliance with conditions.
Ukraine has displayed a lack of consultation with neighbouring countries on its nuclear reactor life extension program, and was shown to be in breach of the Convention on Environmental Impact Assessment in a Transboundary Context (the Espoo Convention) in 2013.
There are ongoing concerns about Ukraine’s capacity to carry out safety inspections, as well as its compliance with international environmental law and funding agreements.
When considering nuclear safety it is important to remember that Australian uranium fuelled the Fukushima Reactors at the time of the Japanese earthquake and associated tsunami, and continues to be the source of pollution from the site.
JSCOT and NIA
Australia has made agreements to supply uranium to the United Arab Emirates, Russia and more recently India. Each of these agreements was reviewed by the JSCOT and on every occasion JSCOT identified procedural and capacity deficiencies, or opportunities for Australia to improve non-proliferation and nuclear safety outcomes. On every occasion recommendations made by JSCOT were actively ignored, or overruled by the Executive.
The agreement with Russia, which allowed the transfer of Australian uranium to Russia against the advice of JSCOT, was later subject to an embargo – demonstrating the prudence of JSCOT’s advice.
The Agreement under consideration was first formulated in 2014, months after Australia placed an embargo on uranium sales to Russia. Australia’s intention at that time was to demonstrate support for Ukraine over Russia.
The intent or justification to sell uranium to an ‘important’ or ‘strategic’ new market is fundamentally flawed. There is no growth in nuclear power in Ukraine and reactors are ageing and should be closed. According to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) and the Australian Safeguards and Non-Proliferation Office (ASNO) the anticipated increased demand from the Agreement is just a few hundred tonnes of ore that could equate to just 0.01% growth in Australia’s uranium exports.
The Committee has found that:
That are no existing mechanisms, or repatriation provisions, to ensure Australian uranium can be safely removed from Ukraine if regulatory control is threatened;
Australian nuclear material should not be placed in a situation where there is a risk of loss of regulatory control; and
Australian safeguards inspections and security agreements are not capable of ensuring control of nuclear material where there is war, civil unrest or corruption.
The Committee report is unambiguous in its recommendation that Australian uranium should not be sold to Ukraine without a clear “contingency plan for the removal of Australian nuclear material if the material is at risk of a loss of regulatory control.”
Given that there is no such contingency plan, the Australian Greens urge the Executive to accept the recommendations of the Committee and ensure that no binding treaty action is taken.