Agreement Extending the Framework Agreement for International Collaboration on Research and Development of Generation IV Nuclear Energy Systems
We support the recommendation that binding treaty action be taken to enable further collaboration in relation to international research and development of Generation IV Nuclear Energy Systems.
This support is essentially given because we agree that Australia should remain aware of, and involved in, this important area of research, but not because Australia has any interest in pursuing nuclear energy systems.
Indeed, we note that Labor’s National Platform includes the following statements of principle:
147. Labor recognises that the production of uranium and its use in the nuclear fuel cycle present unique and unprecedented hazards and risks, including:
Threats to human health and the local environment in the mining and milling of uranium and management of radioactive materials, which demand the enforcement of strict safety procedures;
The generation of products that are usable as the raw materials for nuclear weapons manufacture, which demands the enforcement of effective controls against diversion; and
The generation of highly toxic radioactive waste by-products that demand permanently safe disposal methods.
154. Labor will [inter alia]:
Prohibit the establishment of nuclear power plants and all other stages of the nuclear fuel cycle in Australia;
Remain strongly opposed to the importation and storage of nuclear waste that is sourced overseas in Australia.
On that basis, we make it clear we strenuously disagree with the argument put by Mr Barry Murphy (see 4.16-4.17) that the Framework Agreement will provide an opportunity for Australia to develop a nuclear energy program. It does no such thing, nor should it.
The National Platform outlines (at 152) a range of measures through which Labor believes Australia can make a contribution to international efforts, through the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and other mechanisms, to improve nuclear safeguards and reduce nuclear weapon proliferation.
One of the arguments (see 4.31-4.43) put in favour of entering the Framework Agreement is that our participation will assist Australia in retaining a permanent position on the Board of Governors of the IAEA, which in turn will empower our work in pursuing nuclear non-proliferation.
We note that Report 151 of the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties which covered the Australia-India Nuclear Cooperation Agreement included the recommendation that uranium sales to India only commence when “India has achieved the full separation of civil and military nuclear facilities as verified by the IAEA” (see Recommendation 3). In the Australian Government’s response to Report 151 (November 2015) it stated “that India has now designated all 22 civil facilities for the application of safeguards. On this basis, the Government is satisfied that the first element of the Committee’s recommendation is met.”
A different perspective is offered in the paper by Kalman A. Robertson and John Carlson, ‘The Three Overlapping Streams of India’s Nuclear Programs’, published in April 2016 by the Belfer Centre for Science and International Affairs within Harvard’s Kennedy School, whose introduction states:
In 2006, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh announced a Separation Plan for India’s civilian and military nuclear programs. It is often assumed that the Plan clearly and verifiably separates India’s nuclear facilities into two categories, civilian and military. The reality is that the Plan has produced three streams: “civilian safeguarded”, “civilian unsafeguarded”, and “military.” The tables in the annex to this paper contain lists of facilities in each stream. The relationships and overlap between the three streams are not transparent. Some civilian facilities, even when operating under certain provisions of India’s safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), may contribute to India’s stockpile of unsafeguarded weapons-usable nuclear material. Much of this complexity arises from the unique character of India’s safeguards agreement with the IAEA and the additional protocol to this agreement.
The overlap between civilian and military nuclear activities is likely to intensify as India scales up its nuclear power program and its enrichment and reprocessing industries. As India’s nuclear sector expands, it will be up to India to decide whether or not to place new facilities under continuous safeguards. Currently, the 500MW Prototype Fast Breeder Reactor, scheduled to achieve criticality in April 2016, and which India has not placed under safeguards, is poised to introduce a new pathway for the production of both electricity and unsafeguarded plutonium.
The incompleteness of the separation of India’s civilian and military programs should be taken into consideration by nuclear suppliers when determining conditions for nuclear cooperation.
This indicates the difficulty and complexity involved in setting and monitoring the conditions under which nuclear material is supplied and used, even under the auspices of the IAEA.
We are grateful for the joint submission from the Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) and Friends of the Earth Australia (FOE), and the submission from the Medical Association for the Prevention of War, both of which provide a detailed and cautionary context for the consideration and pursuit of ‘next generation’ or ‘Generation IV’ reactors.
While the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO) has explained that the point in time at which Generation IV reactors are capable of being constructed is between 10 and 40 years away (see 4.13), the ACF and FOE submission notes that the “development and commercialisation of Generation IV technology has always been decades away” (see 4.38).
The ACF and FOE submission also questions the assertion that the Framework Agreement would make a meaningful difference to our permanent place on the IAEA’s Board of Governors, a position Australia has held for decades. On the question of Australia’s nuclear non-proliferation work, the submission argues, persuasively, that “Nuclear non-proliferation would also be far better realised by active Australian engagement in the current UN process around the development of a nuclear weapons ban treaty. Instead Australia has spurned this pivotally important initiative and is refusing to participate. If Australia is serious about its international standing, our representatives would be at the table in New York.”
The draft United Nations treaty to prohibit nuclear weapons was released in Geneva on Tuesday, 23 May 2017, and reflects the work of 130 nations who have participated in the process. The Australian Government is refusing to take part in the ban negotiations. By contrast, Labor recognises the enormous potential and present value of this process, and resolved in its National Platform to support the negotiation of a global agreement to ban nuclear weapons (at clause 87).
In light of all these matters the concluding paragraph, 4.39, of the Report, which begins, “Questions of the future of nuclear energy in Australia aside”, would have been better and more usefully expressed if it had said, “While there is no reason for Australia to consider developing a nuclear energy system, and every reason to focus our research, regulatory, and funding efforts on developing safe and emission-free renewable energy, the Framework Agreement appears to offer significant opportunities for Australian research and technology for many years into the future.”
Mr Michael Danby MP
Mr Josh Wilson MP
Senator Jenny McAllister
Ms Susan Templeman MP