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Nuclear profits could cost us dear

By Christine Milne - posted Friday, 7 April 2006

Let’s not have any more deception. The deal between the Federal Government and the Chinese Government of Premier Wen Jiabao on uranium sales reveals that John Howard's crusade for democracy stops at China's border.

While the prime minister talks up global security and argues that the Iraqis must be supported in their bid for democracy, it seems Australia should be realistic and turn a blind eye to repression of human and political rights and the ambitions of a totalitarian nuclear weapons state if the price for uranium is right.

Coalition MPs, ably assisted by Labor's resources spokesman Martin Ferguson, are salivating at the prospect of driving the minerals boom with uranium sales to China. But they know that the Australian community is worried about weapons and waste.


We have not forgotten the vicious murder of pro-democracy students in Tiananmen Square of 1989. Nor do Australians take lightly the threat made by the Chinese dictatorship that it would have no reservations about using nuclear weapons if the US intervened in any dispute over Taiwan.

Then there is climate change. Conveniently, those who until last year denied that climate change was happening now say that climate change is so severe that nuclear energy is the answer and, by the way, Australia has the uranium.

It would be a neat solution to public resistance to selling uranium to a nuclear weapons state if it had any merit, but it is wrong. The Greens have been saying for almost two decades that climate change is real and urgent. But nuclear power is not the answer. It is too slow, too expensive and too dangerous, and generates waste with no safe disposal. Renewable energy wins on all counts: speed, cost, safety and effectiveness.

The government has been at pains to convince the public that its bilateral safeguards agreement with China will guarantee that Australian uranium will not find its way into Chinese nuclear weapons. But China's ambassador to Australia admitted last December that China does not have sufficient uranium to meet the needs of its civil and military programs. Whether uranium is used in power stations in lieu of uranium going to nuclear warheads, the outcome is the same: directly or indirectly, Australian uranium will support China's nuclear weapons program. Wen confirmed this by ducking this specific question at this week’s news conference.

Second, the process of inspecting the conversion, enrichment and processing facilities and power stations is a sham. Howard's every answer to safeguards comes back to China's agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency. But that agreement covers only declared facilities, which are declared at China's discretion and which China can withdraw from oversight at any time by raising concerns about national security.

Furthermore, the conversion of yellowcake to gas, its enrichment for weapons grade or civilian reactor grade and its processing into nuclear fuel rods for power or weapons take place in facilities that are predominately controlled by the military and are not declared facilities.


Third, the Chinese military dictatorship has wilfully ignored or invalidated its commitments and treaties in the recent past, ranging from civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights to environmental responsibility and human health. Were China to contravene a safeguards agreement, we would rely completely on the under-resourced IAEA to uncover it because the level of political repression is such that posting a pro-democracy message on a website still incurs a jail term of seven to ten years.

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First published in The Australian on April 4, 2006.

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About the Author

Christine Milne is the Australian Greens' spokeswoman on energy and climate change.

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