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OPPOSITION TO THE AAEC/ANSTO

From its inception until the 1970s, there was little opposition to the AAEC Reasons for this included the secrecy of the A A E C and the largely bipartisan

support for nuclear technology from the major political parties. (Moyal, 1975.)

51 Eco-pax m o v e m e n t s in (West) G e r m a n y have fallen s o m e distance short of creating a revolutionary situation, but the combination of rigidity/blockage and w e a k state responses led to massive and sometimes violent protests in the 1970s and 1980s.

Since then, the various operations at Lucas Heights, including the research reactors, have failed to mobilise opposition to the same extent as issues such as uranium mining and the U S bases. H o w e v e r the A A E C / A N S T O ' s involvement in most of Australia's nuclear projects has never been lost on nuclear critics.

Moreover there has always been considerable mutual support between different eco-pax campaigns and groups. For example groups such as the M o v e m e n t

Against Uranium Mining, Friends of the Earth, and Greenpeace, have all taken up a range of issues including uranium mining, the U S bases, disputes over

radioactive waste, and last but not least the issue of the future of research reactors in Australia. Similarly, organisations such as uranium mining companies have supported the replacement of H I F A R even where they have little or no direct interest in the construction of a n e w reactor.

As well as the broader opposition to the AAEC/ANSTO from the eco-pax movements, there has been more concentrated opposition from sections of the local population. The Sutherland Shire Environment Centre has consistently been involved in campaigns relating to the A A E C / A N S T O . The Lucas Heights Study Group, a residents action group, w a s established in the mid 1970s and has been involved in m a n y campaigns over the years. A m o n g the various issues taken up by the Study Group have been demands that residential development near the A A E C not be allowed; that there be greater accountability and less secrecy in the A A E C / A N S T O ' s operations; that H I F A R and M O A T A be shutdown (for various reasons such as safety and environmental impact); that a waste repository be established and waste removed from Lucas Heights; that the discharge of liquid radioactive waste into the ocean cease; that the A A E C / A N S T O should undertake non-nuclear research and development; that a national cyclotron for medical radioisotope production be established; and that a health study should be

conducted in areas adjacent to Lucas Heights. (King, 1985.) Apart from the long-standing issues associated with the A A E C / A N S T O ' s operations, such as waste storage and disposal, there has been considerable adverse publicity from time to time relating to specific incidents such as the escape of uranium hexafluoride in 1984, and the 1996 shipment of 114 spent fuel rods to Scotland.

3.8. CONCLUSION

One issue which emerges from Australia's nuclear history is the recurring theme of nuclear militarism. Initially this involved support of the weapons programs of

the U S and the U K through the hosting of British weapons tests, American military facilities (including nuclear bases from the late 1960s), and uranium supply. Then from the 1950s there w a s s o m e interest in the purchase of nuclear

weapons from the U S or the U K or the stationing of nuclear w e a p o n s in

Australia. A n d through the 1960s, there w a s a greater willingness to entertain the idea of domestic development of nuclear weapons, most concretely expressed in the series of projects from 1969-71. The high-level interest in nuclear w e a p o n s faded quickly, along with most of the relevant projects, but national defence/

security concerns continue to shape nuclear development in Australia including the H I F A R replacement controversy.

Australia's nuclear history is also the history of the AAEC/ANSTO and its transition from an institution of great political, economic, and even military importance, to its m o r e modest role as a public-sector civil science agency.

The themes which have predominated in this chapter - the weapons connection, and the rise and fall of the A A E C - have been taken u p in s o m e recent literature on Australia's nuclear history. They receive emphasis in Alice Cawte's (1992) book Atomic Australia. C a w t e is not the first writer to discuss the nuclear weapons issue, but her account is the most systematic and sustained analysis of the interest in a domestic w e a p o n s capability and the intersection of that with projects such as the Jervis Bay nuclear p o w e r project.

Cawte's analysis is based on detailed archival research - she analysed a consider-able volume of unpublished literature such as Cabinet submissions from the

government's Defence Committee, various government Ministers, and Phillip Baxter. Cabinet documents from 1962-66, released in the five years since Cawte's book, all confirm the general thrust of her arguments - that there w a s high-level political interest in the possibility of developing a nuclear w e a p o n s capability (though no decision to systematically pursue a weapons program), and a willing-ness to pursue ostensibly civil nuclear projects such as nuclear p o w e r to lower the barriers to nuclear weapons.52 In other respects Cawte's arguments are necessarily speculative. For example there is a great deal of circumstantial evidence to support the argument that the Jervis Bay nuclear p o w e r project w a s pursued, in part, to lower the barriers to nuclear weapons, even though there w a s no public

admission along those lines.53 Overall, Cawte's analysis of the interest in a

domestic w e a p o n s capability is convincing. It is also insightful in its linking of the weapons issue with the history of the A A E C . In particular, C a w t e shows h o w the A A E C w a s floundering in the late 1960s and thus all the m o r e willing to involve

52 See Stewart, 1993,1994; Sheridan, 1994; Pemberton, 1994; Henderson, 1997; Greenless, 1997.

52 Indeed the sudden silence w a s revealing. M o r e information on the 1969-71 period will c o m e to light around the turn of the century, with the release of classified documents under the 30-year rule on disclosure of sensitive government documents.

itself in the development of nuclear explosives, whether for peaceful or military uses - this insight is of s o m e relevance to the H I F A R replacement controversy.

Cawte's book, and other literature on the weapons issue, has provoked some defensive responses from the nucleocracy. O n e such response is a book by Alder (1996), w h o w a s centrally involved in m u c h of the A A E C s w o r k from the

Commission's creation until 1982.54 O n the weapons issue, Alder (1996, pp.7-8) says that:

there was never any planning or work done by the AAEC towards the

development of nuclear weapons in Australia (All), repeat all, of the Commission's own work was directed at all times to the peaceful uses of Atomic Energy, and those who say otherwise are remoulding history to suit

their own false views and political purposes.

Whether there was ever any research at the AAEC directly related to weapons is an open question that is not addressed in the existing literature (so far as I a m

aware) nor in this thesis. In s o m e respects the question can be questioned:

regardless of intentions, and regardless of whatever might have taken place at the A A E C in relation to weapons development, a fair percentage of the A A E C s

ostensibly civil research, not least the power reactor research and the enrichment program, had obvious implications for weapons development even if that w a s not the aim.

Whether consideration was ever given to the potential to use HIFAR in a more direct manner towards the acquisition of nuclear weapons is also a matter of

speculation. Consideration m a y have been given to extraction of plutonium from spent H I F A R fuel, although the reactor produces insignificant amounts of

plutonium, and yields might still be insignificant even if plutonium production w a s maximised. Most probably the A A E C s plutonium extraction research, to the extent that it w a s concerned with weapons development, w a s pursued with a view to reprocessing fuel from the planned power reactor. In any case the

Commission's preliminary plutonium extraction research seems not to have gone far. Consideration m a y also have been given to diversion of H E U fuel, or

extraction of H E U from spent H I F A R fuel. Pursuit of any of these options m a y have jeopardised further supplies of H E U from abroad, which might have been one reason enrichment research w a s pursued.

54 See also Hardy, 1996. Like Alder, Hardy was employed by the A A E C / A N S T O for m a n y years.

Hardy's book is far more tightly argued than Alder's, but it only addresses the weapons issue in passing. Both books are focused on the A A E C s enrichment program.

M o r e generally, Alder's (1996) polemic misses the point. H e ignores Baxter's arguments, repeated over the years, that projects such as nuclear p o w e r and enrichment should be pursued in part to lower the barriers to w e a p o n s production. H e ignores (or is unaware of) the overtures m a d e by the federal government's Defence Committee to the U S and U K in relation to acquisition of nuclear weapons. H e says nothing about the A A E C s Plowshare Committee and the C a p e Keraudren P N E project. H e says nothing about the refusal of the

government to sign the N P T in the late 1960s, and Baxter's role in that episode. H e ignores the public advocacy of Gorton and several other politicians for a nuclear w e a p o n s "deterrent". H e ignores other comments on the public record, such as the admission by the Minister for National Development in 1967 that it w a s

government policy to maintain a domestic uranium source for w e a p o n s

production. H e says nothing about the intersection of civil and military nuclear programs overseas. T o the extent that these issues are addressed by Alder, it is simply to assert that neither Baxter nor anyone at the A A E C supported weapons development or supported civil nuclear development in part to lower the barriers to w e a p o n s development. H e repeatedly claims that those w h o claim otherwise are politically-motivated, anti-nuclear dogmatists w h o s e arguments rely on dubious sources.

As for the rise and fall of the AAEC, Alder (1996, p.9) says the Commission did not

"lose its w a y " at all:

what actually happened was that our political masters kept changing the

rules. Not just once or twice, but over and over again. In retrospect, I believe the AAEC and its staff showed great resilience in the face of constant

politically motivated changes, many of which were caused by ignorance-based dogma.

In short, Alder's (1996, p.79) thesis is that "Dogma won, over national interest."

His vision (p.83) is for Australia to provide the world with "total nuclear fuel cycle services including reprocessing and waste disposal", and if the ignorant,

politically-motivated dogmatists have their w a y , Australia risks invasion from Asian countries in need of uranium.