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THE NON-PROLIFERATION TREATY PEACEFUL NUCLEAR EXPLOSIONS

estimates and the strength of overseas markets for uranium. S o m e changes were m a d e in the organisation of the A A E C , to lessen its independence from the government and the bureaucracy. (Moyal, 1975.)

Although on the surface the beryllium research was going smoothly, the research w a s making little progress. B y 1963, if not before, A A E C scientists were privately admitting that Australian reactor technology simply could not compete with developments overseas. T e a m s in both France and the U S had investigated and abandoned beryllium moderator research. The development of nuclear power overseas w a s proving to be m u c h slower, more expensive, and m o r e difficult than most had anticipated. Thus the prospect of nuclear power reactors in Australia in the short-term w a s unlikely. Moreover American and British suppliers usually offered turn-key contracts and few countries were developing indigenous reactor technology. T h e rationale for the beryllium research, particularly given the poor results, w a s fading but n o alternative project w a s evident. Eventually the

beryllium research w a s w o u n d d o w n from the m i d 1960s. (Alder, 1996; Moyal, 1975.)

3.4. NUCLEAR POWER, NUCLEAR WEAPONS,

the level of political support for these projects. This flurry of activity in the late 1960s clearly illustrates h o w a seemingly innocuous, small-scale nuclear program can, in a short space of time and under the impact of changing conditions, become something m o r e sinister.

There was high-level interest in nuclear weapons before the late 1960s. It is worth tracing over this history since it is relevant to the arguments being developed, and

since m u c h of it has only recently c o m e to light - largely thanks to Cawte's (1992) research and m o r e recently with the declassification of government documents dating from the early to m i d 1960s.

In the 1950s Baxter was openly arguing that one of the advantages of nuclear power w a s that it would open u p the possibility of producing nuclear weapons. H e w a s arguing for a reactor which could be converted fairly easily and cheaply for m a x i m u m plutonium production if necessary. H e courted politicians and the military establishment. H e might have expected a sympathetic ear given the Cold W a r paranoia of the time; indeed the defence and foreign policy establishment had s h o w n s o m e interest in acquiring nuclear weapons from the U S . (US legislation had been passed enabling the stationing of nuclear arms in allied

countries, and the A N Z U S treaty further bolstered the possibility of U S weapons being stationed in Australia.) S o m e politicians, including government Ministers, were also advocates of domestic nuclear weapons. H o w e v e r the general weight of opinion, a m o n g politicians and other arms of the state, w a s that there w a s no urgency and that the alliances with the U S and U K would suffice. (Cawte, 1992, ch.6.)

Whatever the confidence in the US and the UK, sections of the Australian military establishment wanted nuclear bombs. The government's Defence

Committee, comprised of the chiefs of the armed forces, approached the U S . Very little c a m e of the approach, just s o m e vague promises to consider Australia if the U S chose to station nuclear weapons in the region. The Defence Committee

considered approaching the U K for the supply of tactical nuclear weapons,

thinking that Australian support of the British weapons program would boost its chances. In 1958 an informal approach w a s m a d e to buy bombers and tactical nuclear weapons from the U K , but to no avail. (Cawte, 1992, ch.6.)

Menzies and other leading figures in the government consistently denied that overtures were being m a d e about the purchase of nuclear weapons overseas.

H o w e v e r s o m e within the government were openly advocating the acquisition of nuclear w e a p o n s - including John Gorton, w h o later became Prime Minister.

While interested in purchasing nuclear weapons, or having nuclear weapons stationed in Australia, defence planners were less interested in producing them -in part because of the cost, and also because of the implications for relations with allies, in particular the U S . Thus Baxter's idea in the 1950s for a power reactor at M o u n t Isa, which could also produce plutonium to be stockpiled for weapons, came to nothing. (Cawte, 1992, ch.6.)

Similar attitudes prevailed through the early to mid 1960s, during which time the government w a s paranoid about Indonesia's role in the region (Sheridan, 1994).

In 1962 a Defence Committee submission to Cabinet argued that a nuclear weapons capability would vastly increase Australia's defensive and offensive strength. H o w e v e r the Committee said that there w a s no immediate need for an independent nuclear weapons capability, and that in the short term it w a s more important to strengthen conventional forces. In the same year, Cabinet discussed the possibility of a feasibility study into the building of a power reactor at Lucas Heights. The Minister for National Development, William Spooner, said that the expertise gained through a power reactor project would be invaluable if a decision were m a d e to build nuclear weapons. A submission to Cabinet by the A A E C also noted that a power reactor could provide plutonium for nuclear weapons.

(Stewart, 1993.)

The willingness to entertain the nuclear weapons option was evident in the 1963 decision to buy F-lll bombers from the U S ; one reason for this decision w a s the

potential to modify F-llls to carry nuclear b o m b s if required. Moreover their range of 2000 nautical miles m a d e them suitable for strikes on Indonesia. (Stewart, 1994.)

In 1965 and 1966, the Minister for National Development, David Fairbairn, made submissions to Cabinet proposing a design and cost study into nuclear power. The 1966 submission canvassed the weapons connection, in particular the potential to use the expertise gained in a nuclear power program for the development of weapons. (Henderson, 1997.)

In 1965, the AAEC and the Department of Supply were commissioned to examine all aspects of Australia's policy towards nuclear weapons and the cost of

establishing a nuclear weapons program in Australia. The A A E C , floundering at the time, would have to be maintained if the weapons option w a s to be pursued or even left open. Harold Holt, w h o replaced Menzies as Prime Minister in 1966, gave Baxter s o m e indication that the government might approve construction of a power reactor. The beryllium project gave w a y to research into heavy-water,

natural-uranium reactors; still there w a s an expectation that power reactors would be fuelled with natural uranium from domestic deposits. (Cawte, 1992, ch.6.)

The AAEC also began a centrifuge uranium enrichment program in 1965. One reason for this program w a s doubts about ongoing supply of research reactor fuel.

Another reason w a s the potential profit to be m a d e through export of enriched uranium or even completed fuel elements. Tied in with this were nationalist ideologies, and ideologies of technological progress and sophistication as opposed to being a "quarry for Big Brother", to use the words of a former Chief Executive of the Commission (Alder, 1996, pp.30-31). A third reason for the enrichment

research w a s to keep open the option of introducing LEU-fuelled power reactors and producing that fuel in Australia. (Hardy, 1996.)

The enrichment research was carried out in secret until the Commission made the project publicly k n o w n in 1967. The initial secrecy w a s for fear that public

knowledge of the project would raise allegations of intentions to develop nuclear bombs. (Alder, 1996, pp.30-31.) Whether the enrichment research w a s initiated or pursued partly because of the weapons connection is open for speculation. Clearly there w a s s o m e interest in and support for a nuclear weapons capability at the time, and a willingness to pursue civil nuclear projects in such a w a y as to leave the weapons option open. Baxter m a d e the link between uranium enrichment and weapons production a number of times over the years (Cawte, 1992, ch.6). It is also worth making the (obvious) point that regardless of intentions, an

enrichment plant certainly would have facilitated the production of H E U weapons if they were ever sought.

From the mid 1950s, the US entered into nuclear cooperation agreements with a number of countries. O n e such agreement w a s signed with Australia in 1956

although it had little consequence for technology transfer. (Cawte, 1992, pp.60-62.) In 1966, the U S government wanted to transfer safeguards provisions associated with the agreement to the IAEA. The Australian government agreed, but only after being reassured by defence officials that I A E A safeguards would not preclude a nuclear weapons program. (Greenless, 1997.) The previous year, there were Cabinet discussions on the potential for nuclear transfers from France which would not be subject to safeguards (Henderson, 1996).

Despite the glut in the uranium market, the Minister for National Development announced in 1967 that uranium companies would henceforth have to keep half of their k n o w n reserves for Australian use, and he acknowledged that this

decision w a s taken because of a desire to have a domestic uranium source in case it w a s needed for weapons production. (Cawte, 1992, ch.6.)

There was a clear pattern through the 1950s and 1960s. There was sustained, high-level, and growing interest in a domestic nuclear weapons capability, but it w a s

not seen as an urgent matter nor w a s their consensus on the issue. The

government w a s not intent on developing nuclear weapons in the short term - it merely wanted to keep its options open.

The momentum continued to build in the late 1960s. Baxter was still an influential advocate of nuclear weapons, as were some other influential nuclear scientists and administrators such as Ernest Titterton. The now-defunct

Democratic Labor Party (DLP), strongly R o m a n Catholic and fiercely anti-communist, alone a m o n g political parties of any substance past and present, advocated nuclear weapons development in official defence policy statements.

The D L P polled between 5-10% at federal elections. The Returned Services League advocated a weapons program, though equivocally at times, and there w a s some support within the defence forces. (Martin, 1980; Cawte, 1992, ch.6.)

The growing momentum was fuelled by political developments overseas. The Menzies government w a s far more comfortable with the Suharto military dictatorship than it had been prior to the 1965 massacre and take-over by the Indonesian military. Nevertheless, the British had withdrawn from Malaya and there w a s concern about Soviet or Chinese c o m m u n i s m spreading south. In 1964 China exploded its first nuclear weapon. The collapse of the 1954 Geneva

agreement over Vietnam seemed imminent. There were doubts about the willingness of the U S or Britain to provide military aid in the case of threats to Australia. There w a s particular concern to strengthen the alliance with the U S , which partly explained Australia's involvement in the Vietnam W a r and the hosting of a growing number of U S military facilities. (Bellany, 1972, chs.5, 7;

Cawte, 1992, ch.6.)