Prime Minister Julia Gillard can use her trip to India this week to undo the damage she has done to the nuclear non-proliferation regime.
Until the December 2011 Labor National Conference, the government maintained Australia’s long-standing position of banning uranium sales to countries that refuse to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). The NPT is the central pillar of the global nuclear regime − it commits nuclear weapons states to pursue disarmament and other countries to refrain from building weapons.
Kevin Rudd explained the previous position: “No-one in Australia wants a nuclear arms race aided by us in the Indian sub-continent or between India and China because we’ve failed to properly ensure the upholding of the NPT and the [International Atomic Energy Agency] safeguards regime under it.”
Every generation has its doomsday scenario. When my mother was studying for what she quaintly calls her “matriculation” in 1962, the Cuban Missile Crisis broke out. She downed her pen in protest. What was the point of studying, she told her unimpressed immigrant parents, if nuclear war was about to break out?
By the end of that decade, concerns over nuclear bombs were defused by The Population Bomb, the explosive book by Stanford University Professor Paul Ehrlich which warned of mass starvation and all kinds of chaos due to over-population.
That threat waned too, at least in the public mind. As eventually did the Y2K bug, mad cow, mad bird, mad pig and mad everything else. And now, it seems, climate change is waning as a serious threat in the public estimation.
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When David Gonski fronted up to his first day of work as the new Chairman of the Future Fund this week, he walked into a flurry of controversy from unexpected quarters.
Not only was Gonski’s appointment ungraciously questioned by Peter Costello (who felt entitled to the position himself) but he was also subjected to a small band of gas-mask wearing demonstrators outside the Fund’s Melbourne office demanding that the Australian tax-payers money should not be channeled through the Future Fund into companies that manufacture nuclear weapons.
By midweek, online activist group GetUp! had send an email to hundreds of thousands of Australians about the future fund’s activities and, by Thursday, over ten thousand had signed an online petition. It was clear that Gonski may have inherited more toxic skeletons in the Future Funds closet from its former Chairman David Murray than he had bargained for.
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You don’t have to oppose uranium mining to oppose exports to nuclear-armed India. All it takes is a strong desire not to have an atomic bomb dropped on your head ... or anyone else’s.
Thus critics of the plan to sell to India include uranium mining advocates Ron Walker, a former Australian diplomat and former Chair of the International Atomic Energy Agency; Paul Barratt, former Secretary of the Defence Department; and Kelvin Thomson, a member of Labor’s Right faction and Chair of Parliament’s treaties committee.
The main concern is that India has not signed, and will not sign, the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Needless to say, that sets an alarming precedent. If the response to the India’s nuclear weapons program is to reward it with sales of uranium and nuclear technology, then others are sure to follow.
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Early this year, with minimal fuss, the government-owned Future Fund made a principled choice to divest taxpayers’ dollars from companies that produce cluster bombs and land mines – pernicious devices that kill and maim long after a conflict has ended. Their victims, overwhelmingly, are civilians.
Based on this decision, one might assume that the fund – which was set up in 2006 to cover the pension costs of retiring politicians, judges and public servants – has also excluded nuclear weapon companies. After all, these have grave humanitarian consequences too.
But not so. Documents obtained by the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons in May revealed that the Future Fund owns $135 million worth of stocks in 15 companies that build nuclear arms for the United States, Britain, France and India.
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Sixty-six years ago today the face of civilization was changed forever, when a nuclear bomb almost incinerated the Japanese city of Hiroshima, instantly killing tens of thousands of people.
By the end of the decade that bomb – and another bomb dropped on nearby Nagasaki – had claimed the lives of half a million people.
This year on Hiroshima Day, 6 August 2011, Australian Red Cross begins a campaign to re-ignite the push for a ban on the use of nuclear weapons – calling on young Australians from all walks of life to finish what their parents started.
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And so now we’re selling uranium to the Russians. Juggling the morning madness of kids, breakfast, dogs and work, the news item relayed via my tinny trannie was easy to miss and at first didn’t register. And then the irony of it all hit me like a shovel between the eyes.
It is very, very, hard to convey to Gen Y what it was like coming of age in the late ‘seventies and early ‘eighties - before we were called Gen X, before mobile phones and before the internet.
It’s hard to make them understand what it was like living everyday thinking that it could be your last, thinking you were seconds away from being annihilated in atomic cataclysm launched by those Godless Soviets.
The connection between power and proliferation is the inconvenient truth of the nuclear industry.
Articles in The Australian in recent weeks by Ziggy Switkowski and academic Andrew O’Neil trivialise the links between nuclear power and nuclear weapons. O’Neil in particular had me choking on my cornflakes (and spluttering them all over Greg Sheridan’s mugshot, as luck would have it) with his contention that “every nuclear weapons program since and including the US Manhattan Project has been the product of dedicated military reactors rather than an offshoot of civilian programs.”
O’Neil seems blissfully unaware that uranium enrichment provides a pathway to nuclear weapons without the need for a reactor of any description. He points to North Korea, claiming that “no one − including high-level International Atomic Energy Agency experts − was in any doubt ... that North Korea’s nuclear reactor program was military in its focus and intent.”
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Nuclear warfare isn’t as popular as it used to be. There was a time when it was on everybody’s lips, from the cheery family man stocking up a bomb shelter to fresh-faced children learning to crouch under desks.
That old-fashioned pine was the best defence against hydrogen bombs was a bone of contention between engineers and education departments for years.
The Cold War was a time when the world was an uncomplicated place. Red was bad. Smoking was good.
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Conventional wisdom tells us that we should stand up to bullies. But what do you do when the bully is of questionable mental health with access to weapons grade plutonium?
(Warning: The video clip below contains strong language which some will find offensive)
On Friday June 12, the United Nations Security Council unanimously passed Resolution 1874, calling on all member States (nations) of the United Nations to expand sanctions placed on North Korea, sanctions that were first introduced in October 2006 following North Korea’s first nuclear test. The sanctions call for tougher inspections of cargo suspected to contain banned items relating to the North’s nuclear and ballistic missile activities. This is in response to the North’s most recent nuclear test in May.
North Korean reaction to the resolution was predictable. The Korean Central News Agency reported that any new sanctions imposed against them would be considered a declaration of war; the Foreign Ministry stated that North Korea would “weaponise all plutonium” in their possession and would begin uranium enrichment – the first stage in producing viable nuclear weaponry. The Ministry also stated that it considered any attempt at a blockade as an “act of war that will be met with a decisive military response”, and would “counter ‘sanctions’ with retaliation and ‘confrontation’ with all-out confrontation.”
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As the rest of the world watches North Korea and its leader Kim Jong-il with absolute amazement some of us believe we understand him at least a little bit.
I won’t say I ‘m close to him although he did once present me (through an intermediary) with a black lacquer vase (which I then declared on my pecuniary interests register as a gift from “the Dear Leader” as he is known ... and which no journalist in the NSW press gallery picked up as an issue).
At least I have as credentials for talking about North Korea the fact that I have been there twice.
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