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All the way with the USA: Howard's dream of a nuclear enrichment and waste dump future

Make no mistake. The current debate about nuclear power in Australia is a furphy. The real agenda is the development of a nuclear enrichment industry and a global nuclear waste dump to store huge volumes of depleted uranium and to take high-level waste from all over the world, including the United States.

The Prime Minister's taskforce is hand picked for the task. It will find that nuclear power is not economically viable but that an expanded uranium mining, nuclear enrichment industry and waste dump will be highly lucrative and will make Australia a key player in the global nuclear industry. The plan is to develop the enrichment facility in South Australia in association with the huge expansion of the Olympic Dam mine at Roxby Downs and to transport the enriched uranium via the Halliburton-owned railway to Darwin for leasing to overseas countries like India.

By leasing and not selling, Australia will be able to join the USA in circumventing the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Since it is clear that nuclear is too slow, too dirty and too dangerous to address climate change or energy security, why has nuclear rushed onto the Australian agenda?

Look no further than the mutual admiration club of US President George Bush and Prime Minister John Howard. During the Vietnam war Australians had to endure the sickening refrain "All the way with LBJ", referring to the federal government's support of US President Lyndon B Johnson. Now we are seeing Prime Minister Howard clamouring to be part of President Bush's grand nuclear plan, the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership (GNEP). Prime Minister Howard, a long-time admirer of all things American just as former prime minister Menzies was of all things British, could hardly contain his excitement, after his recent visit to Washington, that President Bush had a real strategic role for Australia to play in America's 21st century empire. The United States wants to control which countries can access nuclear technologies and develop civilian power, and it wants to find a global waste dump for high-level nuclear waste, including its own. What's more, the Nuclear Suppliers Group set up by the US to oversee rules governing the supply of uranium, nuclear fuel and technology, has now offended its creator, with Sweden and Switzerland blocking consensus on the US-India nuclear technology deal because it undermines the NPT. Instead of respecting multilateralism and the rule of law, the US now wants to set up a new organisation that will do what it wants.

Who better for President Bush to turn to than his good friend and ally Prime Minister Howard? Australia, with 40 per cent of the world's uranium reserves and wide open spaces ripe for a dump, presents a perfect solution. The US initiative for a Global Nuclear Energy Partnership proposes a number of nuclear fuel supply centres around the world. GNEP participants would offer other countries a reliable supply of nuclear fuel and fuel services including waste storage. Whilst Australia might argue that exporting uranium will not lead to leakage into weapons programmes in countries like China and India, the US is keenly aware of the danger and the loopholes in safeguard arrangements. It also fears that bomb-ready plutonium derived from reprocessing spent nuclear fuel rods from power plants would be susceptible to misuse, theft or terrorist attack. But it cannot secure support in the United States for a dump at home. So to address the nuclear proliferation and waste storage and disposal issues, US deputy energy secretary Clay Sell said: "We hope to develop an international regime┬ůso that fuel can be leased to a country interested in building a reactor and taking fuel, but then the fuel can be taken back to the fuel cycle country."

This plan for fuel suppliers to take back the high-level waste would suit the US because public opposition there has stalled the US government's plan to open a long-term spent nuclear fuel and waste repository at Yucca Mountain. Prime Minister Howard's remark while announcing the nuclear taskforce - "If we are not a nuclear fuel supplier then that shuts us out of certain gatherings" - reveals exactly where the Prime Minister is coming from. Just as he was desperate to be part of the coalition of the willing that invaded Iraq in 2003, he is determined not to be left out of President Bush's nuclear plan. It is ironic that those who stand in front of the flag and invoke the memory of ANZAC to reaffirm their patriotism are the very politicians who are compromising Australia's independence and global positioning so profoundly. The Greens do not share a vision of Australia as an adjunct to the US. We do not want a nuclear future for Australia as a global uranium supplier and nuclear waste dump. We want Australia to be a world leader in renewable industries like solar with a global reputation for solar thermal and sliver cell technologies. We want to be part of the global drive for peace and a solution to global warming. This article was first published in Green Left Weekly on 14 June 2006

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