Who's watching the nuclear watchdog?

The EnergyScience Coalition is today releasing a comprehensive, 14,000 word critique of the Australian Safeguards and Non-Proliferation Office, the Commonwealth agency tasked with preventing proliferation dangers associated with Australia's uranium exports. The report details many false and misleading statements by the Safeguards Office and calls on the Howard government to establish an independent public inquiry.

 

 

MEDIA RELEASE AUGUST 30, 2007

WHO'S WATCHING THE NUCLEAR WATCHDOG?

The EnergyScience Coalition is today releasing a comprehensive, 14,000 word critique of the Australian Safeguards and Non-Proliferation Office, the Commonwealth agency tasked with preventing proliferation dangers associated with Australia's uranium exports. The report details many false and misleading statements by the Safeguards Office and calls on the Howard government to establish an independent public inquiry.

Professor Richard Broinowski, a former Australian Ambassador and one of the authors of the report, said: "This paper pulls together some of the more fanciful claims of the Safeguards Office. These include that we only allow uranium sales to countries with impeccable non-proliferation credentials, that nuclear power is not a proliferation problem, and the old chestnut about the use of reactor-grade plutonium in nuclear weapons. Unfortunately, the Safeguards Office is simply giving an unrealistic sugar-coating of false assurance to an increasingly sceptical Australian public."

Co-author Assoc. Prof. Tilman Ruff, from the Medical Association for the Prevention of War, said: "Last year's debate on uranium sales to China showed the Safeguards Office at its worst. In testimony to the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties, the Office did not know the number of nuclear facilities in China, nor how many or which facilities would process uranium and its by-products. Nor did it know how the International Atomic Energy Agency selected nuclear facilities for inspection. The Safeguards Office was dismissive of China having the worst record of exports of proliferation-sensitive materials and know-how of any of the nuclear weapon states."

Assoc Prof. Ruff said: "At best, the Safeguards Office is ineffectual, providing an illusion that an independent agency is protecting the interests of the Australian people when it comes to the important matter of nuclear proliferation. At worst, the Safeguards Office serves principally the commercial interests of the nuclear industry and the political interests of those who promote it, providing a smokescreen of safeguarding the public interest against nuclear dangers, while actually being more part of the problem of nuclear proliferation than the solutions.

"It is time for the federal government to establish an independent public inquiry to review all aspects of the Safeguards Office – its competence and performance; scientific and technical expertise; whether its current management, organisation and relationships best serve its mandate; any conflicts of interest; whether it has sufficient independence; and options for reform. The inquiry should be adequately resourced, and should have powers similar to those of a Royal Commission to access witnesses, documents and other evidence," Assoc. Prof. Ruff concluded.

 

The Briefing Paper is available at <www.energyscience.org.au>.

Contact:

Prof. Richard Broinowski (02) 9327 8281, 0432 175 594

Assoc. Prof. Tilman Ruff 0438 099 231

The EnergyScience Coalition comprises scientists, engineers and policy experts. It is supported as a community service by the Australian Centre for Science, Innovation and Society at the University of Melbourne.