Richard Broinowski writes:

In his speculative piece on a regional uranium enrichment plant in Australia, John Carlson gets a few things wrong.

First, it is inaccurate to suggest that but for Labor's opposition, Australia might now be well on the way to establishing a uranium enrichment facility. Whitlam’s Minister for Minerals and Energy, RFX Connor, very much wanted to establish such a plant.  Only Whitlam's untimely fall from grace following the Khemlani affair brought Connor's plans to a halt.

Nor can opposition to such a scheme only be laid at the feet of Labor. McMahon scotched Gorton's plans for a nuclear reactor at Jervis Bay in 1971-72. Mindful of deep and pervasive suspicion of nuclear technology in the Australian community,  many Liberal politicians continue to be extremely coy about giving any support for an Australian nuclear industry.

Second, on what grounds does John assert that the Asia Pacific is a major growth area in nuclear power?

Before Fukushima, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and Singapore were all toying with the idea of building reactors. In the region at present, only Vietnam is. Further north, plans for the rapid expansion of nuclear reactor construction in China, Taiwan and South Korea have been slowed or delayed indefinitely as citizens increasingly express their opposition to all aspects of nuclear technology. In Japan itself, opposition to restarting any of the nation’s  more than fifty idle reactors has been steadily growing since Fukushima. Two former prime ministers – Hosokawa and Koizumi – have added their support to this opposition, which may well prevent the Abe Government in forthcoming elections from re-starting any reactors in the immediate future. In such a negative climate, it is not particularly accurate to suggest that the region is a ‘nuclear growth area’.

Third, why does John focus on Iran as the world’s main catalyst of nuclear proliferation? Yes, Iran’s nuclear program began with a certain degree of secrecy, but that was under the Shah with American backing. (Incidentally, every country with a nuclear program began its development in secrecy). Since 1979, the Islamic revolutionaries have simply carried on with and amplified the Shah’s projects, including enrichment.

Nor, as John asserts, is Iran’s enrichment program in violation of Iran’s commitments under the NPT. The country has a perfect right to develop all aspects of peaceful nuclear technology. Indeed, other signatories have an obligation to help it. By asserting, as John does, that no country has a legitimate reason to proceed with a wholly national program in proliferation-sensitive areas, simply reinforces the double standard of the NPT. It is analogous to Washington’s ‘permission’ to allow Japan to proceed with both an enrichment and a re-processing industry whilst prohibiting the Republic of Korea from doing the same. It is the same double standard that applies to nuclear disarmament, where the nuclear ‘haves’ are obliged to dismantle their nuclear weapons in exchange for nuclear ‘have-nots’ promising neither to acquire nor build their own. The nuclear ‘haves’ have patently failed to disarm.

Like many countries with the technical capacity to develop their own nukes, Iran has become impatient at this double standard, although we must hope that it doesn’t develop nukes as this would surely lead to  devastating regional proliferation.