The great unspoken in the nuclear debate is not the danger
posed to residents by reactors in backyards, but the dangers to all of us from
enriching uranium and its link to nuclear weapons.
When it comes to Iran it is accepted that there is an
inherent connection between nuclear power and weapons. However in Australia,
where we propose exporting uranium to rogue nuclear powers, and where we are
already developing weapons capable enrichment technology, it seems the topic can
not be discussed. Witness Alexander
Downer’s dismissal of the topic on when it was raised by Stephen Crittenden on
Radio National on Monday morning.
Even leaving aside the great dangers of adding to nuclear
weapons proliferation by selling uranium to India and China, we need look no
further than current activities at the ANSTO research reactor
at Lucas Heights to know what is at stake.
Silex Systems Ltd has been developing cutting edge laser
uranium enrichment technology for years (see Greenpeace report)
and just last month it sold the technology to the US energy giant GE (media release here).
This cheap form of enriching uranium, which could be used
for nuclear power and weapons, is small scale, which makes it much harder to
detect and monitor in rogue states. No US spy satellite pictures like those we
see from Iran would do the job.
Laser enrichment has been tried by a range of risky states:
South Korea, Iran, Argentina, Brazil, China, India, Iraq, Israel , Pakistan,
Romania, Russia, South Africa, and
Yugoslavia for 30 years but only now, as a result of the GE/Silex deal, do we
know its potential.
In a post 9/11 world where terrorist weapons, including
nuclear ones, can get smaller and more concealable, any chance that more nuclear
material and technology can proliferate is a nightmare just waiting to happen.
We need a full nuclear debate that doesn’t just cover climate
change, economics and nimbyism. All the risks, particularly those associated with
uranium enrichment, nuclear proliferation, foreign policy and regional security,
need to be on the table.