A fortnightly Green Bulletin of Peace News, Action and Analysis
GREEN MPS PROTEST FOR A FREE TIBET
Green MPs held the Tibetan flag outside parliament for the arrival of Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao. Their protest drew attention to the human rights abuses of the Tibetan people. In another symbolic protest Green Foreign Affairs spokesperson Keith Locke wore a red scarf with Tibetan flags on it at yesterday’s official lunch for Wen Jiabao.
In the House yesterday, Keith Locke asked the Prime Minister, what human rights issues, if any, had the government raised with the Chinese Premier during his New Zealand visit. Green MP Sue Kedgley asked why the New Zealand government had not publicly called on the Chinese Government to engage in a political dialogue with the Dalai Lama to bring autonomy to Tibet. Sue argued that the governments “craven pursuit” of a free trade deal with China was at the expense of the promotion of human rights.
Keith Locke points to several areas of concern about China’s human rights record. “Large numbers of Chinese dissenters are in jail, often for years at a time. Summary executions without due process of law are common, and China has the highest use of the death penalty of any country.” “Helen Clark should also be expressing New Zealand’s concern at the continuing abuse of the national, religious and cultural rights of the Tibetan people,” Keith says.
The Green Party also has misgivings about some of the likely consequences for New Zealand manufacturers of the free trade agreement now being negotiated with China. “There is no way there will be fair competition between New Zealand and Chinese manufacturers under an FTA arrangement, given the low Chinese wages that are an outcome of the state suppression of labour rights.” “It is not worth destroying New Zealand manufacturing for one or two export opportunities in the agricultural sector. ”
For more information and to see photos of the protest
HOWARD AND WEN DUCK NUCLEAR WEAPONS ISSUE
Before coming to New Zealand the Chinese Premier stopped in Australia to sign a deal to buy Australian uranium, supposedly to power nuclear power plants. Prime Minister John Howard’s deal with Chinese Premier Wen to sell Australian uranium to China will see Australian uranium either directly or indirectly support China’s nuclear weapons programme, the Australian Greens said today.
“The Chinese Ambassador to Australia in December 2005 said that China had insufficient uranium for both its nuclear power and nuclear weapons programmes,” Greens energy spokesperson Senator Christine Milne said. “It is obvious that Australian uranium will make up the shortfall.
“The agreements make clear that Australian yellowcake will go first to Chinese nuclear facilities for conversion and these are outside the safeguards agreement.
“Whilst Prime Minister Howard says that Australian uranium will only be permitted to be enriched to 20 per cent, there is no way that he can guarantee this as once the uranium is converted into uranium hexafluoride it is impossible to tell from where it was sourced.
“Australia should be providing cutting-edge renewable energy technology to the world and making a positive contribution to climate change and global security, rather than supporting a politically reactionary regime and the build-up of nuclear weapons.”
Further information on why uranium exports to China are too risky is given by Australian Friends of the Earth campaigner Dr Jim Green, in the Analysis section below.
The Bush administration in America is not happy about this, so the Australian government is now flouting its responsibilities under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and selling uranium to Taiwan as well. The media releases below by Australian Green Senator Christine Milne outline the frightening possibilities for regional security and the regional environment which may well result from this change of policy.
TAIWAN URANIUM DEAL FUELS REGIONAL INSECURITY
The sale of Australian uranium to Taiwan is fuelling insecurity in the region, the Australian Greens said on April 4.
“The Howard government’s decision to facilitate Australian uranium sales to Taiwan via the United States of America is irresponsible and contravenes our obligation under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) to reduce proliferation not to potentially increase it,” Australian Greens energy spokesperson Senator Christine Milne said.
“Taiwan cannot sign the nuclear NPT because it is not a state but selling uranium via third parties undermines international safeguards and restricts Australian oversight of how Australian uranium is used.
“The continuing tensions between Taiwan and China are of grave concern, especially since both the US and China have said in recent years that they would use military force against each other over Taiwan. Australia should not be feeding these tensions by facilitating the sale of uranium to China and Taiwan.
“In addition to concerns about security and nuclear weapons proliferation, Taiwan has no solution to its nuclear waste problem. Attempts to export nuclear waste from its power plants to the Marshall Islands and North Korea fell through in recent years.
“These uranium export agreements are being driven by the mining industry with little concern or thought about the environmental impacts in other countries.”
TIME TO MAKE GOOD ON AGENT ORANGE
Green Party Health spokesperson Sue Kedgley said on 31 March that Prime Minister Helen Clark’s stand against the Viet Nam war should inspire her to take up of cause of the many people still suffering from its consequences.
Ms Kedgley, who had just returned from the first international conference of victims of Agent Orange, held in Hanoi, urged the New Zealand Government to support an appeal issued there by the delegates. Ms Kedgley said she believed the Government should also support a lawsuit, to be further heard in New York next month, filed by victims of Agent Orange against the companies that manufactured the chemicals involved.
The appeal, from the victims and their supporters, and scientists from Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Great Britain, New Zealand, Republic of Korea, Russia, Switzerland, the United States and Viet Nam, urges international support for those still suffering the effects.
HAPPY NEWS ON HARMEET
The news that Auckland student Harmeet Sooden and two of his fellow hostages in Iraq had been released came through just after the last issue of JustPeace went out. It was greeted with pleasure and relief by the Green Party.
“It is wonderful that Mr Sooden has finally been released safely, after a long and harrowing ordeal for himself and his friends and family,” Green Foreign Affairs spokesperson Keith Locke said on 24 March.
“The Greens, and all New Zealanders, have been following his case with great concern, and it is such a relief to see his ordeal end in his safe release.
“The Greens wish to extend their support to Christian Peacemaker Teams and to other peace groups in New Zealand and around the world who have worked so hard for the last four months to secure his release,” Mr Locke says.
SIGN THE INTERNATIONAL PETITION TO BAN URANIUM WEAPONS AT
and read more about the International Campaign to Ban Uranium Weapons at
The following excerpts from the ICBUW’s mission statement (October 2003) explains where the weapons have been used, and what needs to be done to make the world safe from them.
” These radioactive and chemically toxic weapons were first used on a large scale by the US and the UK in the Gulf War in 1991, subsequently in Bosnia and Yugoslavia by NATO, and again in the war on Iraq by the US and the UK in 2003. It is strongly suspected that the US used uranium weapons also in Afghanistan. At least sixteen countries have weapon systems with uranium in their arsenals.
Because of mounting evidence of harmful effects of uranium on human health and the environment, we call for an immediate and universal ban  on the military use of uranium and other radioactive materials. In addition, we call for the cleaning up of all sites contaminated by these weapons along with compensation for all affected populations. We call for a halt to the production, testing, sale, stockpiling, transport and export of these weapons and a decommissioning of all existing stockpiles. We call for immediate medical assessment, treatment and long term monitoring of all those who have been exposed to uranium weaponry. We demand from the accountable governments full disclosure of all locations where uranium weapons have been used as well as the amounts of uranium involved. We call for financial support from organisations and individuals to provide independent medical and environmental investigations of affected countries. Finally, we call on governments to exclude their troops from alliance with any government that uses uranium munitions.”
TOO RISKY TO TRADE WITH CHINA: AUSTRALIAN URANIUM
In an article in the 1 February 2006 on-line edition of Green Left Weekly (
) Friends of the Earth anti-nuclear campaign Jim Green spelled out what the problems are. More articles and news releases by Jim Green and other members of the Beyond Nuclear Initiative can be found on the Friends of the Earth website
URANIUM EXPORTS TO CHINA TOO RISKY
An SBS-commissioned Newspoll of 1200 Australians last September found that 53% were opposed to uranium exports to China, with just 31% in favour. Nevertheless, on January 17 the federal government began negotiating a bilateral uranium export agreement with a Chinese delegation in Canberra and the negotiations will continue in the coming months.
What would happen to a whistleblower raising concerns about the diversion of materials from China’s nuclear power program to its weapons of mass destruction program? Most likely the same fate as befell Sun Xiaodi, who was concerned about environmental contamination at a uranium mine in north-west China. The non-government organisation Human Rights in China reports that Sun Xiaodi was sacked and harassed, and in April 2005, immediately after speaking to a foreign journalist, he was abducted by state authorities and has not been heard from since.
Beijing’s record of media censorship is equally deplorable. According to Reporters Without Borders, at least 27 journalists were being held in prison at the start of last year, making China the world’s largest prison for journalists.
Uranium sales to China would set a poor precedent. Will we now sell uranium to all repressive, secretive, military states, or just some, or just China?
For information about any diversion of Australian uranium for nuclear weapons production we would be completely reliant on the inspection system of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the provisions of the bilateral export agreement.
As a nuclear weapons state, China is not subject to full-scope IAEA safeguards. Facilities using Australian uranium would be subject to inspections, but “our” uranium would be mixed with, and indistinguishable from, uranium sourced elsewhere. Further, because the IAEA’s inspection program is chronically under-resourced, inspections would not be sufficiently frequent and rigorous to provide confidence – let alone certainty – that Australian uranium was not being diverted.
As for the bilateral agreement currently being negotiated, PM John Howard said on January 13 that the conditions for these agreements were laid down at the time of the Fraser government. But the conditions spelt out by Malcolm Fraser in May 1977 were being weakened literally within weeks of their creation.
Taken alone, none of the numerous “adjustments” to bilateral agreement provisions since May 1977 amount to a fundamental departure, but overall there has been a clear downgrading of safeguards. Reflecting these concerns, West Australian Acting Premier Eric Ripper recently said that there should be no exports of uranium to China or any other country because of the limitations of the safeguards.
Key provisions in bilateral agreements have never been invoked. It is commendable that Australian consent is required before uranium is enriched beyond 20% uranium-235 (highly enriched uranium can be used in nuclear weapons), but no customer country has ever sought consent to enrich beyond 20%. More importantly, numerous requests to reprocess spent nuclear fuel produced from Australian uranium have been received, but they have never once been rejected, even when this leads to the stockpiling of plutonium.
Given that bilateral agreement provisions have been repeatedly watered down, and some key remaining provisions have never been invoked, it cannot truthfully be claimed that Australia’s uranium export safeguards are better than any in the world.
Weakening export scrutiny
Freedom of Information documents released last year reveal that Beijing wants to further weaken provisions contained in bilateral agreements, though the detail remains unclear. Does China want a free hand to enrich uranium or to separate plutonium from spent fuel without seeking Australian consent?
Currently, China claims that it is not producing fissile material for its weapons program, but there is no independent verification of the claim. It is generally believed that China has sufficient fissile material for a modest upgrade of its nuclear arsenal, but would need to produce more fissile material for a significant upgrade.
The most likely driving force for a significant upgrade is China’s concern about the United States’ missile defence program. By supporting the US program, Australia may be encouraging China to expand its nuclear arsenal, and through uranium exports we may provide the raw materials.
Certainly the US regards China’s nuclear program with concern. The US Nuclear Posture Review, leaked in 2002, refers to China’s “ongoing modernisation of its nuclear and non-nuclear forces” and envisages nuclear attacks on China in the event of a confrontation over Taiwan. China has not ratified the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.
It is not difficult to envisage a scenario whereby the IAEA inspection regime and the bilateral agreement would count for nothing – the most obvious being escalating tension over Taiwan. Beijing promises military action in the event that Taipei declares independence, and Washington promises a military reaction in which Australia could become embroiled. The bilateral agreement would not be worth the paper it’s written on.
There are other serious concerns in addition to the potential use of Australian uranium in Chinese nuclear weapons. Wang Yi, a nuclear energy expert at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing, told the New York Times in January last year: “We don’t have a very good plan for dealing with spent fuel, and we don’t have very good emergency plans for dealing with catastrophe.”
The argument that China will simply source uranium from elsewhere if we do not supply it is morally bankrupt. By the same logic, we might just as well export illegal and dangerous drugs.
The nuclear lobby wants to have it both ways. On the one hand they argue we have a moral responsibility to export our uranium because it is a “clean” energy source and/or because Australian safeguards are stronger than other uranium exporting countries (no matter that both claims are false). On the other hand they argue that it won’t make the slightest bit of difference if Australia doesn’t export uranium.
The potential use of Australian uranium in weapons of mass destruction is clearly of public concern. Last year, an IAEA survey of 1020 Australians found that 56% of respondents considered the IAEA’s “safeguards” inspection system to be ineffective. A Morgan poll last year found that 70% of Australians oppose an expansion of the Australian uranium mining industry.
According to John Carlson, head of the federal government’s so-called Australian Safeguards and Non-proliferation Office, Australia sells uranium only to countries with an “impeccable” record on nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament.
While uranium sales to China would set a new low, few if any of Australia’s uranium customer countries have an impeccable record.
The US, France and the UK are uranium customers, but also nuclear weapons states that evidently have no intention of complying with their disarmament obligations under the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty.
Japan, a major customer of Australian uranium, has developed a nuclear “threshold” or “breakout” capability – it could produce nuclear weapons within months of a decision to do so, relying heavily on facilities, materials and expertise from its civil nuclear program.
An obvious source of fissile material for a weapons program in Japan would be its stockpile of plutonium – including plutonium produced using Australian uranium. In April 2002, the then leader of Japan’s Liberal Party, Ichiro Ozawa, said Japan should consider building nuclear weapons to counter China and suggested a source of fissile material: “It would be so easy for us to produce nuclear warheads; we have plutonium at nuclear power plants in Japan, enough to make several thousand such warheads.”
South Korea is another major customer of Australian uranium with less than impeccable credentials. In 2004, South Korea disclosed information about a range of activities that violated its nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty commitments – uranium enrichment from 1979-81, the separation of small quantities of plutonium in 1982, uranium enrichment experiments in 2000 and the production of depleted uranium munitions from 1983-87.
Australia has supplied South Korea with uranium since 1986. It is not known, and may never be known, whether Australian-sourced nuclear materials were used in any of the illicit research. South Korea has acknowledged using both indigenous and imported nuclear materials in the tests, but denies that any Australian uranium was used.
JustPeace is produced by Christine Dann, Hannah Scott and Keith Locke, MP
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