Helen Caldicott, Sydney Morning Herald, September 16, 2021
In 1971, radioactive isotopes were found in the Adelaide water supply having emanated from the French atmospheric tests being conducted on the Mururoa Atoll in the Pacific. As the Australian people learnt about the dangers posed by these tests, they rose up. Thousands marched in city streets, and entire pages of letters to the editor were published about the “bloody French”. So powerful was this outcry that prime minister Whitlam took France to the International Court of Justice, which ruled the tests were illegal.
Some years later Australia decided to mine uranium. In 1977, the ACTU passed a resolution to neither mine, transport nor export uranium – which stood until Bob Hawke introduced the three -mines policy.
Forty years later, where do we stand? Suddenly, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announces that Australia will, with the assistance of Britain and the US, build nuclear-powered submarines in Adelaide. As opposed to the 1970s and 80s, our democracy is now relatively uninformed about the implications of all things nuclear, including these submarines.
US nuclear submarines are powered with highly enriched Uranium 235, which can be used as fuel for nuclear weapons and thus poses a serious potential global proliferation problem. Although Scott Morrison makes soothing noises about AUKUS and proliferation, we must look years, and indeed decades, ahead. Future Australian governments may feel free to act differently. Questions must be asked:
1. Will Australia enrich the uranium for the submarines, a process that requires huge amounts of electricity in a time of acute global warming?
2. Will the uranium be mined here?
3. How many subs are to be built?
4. Where will they berth? And how will the waste be dealt with?
5. Where will they be deployed? And for what purpose? The US already deploys 18 Trident Subs, each armed with 196 nuclear weapons – three times the killing power of the threshold for nuclear winter.
It has been estimated that the US spent $14 trillion on wars since September 11, half of which was allocated to weapons firms, namely Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, Northrop Grumman, Boeing and General Dynamics, plus logistic firms, private security contractors and other corporate interests.
So influential are these companies now in Australia that they have covered Canberra International airport with huge posters advertising their lethal wares and their buildings have proliferated into Canberra itself.
But now that the Afghan war has finished, they need a new money spinner, and China fits the bill. Why is China now being positioned as a global threat? Yes, it has built some air bases on islands in the Pacific. But the US has over 800 military bases in 80 countries And, yes, belt and road initiative means that it is broadening its influence throughout the world – as the US has done for the best part of the 20th and now the 21st centuries.
This should not be a competition between rival powerful countries. Now is the time to realise that unless we move to global cooperation, this new provocative strategy could easily lead to nuclear war – as the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists predicted this year when they placed the doomsday clock at 100 seconds to midnight, the closest it has ever been in this unstable nuclear armed world.