by Gareth Hughes
I find Question Time the scariest part of being an MP. You never know what the Minister will say in reply – but I was astounded what Environment Minister Nick Smith, said in response to my questions around uranium and plutonium today.
He revealed that since the 1970s radioactive uranium ore concentrate has been passing through New Zealand waters and Ports without successive Government’s even being aware till March this year. Were there any standards regarding the handling of radioactive shipments adhered to over the last twenty years or were we just lucky?
Smith tried to downplay the risks by saying that a New Zealander would have to eat yellowcake to be adversely affected.
I’ve always said the risks to the health and environment of New Zealanders aren’t massive, but the principle is that nuclear free New Zealand should not be part of the nuclear supply chain.
The extraction and end use of uranium pose enormous ethical questions for NZ. We don’t say that as long as a nuclear bomb isn’t detonated in NZ, it can be brought into NZ, so why would we say that as long as uranium is kept in drums on a ship, can it be brought to NZ.
The extraction of uranium has caused enormous health and political problems for Australia. The Electrical Trades Union (ETU) in Queensland and the Northern Territory is banning its members from working on uranium mines or within the nuclear energy industry. They call it the asbestos of the 21st centuary and site the health risks it poses on its workers.
Nick Smith attempted to guarantee that this uranium would not be used for weapons. There is vast literature illustrating that there is just no way to make such a guarantee. Even where Australian uranium is used exclusively for nuclear power generation, it is freeing the supply for nuclear weapons. Madame Fu Ying, China’s former ambassador to Australia, told a Melbourne Mining Club luncheon in December 2005 that China has insufficient uranium for both its civil and military nuclear programs. And a Taipei Times editorial in 2006 stated that “Whether or not Aussie uranium goes directly into Chinese warheads — or whether it is used in power stations in lieu of uranium that goes into Chinese warheads — makes little difference.”
This is a distinction that Nick Smith failed to grasp today as he fervently went on about New Zealand’s health and ignored the responsibility New Zealand had as part of the supply chain of this incredibly destructive material.
I also revealed to the Government that in May the Pacific Pintail and Pacific Heron carrying Mixed Oxide radioactive plutonium possibly passed through our waters without our Government even knowing. I think this is unacceptable.
Nick Smith is undermining the blood sweat and tears of Kiwis in the 1980s that fought bravely to entrench New Zealand’s nuclear free status on the world stage.
I believe New Zealanders do not want to support the nuclear industry by allowing radioactive uranium ore concentrate to be shipped through our ports. There is a Facebook group for those who would like to keep up to date with this campaign.
In my opinion Nick Smith has embarrassed us all in front world leaders at the Nuclear Suppliers Group meeting in Christchurch today.