Thursday 9th February 2012
I rise to support the Nuclear Terrorism Legislation Amendment Bill 2011. Last year, the British Home Secretary, Theresa May, told the Washington Council on Foreign Relations that in the fight against extremism:
Success will depend on balancing the near and long term objectives. Repeated tactical success will not of itself assure us of strategic victory. We must extend the rule of law; address the ideological challenge; harness and not be harmed by technology; and preserve our borders in what will surely remain a period of instability.
The Home Secretary's prescription is a very good one. It is one we should share, and I believe we do. Despite the benefits of technology, there are those who would seek to manipulate science and use it against their fellow human beings for their own nefarious and evil purposes. Radical extremists have vowed to go to any lengths in the name of their cause. That includes unleashing biological or nuclear weapons. Amongst them, al-Qaeda and the North Caucasus terror groups have made no secret of the fact that they desire nuclear weapons and have attempted to acquire them. There is evidence that prior to September 11 al-Qaeda operatives cased American nuclear reactor facilities but ruled out sabotage because of the tight security and reinforced fences at those sites.
A decade on, security experts warn that nuclear terrorism remains a real and urgent threat. As more countries embark on their own nuclear programs, this issue must be managed with a watchful eye both at home and abroad. Nuclear material that could be used for weaponry is not inaccessible. Nearly 2,000 metric tonnes of highly-enriched uranium and plutonium separated from spent fuel is stockpiled across the world. It exists in hundreds of buildings and bunkers across more than 30 countries. A quarter of those nations are plagued by corruption and political and financial instability, posing grave concerns over the security of their nuclear reserves. Twenty cases of theft or loss of this material have been recorded by the International Atomic Energy Agency. Other cases have gone unreported. Additional supplies that could be used to make a dirty bomb, like radiological materials used in medicine, can be found at countless other sites.
We do not live our lives in fear, nor do we close our eyes to the world around us. It is critical to be aware of the threats and challenges that face this nation and our allies on the global stage. This bill goes to the heart of the rationale that aims to prevent us from being surprised by the unanticipated and the unimaginable. Last year, researchers from Russia and the United States, two of the world's major nuclear powers, issued a joint assessment warning of the persistent dangers of nuclear terrorism. The joint threat assessment on nuclear terrorism was the product of a year-long partnership between leading authorities on nuclear security from Harvard's Belfer Centre for Science and International Affairs and the Moscow Institute for US and Canadian studies. The report concludes:
If current approaches toward eliminating the threat are not replaced with a sense of urgency and resolve, the question will become not if but when, and on what scale, the first act of nuclear terrorism occurs.
It named complacency as the primary obstacle to nuclear security. A nuclear attack could take a range of forms. Nuclear weapons could be stolen or acquired on the black market. Perhaps more easily, a crude improvised device or a dirty bomb could be made from stolen materials like uranium or plutonium from spent fuel reserves for civilian research reactors. These scenarios, this study warns, are distressingly plausible.
Sabotaging a nuclear facility is another possibility. I say this as the member for Cook, where the ANSTO facility is in very close proximity to my own residence and those of the neighbouring electorate of Hughes. Thirty countries run reactors that could be potential targets. The report made the point that, whilst Fukushima and Chernobyl were terrible accidents, that same devastation could be triggered by premeditated action.
This report is very grim reading but in order to pre-empt disaster we must consider the worst-case scenarios. To have to contemplate these things is horrific but we do so with the hope that they may never eventuate any further than the dark realms of reluctant and evil imagination. The assessment argues that, given the potential catastrophic consequences, even a small probability of terrorists getting and detonating a nuclear bomb is enough to justify urgent action to reduce risk. This can be done through tightening the security surrounding nuclear weapons, materials and facilities and expanding intelligence and police operations to foil smuggling and terror plots.
The bill before us today is a vital amendment that moves towards these ends, strengthening the deterrent measures and scope for prosecuting these offences. The convention was a global initiative started by Russia and the United States in 2006. Our Commonwealth legislation already incorporates many of the obligations of the convention. But this bill is important in ensuring that all criminal offences are covered. This amendment will make it a criminal offence to possess, make or use radioactive material or a nuclear emitting or explosive device that can cause death, serious bodily harm or substantial damage to property or the environment; or to threaten to use radioactive material or demand another person create or use such a device or facility.
This bill does not criminalise the lawful use or possession of radioactive material in fields like medicine, but it does allow stronger prosecution when there is intent to use or make that material available for a prohibited purpose. Whether or not the intended outcome is carried out is irrelevant to the prosecution. These new offences carry a maximum penalty of 20 years jail.
Experts say the nuclear material required for an improvised bomb is small and hard to detect, making it difficult to recover once stolen. For that reason the US-Russia joint threat assessment ruled that the primary focus in reducing risk must be to keep nuclear material and nuclear weapons from being stolen by continually improving our security measures.
This stronger legislation is a critical part of that process. The nuclear terrorism...
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