Politics Analysis

HELEN CALDICOTT: Albanese needs to keep Australia nuclear-free

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Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has been a strong supporter of nuclear disarmament (Image by Dan Jensen)

The election of Anthony Albanese as Prime Minister heralds a new era in Australia's approach to nuclear disarmament, writes Dr Helen Caldicott.

AUSTRALIA BECAME INVOLVED in the nuclear issue when France began conducting atmospheric nuclear tests in the Pacific above the Pacific Atoll of Mururora.

In 1972, I was an intern at the Adelaide Children's hospital working 80 hours a week training to become a paediatrician so that I could treat the cohort of cystic fibrosis patients (who were virtually untreated at that stage), having been trained and worked with Dr Harry Shwachman at the Children's Hospital Medical Center at Harvard, when someone contacted me and sent the readings of radioactivity in the Adelaide water supply resulting from fallout from these tests.

Having been well educated in the dangers of radioactive isotopes in the human body and knowing that these concentrate by orders of magnitude in the food chain and that children are more sensitive to the carcinogenic effects than adults, I wrote a letter to the Adelaide Advertiser warning of these medical dangers. That night, I was asked to comment on national television about the French tests.

Every time there was another explosion, I was back on the media educating the public on the medical dangers and before long, the Australian people rose up en masse, with huge marches in the city streets, whole pages of letters to the editor about these bloody French, postal workers stopped delivering French mail, and French wine and cheese became verboten.

After nine months of demonstrations and outrage, the new Labor Government under Prime Minister Gough Whitlam took France to the International Court of Justice, when it was forced to test underground — still posing carcinogenic dangerous to the Pacific Island residents but atmospheric fallout ended much to the relief of Australian citizens.

Several years later in 1976, I learned that Whitlam wanted to mine uranium in Australia. Knowing nothing about the dynamics of nuclear power, I obtained a book from the university library called Poisoned Power by John Gofman and Arthur Tamplin, two physicists who were commissioned by the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) to investigate the medical dangers of nuclear power.

In my whole medical training, I had never read a book that frightened me so.

The media this time was uninterested in uranium, the pervasive message being that it was good for the economy. How to gain its attention yet again.

I had a friend who was an engine driver and he proposed that I write to all the unions in Australia of which there were many, to ask if I could talk to them about the medical dangers of uranium mining.

I travelled some of the length and breadth of the wide country, talking to workers at 6 AM before they left for their daily shifts, drawing genes, sperm, alpha and beta emitters on old blackboards, and explaining the association between radiation in uranium, inhalation of radon, ingestion of radium, mutation and cancer.

Eventually ending up at the railways union in Sydney, I thought I’d had no effect until they called a 24-hour nationwide strike on the issue and uranium hit the headlines because no one could get to work.

The unions were and are potent supporters and influential members of the Labor Party.

I left shortly after for a sabbatical at Harvard and in 1975, I learned that the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) passed a ban on uranium, mining, transport and export. However, shortly after, a newly elected Labor Prime Minister, Bob Hawke, who was in regular contact with the U.S. embassy in Canberra, revoked that ban and devised the three-mine policy which in effect cancelled all the work done by the trade unions in their united opposition to uranium.

However, the Australian public by this stage was adamantly opposed to anything nuclear, including nuclear power.

Fast track to 2022. A new and wonderful Labor Government has just been elected with Anthony Albanese as the Prime Minister. Albanese as a young man was mentored by a wonderful Federal Labor politician called Tom Uren who, as a Japanese prisoner of war, had witnessed the nuclear explosion over Nagasaki.

Albanese, inspired by Uren to oppose nuclear weapons and to support nuclear disarmament, in 2018, while addressing a Labor Party conference, said that Labor was and is committed to ratifying the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons and that move I’m sure is about to happen

However, Australia has always been obsequious in its relationship with greater powers.

In the 1960s, it allowed Britain to test/explode nuclear weapons over its territory in Central Australia and also on Christmas Island, producing radioactive fallout and severely contaminating the land with plutonium and other isotopes forever on Aboriginal tribal land. Prime Minister Robert Menzies, in so doing, hoped that Britain would help in the construction of Australian nuclear weapons but this hope was vetoed by the U.S.

We have allowed the U.S. to construct its most important CIA base in the Northern Territory, which tracks missiles and satellites and which would be the nidus point in orchestrating a nuclear war. There is also North-West Cape in Western Australia which tracks its submarines and we have allowed marines and U.S. ships to be deployed in Darwin.

Interestingly, when former Prime Minister Gough Whitlam was about to name the CIA operatives in Pine Gap in Parliament the next day, he was dismissed by the Governor-General, Sir John Kerr.

For many years, Australia has deployed eight diesel-powered Collins Class submarines which are relatively silent but they are now reaching their use-by date.

In 2021, a deal was struck with the French Government to purchase eight of their nuclear-powered submarines by the previous Morrison Government to the tune of $90 billion. However, just before that agreement was to be fulfilled, suddenly on 15 September 2021, Prime Minister Morrison announced that not only would the French deal be cancelled but that instead, we would be buying nuclear-powered subs from both Britain and the U.S., fuelled by highly enriched uranium.

It was announced that we had joined something called AUKUS, which, it turns out, apparently commits Australia to cooperate with the U.S. and Britain in advanced artificial intelligence and autonomy, quantum technologies, undersea capabilities, hypersonic and counter-hypersonicelectronic warfare, innovation and information sharing. 

The pact will focus on military capability and is quite separate from the Five Eyes intelligence-sharing alliance that also includes New Zealand and Canada.

AUKUS is widely viewed as being an orchestrated U.S. response to China's status as an increasingly assertive superpower.

In effect, AUKUS is essentially a southern-based NATO, dragging Australia into the American military-industrial orbit and as usual, the Australian Government cringes and bends its knee to the higher powers.

Australia is now obliged to pay the French Government $830 million for the cancelled contract.

Australians were astounded at this announcement and I received frantic calls from the media regarding the nuclear component of the deal. These submarines are fueled with highly enriched uranium-235 which can also be used to fuel nuclear weapons

This agreement, of course, was made in secret behind our backs and as always, the Government was being complacent and compatible with anything that our big brothers requested.

In essence, Australia is a nation with no backbone, always cringing before the so-called superpowers which we think will come to our rescue should we be threatened. In the meantime, China is our biggest trading partner and the least we can do is make friends and have cordial relationships with it.

What do we need submarines for anyway? To land sea-launched missiles on China? Let’s be frank, it’s America that is goading China by sending warships to its adjacent seas, orchestrated I am sure by the pervasive influence of the military-industrial complex and Pentagon policy, and also its influence within the U.S. Congress, most of which its members are basically bought and sold because they receive and depend upon huge donations from the aforementioned entities.

It is also worth noting that Canberra, our capital city, has within the last 20 years progressively been occupied by large buildings inhabited by Lockheed Martin, Martin Marietta and others, while at the Canberra international airport, huge posters advertising their lethal wares cover the exit lobby. These companies are also paying for an upgrade of our sacred War Memorial. In essence, the American military-industrial complex has metastasised into our beloved country.

The world is now in a very precarious position. A war is raging in Ukraine with Russian President Vladimir Putin semi threatening the use of nuclear weapons. America is refusing to concede to Putin’s pleas to remove the U.S. missiles based in the NATO nations and to disallow Ukraine to join NATO while allocating $40 billion in more military equipment to kill more poor little Russian soldiers and the frantic people of Ukraine.

What we desperately need is a global resolution to coordinate and reach out to all nations, to live in peace and stop the killing, and to feed the millions of starving children in Yemen and other countries in desperate need of food.

In other words, practice global preventive medicine to save the planetary population and the wondrous species that co-habit the globe with us.

You can follow Dr Caldicott on Twitter @DrHCaldicott. Click here for Dr Caldicott’s complete curriculum vitae.

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