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Uranium enrichment akin to "bomb starter kits": Gareth Evans

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A former federal Foreign Minister has warned South Australia’s nuclear royal commission against pursuing domestic enrichment, saying the technology was akin to “bomb starter kits”.

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Gareth Evans, who was Labor’s Foreign Minister in the 1980s and ‘90s and later Deputy Leader of the party, told a public hearing of the commission today there was “no good reason at all for Australia to go down the enrichment path”, arguing instead that to “actively foreswear that path … would be a positive contribution”.

Evans has chaired the Australian/Japanese International Convention on Nuclear Non-proliferation and Disarmament and is Patron and Emeritus Convenor of the Asia Pacific Leadership network for Nuclear Non-proliferation and Disarmament.

He said there were “very obvious proliferation risks associated with allowing any state to develop its own enrichment capability, because of the obvious reality that the technology required is … exactly the same technology that’s involved in enriching up to weapons grade”.

“Once you get into that game, you are in the business of having bomb starter kits,” he said, observing that “a world that’s anxious to avoid proliferation … ought to be anxious to avoid further spread of bomb starter kits”.

He also questioned the commercial viability of enrichment without a significant number of domestic reactors.

However, he was open to the debate on nuclear generation for civil use, saying civil generation and military proliferation were internationally understood to be “in completely separate boxes”.

“You can be a fierce proponent of nuclear disarmament and at the same time completely supportive of civil nuclear energy uses,” he said.

Evans said there were no international policy implications “of any remotely negative kind” for generation of nuclear power for civil – as opposed to military – use, despite “obvious safety and security issues which have to be taken into account”.

He said while the upfront costs were “substantial” and the long-term returns “problematic”, he doubted the capacity of other renewable energy sources to meet ongoing supply needs.

“For baseload, it’s going to have to be a choice between fossil fuels and nuclear,” he said.

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