Burma’s nuclear program

Question | Spokesperson Scott Ludlam
Thursday 10th September 2009, 6:58pm

Senator LUDLAM (2.28 pm)-My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for Foreign Affairs. What has the government done in response to revelations made by defectors from Burma's nuclear program, reported by Professor Des Ball from the ANU and also raised by the US Secretary of State in a recent ASEAN meeting, regarding the clandestine nuclear weapons program? When will our ambassador in Vienna put this on the agenda of the IAEA board of governors or, for example, raise this with the IAEA Director- General? And has the minister been briefed by the Australian Safeguards and Non-Proliferation Office?

I did not actually hear the last part of your question, Senator Ludlam. Let me respond to those parts that I was able to hear. I certainly can say to Senator Ludlam that I am aware of unconfirmed reports that Burma may be developing a nuclear capability. It is true that Australia shares the concerns of the international community about Burma's possible nuclear weapons aspirations and its relationship with the DPRK. A nuclear armed Burma would be a serious threat to regional and international security and it would be a setback to efforts to advance nuclear disarmament and the non-proliferation regime. The Australian government calls on the Burmese government to be transparent about any nuclear activities. The fact that Burma is a signatory of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty requires it to place any nuclear facilities under International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards. Australia expects Burma to abide by all its obligations under that treaty. We also call on Burma to meet is obligations under UN Security Council resolutions 1874 and 1718, which in addition to an arms embargo prohibit the procurement from North Korea of items related to nuclear, chemical or biological weapons and also ballistic missiles. (Time expired)

Senator LUDLAM-Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. The minister used the word ‘unconfirmed'. This research has been on the public record now for a matter of a couple of weeks, so I am wondering if the minister can tell me whether the government has done anything at all to confirm or validate these reports. With particular regard to the minister's understanding of Russian government collaboration with the public Burmese light water reactor, which potentially supports the clandestine factor, will the minister reconsider the wisdom of uranium sales to Russia, given the clear proliferation risks and the risks to regional security implied by a Burmese nuclear weapons program? Has the government done anything at all since these reports were made public?

Senator FAULKNER-I have used the terminology ‘unconfirmed' in relation to the substance of the reports. I accept the point that you have made that reports have been published. There have been articles in a range of Australian newspapers, including reports from an Australian academic, Professor Des Ball, and a Thailand based Irish journalist, Phil Thornton, who according to those reports interviewed Burmese defectors in Thailand, as you are aware. The point that I made in relation to them being unconfirmed is not about the fact that the reports appeared; just about whether the substance of the reports is accurate. In relation to Russia, quite clearly, there is- (Time expired)

Senator LUDLAM-Mr President, I ask an additional supplementary question. I wonder whether the minister might come back to what he was about to tell us with regard to Russia. Can you specifically confirm for us that the government has not sought a briefing with ASNO, has not raised the issue with the IAEA board of governors, has not done anything to confirm or validate the research that has been put on the public record and has not raised this with the IAEA directorgeneral? Can the minister confirm that none of those actions have been taken and perhaps advise whether anything at all has been done?

Senator FAULKNER-I am not aware of the issues in relation to a briefing. I will need to find more information out about that. I am not able to talk about any classified briefings that the government might have received. However, I will certainly seek specific advice in relation to the briefing that you have requested. In relation to the Russian issue that you raised, you might recall that a new nuclear cooperation agreement was signed in September 2007 during the APEC summit by the former Foreign Minister, Mr Downer. That agreement allows for the use of Australia uranium in the Russian civil nuclear sector only and I can say that it does fully meet Australia's strict safeguard requirements.

Senator FAULKNER (New South Wales- Minister for Defence) (3.17 pm)-Mr Deputy President, you would recall that in question time Senator Ludlam asked me some questions about Burma and I provided him with all the information I had available. He asked two specific supplementary questions which I can now assist him with. Senator Ludlam asked whether the government had received any briefing from ASNO or the department on Burma in advance of or after reports that Burma had a clandestine nuclear program. The answer to that question is yes. He also asked whether the department raised the issue of Burma's nuclear program with the IAEA. I can inform the Senate that the answer to that question is yes. The IAEA contact said there was no new evidence in the media reports.


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