US government cables from 1978 reveal Washington had a long-term strategy to make Australia acknowledge its “responsibility” to accept nuclear waste.
This pressure coincided with parliament’s approval on June 8 that year of a six-part regime to facilitate the mining, milling and exporting of uranium oxide.
Senior US officials began raising the waste issue in June when the two countries began high-level talks over a nuclear co-operation agreement, cables posted on the WikiLeaks website reveal.
A US embassy cable reported that Australia shared the US government’s views about uranium enrichment but “was unreceptive to questions about waste disposal in the Australia-Pacific area”.
When in September that year the Mirror editorialised against Australia’s accepting nuclear waste, US embassy officials told the Department of Foreign Affairs Australia should expect the US to “nudge” it about this issue.
The editorial was brought to the attention of the US embassy by Ron Walker, who headed the defence and nuclear division in the department. US officials bluntly told him Australia was essentially ignoring the problem of nuclear waste. “We replied by telling Walker he and other GOA (government of Australia) officials should assume that during the course of the next several decades there will inevitably be speculation about potential sites for nuclear waste storage,” the US officials wrote in the cable.
“We added that while we read GOA views ‘loud and clear’, the GOA should assume there will be continuing discussion about storage sites for nuclear wastes and in fact we would probably from time to time even go as far as to nudge the GOA about its responsibility in helping to find appropriate, safe and secure storage areas.”
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