Like what you've read?

On Line Opinion is the only Australian site where you get all sides of the story. We don't
charge, but we need your support. Here�s how you can help.

  • Advertise

    We have a monthly audience of 70,000 and advertising packages from $200 a month.

  • Volunteer

    We always need commissioning editors and sub-editors.

  • Contribute

    Got something to say? Submit an essay.

 The National Forum   Donate   Your Account   On Line Opinion   Forum   Blogs   Polling   About   
On Line Opinion logo ON LINE OPINION - Australia's e-journal of social and political debate


On Line Opinion is a not-for-profit publication and relies on the generosity of its sponsors, editors and contributors. If you would like to help, contact us.


RSS 2.0

Enriching Australia?

By Jim Green - posted Thursday, 24 August 2006

Recently, the Prime Minister has become fond of likening a domestic industry for enriching uranium to building factories to knit garments from Aussie wool.

It’s a cosy argument for value-adding, but it masks the security and environmental threats of a domestic uranium enrichment industry.

Unlike enrichment plants, garment factories don’t generate large volumes of radioactive waste in the form of depleted uranium and they don’t have the potential to destabilise the region.


We can safely assume that the Lucas Heights nuclear plant in Sydney never operated a secret program to knit woollen garments. But in 1965, the Lucas Heights plant, then known as the Atomic Energy Commission, did begin a secret uranium enrichment program. It was known as the “Whistle Project” - the idea being that workers would whistle as they walked past Building 64 and studiously avoid any mention of the secret enrichment program underway in the building's basement.

There can be no doubt that the Whistle Project had a military agenda. Indeed, in the archives of the University of New South Wales, you can find hand-written notes by the then chair of the Atomic Energy Commission, Sir Philip Baxter, in which he calculates how many nuclear weapons could be produced if the enrichment work proceeded as he hoped it would.

As it happens, the enrichment work was publicly revealed in the 1967-68 Annual Report of the Atomic Energy Commission and the project continued in fits and starts until the incoming Hawke Labor Government put an end to it in 1984.

Other countries also proceeded with their “peaceful” uranium enrichment programs. More precisely, they proceeded to build nuclear weapons using highly-enriched uranium from their “peaceful” enrichment programs. This is how Pakistan and South Africa developed their arsenals of nuclear weapons.

The Iraqi regime was pursuing uranium enrichment until its nuclear weapons program was terminated during and after the 1991 Gulf War. North Korea claims to have an arsenal of nuclear weapons which use enriched uranium as their fissile material. There is enormous controversy over the current uranium enrichment program in Iran.

The simple fact is that “peaceful” enrichment plants can produce low-enriched uranium for power reactors, and they can produce highly-enriched uranium for Weapons of Mass Destruction.


Further, the depleted uranium tailings waste produced in large volumes at enrichment plants can be used in munitions, such as those used by the US and NATO in Iraq, the Balkans and Afghanistan.

Australia could not credibly oppose uranium enrichment programs in North Korea or Iran if we had the same capacity to produce fissile weapons material. Nor could we credibly oppose the current plans in Indonesia to build plutonium production - oops, I mean peaceful power - reactors.

In the June 6 edition of The Bulletin, Max Walsh discusses the “elephant in the room” in the current nuclear debate - the possibility that it is being driven by a military agenda. Could it be that John Howard is interested in uranium enrichment precisely because of its military potential? Does he subscribe to the “Fortress Australia” views which led former Liberal Prime Minister, John Gorton, to approve construction of a plutonium production - oops, I mean peaceful power - reactor at Jervis Bay in the late 1960s?

  1. Pages:
  2. Page 1
  3. 2
  4. All

Discuss in our Forums

See what other readers are saying about this article!

Click here to read & post comments.

31 posts so far.

Share this:
reddit this reddit thisbookmark with Del.icio.usdigg thisseed newsvineSeed NewsvineStumbleUpon StumbleUponsubmit to propellerkwoff it

About the Author

Dr Jim Green is the editor of the Nuclear Monitor newsletter and the national nuclear campaigner with Friends of the Earth Australia.

Other articles by this Author

All articles by Jim Green

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

Photo of Jim Green
Article Tools
Comment 31 comments
Print Printable version
Subscribe Subscribe
Email Email a friend

About Us Search Discuss Feedback Legals Privacy