Fact or Fission?
The Truth about Australia’s Nuclear Ambition
Brunswick, VIC: Scribe Publications, 2022
Paperback 352pp RRP $35.00
Reviewer: Neville Taylor, November 2022
Richard Broinowski is a retired senior diplomat, having served in four countries before three overseas ambassadorships. His management of Radio Australia, and time as the president of the NSW chapter of the Australian Institute of International Affairs place him in a unique position to comment on both domestic politics and international affairs. This is a republishing of Broinowski’s 2003 book, highlighting political changes in the last two decades and the ramifications of the 2021 AUKUS Agreement relating to Australia’s acquisition of nuclear-powered submarines.
Between 1952 and 1957 the Menzies government allowed twelve British nuclear weapons to be detonated on Australian soil. In the 1960s, state premiers pushed for nuclear reactors – particularly Queensland and South Australia. Possessing one quarter of the world’s uranium accessible at a reasonable cost, Australian interest grew in developing the mining, processing, and export of uranium. Australia has constantly striven to ensure that no local uranium finds its way into nuclear weapons, but with off-shore enrichment required and international consortiums trading in fissionable materials, there is no way this expectation can be envisaged because of Australia’s inability to store or dispose of nuclear waste as a condition of uranium sales. Underpinning this period has been the desire to become part of the nuclear community without indicating a wish to acquire nuclear weapons. The establishment of a nuclear reactor at Lucas Heights, and our role in UN nuclear treaties have all been examined in great detail under to various governments since the 1960s.
Australian diplomats were a driving force in the nuclear industry and were successful UN lobbyists for the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (1968) and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty of 1996. However since the 2001 attack on the World Trade Centre there has been a carte blanche acceptance in Canberra of Washington’s nuclear and war-fighting policies and has encouraged a current stance against what Australia strenuously and moralistically opposed. Broinowski sees a collapse in heeding policy advice from experienced public servants in appropriate ministries, and Australia’s foreign policy now being ‘defence driven’.
While Australia needs to invest in defence rather than attack capability, it is unwise to continue to adopt a war posture with its largest trading partner. The AUKUS Agreement will do little in this regard. Our order is for eight nuclear submarines (delivered in how many decades?) whilst China is adding an additional ten submarines to its fleet annually. Will our acquisition lead to a proliferation of nuclear weapons in our region? Australia has been unable to man more than 50% of our current Collins class submarines, it currently lacks the expertise to operate the boats and will have a financially-draining commitment with a possible outcome that undermines Australian sovereignty and resulting in pursuit of American interests in the Pacific.
This is a most impressively exhausting work, with Broinowski fearlessly expressing well-informed his views gleaned from a wealth of experience on this vital subject. It is well-referenced and is highly recommended for those wishing to be up-to-date with current affairs.
The RUSI – Vic Library thanks the publisher for making this work available for review.