Australia and weapons of mass destruction

Australia and weapons of mass destruction

Australia is not currently known or believed to possess weapons of mass destruction, although it has participated in extensive research into nuclear, biological and chemical weapons in the past. Australia currently chairs the Australia Group, an informal grouping of countries that seek to minimise the risk of assisting chemical and biological weapon proliferation. All states participating in the Australia Group are parties to the Chemical Weapons Convention and the Biological Weapons Convention, and strongly support efforts under those Conventions to rid the world of chemical and biological weapons.Cite web|url=|title=The Australia Group : An Introduction |accessdate=2006-04-18 |publisher=The Australia Group ] As with chemical and biological weapons, Australia does not possess nuclear weapons and is not at all known to be seeking to develop them.

Biological Weapons

Australia has advanced research programs in immunology, microbiology and genetic engineering that support an industry providing world class vaccines for domestic use and export.Cite web|url=,,0_S3-1_-2_-3_PWB110706898-4_-5_-6_-7_,00.html|title=Biotechnology capability overview |accessdate=2006-04-23|publisher=Austrade] It also has an extensive wine industry and produces microorganisms on an industrial scale to support other industries including agriculture, food technology and brewing. The dual use nature of these facilities mean that Australia, like any country with advanced biotechnology industries, could easily produce biological warfare agents.

The Australian Microbial Resources Research Network lists 37 culture collections, many of which hold samples of pathogenic organisms for legitimate research purposes.Cite web
url= |title=Culture Collections |accessdate=2006-04-19|publisher=Australian Microbial Resources Research Network
] In the wake of the Japanese advance through South East Asia during World War II, the secretary of the Australian Department of Defence, F.G. Shedden, wrote to Macfarlane Burnet on December 24 1946 and invited him to attend a meeting of top military officers to discuss biological warfare. In September, 1947, Burnet was invited to join the chemical and biological warfare subcommittee of the New Weapons and Equipment Development Committee and subsequently prepared a secret report titled "Note on War from a Biological Angle".Cite web
url= |title=Burnet's solution: The plan to poison S-E Asia|accessdate=2006-04-18|author=Nicholson, Brendan |date=2002-03-10|year=2002|publisher=The Age
] In 1951 the subcommittee recommended that "a panel reporting to the chemical and biological warfare subcommittee should be authorised to report on the offensive potentiality of biological agents likely to be effective against the local food supplies of South-East Asia and Indonesia".Cite web
url=|title=Australia: Biological weapons|accessdate=2006-04-18|author=Bromage, David|year=2002|publisher=Federation of American Scientists
] The activities of the chemical and biological warfare subcommittee were scaled back soon after, as Prime Minister Robert Menzies was more interested in trying to acquire nuclear weapons. Australia signed the Biological Weapons Convention on 10 April 1972 and deposited a certificate of ratification on 5 October 1977.Cite web|url=|title=Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production and Stockpiling of Bacteriological (biological) and Toxin Weapons and on their Destruction |accessdate=2006-04-18|publisher=Australian Government Publishing Service]

Chemical Weapons

Australia conducted extensive research into chemical weapons during World War II. Although Australia has never produced chemical weapons, it did stockpile chemical weapons sourced from the USA and Britain.cite web | author=| date= September 2, 2002| title=Australia: Chemical weapons | format= | work=Federation of American Scientists | url=| accessdate=2006-06-24] Chemical weapons known to have been stockpiled included mustard gas, phosgene, lewisite, adamsite and CN gas. Some of the stockpiled weapons in the form of mortar and artillery shells, aerial bombs and bulk agents were sent to New Guinea for potential use against Japanese tunnel complexes.cite web | author=| date= September 2, 2002| title=Australia: Chemical weapons | format= | work=Federation of American Scientists | url=| accessdate=2006-06-24] No actual use of the weapons was recorded although there were many trials using 'live' chemical weapons (such as shown in the picture to the right). After World War II, the chemical weapons were disposed of by burning, venting (for phosgene) or by dumping at sea. Some 21,030 tons of chemical weapons were dumped in the seas off Australia near Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne. This has been covered in a Defence report by Geoff Plunkett [] . A complete history of Australia's involvement with chemical weapons - titled "Chemical Warfare in Australia" - has been published in book form by the Army History Unit (Defence Department) in 2008 [] . Again it is authored by Geoff Plunkett [] [] [] .

A stockpile of 1,000 pound phosgene bombs was discovered at Embi Airfield in 1970 and disposed of by Australian Army personnel, and, up to 1990, drums of mustard gas were still being discovered in the bush where they had been tested.cite web | author=| date= September 2, 2002| title=Australia: Chemical weapons | format= | work=Federation of American Scientists | url=| accessdate=2006-06-24] Another stockpile of chemical weapons was discovered at Maxwelton, Queensland in 1989. Australia signed the Chemical Weapons Convention in January 1993 and ratified it with the Chemical Weapons (Prohibition) Act in 1994.cite web | author=| date= September 2, 2002| title=Australia: Chemical weapons | format= | work=Federation of American Scientists | url=| accessdate=2006-06-24]

Nuclear Weapons

Australia does not have nuclear weapons and is not currently thought to be seeking to develop them, although several governments have investigated the idea and may have done some research into the question.
*] Australia hosted British nuclear testing at Monte Bello Islands, Emu Field and Maralinga between 1952 and 1963. Maralinga was developed as a joint facility with a shared funding arrangement.Cite web|url=|title=British nuclear tests at Maralinga |accessdate=2006-05-08|publisher=National Library of Australia|year=2001] During the 1950s, Australia participated in the development of the Blue Streak missile, a Medium-range ballistic missile (MRBM) intended for delivery of a nuclear warhead. The Australian HIFAR nuclear reactor at Lucas Heights, Sydney, operated from 1958 to 2006 and has now been replaced by the OPAL reactor in 2006. The new reactor is designed to use low-enriched uranium fuel and an open pool light water system.Cite web|url=|title=ANSTO|accessdate=2006-04-18|publisher=Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation] Australia has substantial deposits of uranium which account for 30% of the world's known reserves.Cite web|url=|title=Australia's Uranium|accessdate=2006-04-19 |publisher=Uranium Information Centre] Until March 1996 government policy restricted exploitation of uranium deposits to three established mines. Current policy is to develop the export potential of Australia's uranium industry by allowing mining and export of uranium under strict international agreements designed to prevent nuclear proliferation.Cite web|url=|title=Uranium mining-Key text|accessdate=2006-04-19|publisher=Australian Academy of Science]

Australia signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty on 1 July 1968 and ratified the treaty on 23 January 1973.Cite web|url=|title=Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons|accessdate=2006-04-19|publisher=Australian Government Publishing Service] Sir Philip Baxter first head of the Australian Atomic Energy Commission (AAEC), now the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO) and first Vice Chancellor of the University of New South Wales openly advocated Australia acquiring a weapons grade plutonium stockpile and thus nuclear weapons. [Cite web|url=|title=Isotopes and Identity: Australia and the Nuclear Weapons Option, 1949-1999|accessdate=2006-06-24|author=Hymans, Jacques E.C. |publisher=Center for Non-Proliferation Studies]

During the 1970s and 1980s, ANSTO scientists developed centrifuge enrichment technology, claimed to be comparable with the commercial URENCO centrifuge technology of the time. Such technology, if deployed on an industrial scale, would have been capable in principle of producing highly enriched uranium for nuclear weapons. The research lost government funding in the mid-1980s. [cite news |coauthors=Andrew Fowler and Renata Gombac |title=Uranium enrichment program revived after 20 years |url=|format=program transcript |work= The 7.30 Report|publisher= Australian Broadcasting Corporation|date=2007-06-15 |accessdate=2007-07-07]

Like virtually every other developed nation and most larger developing nations, Australia has weapons systems which could be used to deliver nuclear weapons to its neighbours, if nuclear weapons were developed. In the 1960s, it purchased F-111 aircraft which were criticised at the time as being too expensive and too limited for the then available conventional weapons. [Cite web|url=|title=50th Anniversary of the ANZUS Treaty|accessdate=2006-06-24|publisher=United States Australian Embassy] Australia currently has 71 F/A-18 strike fighters and 36 F-111 strategic bombers.

The then Prime Minister of Australia, John Howard, began a study in 2006 into the issues surrounding an increase in Australia's uranium usage.cite web | author=| date= June 6, 2006| title=Australia in nuclear power review | format= | work=BBC | url=| accessdate=2006-06-24] Amongst the topics of the study will be a domestic uranium enrichment plant for supplying low-enriched fuel for nuclear power reactors, either domestic or foreign. A commercial-scale enrichment plant would also be capable of producing sufficient highly enriched uranium for a nuclear weapons program. An Australian company has been actively developing a novel process for uranium enrichment, Separation of Isotopes by Laser Excitation (SILEX). Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

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