Argentina Sign Legally Unstable Nuclear Waste Pact
Environment News Service (ENS), Canberra,
Australia, August 9, 2001
By Bob Burton
Argentine environment groups are
considering the possibility of legal action against the Minister for
Foreign Affairs and International Trade after he signed an agreement
Wednesday with the Australian Government allowing nuclear waste to be
imported into Argentina for processing.
Environmental groups in both Argentina and Australia
argue the shipments would be in breach of the anti-nuclear provisions
of the Argentine Constitution.
Argentina's Minister for Foreign
Affairs and International Trade, Dr. Adalberto Rodriguez Giavarini,
co-signed the Nuclear Co-operation in Peaceful Uses of Nuclear Energy
agreement in Canberra on Wednesday with the Australian Minister for
Foreign Affairs, Alexander Downer, in an event that was not open to
The president of the Environmental Defence Foundation
of Argentina (FUNAM), Dr. Raul Montenegro, told ENS he was "astonished"
that the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Argentina had signed the agreement.
"They are violating the law and ignoring deliberately
previous judiciary verdicts. Early this year the Argentine Court of
Justice ordered the government to forbid the passage of the cargo Pacific
Swan which was transporting radioactive waste from France to Japan,"
The Court of Justice verdict handed down on January
10 upheld the validity of a statute known as Article 41 and ordered
"the competent agencies ... to forbid the entrance of the ship Pacific
Swan into the national territory and the waters of its jurisdiction."
"There are no doubts. Any shipment of radioactive waste
from Australia to Argentina is illegal. Like the Pacific Swan shipment.
Both INVAP and ANSTO cannot argue that this radioactive waste it is
not radioactive waste," Montenegro said.
In July last year, the Australian government entered
into a $US163 million contract with the Argentine company, INVAP, for
the construction of a new reactor at the research facilities of the
Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisations (ANSTO) at Lucas
Heights, in Sydney's southern suburbs.
Faced with strong public opposition to the development
of a nuclear waste dump in Australia and with low level storage facilities
full, ANSTO pushed bidders to propose measures they would take to handle
the radioactive wastes created by the new reactor. INVAP volunteered
to accept nuclear waste from the reactor back in Argentina for processing
and re-export to Australia if required.
Earlier this year, a French court ruled that nuclear
waste from ANSTO could not be unloaded on the docks of Cherbourg for
processing at the state owned Cogema nuclear facility. While the decision
was later overturned, it prompted the Australian government to search
for alternatives as Australia only has contracts in place to handle
a few more shipments of spent fuel rods.
"While the government's spent fuel and waste management
strategy provides for all irradiated fuel to be reprocessed in France
under ANSTO's contract with Cogema, processing facilities in Argentina
might be utilised in the event that processing in France was unavailable,"
the Australian government assessment of the agreement states.
Now that the binational agreement is signed, FUNAM
is considering the option of taking legal action before the Federal
Court of Justice. "This agreement and the contract signed last year
by INVAP and ANSTO is illegal and null. Illegal because they violate
Article 41 of Argentina, and null according article 1207 of our Civil
Code," Montenegro said.
A document tabled in the Australian Senate by the government
argues the agreement binds the Argentine government to support what
was previously only a contract between two commercial parties.
"It would ensure that this aspect [Processing nuclear
waste in Argentina] of the Australian Government's strategy for the
management of spent fuel already provided for in commercial arrangements
is supported by obligations at governmental level," the national interest
analysis bluntly states.
The Australian government cited economic self-interest
as a spin-off effect of the agreement. "The proposed agreement will
also allow Australian uranium producers to seek contracts to export
uranium to Argentina when opportunities arise, and can be expected to
facilitate other commercial spin-offs which will bring trade and investment
benefits to Australia," the national interest analysis explained.
While the project may have economic benefits for Australian
companies, Argentine environmentalists argue the project has the potential
to drain scarce government funds from Argentina's budget. On August
1, 2000, Miguel Ricardo from the Ministry of Economy of Argentina wrote
to the executive director of ANSTO, Helen Garnett, reassuring her of
his "official endorsement of INVAP" and promising the government would
financially support INVAP if necessary.
Montenegro considers the offer to underwrite any losses
on INVAP contract to build a nuclear reactor in Australia as ludicrous.
"We are in the middle of one of our most serious economic crises. The
budgets of the nuclear agencies have been reduced, and the high salaries
of their top officials diminished. The government cannot guarantee a
contract, an illegal contract," he told ENS.
While the proposed reactor is subject to gaining final
approvals from Australian authorities, INVAP is scheduled to begin construction
of the Lucas Heights replacement reactor in 2002.
But FUNAM has warned that if there is an attempt to
import nuclear waste from Australia, they are confident that protests
by thousands of people will prevent the nuclear waste from being landed.
© Environment News Service (ENS) 2001. All Rights