79 Minute from Plimsoll to Hasluck

Canberra, 18 February 1966

Secret

United States Proposal for the Transfer to the International Atomic Energy Agency of Safeguards Arrangements on Nuclear Materials, Equipment and Facilities Obtained by Australia from the United States under the United States/Australia Agreement for Co-operation in the Peaceful Uses of Atomic Energy

Attached for your consideration is a draft submission for Cabinet on the above subject.1 It was prepared by the AAEC and this Department and it has also been discussed at inter-Departmental meetings with representatives of the AAEC, the Prime Minister's Department and the Departments of Defence and National Development. The draft submission has been approved by the Minister for National Development.

  1. Ministers have in the past taken a cautious attitude towards international safeguards, particularly on nuclear materials imported by Australia, and the recommendation in the attached submission for accepting the United States proposal is based on the opinion that this is the only practical course open. In inter-Departmental discussion careful attention was paid to the question whether accepting the United States proposal would significantly prejudice Australia's freedom of action in any possible future weapons programme. This matter is dealt with in paragraph 38 of the draft submission.
  2. The United States Government is now firmly committed to securing the transfer of the administration of the safeguards of all its bilateral agreements to the IAEA, and has stated its position unequivocally both in international forums and in discussions with Australian representatives. Neither we nor the AAEC believe that there is any likelihood that the United States Government would withdraw its request to Australia on this issue, and we can therefore see no advantage in attempting to draw out negotiations with the Americans in the hope that their position would change. On the contrary delaying tactics might compromise the close cooperation at present existing between us in the atomic energy field.
  3. The United States will probably regard our agreement to the proposal as being of some importance and Ministers may consider that some compensating benefits should be sought by Australia. In fact, we already get considerable American co-operation in the peaceful uses of atomic energy which is of value in building up in Australia nuclear facilities and a growing number of trained nuclear scientists to develop them. From the External Affairs point of view it would be preferable if Ministers did not recommend any horse-trading with the Americans in this situation. Other Departments have not been able to suggest any other specific fields in which we might seek compensating advantages from the United States. The occasion would not seem to us to offer a suitable opportunity for pressing for firm assurances from the United States on the nuclear defence of Australia.
  4. The only facility which would be affected by the United States proposal at present is the AAEC establishment at Lucas Heights. If Australia were to set up new facilities elsewhere which incorporated United States nuclear plant or materials attracting safeguards these new facilities would be made subject to IAEA safeguard procedures as a matter of course- following an amendment to the schedules which will be attached to the proposed trilateral agreement between Australia, the United States and the IAEA. In this connection the present AAEC view is that it is most unlikely that any new nuclear facilities, such as nuclear-power generating plants, will be established in Australia using United States equipment or significant quantities of United States nuclear materials which could not be replaced if necessary by materials from other sources.
  5. Some references may be made in Cabinet to the assurances given by the Americans in 1960 that they would not press Australia to transfer safeguards provisions to the IAEA (paragraph 32 of the submission). This assurance was obtained orally not in writing and as pointed out in the submission the United States Government is now providing the firmest possible support for the IAEA safeguards system.2 Further evidence of United States Congressional attitudes on this question is provided in the attached telegram No. 214 of 19 January from Washington.3

Recommendation

6. It is recommended that you approve that the attached submission be referred to Cabinet for decision.4

[NAA: A1838, TS680/10/3]