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Confusion Reigns over Nuclear Propelled Ships

Posted on 25 Feb 2006
It isn’t often that National and Labour agree overtly about an issue but there is current political consensus to oppose visits by nuclear propelled ships.  Unfortunately this means a crucial security issue will continue to go undebated.  National Party policy is now Labour policy. In an attempt to avoid confusion the National Party decided last week it would no longer hold a referendum thus denying New Zealanders the chance to express their views on this matter. It is disappointing that National has removed even the pretence of leadership on this issue leaving ACT as the only political party to unequivocally believe that nuclear propelled ships should be able to enter New Zealand waters. 

The history of New Zealand’s anti-nuclear policy is revealing.  It began when the Lange government in 1987 passed the New Zealand Nuclear Free Zone, Disarmament and Arms Control Act.  The move was very popular within the Labour Party.  Many members were angry about the free market reforms being passed to deal with the economic mess that Lange had inherited in 1984.  The anti-nuclear legislation gathered the left of the party around him.  It is often forgotten that Lange initially sought to ban only nuclear weapons but was persuaded to ban all nuclear vessels from New Zealand shores.  At the time it wasn’t a big issue because all nuclear ships were nuclear armed.  However, the Cold War was about to end surprisingly quickly and in favour of the democracies. 

One result was a significant de-escalation of nuclear tension. Nuclear weapons were removed from surface ships including those that were nuclear powered.  Almost 30 years later visiting American ships are certain not to be nuclear armed but are unwelcome in New Zealand waters anyway.  This is most unfortunate as the USA is New Zealand’s most important ally.

Key in this debate is that the issue of nuclear weapons has become confused with the issue of peaceful use of radioactive fuel.  There is overwhelming agreement that New Zealand should not be used as a base for nuclear weapons and this policy is consistent with international obligations to limit the spread of nuclear weaponry.  The use of nuclear propulsion however is a completely different issue and should be considered as a peaceful use of radioactive material.  

New Zealand already has a number of industries that use radioactive material. We import 3,000 radioactive material shipments each year.  Kiwis have over 1 million dental x-rays and over 2 million medical x-rays every year.  Radioactive material is used frequently for medical treatment, for scientific research and in the sterilisation of food.  In the energy debate a significant minority favour nuclear power and any informed debate would include it as an option.  Even some high profile Green’s, including Greenpeace founder Patrick Moore, advocate nuclear power as the environmentally acceptable power of the future.

The nuclear propulsion debate has become emotive and confused, preventing reasoned debate based on sound scientific evidence.  A nuclear powered ship’s reactor is simply a micro-reactor powering a turbine that in turn powers the ship.  Safety issues were well investigated and reported in the 1992 Somers Report, a report commissioned by the Bolger government to examine public safely and environmental concerns in relation to visits to New Zealand ports by nuclear propelled ships.   Mr Bolger was keen to improve our relationship with the USA at this time but was aware of the unpopularity of nuclear weapons.  The report found no concerns that justified the continuation of the legislative ban.  The findings have been steadfastly ignored. 

National embraces Labour Ships Policy

Posted on 22 Feb 2006
“National Party policy on nuclear propelled ships is now identical to Labour Party policy – no ships, ever.  In a speech today National Party Foreign Affairs and Trade spokesman Murray McCully confirmed that National has embraced Labour’s stance because, he says, the ban is supported by the bulk of New Zealanders said ACT National Security Spokesman Heather Roy today.

Nats desert Nuclear Ships

Posted on 10 Feb 2006
“ACT is unequivocal about our stand on nuclear propulsion of vessels – we maintain that nuclear propelled ships should be able to enter New Zealand waters”, ACT National Security spokesman Heather Roy said today.

Defence Minister Faces Battle - Roy

Posted on 20 Oct 2005
"Incoming Defence Minister Phil Goff faces a battle to represent the armed forces in Cabinet", said Heather Roy, ACT's Defence spokesman, today.

Peters "An Insult" For Foreign Affairs

Posted on 18 Oct 2005
Labour's offer to make Winston Peters the Minister of Foreign Affairs outside of Cabinet is an insult to New Zealand's friends overseas, says ACT Defence spokesman Heather Roy.

Labour & National fail to deliver on defence

Posted on 13 Sep 2005
ACT Leader Rodney Hide today said it was a sick joke that Labour had released a “defence policy” when its entire strategy has been to render New Zealand defenceless.

How The West Was One

Posted on 06 Aug 2005
This article, by John Carroll, was originally published in "The Australian".

National releases "no defence" policy

Posted on 06 Aug 2005
ACT Leader Rodney Hide today said that he was appalled by the National Party’s abandonment of any commitment to defence.

National’s back down on defence disappointing

Posted on 05 Aug 2005
ACT Leader Rodney Hide said today New Zealanders would be very disappointed that the National Party was adopting Helen Clark’s policy of no combat air wing.

ACT calls on Labour, National to rule out coalition with Peters

Posted on 01 Aug 2005
ACT Leader Rodney Hide today condemned Winston Peters for his racist and xenophobic attacks and called on both Labour and National to rule out any place for Winston Peters in a coalition Government.
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