Unions, scientists speak up against nuclear submarine base

March 23, 2022
Australia has still not signed the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. Photo: Australian Lawyers for Human Rights

Unions, anti-war activists, scientists are among those speaking out against the federal government’s plan to build a nuclear-powered submarine base on the east coast.

The Maritime Union of Australia (Southern New South Wales) branch reiterated its anti-nuclear stand on March 7, saying Port Kembla is becoming a “critical transport hub” for “big and bold plans for renewable power generation and environmental improvements in the steelmaking process”. It said that a nuclear submarine base would push this “off course”.

Brisbane and Newcastle are also being considered.

The base, estimated at upwards of $10 billion, are part of the AUKUS military alliance which includes a fleet of nuclear-powered submarines.

The MUA criticised the government’s war mongering against China, saying “there are many other pressing and immediate needs” that require government expenditure and action.

Long-term anti-nuclear activist and South Coast resident Helen Caldicott told the ABC on March 8 that a base at Port Kembla would mean “huge amounts of money being spent” on making Australia a target.

Wollongong City Council has been a nuclear-free zone since 1980. Wollongong Lord Mayor Gordon Bradbery told the ABC that “a sizeable proportion of the community” opposes a nuclear submarine base. However, he seemed to leave the option open telling the Illawarra Mercury “more works needs to be done”.

Arthur Rorris, South Coast Labor Council secretary, told a Newcastle protest on March 13 that the submarine bases threaten coastal communities. “This is arguably the biggest single spending decision in Australian history and it was made without any public scrutiny.”

Hunter Workers secretary Leigh Shear, who also addressed the protest, said he was confident that working people of the region will ensure Newcastle remains a nuclear-free zone.Newcastle’s Labor Lord Mayor Nuatali Nelmes also opposes a nuclear base and reiterated the city’s nuclear-free declaration.

Newcastle City Liberal councillor Callum Pull moved a motion on March 22 to support the base but only he and Independent Councillor John Church Pull supported it. During the debate, Pull accused Labor and the Greens of “being in bed with the Socialist Alliance”.

Niko Leka, a NSW Senate candidate for Socialist Alliance, congratulated Labor and Greens councillors for supporting the community. “Newcastle has a proud history of being nuclear free,” he told Green Left.

“This gambit to wedge Labor has not worked,” Leka said, adding that council recently affirmed its nuclear-free status, including welcoming the United Nations Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.

“The whole of Australia should be nuclear free. Nuclear submarines would open the door to the nuclear industry and nuclear weapons manufacturers. Any harbour in which they are stationed would also become a United States military base.”

Marine scientist Lisa-ann Gershwin told The Guardian on March 11 that Brisbane is “close to the absolute worst place” for a nuclear submarine base and that a nuclear submarine fleet there would “inevitably” be forced into emergency shutdown by swarms of jellyfish. A US nuclear-powered aircraft carrier went into emergency shutdown after sucking thousands of jellyfish into its coolant system in 2006.

While federal Labor criticised Scott Morrison’s base announcement, it has refused to rule out the three locations. Labor supports AUKUS and an increase in spending on weapons.

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